Sunday, April 10, 2022

Featuring The Fifth Dimension

Earlier in the week I had to drive a few miles to do a thing and that's always an opportunity to listen to one of the many, many CDs I keep buying or getting people to buy for me. Usually I grab something new or at least recent but for some reason this time I picked up a Dory Previn album.

I never really paid all that much attention to Dory Previn back when I was buying all my music on vinyl or even CD. It was, probably ironically, although I don't want to get into that nest of worms again, not until I started exploring the last sixty or seventy years of popular culture by way of the internet that I discovered just how much I liked her songs; intricate, self-aware, caustic yet vulnerable.

As I was listening to Coldwater Canyon it reminded me of several other wordy, snarky, conversational singles of the approximate period. It used to be something of a sub-genre all its own. I'm not sure if it survives in the exact same form although there's certainly no shortage of similarly smart, sharp, sarcastic songs in any number of other contemporary styles.

These songs always seemed to have something of the stage about them. They weren't quite musical theater but they weren't wholly pop either. They were also never precisely cool even though they had a kind of sophistication that was impossible to deny. The dense, referential wordplay, later to become so intrinsic to so many strands of popular music, seemed at the time to call out to a different sensibility.

It was showing off, basically. You couldn't escape noticing it. Even though these were songs that got played on the radio until you frankly never wanted hear them again, even though they made the Top 40 or the Top 20 or maybe even the Top 10, they still sounded as though they'd be more at home in a college revue than a TV pop show.

I've always been moderately careful to select only certain aspects of my taste for public display. I'm not a believer in guilty pleasures - I like things or I don't and I can usually tell you why - but there's no need to go blathering to all and sundry about every last little foible. 

Since I started featuring music on the blog I've always kept a weather eye on the cumulative impression I might be constructing through the choices I offer. It means I don't always give due representation to everything I enjoy, particularly the older stuff. I mean, it's one thing to link gauche, unfashionable new discoveries but gauche, unfashionable oldies? I think not.

We all edit ourselves for public consumption or we do if we're normatively socialized but sometimes it's worth letting the ragged edges show. Of course, that's all part of the editing process too but hey, what can you do?

I'm throwing this together in a hurry, even though I've had it in the back of my mind all week, so it's just goin to be a handful of really obvious ones. I might come back another time and do a deeper dive. For now, though, here's what I've got.

You're Moving Out Today - Carole Bayer-Sager

Now that's the kind of performance you don't see every day. It looks like she's in her garage rehearsing for a pageant and her dad's filming her on his Super8. It even cuts off abruptly before the end as if he's run out of film. According to the YouTuber who posted it, that's "The original promo video." Life was simpler back then. 

Of course "back then" was the same year the Sex Pistols released Never Mind the Bollocks. I know which I'd rather listen to but forty-five years later no-one's likely to be making a Netflix series about Carole Bayer-Sager.

You're So Vain - Carly Simon

I have always loved this song. I love the melody, the lyric, the performance and above all the backing vocals. Backing vocals are so underrated, aren't they? In my brief time as a performer, the most enjoyable on stage experience I ever had was singing backup in a version of the band I co-started that carried on after I went to university. When I came back they kindly let me back in. It was a hell of a lot better than singing lead, like I ended up doing, I'll tell you that for nothing.

Coldwater Canyon - Dory Previn

I don't think this is the best version of the song you're going to hear but it's the only live performance I could find, Dory looking like uncannily like the sister Ian Hunter never had. Well, I say that. I have no idea whether Ian Hunter had a sister. Jesus did, according to Dory, though, or at least she thought he might have. Then again, she also claimed Jesus was an Androgyne. She was before her time, was Dory Previn.

Chuck E's In Love - Rickie Lee Jones

It's funny, I always thought of this as in solid line of descent from Tom Waits but listening to it now it's clear to me that if she's channeling anyone other than pure Ricky Lee it has to be Van Morrison circa Astral Weeks. Some Joni in there, too, of course, not least in that beret. Also, another video that just cuts off before the end. Does no-one know how to edit any more?

I Don't Sleep, I Drink Coffee Instead - Brenda Kahn

If Rickie Lee Jones is famous, for a given degree of fame, I really can't see why Brenda Kahn isn't. We've had this one before, a long time ago, but I really don't think it matters. Put your hand up if you remember it. Anyone? Bueller?

Tom's Diner - Suzanne Vega

We seem to have wandered so far away from the original premise we're in another country altogether. Don't pretend you haven't noticed. I only really had those first three songs in mind when I started this. I kind of hoped something else would present itself as we went along and indeed it did but not in quite the way I hoped. 

It could have been a lot worse. I toyed with some boys, Harry Chapin, Peter Sarstedt, Squeeze... I'm sure you can fill in the blanks. I was going to go with Michelle Shocked until I remembered why no-one mentions her any more. 

I'm getting more ideas for a better thought-out version of this post. Maybe I should make some notes.

For Sunday after work, though, I think this will do just fine.


  1. Hey now, where's the Fifth Dimension? I was expecting Wedding Bell Blues or Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.

    1. Listen to the Dory Previn track!

    2. Aha! Now I get it. Still, in keeping with the song, here's some balloon ascension: Up Up and Away


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