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Archive for June 4th, 2014

Review: The Grass Roots, “The Complete Dunhill/ABC Hit Singles”

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Grass Roots - ABC Dunhill SinglesThe tale of The Grass Roots is a convoluted one, involving a couple of bands, a pair of auteur songwriter-producers, and a handful of famed session men. But if the behind-the-scenes story is one with numerous twists and turns, the appeal of the music recorded under The Grass Roots’ name is blissfully simple: great songs, great productions, great performances. 24 polished nuggets from the Los Angeles pop-rockers – many of which still remain in rotation on oldies radio today – have been collected on Real Gone’s Complete Original Dunhill/ABC Hit Singles (RGM-0227, 2014). As the title indicates, the set focuses exclusively on charting A-sides released between 1965 and 1973, on which the evolution of the group’s sound can be traced. And The Grass Roots were no slouches in the hitmaking department, notching fourteen Top 40 hits, one gold and one platinum single. Led by Rob Grill, the band teamed with the Los Angeles Wrecking Crew for some of the period’s most sublime AM pop which is getting its full due from Real Gone.

At the heart of The Grass Roots’ story is the team of Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan, who together or separately penned six songs here, or one-quarter of the group’s hits. Producers and A&R men at Lou Adler’s Dunhill label, Sloan and Barri transformed the San Francisco band The Bedouins into the first Grass Roots, introducing them with a strong cover of Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” retitled “Mr. Jones (Ballad of a Thin Man).” Sloan, who with Barri had penned the Dylan-emulating single “Eve of Destruction” for Barry McGuire on Dunhill, championed a folk-rock sound for the band, and further streamlined it into the ultra-accessible, utterly catchy “Where Were You When I Needed You.” No matter that the track was laid down by Sloan with the Wrecking Crew pros; with Willie “Bill” Fulton of The Bedouins replacing Sloan’s lead vocal, the song gave The Grass Roots a Top 30 single. The Bedouins only feature on one more single here, though – Sloan and Barri’s “Only When You’re Lonely.” Though the production of the ballad was strong – with overtones of both The Byrds and The Association – it wasn’t as hook-filled as “Where Were You,” and scored the band a minor hit. Before long, The Bedouins were out and The 13th Floor was in, rechristened as The (new) Grass Roots.

This new iteration of the band – with Creed Bratton, Rick Coonce, Warren Entner and Rob Grill, the latter a last-minute replacement for a drafted member – had the good fortune of recording Sloan and Barri’s most hard-hitting production yet. “Let’s Live for Today” was adapted by Barri from an Italian song previously recorded by The Rokes and The Living Daylights, and was a little over three minutes of powerfully anthemic pop. The music, anchored by Sloan’s indelible guitar part, was harder-rocking but the message as urgently sung by Rob Grill was perfect for the Summer of Love with the specter of the Vietnam War looming. The Grass Roots were rewarded with their first Top 10 hit despite some controversy over the lyrics “Baby, I need to feel you inside of me/I’ve got to feel you deep inside of me….” Real Gone helpfully includes both the original 45 and the censored version (“Baby, I need to feel you beside me,” etc.) here.

The Grass Roots struggled to follow up the huge success of “Live for Today” with Sloan and Barri’s piano-driven “Things I Should Have Said” and psych-pop-tinged “Wake Up, Wake Up.” Sloan moved on after the band recorded his pretty “A Melody for You,” which expanded the group’s sound with prominent horns and strings. With Sloan out of the picture, his partner Barri guided The Grass Roots to a new sound leaning towards rhythmic blue-eyed soul. In his A&R capacity, Barri also led the band towards suitable material that the band could reinvent. This new style debuted with “Midnight Confessions,” a cover of a Lou Josie song previously waxed by The Ever-Green Blues. The brassy, dynamic “Midnight” hit the Billboard Top 5 in 1968. The Complete Hit Singles hits its stride with the sequence of songs curated by Barri: “Bella Linda” from Ivan Mogol, the composer of “Let’s Live for Today”; the Marmalade’s “Lovin’ Things”; and The Forum’s dramatic “The River is Wide” with a retro Spector vibe.

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Written by Joe Marchese

June 4, 2014 at 09:26

Posted in Compilations, Reviews, The Grass Roots

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