Saturday, October 20, 2007

San Francisco Sound

As part of their Nuggets series, Rhino Records has just released Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970, a four-cd box set that features songs by Bay Area pre-hippy garage bands as well as some post-1967 bands like the Great Society, Janis Joplin and Santana.
This is not a set I will be buying. After a brief infatuation with San Francisco music as an adolescent, when I happily bought into the myth of a rock music-led revolution, I got the hippy ethos out of my system when I made a post-high school pilgrimage to Mecca and found not peace and love but street criminals, speed freaks and bad LSD.
However, the release of the set is a good excuse to post a couple of songs by two San Francisco bands I actually like a lot.
The first is "Don't Talk to Strangers," by the Beau Brummels, a song actually featured on the Rhino set. Written by the band's guitarist, Ron Elliott, "Don't Talk to Strangers" is grounded in Byrds-like folk rock but morphs into a powerhouse garage rock masterpice during the chorus. The song is driven by the vocals of Sal Valentino, one of the best American rock singers of the 1960's. And it doesn't hurt that it was produced by the premier San Francisco music producer at the time, Sylvester Stewart, who would later change his name to Sly Stone.
The second song is "It's a Beautiful Day Today," by Moby Grape, from their 1969 album, 1969. Moby Grape was as badly over-marketed and overhyped as Boston's Ultimate Spinach, but they had ten times the talent. Unfortunately, Columbia Records was so anxious to ride the wave of the "San Francisco Sound," that they ruined whatever chance the Grape had for commercial success. The record company did brilliant things like simultaneously releasing five singles from the debut album, and of course, all of them tanked, including the still-amazing "Omaha."
By the time 1969 came out, Moby Grape had been forgotten by everyone from the record company to the public. That's too bad, because the album was a brilliant example of WestCoast down tempo folk rock.
"It's a Beautiful Day Today" has always been a favorite song of mine. I've never been sure if the band really means what they are singing or if the song's true meaning is more accurately reflected in the incredibly melancholy melody, emphasized beautifully by the lonesome whistle bridge in the middle of the song.

The Beau Brummels - Don't Talk to Strangers
Moby Grape - It's a Beautiful Day Today

"Don't Talk to Strangers" is featured on several Beau Brummels greatest hits albums, available on Amazon. Check out the Sal Valentino/Beau Brummels website.
"It's a Beautiful Day Today" is available on 1969, which is being reissued in an expanded version next month, and can be pre-ordered at Amazon.

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