Harpsichord Everywhere

February 19, 2011

Often the dots of the universe connect in a surprisingly delightful and unusual manner.

Like sleep-addled groundhogs, Paloma and I poked our heads out last weekend, peered about, and realized that the tundra had thawed, leaving us with peerless weather and warmth.

We headed out.

Paloma manned the Sirius satellite radio that she had gotten me for Christmas, delighting in the array of options and searching for The Smiths.

Momentarily, she idled on the ’70s station long enough for the screen of the radio to display Maureen McGovern – The Morning After (’72) and the opening notes of the hit from the The Poseidon Adventure to play.

“I like that song,” I told her. “It has harpsichord in it.”

She quickly moved on, unswayed by the lure of the harpischord.

I vaguely remember The Morning After from the time, though I do remember the slew of ’70s disaster flicks – Airport ’75, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno – that featured all-star casts and would air as The ABC Sunday Night Movie.

A few days later, I happened to read Lawrence Welk, Pop Star over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. I read with interest as Paloma and I will often watch when we come across an episode of The Lawrence Welk Show.

JB noted that the song Calcutta, Welk’s Number One hit from 1961, features harpsichord.

Harpsichord.

I had to do a bit of sleuthing to find more songs with harpsichord.

There were a number that I immediately recognized, songs like Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair/Canticle, Mamas & Papas’ Monday Monday, Yardbirds’ For Your Love, Paul Muriat’s Love Is Blue, The Beatles’ Piggies, and Partridge Family’s I Think I Love You.

I might be able to bang out a few chords on guitar, but I’m not a musician. I don’t think that I ever really pondered the harpsichord I was hearing in those songs.

I’m not even sure that I knew that what I was hearing was harpsichord.

However, to paraphrase Marcia Brady, I don’t know how to build a clock, but I know how to tell time and, though I might know little about the harpsichord, I can still enjoy what it brings to a song.

Here are four songs with harpsichord…

Asia – Ride Easy
from Anthologia: The 20th Anniversary/Geffen Years Collection (1982-1990)

I was completely smitten with Asia’s self-titled debut in ’82 and – somewhere – I still have a poster of the album cover. That poster inspired me to suggest the Asia dragon as potential artwork when Paloma was searching for something to cover a tattoo.

(she didn’t find the idea as grand as I did, but, then again, she wasn’t a fourteen-year old boy in 1982)

Yet, grand is an appropriate description of the quartet’s debut album and it shouldn’t be surprising that a band whose drummer had a gong would find room for harpsichord, too.

Ride Easy was the b-side to Asia’s first hit, Heat Of The Moment, and not included on their debut album much to my dismay at the time as I’d only get to hear it when I’d punch it up on a jukebox.

Maureen McGovern – The Morning After
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box

I seem to hear The Morning After at least once a week while listening to Sirius’ ’70s station on the morning commute to work and that’s fine by me.

There’s something about the song that I dig. Maybe it’s the sheer melodrama of it all, but, if you’re going to have a theme song about a luxury liner capsized by a massive tidal wave – and Ernest Borgnine is in the cast – I suppose that it’s no time to be timid.

Rolling Stones – Play With Fire
from Big Hits: High Tide And Green Grass

I fully admit that The Stones have been phoning it in for so long now that it has affected my view of them. And that makes it all the more astounding when something pre-Goats Head Soup pops up on the iPod.

Play With Fire is truly menacing and menace is a vibe which The Stones were once as capable of capturing as well as any band ever has.

Jellyfish – The King Is Half-Undressed
from Bellybutton

I discovered Jellyfish when the record store where I worked received a promo copy of the band’s debut, Bellybutton, in 1990. The psychedelic album cover was eye-catching and the music earned the group from San Francisco comparisons to greats like Queen, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, XTC, and Cheap Trick.

Despite plenty of swooning by critics, Jellyfish was unable to find mainstream success and would split up after just one more album, 1993’s Spilt Milk, but the group has continued to loom large in the hearts of power pop devotees for the past two decades.

Be forewarned, I listened to The King Is Half-Undressed the other morning as I hadn’t heard it for awhile. That was two days ago and I still haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

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