The compilation that changed my life and how I heard pop/rock music
This album is a celebration of life–a feeling of energy and love by the poets, artists and musicians who have joined together to speak for a purpose–to relay the message against drug abuse. The DO IT NOW FOUNDATION is dedicated to helping fight this problem. Never before in the history of the recording industry have so many artists of such stature donated their services for a collage album. We wish to thank all those caring people, the record companies and music producers, whose contributions went into making this album a reality.
–From album notes, Do It Now, 1970–
Do It Now, released in 1970, was a compilation album that raised money for the Do It Now Foundation, which was (and still is) dedicated to helping those needed rehab services and to educating families and communities about drug abuse. It seemed like a good cause, but the reason I bought a copy (as did many of my friends and acquaintances at the time) was its roster of diverse musical performers and styles. I daresay that Do It Now was a huge part of my musical education, along with the work of Robert Christgau and Lilian Roxon as well as magazines like Rolling Stone and Creem.
Some of the performers were already favorites, while others were unfamiliar to me. Some I knew of but didn’t know the song that was included. The whole thing was a lot like listening to AM radio back then or looking over my WCFL and WLS (Chicago radio stations from when I was growing up) Super Hits surveys. It all supports my contention that around the turn of the decade (1970) popular music–music you heard every day on the radio–was as diverse as it had ever been. You could listen to an AM station for an hour and hear rock, soul, country, R&B, funk, folk, and bagpipes. This all changed by 1980. By then you were rock or you were urban contemporary or you were country. Or, not and. But that’s not how real people listen to music, mostly.
Now that the internet has become integral to both the creation and the promotion of new music, it feels like music that is heard every day, everywhere (which now includes video games, tv shows, commercials) comes from all over the world, and is just as likely to come from a lone person operating behind a keyboard at home as from a professional musician in a professional studio. In any case, here is a track by track look at the songs on Do It Now and how they influenced my listening.
Nowhere Man/The Beatles ‘Nowhere Man’ is widely touted as a John Lennon song, and it no doubt is, but subsequent remembrances by Lennon and Paul McCartney show that no matter who writes what, the writing was a partnership and some of each writer would come out in the performance and recording if nothing else. Recorded for Rubber Soul in Britain and released in the U.S. as a non-album single which then appeared on the next U.S. album, Yesterday…And Today. Besides the gorgeous vocal harmonies, the song features a guitar solo played in unison by John and George. A rumor circulated that the song was about Lyndon Johnson, but no, it appears that it was maybe a little about Paul but ultimately it was an assessment, by John, of himself. Even though the song is somewhat distant and sad, reflecting the ‘nowhere man’s’ loneliness the harmonies and guitars are all rather folky and warm. In terms of Do It Now’s context, the song seems to say that we all have enormous unlocked potential inside of us to conquer our demons, but we don’t see it or choose to ignore it.
Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma/Melanie Melanie Safka was 22 years old when she took the stage at Woodstock around 11 pm as a rainstorm blew in. When she left the stage, she was a new star in the pop music world. She’s had a number of hit records through the years, and it might not be her best-remembered song by now, but it’s the saddest, the one with the most hard-luck stuck to its surface like the burnt crisps of cheese that lift off a hot grill with a spatula while turning the burger that is life. There’s a vaudeville quality to her performance as well, as though she might be juggling while she sings lines like ‘if the people are buying tears/I’ll be rich someday, ma.” Then she sings it in French.
Gimmee Gimmee Good Lovin/ Crazy Elephant Crazy Elephant was a bubblegum studio band, one of several that had hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Like most of these bands, the group was marketed as a real band, with an interesting biography and a list of band personnel. Crazy Elephant’s lead singer was Robert “Bobby” Spencer, formerly of the doo-wop group The Cadillacs, but the group had an elaborate biography that claimed the entire group were coal miners from Wales. No matter, because ‘Gimmee Gimmee Good Lovin'” is a pretty good song, and the musicians perform it better than they probably needed to to get it across. Spencer’s vocals are solid and the whole record just brings back a lot of good feelings and memories.
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry/B.J. Thomas I must admit that I have no remembrance of listening to this song on the original Do It Now album. I’m sure it just didn’t make a big impression on me due to its surrounding songs on the collection. Of course, I like BJ Thomas and his string of ’70s hits, “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” “Hooked On a Feeling,” “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” as much as the next person, but I can’t say his interpretation of the Hank Williams classic was anything amazing. Plus I wasn’t at all hip enough to country music at this point to even recognize the classic qualities of the material. So on we go.
Backfield In Motion/Mel & Tim These guys were cousins who hailed from Chicago by way of St. Louis back to Holly Springs, MS. They were discovered by Gene (“Duke of Earl”) Chandler and signed to his Bamboo Records label. In 1969 they hit it with this classic R&B group-style single with a football theme. I had no idea what most of the football terms meant even in football terms but it is clear from the style and performance of the song that these are no-nos in terms of romantic relationships. Mel & Tim released a solid album titled Good Guys Only Win in the Movies and the title track was another hit for them. They signed with Stax Records and made two more albums before disappearing from sight. This track got extra points for using crowd sounds. Anything with handclaps or crowd sounds was an instant hit in my book.
Red House/Jimi Hendrix So, yeah, this was actually a somewhat new song to many Hendrthis ix fans in the U.S. because, while it had been included on the British version of Are You Experienced? it was replaced on the U.S. version with already released singles. It appeared on 1969’s Smash Hits, which is the version that appears on Do It Now. As much as anything this track was instrumental in introducing me to serious electric blues, leading me to later check out musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Buddy Guy.
God, Love and Rock & Roll/Teegarden & Van Winkle Skip (Knape) Van Winkle and David Teegarden hailed from Oklahoma, and that is where they put together their band, delving into gospel and other rootsy Americana sounds. I always had a guilty pleasure in these hippy/gospel/Jesus rock songs–Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” “Put Your Hand in the Hand” and this one, partly because I grew up in a non-religious household, and partly because the whole Jesus thing makes a lot more sense filtered through the hippie aesthetic.
Mr. Bojangles/Neil Diamond Jerry Jeff Walker wrote and recorded this song in 1968, so it was still pretty fresh when it was included on Do It Now. Neil Diamond’s version comes from an album called Rainbows, on which Diamond performs versions of many popular and folk tunes written by other songwriters. I remember seeing Sammy Davis Jr. perform the song as well, but whereas Davis communicated much of the song’s sadness and tragedy, yet still gave the character of Mr. Bojangles a sense of dignity via his movement, this recording by Neil Diamond was the first time I really listened, again and again, to the lyrics, and to the story. It was one of many songs that I grew to love for its ability to make me cry (others include “Honey,” ABBA’s “Knowing Me Knowing You”–there are many more) and to feel overwhelming grief. When we learn that Bojangles’ dog ‘up and died’ and that ‘after twenty years he still grieves,’ well I wouldn’t trust anyone with a dry eye at that point.
Along Comes Mary/The Association So this song has a reputation about really being about marijuana, which would actually be ‘Mary Jane’ but it may still have been the intended meaning. Or else the band put it out there that it could be in order to sell more records. The record does have some hallmarks of psychedelic pop–the harpsichord, the layered vocals, the flute solo, but the lyrics seem to me to be more in the category of what I’d call ‘complex woman’ songs–songs about ladies who may be troubled or who are mysterious–for example the Guess Who’s “Undun.” This Mary is a cool customer and she’s not just walking around handing out spliffs, though she may be up for some major league games playing. This song made me aware of how really hip a little pop song could be. And it kind of set me up for disappointment with The Association, because this is easily the coolest song they ever did.
Somebody To Love/Jefferson Airplane Grace Slick was my first rock and roll witch. By that, I mean that the clear, bell-toned quality of her voice that could cut like a switchblade through flesh and the piercing nature of her eyes as she fronted Jefferson Airplane made her seem as though she could summon supernatural forces or readily marshal the forces of nature to do her bidding. This song and the drug ode “White Rabbit” were both songs Slick brought into the group from her previous band, The Great Society. Jefferson Airplane evolved into its own thing, and I liked a lot of what they did, but ultimately it did seem like they never did anything better than those two songs, and Grace Slick was the witch who could summon those spirits. A few years ago there was an audio file that circulated on the internet of Grace singing this song with no backing, just her vocal track, and it still sounds like her voice could melt your eyeballs and send them flowing, like lava, straight out of your head.
Down on Me/Janis Joplin “It looks like everybody in this whole round world/is down on me.” Janis redid and wrote new lyrics to this old song from the 1920s, performing it with Big Brother and the Holding Company. It became a favorite both on record and in live performances. I remember footage of Janis singing this in Monterey Pop, a movie that influenced me almost as much as this compilation did. In a total no-nonsense performance, Janis gets in, rips it up, and gets out. Nothing superfluous. No extra fluff. That’s why people still talk about her.
Flying On the Ground Is Wrong/Buffalo Springfield Buffalo Springfield only lasted for two years and three albums,, but they were influential due to the contributions of Stephen Stills and Neil Young who went on to write a lot of major songs during the 1960s and 1970s, and beyond. This track shows everything that was important about the band, especially the songwriting of Neil Young, who nevertheless didn’t sing most of his songs–only the more experimental ones. For many songs, like this one, the vocals were done by Richie Furay. Nice guitars (Jim Messina was in the band also) and overall a pretty unique sound.
Minstrel From Gault/Richie Havens This is song combines elements of legends, storytelling, religious and spiritual teachings to give us a warning about how little we listen to the wise advisors in our midst. There’s the minstrel, who tells stories about ourselves and our culture that we should recognize without having to hear them again and again. Then there is a soldier who tells of the horrors of war yet sadly realizes that many more will have to die because the lessons of war go unlearned. Finally, there is the figure of Christ himself, who is hailed as a messiah but whose words go unheard and unheeded. Richie Havens is a vastly underrated performer in the rock/pop music gospel, and it’s time something was done to rectify that. (Note: Song does not appear on Spotify playlist).
Happy Together/The Turtles Written by the same songwriting team behind Three Dog Night’s “Celebrate,” the recording was rejected by a number of groups before being offered to The Turtles, who did a bang-up job and turned it into a huge hit. It’s impossible not to consider this one of the catchiest pop songs of all time, modulating from a minor key on the verses to a major key in the chorus. By the time Do It Now came out, lead singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan were in Frank Zappa’s reformed Mothers of Invention, afterward going out with the name Flo and Eddie. I loved them and their humorous take on pop music, and it all started with The Turtles and this song.
Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye/Steam Another hit single recorded by studio musicians who came up with a band name to sell the record. In this case, the song was written and produced as a B-side to a supposed hit single “Sweet Laura Lee.” That song was itself a replacement for the intended A-side “Working on a Groovy Thing” which was released as a single by the Fifth Dimension only weeks before the Steam song was to be released. ‘Na Na Hey Hey” started getting play from DJs in the American South, and then listeners began to request the song in high numbers. It was never really one of my favorites on the album but it’s a winning pop number anyway, and now it’s a sports stadium taunt.
Artificial Energy/The Byrds This lead-off track from the band’s 1968 album The Notorious Byrd Brothers signaled a change for the group into a more rock-oriented, druggier sound, although they were also pursuing a serious country vibe as well. It seems a bit odd that song which is unquestionably about doing speed (the lyrics directly mention ‘amphetamine’) should show up on a compilation raising money for a drug rehab and education program. But there you have it. Co-written by McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman, it’s the perfect introduction to probably the Byrds’ best album and a precursor to their soon to be unleashed alt-country sound.
Vehicle/Ides of March A formative record to be sure. The funky rock groove, the solid, well-arranged horn section (not scared of a little dissonance), and the committed vocal delivery of Jim Peterik were all yardsticks by which future songs would be judged. The lyrics, which do seem predatory were actually a joke about a girl Peterik once dated who continued to sponge rides off him after they broke up. A couple of years later Peterik co-wrote and sang a couple of tunes on jazz-rock band Chase’s third (and sadly final) album. And we all remember the result when Peterik’s new band, Survivor, was hired to write a song for Rocky III. “Eye of The Tiger” became a huge international hit. Somehow everything Peterik does is pretty cool. And Do It Now is where I met him.
When I Was Young/Eric Burdon and the Animals This song had a real in your face, cinema verite kind of feel and it affected me strongly in a way that was not unlike my reaction to The Jam’s “That’s Entertainment.” Eric gives us a lot of imagery, some of it rather stark, but he really doesn’t try to tell us how we should feel about it. For some folks that seems rather mundane. But for those who the song speaks to, for whatever reason, it is like putting on a pair of glasses that lets you see what is really going on…uh, never mind. I remember that the line that made the biggest impression on me, the one I could recall, and then suddenly the rest of the song would come spilling back into my brain: “And for girls, I had a bad yen.” Yen: a longing or yearning. Some might go so far as to say a craving. Good word. I filed it away.
Sunshine Superman/Donovan By the time Do It Now was released Donovan was a much bigger star than he had been at the recording of this, the title track from his third album. Producer Mickie Most helped to introduce a psychedelic rock sound into Donovan’s folkie sensibility, adding Indian rhythms and instrumentation, rock guitar solos, and the backing of a full rock band on many songs. There’s something here for everyone. If you like pop, it’s a dandy of a pop song. Like psychedelic? There’s the Indian essence of sitar and some great Jimmy Page guitar solos. Like lyrics? “Everybody’s hustlin’ just to /have a little scene/When I said we’ll be cool I think that/you know what I mean.”
O-o-h Child/The Five Stairsteps We end with another Chicago connected favorite, soul family group The Five Stairsteps. The song was recorded for Buddha Records as a B side to the group’s cover of the Beatles song “Dear Prudence.” However, the song broke out on radio stations in Philadelphia and Detroit, making it up to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1970. With its positive message, it has had a lot of staying power as well as being covered by many singers and vocal groups over the decades. I always loved the song, and later, when I got into Laura Nyro I discovered that song was a touchstone for her as well, and that she had performed it in concert. A fitting conclusion to the best compilation album I have ever owned.