The Dean And I

The light is changing.

I’ve come to detest the summer.  But when the days start to get shorter and the sun’s shine is not quite so bright, I yearn to swim in a lake, roast marshmallows, do all those summer things from the Beach Boys albums.

I can’t tell you what an impression the band from Hawthorne had on me.  It was the beauty of the sounds.  The lush orchestrations, the strings…hell, remember the harp in "Catch A Wave"?

Which is probably why I like 10cc so much.

Known for two hits in the U.S., "I’m Not In Love" and "The Things We Do For Love", 10cc was an instant success in the U.K., and reading about it in the music press, I immediately went out and bought the album.

The hit was "Rubber Bullets".  Not that I ever heard it on the radio in the U.S.  It sounded like a cross between those early Beach Boys hits and the track "Student Demonstration Time" off "Surf’s Up".  It was tongue-in-cheek, yet laden with hooks.  You couldn’t help but play it again and again.  Smiling and singing along.

All the songs had this weird twist of craftsmanship and humor.  If you took the album straight, without a grain of salt, it seemed sophomoric.  But if you were in on the joke, it was incredibly funny and satisfying.

The record began with "Johnny Don’t Do It", a parody of the death songs so popular in the early sixties, down to the spoken break a la "Dead Man’s Curve".

"Sand In My Face" was a riff, about those ads in the back of comic books, that promised muscles for weaklings.  And when they sang "200 pounds of surfboard Hercules", you got that Southern California richness from these boys from dreary Manchester.

Then came "Donna", which would have fit perfectly on Zappa’s "Ruben and the Jets", but the vocals were better, the song was hookier.

And the fourth cut on the first side was "The Dean And I":

Hey sis, one kiss, and I was heaven bound
Now who would have guessed Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ could be found
But in the eyes of the dean, his daughter
Was doin’ what she shouldn’a oughta
But a man’s gotta do
What a man’s gotta do
The consequence should be
Church bells, three swells
The dean, his daughter and me

Well, that’s the story.  But the magic comes after:

They were dating in the park
They were smooching in the dark
Of a doorway for two
She whispered I love you
Ooh, you know I never felt this way before
Ooh, you know the elevator in my heart
And then I kissed her
And when I kissed her
It’s a wonderful world
When you’re rolling in kisses

It was a strange combination, a concoction of Broadway and Beach Boys.  You could envision the protagonist on one knee, and the angelic chorus gives Brian Wilson a run for his money.

I drove cross-country playing this album over and over again.

I’d graduated from college the previous spring.  This was in the days before satellite radio.  Close to a metropolis you could get an FM signal, but out on the highway you were subjected to the AM inanity so contrary to the pulse of a music scene that drove the culture.

I know every lick of that album.  And I just heard "The Dean And I" on Sirius XM.  Never before had it come out of the speakers except when I dialed it up.  The fact the deejay played it made me feel connected.  On a continuum where the mainstream may have been clueless, but we insiders were members of an exalted club.

On that same Maxell cassette was a modicum of tracks from the band’s even stiffer in America second album, "Sheet Music". There was the killer opener with a heavy riff that could give any metal band a run for its money.  "Wall Street Shuffle" got a bit of airplay, it’s as applicable today as it was then, but the even sillier than the first album songs that followed it truly enraptured me. Like "The Sacro-Iliac", a new dance craze…assuming you were listening to a soft incisive song in your bedroom and the dance was in your head.  But the piece de resistance is "Somewhere In Hollywood".  A dog up in Beverly Hills?  That’s CRAZY!

Yes, "Somewhere In Hollywood" was a musical version of "A Star Is Born" and "Sunset Boulevard".  From the casting couch to reminiscence after the fact.  You can hear Fred Astaire’s footsteps dancing…  "Somewhere In Hollywood" is better than the movies they make today, and it’s a record!

But that’s how it was.  Life emanated from your tape deck.  The movies were in your mind.  Craft and wordplay were king.  The audience was sophisticated.  If you had fans, they’d follow you irrelevant of whether anybody else did, irrelevant of whether the mainstream gave you its imprimatur.

Actually, that’s kind of how it is today.  But like Jackson Pollock who could draw but chose not to, 10cc knew how to play, too many of today’s acts lack the skills, the voices, they haven’t practiced enough.

Yes, I’m getting nostalgic.

You only get to graduate from college once.  You step forward clueless even though you think you know everything.  And all that happened then is emblazoned upon your brain like it took place yesterday, one song can bring you right back.

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