Some songs emanate from the speaker and stop you in your tracks, vacate all other thoughts and have you asking WHAT’S THAT?
Like “Laugh, Laugh.”
You’ve got to know, by time we reached the end of ’64 an entire generation was addicted to the radio. It’s kind of like today, but instead of a transistor now it’s a smartphone. And a transistor only did one thing, play radio, and we only listened to music.
Sure, “Laugh, Laugh” was reminiscent of the English sound, but it would have been a hit in any era, like “Walk Away Renee” it’s forever, because of the haunting sound…
From the initial notes you were enraptured, as if you were descending into a subterranean spot where all truth would be revealed.
I hate to say it but I told you so
Don’t mind my preaching to you
This was not our parents, but our contemporaries, downloading truth. Instead of bristling, we leaned in closer.
I said don’t trust him baby, now you know
You don’t learn everything there is to know in school
We were becoming adults. This was the beginning of the schism, the youthquake, the separation of children from their parents. Sure, the Beau Brummels were in their twenties, but kids were listening to them, getting their truth from musicians. Unlike today, parents were not their children’s best friends, and soon they would become the enemy.
Wouldn’t believe me when I gave advice
I said that he was a tease
Whew! I was eleven. I’d just had my first girlfriend. I was just learning not only the mechanics, but the nuances of dating, of the opposite sex. How people could seem to want something, but not really.
Laugh, laugh, I thought I’d die
It seemed so funny to me
Laugh, laugh, you met a guy
Who taught you how it feels to be
Lonely, oh so lonely
Creepy. He’s laughing at someone who misread the situation. But the end result is even worse. Loneliness. The scourge of humanity.
There’s a tonality in “Laugh, Laugh” that was absent from almost all records, except maybe some Beatles tracks, but here there was a sneer.
“Laugh, Laugh” fired on all cylinders. Not only was there the straight from the heart sincere vocal from seemingly the coolest guy on the planet, there was the sparse instrumentation, the guitar, drums and harmonica you could hear.
You just wanted to get closer. “Laugh, Laugh” was a three minute respite from hype, from radio normality. It was truth beaming right out of the speaker, straight into your heart and mind.
JUST A LITTLE
And shortly thereafter came this. Which wasn’t quite as good, but almost nothing could be.
“Just A Little” had a similar haunting sound, but this time the guy was involved. But now it was over. And he was crying. Just a little. But a little is a lot, when it comes to love.
And once again, there was a chorus so hooky, today’s music makers should be forced to listen for edification.
But really, what made “Just A Little” was the break. The acoustic guitar, with the electric response, every baby boomer knows it and can’t explain it, all they know is it brings them right back to the sixties, remembering victories and losses, when everything was still new, when they were discovering who they were, what they wanted, and were not yet formalized in what they’d become.
And then it was done. There was never another hit. It’s almost like the Beau Brummels didn’t exist, that they were a studio concoction like the Archies.
But that would be untrue. The Beau Brummels emerged from San Francisco in an era before the music press, before we knew almost anything about most of our heroes. We knew them more as cartoon characters, the Beau Brummelstones, on the “Flintstones,” than we did as their true personages.
Yes, we were still children, but we were becoming adults.
But the Beau Brummels were already grown up.
They were on legendary deejay Tom Donahue’s Autumn Records. And these cuts were produced by Sylvester Stewart, ultimately known as Sly Stone, before he had his hits. Yup, don’t decry the decline of Sly, he just had too much talent for one person to handle.
And when the group splintered Sal Valentino, the singer, formed Stoneground, which was hyped by Warner Brothers, was featured on its sampler albums, but ultimately had no impact.
And Ron Elliott, who wrote “Laugh, Laugh” and cowrote “Just A Little” with Bob Durand, had a behind the scenes career with Van Dyke Parks and others before releasing a solo record that almost instantly disappeared.
So all we’re left with is the records.
Sure, there were albums, but in 1964, they were almost irrelevant. It was about the singles. It wasn’t until the Beatles started testing limits with “Rubber Soul,” “Revolver” and “Sgt. Pepper” that the album was seen as a statement, more than a collection of singles and filler.
But these two singles were paramount. Youngsters might be unaware, but we oldsters know every note. We believed there would be more, we still want more.