08 September 2005

thelma houston - "mixed-up girl" (from the sunshower lp, available for purchase as an import here)

in brief: original of art-soul scorcher later covered by re-re and dusty--really original.

i think i really appreciate jimmy webb b/c he never was a hippie.

oh, sure, it earned him scorn from his peers; jackson browne probably didn't like him much and the eagles likely never wanted to jam--but who gives a shit about that? webb was square enough to dig burt bacharach, but flat-out bizarre enough to write lines like, "hear them singing, all the women of pompeii standing with the nagasaki housewives in doorways." when the two sensibilities came together, it was like the big bang.

except, all too often, many people ignored this big bang--and we're not just talking fundamentalist christians neither.

thelma houston--yes, she of "don't leave me this way" fame, but that's still eight years off--was described by webb as "the most prodigious talent" he had ever encountered. "mixed-up girl" was later covered by both aretha franklin and dusty springfield; it's not often that a singer has bested either one of those singers, let alone both, but thelma does so here, justifying webb's faith in her. it's unspeakably thrilling when the chorus hits, the strings rise, and thelma lets out w/ "why can't i be lonely like that lonely rushin' river?" (which i had originally hoped was "lonely russian river." webb's always been big on geography and, well, pretension--and doesn't the volga look lonely?)

webb, for his part, lets thelma down. let me explain what i mean. thelma houston was a young woman; like i said, "don't leave me this way" is down the road still. thelma houston, in short, isn't making royalties off of "by the time i get to phoenix" and "wichita lineman." "mixed-up girl" is a beautiful art song--but, no matter what folks try to tell you about the great ol' 60's, people weren't buying art songs, even if the instrumentation recalls webb's two biggest hits (but at three times the tempo). "mixed-up girl" isn't pop enough and it's not r&b enough and, well, thelma, i'm sorry, but take solace in knowing that, when you're topping the charts in 1977, webb's latest solo album, el mirage is in the tank.

still, if one takes off the first forty seconds and the last minute or so ... you've got a two-minute song. (still, it worked for the box tops!) and, yes, you'd have a viable hit, but a lesser song. the first forty seconds are a distant cousin to the opening of "california girls," but instead of the gestation of pet sounds, one hears the echoes of a 19th century music box. as for the coda, it's webb's own version of the middle-8 of "don't talk (put your head on my shoulder)." and, yes, for their efforts webb and houston were as scorned by the record-buying public as wilson's opus was, only capital's gimmick ("sloop john b") worked whereas webb's ("jumpin' jack flash") didn't. there are reasons why one frequently tops greatest album ever polls and the other is only available as a japanese import--and they're not all musical.

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