Bryan Ferry’s cover of the Phil Spector classic ‘I Love How You Love Me’ is a return to form on These Foolish Things after the misjudged train wreck of The Beatles ‘You Won’t See Me‘. Ferry is more confident of Spector’s material, getting the mood and swing just right, over-riding the smooth tones of the original and raising the temperature with a welcome doo-wop bounce. Ferry even throws in a harpsichord riff (provided by the brilliant Eddie Jobson) to get the party rolling, and it works beautifully. Perfectly timed and rendered, you can feel the album winding down now in glorious fashion as the band prepare the next tracks ‘Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever‘ and ‘These Foolish Things‘ on the sidelines.
‘I Love How You Love Me’ is another selection from New York’s Brill Building staple of writers (It’s My Party/Baby I Don’t Care/Don’t Ever Change) that provides Ferry further opportunity to cross paths with Phil Spector (Don’t Worry Baby) and the joys of 50s and 60s American AM Radio. At this juncture there are three distinct threads weaving through These Foolish Things: songwriting as assembly-line craft (Brill Building songs); the new 60’s breed of songwriting (Beatles, Beach Boys, Stones), and a ‘Do the Stand’ historical odyssey booked-ended by two extended tracks, A Hard Rain’s-a-Gonna Fall and Sympathy for the Devil. Interestingly, ‘I Love How You Love Me’ also provides a bridge between 54th Street production line ballad-making and 60s singer-songwriter aesthetic, via TV’s favorite teen throb phenomenon The Monkees (no less). What can we say – you heard it here first!
Written in the vocal friendly key of C-major, ‘I Love How You Love Me’ was composed by Barry Mann (Who Put the Bomp) and lyricist Larry Kolber (Sweet Little You), both staff writers at Don Kirshner‘s Aldon Music. Often mistaken as a pure Brill Building recording (Brill was actually located at 1650 Broadway, Aldon Music was next door at 1619 Broadway), ‘Love Me’ was nevertheless a definitive product of New York song-writing labor, sweated over in the Eastern US hit factory before Phil Spector took it to his home turf of California and the custom designed echo chambers of Gold Star Studios to record with his new girl group, The Paris Sisters.
Typically obsessed with the song (remixing the strings over thirty times), Phil Spector’s version of ‘I Love How You Love Me’ is a nostalgic wish to return to small-town America – a feeling capitalized on by Bobby Vinton‘s own 1968 hit version of the song (a David Lynch movie contender) where Vinton calls out an American innocence that was frequently name-checked but rarely existed, much like those abandoned towns and last picture shows captured in Virginia Plain, resulting in a sweetness of atmosphere wrapped in a banality kissed by a touch of menace. In keeping with the vibe of David Lynch‘s Blue Velvet then, ‘I Love How You Love Me’ is the sound of an all-American logging town of white picket fences and street-corner diners going Top 5, no questions asked, in August 1961.
Bryan Ferry seems to have copped this strangeness and wisely resisted it, instead giving ‘I Love How You Love Me’ a bit of much-needed bounce and lightness, courtesy of the girl singers he used as his own backing band, the wonderful The Angelettes. The brighter feel-good élan suits the song, re-making the original for a modern, ready-to-dance crowd. Let’s face it, the kids in the early 70s needed a bit of cheering up after Altamont, the Beatles break-up, and MacArthur Park climbing to the top of the charts.
“These Foolish Things… will probably succeed best in the context of a party”
To me it was a business and I had to knock off the songs.
Pop from the production line; that seemed to be the story of the late Fifties and early Sixties.
There is an incredible TV rock show, rarely referenced today, that offered a staggering lists of musical guests and chart topping bands performing live in the studio, introduced by a man with a bad hair comb-over and a stilted, monotone delivery. The show was Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, an American music program that taped live in-studio shows with the 70s and 80s biggest acts. (Think Old Grey Whistle Test or Der Musikladen in Europe). Rock Concert was the brainchild of one of pop music’s greatest businessmen: Don Kirshner (1934-2011). Kirshner was a pioneering New York City music publisher who brought the Tin Pan Alley approach to rock ‘n’ roll in the late Fifties and by the 60s had helped launch the careers of Neil Sedaka, Carole King, Neil Diamond and The Monkees. Setting up his publishing company Aldon Music in 1958 with partner Al Nevins, both men began working as producers as well as publishers, with Aldon not just offering songs but also recording finished recordings to the labels, which gave them a share of artist royalties as well as the standard publisher’s share of revenue from songs. With the business of business firmly in our minds then, we may recall the lyric to the opening lines of Roxy Music’s first single ‘Virginia Plain‘:
Make me a deal and make it straight
All signed and sealed, I’ll take it
To Robert E. Lee I’ll show it
I hope and pray he don’t blow it ’cause
We’ve been around a long time
Just try try try try tryin’ to make make the big time
This is a desire for fame articulated in a manner that Don Kirshner would have approved of – clearly, the business of music was on Ferry’s mind right from the get-go. Don Kirshner’s Aldon publishing empire is regarded as having played a significant role in shaping the Brill Building Sound in the late 1950s and 1960s, a pooling of talent that comprises well over half of the selections on Ferry’s These Foolish Things. Yet, with the coming of The Beatles, and the increasing practice of performing artists writing their own material, the demand for “song factories” such as Kirshner’s began to decline. As Ferry commentator Hal Norman notes on the Foolish Things website: “After the Beatles, how could a rock musician ever claim legitimacy or validity without writing their own material? There can be no sincerity or personal expression without originality…” (Norman).
This is the question Ferry strives to answer on his first album of singing the pop canon. Ferry’s fascination and admiration for Brill Building composers and recordings is embedded in the idea of song-writing as craft, a respect for pop as a work of art, akin to painting, sculpture, and movie-making. In the same manner that Ferry, Eno and Mackay fused classical, avant-garde electronics and rock ‘n’ roll in Roxy Music (The “accidental synthesis”, as Andy Mackay described it), Ferry makes an important personal move in 1973 to look under the hood of his new profession to see what makes it tick, using These Foolish Things to enter the doors of the Brill Building and navigate its “rabbit warren of cubicles” furnished with a pianos and desks. He is keen to throw light on the craft of pop music making, a genre that had previously been seen as imminently childish and disposable. Yet, critically, Ferry understands that pop’s disposable nature is the very bedrock on which it stands. The Encyclopedia Britannica credits Madonna for exposing this defining paradox of rock and pop music, but surely it was Ferry’s early 70s postmodern approach to his own and other’s songs that gave early wide-acceptance to the idea:
Madonna can be described as a rock star (and not just a disco performer or teen idol) because she articulated rock culture’s defining paradox: the belief that this music—produced, promoted, and sold by extremely successful and sophisticated multinational corporations—is nonetheless somehow noncommercial.
And so Don Kirshner embraced the issue of authenticity vs commercialism and tackled it head-on: he arranged and produced the music for the television show The Monkees, the group formed in 1966 by American TV executives desperate to cash in on the Beatles phenomenon. The creators of The Monkees, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider (Easy Rider), knew exactly the kind of guys they wanted for their new series. So the ad they took out in the September 8, 1965 edition of Variety had to reflect the attitudes of the burgeoning youth culture (the ad included the line, “Must come down for interview,” a reference to being high, according to Rafelson). Don Kirshner was hired to provide the music from his staple of Brill Building writers: “They were the idea of the studio, who wanted to capitalize on the Beatles’ `Hard Day’s Night’ with a weekly TV show built around the same kind of high-spirited hi-jinks,” Don explained. “What they did was hold a cattle call and selected the four guys out of a thousand or so, based on their appearance, rather than any musical ability. The group was thrown together from scratch and then the studio gave them to me with full creative control to supply the music” (Kirshner).
What happened next was extraordinary, even by music business standards, as the boys themselves were hired only to act and sing, while Kirshner applied his winning formula in a premeditated manner to produce a string of tuneful hit singles: I’m a Believer (Neil Diamond); Last Train to Clarksville (Boyce, Hart); Pleasant Valley Sunday (Gerry Goffin, Carole King); A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You (Neil Diamond); Valleri and (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone (Boyce, Hart). Selling more than 75 million records – outselling the The Rolling Stones and The Beatles in the year of Sgt. Pepper, 1967 – The Monkees became the epicenter for the originality vs commercialism argument (the “how could a rock musician ever claim legitimacy or validity without writing their own material?”).
Moving in the same circles as The Beatles (Nesmith even appearing in the A Day in the Life promo video), Monkees band-members Dolenz, Nesmith, Jones, and Tork objected to Don Kirshner lying to the public about their musical abilities and not playing on their records (they did little more than provide vocals on their second album, More of the Monkees: In the October 2 edition of The New York Times, writer Judy Stone asked Davy pointedly if “the big push for The Monkees was fair to real rock groups?” Jones responded: “…you can’t fool the people, you really can’t. There’s a showdown sometime” (MoM, liner notes). In response, the band demanded more input and control: Kirshner was fired for promoting his session musicians over the four members of the band and soon enough, with original material flowing from The Monkees (most of it not very good), the hits stopped coming altogether. By the end of their short two-year television season Mike Nesmith brought in the decidedly teen-(un) friendly Frank Zappa as guest, and for the actual final episode, directed and co-written by Micky Dolenz, singer-songwriter Tim Buckley performed a solo acoustic version of his lovely but mournful Song to the Siren. Buckley’s appearance marked a moment of authenticity incarnate in The Monkees debate – earnest folk solo artist guitarist and songwriter – and by the end of 1968 the kids of pleasant valley had killed the band (at least until MTV came along in the 80s).
Don Krishner went on to repeated success when he gathered yet another set of studio musicians to create The Archies (1968), a cartoon act that wouldn’t talk back (they were just cartoons, after all). The hits kept coming though, the most famous being Sugar, Sugar, written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, which went to number one on the pop chart in 1969, selling over six million copies. They called Kirshner the “man with the golden ear” for good reason.
Perhaps the biggest blight of the late ’60s was ‘bubblegum’, music planned entirely as a product, not as anybody’s art.
Charlie Gillett, The Sound Of The City
I take my musical influences from everywhere.
While acknowledging the accomplished and personal song-writing power of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys, These Foolish Things nevertheless strongly tips its hat to the fruits of what many consider a more cynical approach to song-writing – the musicians and writers buried deep at Aldon Music and the Brill Building applying a formula to drive towards a hit. And clearly Ferry believes in this approach – song as craft – as do contemporary musical stars of today as they apply the codes of beat and melody provided by every Apple computer. And such, for Ferry the implications of Foolish Things were wide-reaching and permanent: Stranded was written with a greater knowledge of song-writing craft, achieving what is perhaps the best and well-rounded album in the Roxy canon; and Ferry’s own personal voyage was set on discovering the perfect song, reaching a point later in life, perhaps, where he recognized that he had already written it.
Credits: America’s wonder-kid and convicted killer provides the one finger salute (we love you too, Phil); These Foolish Things Japan/The Paris Sisters; Ferry French ‘Love Me’ single release Island / Phonogram 6138.035; mash-up of “fake” bands The Monkees/Spice Girls/Madonna/Lady Ga-Ga/Bay City Rollers; BF at the piano around the time of recording These Foolish Things.
Ya know, there’s a PhD out there waiting for anyone wanting to document the Lynchian version of These Foolish Things: it’s the same cast of characters – Bobby Vinton, Ketty Lester, Phil Spector. It’s the perfect antidote to Christmas music – the kids will love it!