Friday, April 08, 2011

The 5th Dimension's The Magic Garden

A seriously amazing record from December 1967, The Magic Garden is a concept piece about love and a specific love affair in something like the way Demy's films from the period tend to be.

Every song is excellent, but my two current fave tracks are:


I mean, good God, they kill. The album is definitely some kind of masterpiece. I almost can't believe I never heard of any of it until this Onion AV-Club article.

Ok, one more (this time w/ uncool dancing):
Just, wow.

Update April 11, 2011: All but one song on TMG is written by the legendary Jimmy Webb. The exception is a very soulful, funky cover of Ticket to Ride. This song (from Help!, e.g., here) is one of Lennon's best. It's the ancestor of all of the mildly perverse, bitchy ‘I’m not happy but I’m not sad either’ alt-pop-music (with, ha ha, triumphant pulsing music underneath) that so many of us have loved ever since. TtR claims the whole spectrum of vexation and boredom and general pissiness for pop music, and makes it danceable and almost metallic. A couple of days a week I’d say it was the best, most subversive pop hit since Heartbreak Hotel.

Anyhow, 5th Dimension's TtR cover is exemplary. In my view, too, Lennon's ode to nasty ambivalence (with its booty-shaking underpinning pushed to 11!) fits beautifully within TMG's overall song cycle (about a tumultuous relationship), albeit as a spectacular jolt of earthy energy. Some fans have wanted TtR pushed to the TMG's margins, and apparently some editions of the album, which has even had its name changed a couple of times, have accommodated that desire. I think it works great as a side-ender/mid-point:

An odd feature of 5th Dimension's TtR cover, however, is that they change Lennon's middle eight couplet from:

She oughta think twice/She oughta do right by me.
She oughta think white/She oughta do right by me.
The punchier, full rhyme of white/right sings better than twice/right, but it's still a surprising change, after all, if full rhyme singability was the principal concern, why not go with repetition, right/right? 'White' was evidently, quite specifically chosen, but with what purpose?

On the one hand, the Fifth Dimension were unfairly/absurdly criticized at the time for being 'too white', just as many Motown acts were (see this article for some of the details; it's evident that the nasty criticism is a class thing more than a race thing, but it's still painful). On the other hand, their TtR cover (on which the players were members of the racially mixed Wrecking Crew) is the 'blackest' thing on TMG by far (insofar as we can make sense of such ideas). Presumably the rhyme substitution is making some real point or specific inside joke. But what exactly? Does anyone have the political nous about the 1967 West Coast scene to really decode this matter?

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