Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Folk 'n Roll - Jan and Dean

Folk 'n Roll
Jan and Dean
Liberty  LST-7431

I picked up a virus or something up in Tahoe and it really hammered me.  I was sick for more than a week.  When I'm sick I don't listen to records aside from comedy records, which is a genre that fits this album pretty well.  With the possible exception of "Pop Symphony No. 1," I consider it the worst Jan and Dean album although in Dean's defense he's hardly even on it much.  As I understand it, Torrence was opposed to Jan Berry's attempts to move away from the "fun" songs that made the group famous in an effort to achieve pop relevance.  I'm all for pop relevance, but I'm with Dean on this one.  Berry was not Brian Wilson.  He was a good arranger, but when it comes to grandiose pop statements, he was kind of a dope.  If you don't believe me check out "The Universal Coward" which was Berry's answer to Buffy Sainte-Marie's classic "Universal Soldier."  In the song Berry assails an anti-war protestor for joining the protests at Berkeley.  He calls him a "communist," a "knave" and a "defector" for not realizing that the U. S. needs to be the "watchdog of the world."  At last the Domino Theory reaches rock and roll with the first right-wing folk-rock protest song.  Dean objected to the song so Berry put it out as a solo single.  As much as I hate this stupid song, musically I think it is one of the better songs on the album with its wall of sound style backing track although Berry's tuneless vocal is just awful.  Despite its title most of the album is not folk-rock, but rather the typical pop-rock that Jan & Dean featured on their earlier albums.  The other folk-rock songs on the record are mostly lame covers.  The duo blatantly imitate the Turtles' arrangement of "It Ain't Me Babe" and the Byrds' "Turn, Turn, Turn" with incredibly lackluster results.  Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" gets sung by Berry in a gravelly voice like McGuire's and is done surprisingly straight except that Berry takes the opportunity to pointedly substitute "Watts, California" for "Selma, Alabama" in the final verse.  The only good folk-rock song on this album is P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri's "Where Were You When I Needed You" which would later be a hit for the Grassroots.  Sloan and Barri (Sloan was also responsible for "Eve of Destruction") worked a lot with Jan and Dean on their earlier albums.  They also wrote "I Found A Girl" which is classic Jan and Dean, easily the best song on the album.  With its bright melody and catchy harmonies, it recalls their love, surf and car tunes of the past.  It was a top 40 single that pre-dates the album.  "It's A Shame To Say Goodbye" is a sappy ballad by Don Altfield and Berry's girlfriend and frequent collaborator Jill Gibson (she co-wrote "The Universal Coward") that is reminiscent of the duo's early pre-surf days.  Berry's songs (mostly co-written with George Tipton and Roger Christian) are a mixed bag.  "A Beginning From An End" is a death-rock song inspired by "Dead Man's Curve."  It is about a guy whose daughter reminds him of his wife who died in childbirth.  It has an elaborate arrangement and a memorable melody, but is too maudlin for my taste.  "I Can't Wait To Love You" has some folk-rock style jangly guitar, but the tune is staight Beach Boys-style pop.  Then there is the silly "Folk City" which is of course derived from "Surf City" and "Drag City."  The lyrics (which have numerous Dylan references) are pretty funny and in case you were wondering, yes there are two girls for every boy in Folk City also.  The album is completed by a pair of useless covers.  The duo clown their way through "Hang on Sloopy" in what is perhaps the worst of the gazillion versions of that song that came out in the 1960s.  The Beatles' "Yesterday" is sung beautifully and sincerely by Torrence, but it is still just filler.  I guess with a couple of good songs this album is not a disaster, but I rarely play it even though I'm a folk-rock nut and a fan of Jan and Dean.  It's good for a few laughs.  Recommended for conservatives who like folk-rock.       

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