Sunday, March 14, 2021

Maybe it's a conspiracy

Gary Walker and The Rain
I came late to Gary Walker and The Rain, the band that drummer and singer Walker formed after the Walker Brothers broke up in 1967. Recording for the Philips label, the group cut a handful of singles and one full-length, the hopefully titled Album No. 1, released in 1968 in Japan only. The album's a terrific blend of wholly original pop, psych, and Mod, underrated and sadly unheralded (apart from those in the know). After a number of possibly illegitimate releases, Audio Clarity issued the album last year with beautiful sound (though it's oddly mastered low, and there's nary a liner note). 

I've spun the album countless times and have became obsessed with the lead cut, the kaleidoscopic "Magazine Woman" which is nothing short of a lost classic. Written and sung by guitarist Paul Crane, this brilliant slice of moody, mid-paced psych pop is somehow both dreamy and propulsive, with a hypnotic bass line (courtesy of John Lawson), an insanely catchy hook in the chorus, and an overall vibe that's introspective yet busting with the colors of a lived life. What strikes me is how of-the-era the song is, not in a dated way, although that argument can be narrowly made, but in the way it reflects the immediacy of its times while also offering something eternal in its melody and arrangement. To my ears, though the song's as instantly identifiable with its time as are, say, "For What It's Worth" and "White Rabbit," its obsessions with interior states and fashion advertising feel fresh and relevant. It's a shame that the song didn't fall into the hands of the Mad Men showrunners, who could've played it behind a Betty Draper photo shoot, exposing this magical song to millions.

The singer's problems are familiar enough: he's attracted to a girl in a magazine, but his desire's so heady and all-consuming that fantasy and reality blur. His dilemma's scored by droning, effects-driven guitar lines that swirl about the singer's delicious complaints and threaten to pop the bubble of the daydream. "The scenes in your dreams make it seem like you've been with that woman," he sings, half-aware of the irony.
It's so strange as it seems that it isn't quite real but supposing
the feelings you feel become real even though you're just dozing
His response to this delicious conflict: Run, run, run, run, run to the sky. It's nice when someone needs you, he sings, but when that person is only an image, and a created one at that, when you realize that the only thing she needs of you is your money to purchase her, things get strange—the trippy melody knows and expresses that—but, oddly, no less pleasurable. The song's a graphic illustration of the disconnect between wanting and having, the unobtainable so real she feels as if she's yours, though you are, of course, eternally waiting to posses her, an end that's never going to arrive anyway. Something remarkable happens in the final minute, as Walker's drums fade from the mix, and even Lawson's bass line can't prevent the song from ascending into the sky, drifting toward a vanishing point of desire and loss. Tragic stuff, laid out in ecstatic terms here. 
 

When I listen to "Magazine Woman," I'm put in mind of another brilliant pop song about unobtainable realities, the Records' "Girls That Don't Exist" from the brilliant Shades In Bed. Released a decade after Album No. 1, the song, co-written by Will Birch and Richie Bull (of the Kursaal Flyers), rewrites Crane's complaint—in '79, girls that don't exist are haunting me—and the distracted bliss devolves into angst and resentment. This being a prime-era Records record, though, the frustration's sweetened by hooks, harmonies, and a killer chorus. 

It's ironic that both songs long for pop perfection, for an ideal that doesn't really exist, when both songs are about as perfect as pop gets.


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