Sunday, July 7, 2013

"Baby I’m-A Want You," by Bread

In some ways, an album like Baby I’m-A Want You by a band like Bread, is the epitome of what this blog is all about: a long-forgotten, well-crafted, pop album by an underappreciated band that deserves a dusting off and another spin on the turntable (or another “click” on the iPod). And Bread was an exceptional band that just never received its due for being one of the most consistently listenable acts of the early 1970’s (although there was a terrific, non-ironic 2005 tribute album). Baby I’m-A Want You stands as one of their very best albums (that said, there’s something to appreciate about all of their original albums released in the precious, few years they were together between 1969 and 1977).

But first, a few U.S. career highlights from this significantly misunderstood band:
·           In their heyday, Bread racked-up 12 top-40 hit songs between 1970-1977
·           7 of those were top-10 hits
·           Their solitary #1 hit, “Make It With You,” is a classic slice of early-1970’s pop balladry and has been covered by many over the years, including the legendary Dusty Springfield, whose tragically obscure version stands as the definitive version and is well-worth seeking out

But besides these points on a graph, Bread was simply an exceptional band of songwriters and musicians, signaling in 1969, “…the birth of Californian soft rock, as David Gates and compatriots blended the folk-rock of The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield with a distinctly British melodicism and a streak of sentimentality borrowed from McCartney” (All Music, 2013). Lofty and accurate comparisons, no? In fact, beyond their work with Bread, individual band members had notable achievements through the 1970’s and 1980’s and into the 1990’s, including band members Rob Royer’s and James Griffin’s Oscar-winning song, “For All We Know,” from the film Lovers And Other Strangers in 1970, as well as David Gates’ #15 solo hit from the Neil Simon film, Goodbye Girl in 1977 and his #30 hit, “Took The Last Train,” in 1978. Additionally, Griffin, Royer, and Mike Botts had continued success in the 1980’s and 90’s as songwriters and performers in the Country Music genre. Clearly, band members were overflowing with talent and ideas.

And peaking at #3 in 1972, Baby I’m-A Want You, the band’s fourth album, was its biggest hit, featuring radio classics such as, “Mother Freedom,” #37 in July of 1971, “Baby I’m-A Want You,” #3 in October of 1971, “Everything I Own,” #5 in January of 1972, and “Diary,” #15 in April of 1972. And beyond the radio hits, Baby I’m-A Want You included fan favorites, like the rocking, “Down On My Knees,” the surreal, imaginative “Dream Lady,” which I’ve always suspected inspired Gary Wright’s 1976 hit, “Dream Weaver,” both musically and lyrically, the equally dreamlike, “Games Of Magic,” the wistful, “Just Like Yesterday,” and the finger-wagging, lecture song, “Daughter.” Along with “Mother Freedom,” the album’s other civically minded tune, “This Isn’t What The Governmeant,” (See what they’re doing there?) provides the typical left-of-center, partisan political commentary rock bands were issuing in those days. And Baby I’m-A Want You is an exceptional album for its time; a sun-faded Polaroid of a remarkable and melodic era in popular music.

But by 1973, internal tensions pulled the band apart, and depending on the account to which you most prescribe, the rift was either caused by ongoing tension between principle songwriters, David Gates and James Griffin, over which songs would be selected as singles, with Gates’ mellow songs having the best commercial track record over Griffin’s more rock-driven songs, or it was caused by the record label, Elektra, that wanted to keep the band pigeonholed as hit making, “softy” balladeers, when the band wanted to explore other sounds and highlight their edgier, guitar-driven work. Either way, the tension makes sense; if you look beyond their best known, Gates ballad singles, the band rocked as hard or harder than many of their contemporaries on the radio at that time (to wit, the trend-conscious, “Truckin’,” which captured the early-mid 1970’s romanticized fascination with the trucking profession, “Let Your Love Go,” and “London Bridge,” to name just a few). But whatever the actual formula for its demise, I guess longevity wasn’t meant to be for the band, and the good lads went their separate ways in 1978.

In the late 1990’s, Gates, Griffin, Botts and Knechtel came back together for the inevitable nostalgia reunion tour, but to the best of my knowledge, they recorded no new material at that time. Sad, that, as just a few years later, Mike Botts and James Griffin were dead from cancer. Larry Knechtel died of a heart attack in 2009. And that, music fans, was the end of Bread. Most folks who appreciate the hits have already sated their appetites with the double-CD, Bread Retrospective, released in the 1990’s, but there’s much buried treasure and even more insight to be gained from picking up the original albums that carried these 1970’s pop gems, which helped usher-in not only “soft rock,” but also the singer-songwriter era of the early 1970’s.

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