Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Grass Roots: “The Complete Original Dunhill/ABC Hit Singles” (2014) CD Review



I’ve been a big Monkees fan since my early childhood. When the group reformed (minus Mike Nesmith) in 1986 and toured, I was thrilled, and managed to catch a couple of shows. The line-up also included Herman’s Hermits, Gary Pucket & The Union Gap and The Grass Roots. Of those three groups, the one I was most excited to see was The Grass Roots. “Let’s Live For Today” is one of those important songs in my life. I latched onto it the first time I heard it, and its power has never lessened for me. But I honestly knew very little about the band.

The extensive liner notes for the new collection, The Complete Original Dunhill/ABC Hit Singles, provide a lot of information, and it turns out The Grass Roots had more in common with The Monkees than I’d imagined. The group was basically manufactured (as a vehicle for P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri penned tunes), and often did not play on the records. This collection features the original mono single versions of the songs. It’s a good collection, though I do wish the flip sides were included.

“Mr. Jones (Ballad Of A Thin Man)”

The first single is that famous Bob Dylan song, “Ballad Of A Thin Man,” renamed “Mr. Jones (Ballad Of A Thin Man).” They do a great job with it, sounding a bit like early Rolling Stones.

“Where Were You When I Needed You”

The band’s first big hit is the wonderful pop tune, “Where Were You When I Needed You,” written by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri. Interestingly, in a footnote in the liner notes it mentions that Herman’s Hermits actually recorded the song first. P.F. Sloan wrote the excellent “Eve Of Destruction,” and there is something similar in part of the vocal line of this song, during the beginning of the verses. "Don't bother crying, don't bother crawling/It's all over now, no use in stalling/The love I once felt I don't feel anymore for you/This time I'll even open the door for you." And I love this line: "I've already decided/That living with you, it's worse than without you."

“Let’s Live For Today”

The most intriguing thing for me about this collection when I first got it was the parenthetical note after “Let’s Live For Today”: “Uncensored Version.” As much as I love this song, I had no idea there were two versions. Both are included in this collection. The Censored Version is the final track. So what’s the difference? Well, in the censored version, he sings, “I need to feel you beside me/I've got to feel you beside me” rather than “I need to feel you inside of me/I've got to feel you deep inside of me.” I don’t think I’d ever heard the censored version before.

This song still moves me the way it did when I first heard it as a teenager. "We were never meant to worry the way that people do/And I don't mean to hurry as long as I'm with you." By the way, the story behind this song is really interesting and is included in the liner notes.

“Things I Should Have Said”

“Things I Should Have Said” is a groovy and fun pop tune with a nice percussion section that I totally love. This is one you might not be as familiar with, but it’s a very cool song. Something in the rhythm of it reminds me of early Neil Diamond.

“Midnight Confessions”

One interesting thing is that though the band was conceived as a vehicle for P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri’s songs, their biggest hits were written by other people. “Midnight Confessions” (which reached #5 on the Billboard Chart) was penned by Lou Josie. This song changed the group’s sound, adding horns. It's a really good song that holds up and has been getting in my head a lot lately.

“I’d Wait A Million Years”

“I’d Wait A Million Years” is another song I always dug. This one was written by Mitch Bottler, and I think it's one of the band's best songs. I love the way this one is sung. There is a great energy and desperation in the vocals. Plus, it has a great urgent steady beat. It reached #15 on the Billboard chart. “I’d wait a million years/Walk a million miles, cry a million tears/I’d swim the deepest sea/Climb the highest hill just to have you near me.” How’s that for dedication?

“Temptation Eyes”

“Temptation Eyes” is another excellent song, and was a hit for the band, reaching #15 on the Billboard chart. It features some great bursts of horn, and wonderful vocals. Again, this one has kind of an urgent feel, a rising tide you get caught up in. And I dig the bass line.

“Sooner Or Later”

“Sooner Or Later” was an even bigger hit, reaching #9. This is a fun tune, more of a pop tune. This one features a really nice blending of voices. It has a happy feel, though perhaps some women today might object to these lyrics, as what was once considered wooing is now thought of as harassment: "You say you'll never be mine/But darling they'll come a time/I'll taste all that love that you've been hiding/It's just a question of time/Before you make up your mind/And give all that love you've been denying."

“Two Divided By Love” is their only hit that I never cared all that much for. It’s not a bad song, but isn’t nearly as strong or interesting as the others. It reached #16.

“The Runway”

One of the surprises for me is “The Runway,” a good track which I don’t recall hearing before. It has a nice horn section and groove. It was written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, and it reached #39 on the Billboard chart. “If I have to beg, steal or borrow/I’ll be seeing you, girl, tomorrow."

“Love Is What You Make It”

The biggest surprise is the ridiculously fun and positive “Love Is What You Make It.” This song is immediately appealing and so bloody catchy. I was singing along the first time I heard it. For some reason it only reached #55. If you haven't heard it, give this one a chance.

CD Track List

  1. Mr. Jones (Ballad Of A Thin Man)
  2. Where Were You When I Needed You
  3. Only When You’re Lonely
  4. Let’s Live For Today (Uncensored Version)
  5. Things I Should Have Said
  6. Wake Up, Wake Up
  7. A Melody For You
  8. Midnight Confessions
  9. Bella Linda
  10. Lovin’ Things
  11. The River Is Wide
  12. I’d Wait A Million Years
  13. Heaven Knows
  14. Walking Through The Country
  15. Baby Hold On
  16. Come On And Say It
  17. Temptation Eyes
  18. Sooner Or Later
  19. Two Divided By Love
  20. Glory Bound
  21. The Runway
  22. Anyway The Wind Blows
  23. Love Is What You Make It
  24. Let’s Live For Today (Censored Version)

The Complete Original Dunhill/ABC Hit Singles was released on March 4, 2014 through Real Gone Music.

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