Gary Lewis and the Playboys
Golden Greats Liberty http://www.tinymixtapes.com//sites/default/files/arton5194_0.jpg

[Liberty; 1966]

Rating: 4/5 4 / 5 (0)

Styles: pop rock
Others: The Buckinghams, Nancy Sinatra, The Lovin' Spoonful


http://media.tinymixtapes.com/


If we stand on the international date line and squint darkly into history the faint silhouette of pop-warlock Snuff Garrett becomes clear, hunched and muttering odious vespers over Gary Lewis' drum kit as a cowled Leon Russell swings a gilded thurible over the prone Hollywood prince. Mastery of the dark arts is the only explanation for the jaw-dropping success of Gary Lewis and the Playboys' first seven singles, each of which hit the billboard top ten in 1965 despite Gary's trollish under bite and the lovelorn lyrics of their songs. The illusion is flawless; crafted by Leon Russell and Al Kooper, veteran session men to the greater rock pantheon (Dylan, The Stones, etc.,) The Playboys' smash hit "This Diamond Ring" is a marvel of the studio scene. Penned by Kooper, "This Diamond Ring" replaces all of the Playboys with session musicians, and leaves the lead vocals to Ron Hicklin, notable for his work with The Monkees and The Partridge Family. Producer Leon Russell's pop alchemy dazzles with the simple over dub of Hicklin's vocals with Lewis' nasal drone (think of his father, funnyman Jerry) which picks up at the end of every other line's melodic turn, out of tune, but an endearing flaw that fits with the band's themes with exasperated dissonance. The songs borrow from the Beatles' stylistic harmonies, but bury these indiscretions in baroque corpulence. The rest of Golden Greats collects the 1965 canon with a few lesser takes. Gary's shy, geeky persona remains the record's focus, notably "Everybody Loves a Clown" and "She's Just My Style," both poppy gems of unrequited love and fanboy perseverance, their plebian candor out of place in contrast to the school yard romance of early Fab Four or the jagged lust of mid-sixties Stones' songs which have petrified gracefully. Golden Greats tucks these pearls between a few rough knock offs, like the dirty Beach Boys knock off  "Little Miss Go-Go," but these carbuncles blend easily into the fuzz of oldies' radio sub-consciousness and do not tarnish the listening experience. 

The promotion of Gary Lewis and The Playboys is a little more secular but no less miraculous. Jerry Lewis landed the band a spot on the Ed Sullivan Show where Gary's lip synching shot "This Diamond Ring" to number one overnight. Snuff Garrett arranged live radio shows around the country, which gave them chart topping success for two years with hits nestled between those of British invaders and Motown groups. Ironically, Gary was voted top male vocalist in 1965 by Crash Box magazine, beating Presley and Sinatra for the prize. While the band's success peaked in 1965, the decline of The Playboys can be attributed to the psychedelic revolution and Gary's draft number coming up a little too soon.

In our modern era we find ourselves starving for creative authenticity, doubly so for readers of this illustrious journal, and one's contrived pop-culture instinct scoffs at something as hackneyed as a "ghost band" in light of the slew of mainstream recording artists of dubious talent who dominate the public air waves. At least these latter-day plaster-cast icons are attractive and charismatic; Gary Lewis' appeal was in his namesake and the talent of his studio puppet masters, and this is the selling point of the band. Snuff Garret's team used the hollow vessel to craft astounding pop melodies which (nearly) single-handedly drove the band's success.

Some deconstruction can be applied to this collection. The songs, nearly all of which are attributed to the production team of Garrett and Russell, often ring with references to lost love and Smiths' style self-depreciation reveal the authors' age and more cynical worldview. Simultaneously, the lush pop melodies defy any gloomy interpretation of the lyrics, for instance: "Yes, I'm a clown but I don't want to be/ Why can't you see the other side of me?" comes off at such a quick tempo that the vaudevillian out weighs the somber, masochistic semantics of the song. The major scale contributes to this slight of tongue, and the result is almost celebratory. The heartbreak preceding "This Diamond Ring" takes similar relief with a subject traditionally off limits in pop music. Alone these idiosyncrasies are red herrings in the purple sea of pop culture, but when you look at the other bill board number one hits of 1965 you realize the climate should reject this sort of music, no matter how catchy. The Beatles have "I Feel Fine" and "Eight Days a Week" near the Playboys' charting, Petula Clark's "Down Town" and "My Girl" by The Temptations. Valentine's has two catchy heartbreak songs: "This Diamond Ring" and the Association's "You've Lost that Loving Feeling." Can we speculate that tight hearts and winter drag out these two songs? Does the escalation in Vietnam have record consumers hunting after the tongue and cheek reminiscing of the iconic fifties lifestyle, already petrified by the mass media as America's golden age? Does the playboy's success by deception mirror the double speak of post Kennedy diplomacy and public relations? Don't you love pop? 

Your local oldies station is probably playing a Gary Lewis hit right now, unless they're reformatting for classic rock.

1. This Diamond Ring
2. She's Just My Style
3. Count Me In
4. Sure Gonna Miss Her
5. I Won't Make That Mistake Again
6. Time Stands Still
7. Tina (I Held You In My Arms)
8. Little Miss Go-Go
9. Without A Word Of Warning
10. Save Your Heart For Me
11. Everybody Loves A Clown
12. Green Grass

1. This Diamond Ring
2. She's Just My Style
3. Count Me In
4. Sure Gonna Miss Her
5. I Won't Make That Mistake Again
6. Time Stands Still
7. Tina (I Held You In My Arms)
8. Little Miss Go-Go
9. Without A Word Of Warning
10. Save Your Heart For Me
11. Everybody Loves A Clown
12. Green Grass