The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

2 July 2006

Any time the music carries on

My brother (four years younger) has a pretty good memory for tunage, and it's not too uncommon for him to hear something I'm spinning over here and say, "Geez, I haven't heard that in years," then pick up on the next couple lines of the lyric.

This doesn't happen too often to me, since I've gone to the trouble (and expense) of acquiring all these records in some form or another, but "all," I have to remind myself occasionally, doesn't mean "every last one of them," at least not in any meaningful sense, because there are songs that even I haven't heard in forty years or so and yet will hit me like a bolt from the blue, especially when I can remember that, hey, I used to sing along with that.

Nineteen sixty-four, from the standpoint of American Top 40 radio, was the Year of the Beatles; one week in April the Fab Four actually had the top five in Billboard. But playlists were wide enough back then that lots of non-British stuff charted, and one fellow who showed up a lot in 1964 was Major Lance, a recent arrival on the Chicago soul scene who had been signed to CBS's reactivated Okeh label. What made Lance's records work was the unfailing good taste of writer-producer Curtis Mayfield, supplemented by occasional vocal backup by Mayfield's own Impressions. An unabashed dance number, "The Monkey Time," was Lance's breakthrough hit in 1963; he hit #5 with "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um," a song for all of us who are speechless in the wake of emotion, early in '64. Smaller hits followed; I remembered, and eventually acquired, "The Matador," but after that trifecta, that was it for Major Lance.

Or so I misremembered. I hadn't heard it for 42 years, but this past week, I happened upon "Rhythm," which wasn't a huge chart hit — #24 — and which for that reason never gets played on "oldies" radio anymore, and how in the world could I have forgotten a record with as much, um, rhythm as this?

And, lack of reinforcement notwithstanding, I still knew all the words.

Posted at 10:41 AM to Tongue and Groove