This article originally appeared in issue three of
Magazine in March 1966.
When “The Green Berets” makes it to number one, the rock ‘n’ roll field is in sad shape. The record companies, casting about with their money-loaded tentacles, come up with nothing but surefire formuIas—a big name, expert arrangers and musicians—and turn out Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking” (right over you). In this case, plugging in Frank Sinatra’s daughter as a selling point has ruined what might just possibly have been a decent song. The record companies made piles of money by jumping on the bandwagon of British r ‘n’ r—they have become accustomed to no-risk, high-return investment. England’s Top 10 has been, in effect, a free market survey: they can gauge consumer reaction before they spend a penny. Now the conservative investment policy disease common to large, successful corporations seems to be settling in. Follow the market. If Vietnam is the word, and songs that say something are in—presto!—a rotten ballad about some patriotic dunce will sell a million. The unfortunate thing is that they’re right. It is quite possible to sell a million records by running after even the slimiest of current trends.
This is why “Nowhere Man” is a disappointment. It’s not really a bad song, the words aren‘t absolutely distasteful, but it’s not the least bit new or exciting. It follows the au courant taste… After all, what could be more in resonance with today’s fashionably directionless college kid than a nowhere man with his nothing plans for nobody?
Rubber Soul was in general a shocker. The likes of it had never been tried, its success meant that standards of taste had been raised, jolted into accommodating something new. “Nowhere Man” is standard enough to make us fear that the Beatles might be getting this corporate disease.
The two glaring errors in “Nowhere Man”’s are its drag beat and its total lack of event. A drag beat is that which is opposed to a drive beat; it makes you want to sit down and think of something else. “Nowhere Man”’s beat is slow, dragging, and absolutely invariant. There is no change from verse to refrain. The guitar figures drag in the same way as the voice, so they add nothing. Unless you listen to the words, the song has no structure at all; and in r ‘n’ r words must not be relied on as structural events. Rhythm changes, instrumental figures that really punctuate drumroll lead-ins…these are events that can be felt. They are obvious as you dance or wiggle in your chair, even though the words are hidden by the people talking at the next table.
The flip side (“What Goes On”) is an experiment: “Let’s do a pure country and western, just for fun!” They do, and it’s a decent song. However, it is a country and western song, and must be judged as such. What suffers under the scrutiny of the C&W critic is the arrangement. The Foggy Mountain Boys three-part harmony in the chorus is excellent, but otherwise the performance and arrangement are totally inadequate. C&W requires a voice that plays tricks, a voice proficient in loudness, vibrato, and well-controlled slides. The arrangement needs a steel guitar, or some similar sound. And mainly the whole performance requires a certain grain of salt—and this version just did not get it right.
Another disk disappointing for the same reasons is “Lovey Kravezit” by the Everly Brothers. Great performers, who have done wonderful stuff in the past, here they keep up to date in the worst possible way: by jumping on one of today’s most repulsive bandwagons. This time it’s “let’s get risqué with the words!” Lovey Kravezit, just as we’d feared, turns out to be Lovey
Craves It. Harmonically the ideas are decent—a standard three-chord base, but in two different keys a half-tone apart but the lethargic beat, the non-integrable gimmicks like the sousaphone, of all things, and mainly the words: “When a girl’s in love she wants the maximum, but I
keep her down to the minimum…That’s the way to keep Lovey craving it…Lovey craves my love.” It’s no good. It’s about as bad as that Jan & Dean song where the only words are “Bucket T.” The skin-flick per se is not artistically valid.