Plastic pop has been around almost as long as pop has. Manufactured music, by manufactured bands, with no other thought that to produce something that will sell, in as many numbers as possible. Written by professional songwriters, recorded and sung by session musicians: two minutes, two-and-a half tops, in and out. Keep it short so there’s plenty of time for the next one off the production line to hit the turntable.
And yet: not every piece of commercially created music is utterly hollow. Art may not always be for art’s sake, it can sometimes creep, unwanted but not unfelt, into music made for the basest of motives. The Monkees may have been a quartet of actors with varying-all-the-way-down-to-minimal musical ability, but they still produced some great pop.
And The Archies’ ‘Sugar Sugar’, eight weeks at number 1 in Britain, was a brilliantly infectious, dance-friendly piece of bubblegum pop that still lifts the spirits over forty years on.
In 1968, like most of my age (and I suspect an equal number of girls, though as I went to a single sex Grammar School, I have no means of knowing this), I was hooked on The Banana Spilts Show, a zany, indeed wacky kids show, hosted by the Banana Spilts, supposedly consisting of four people dressed up as anthropomorphic animals: a beagle (Fleagle), an orange gorilla (Bingo), a laconic lion (Drooper) and a hairy elephant who only spoke in honks (Snorky). There were sketches, running gags, cartoons and an adventure signal that had everyone in my year hollering ‘Uh-oh, Chongo!’ (you had to be there).
And there was music. Pop songs, just like those of the Archies’, commercial pop, written by professional songwriters, recorded and sung by session musicians: two minutes, two-and-a half tops, in and out. That those musicians included luminaries such as Gene Pitney, Al Kooper or Barry White I neither knew nor cared, being ignorant of all pop at this time. I doubt I even saw this music as pop.
Yet there was one song. One song in the midst of all the others, that caught my ear in 1968 when even the Beatles were an unheard mystery to me, thanks to parents who ensured that nothing resembling pop appeared on their TV, or radio.
One song, written and sung by professional musicians, no doubt working to a clock. But it went into me, and something about it stayed, where music otherwise was ephemeral, a passing, unremembered thing, an interruption to the silly, childish songs that were what Ed Stewart’s Junior Choice was really about, every Saturday and Sunday. It was called ‘Wait till Tomorrow’, and as one who would, in due course, become a lover of that peculiarly mid-Sixties kind of clean-cut, pure American pop, it was brilliant.
It took me nearly twenty years to get hold of the song, by means of a video-tape of a repeated Banana Splits Show, but it was exactly as I remembered it. And it took nearly twenty further years to get hold of a CD that included it, a moment’s Sunday night inspiration, on a regular, long drive back, that ended with an internet search of approximately two minutes, and an order from somewhere in California.
It’s a very simple song, in primitive stereo that removes most of the basic instrumentation to the right channel, and places the voice and some of the more ephemeral music to the left. But the voice, from the moment it enters the song, hits a deeper note than you might expect. Flying through the meadows, all through the night, deceptively in keeping with everything before it, but the next line introduces something much less joyous: searching for the star that once was so bright.
And then it’s made explicit: love gone sour, love gone wrong, love gone. We had it once but we let it go. It’s changed. All the sunshine, apple pie and ice cream is overshadowed, the warm affection that we needed so, and that final word soars into a chorus of hope, of conviction. Wait till Tomorrow, we’ll find each other then, wait till tomorrow, tomorrow we will learn to love again.
Love has gone and two people are lost. The singer is one of them but he hasn’t given up hope. He believes in love, he believes that it is stronger than what inexplicable thing that has driven them apart. He knows that they can’t make love come back today, but wait till tomorrow he sings again, in tones of optimistic yearning, belief in every note of him.
Around him, the melody sings and swoops, a perfect melange of piano, bass, drums and some of the most affecting ‘la la las’ in pop history. He comes back to it again. It isn’t the end: there will be love again for them.
I look back at some of the songs that made an early impact on me, songs that spoke to my heart long before I was aware of my heart might one day contain, and with this cheap little bubblegum song, not even a proper record, just a soundtrack to a piece of comic television, I wonder if I was foreseeing things that would not come to pass until a time completely unimaginable from 1968. In this song, the singer hopes, is certain, yet his voice betrays him to the knowledge that it might not be that way after all. He can’t deny that there might not be a happy ending, not today, not tomorrow, not ever.
Which is why art can never be excluded totally from the most unartistic of endeavours.