The Infinite Jukebox: The Association’s ‘Cherish’

You look at the clip and you think that they can’t possibly be taken seriously as pop or rock musicians. Six young men, dressed immaculately in conservative three-piece suits with high-collared white shirts and ties sharply knotted. Though their hair may be just a little on the long side, they’re a far cry from the degenerate long-haired animals that pass for young men these days. Some polite, restrained group, hoping one day to make it in the Catskill circuit, playing nice, safe, well-mannered versions of old standards. Not pop, nor definitely rock. Surely not.
But The Association were a pop group, and a rock group, a soft rock group who, in the late Sixties, were lauded as witty, articulate and, with their six man harmonies, capable of some of the finest vocal arrangements outside of Brian Wilson.
‘Cherish’ was their first big American hit, the first of two number 1 hits (three in some charts). It’s a gentle, soothing, pop ballad, unobtrusive backing, resting its weight on its voices and its words. And Cherish is an odd word, an archaic word for a pop song, a love song. It isn’t a strong word, its connotation is of a one-sided feeling, not reciprocated. But The Association have chosen this word deliberately: indeed, the song’s opening line makes a point of this selection.
Cherish is the word he uses to describes all the hopes he has hidden deep inside. So yes, it’s the right word, for this is a boy-loves-girl-but-she-don’t-love-him song.
She doesn’t know how many times he wished that he could hold her, or that he had told her or, and this is where the dodgy attitude of Sixties love pop applies, where the woman has no agency in her feelings and is no more than a response to the male’s libido, how many times he’s wished that he could mould her into someone who will cherish him back with equal urgency.
The position is made even more clear by a second verse in which Cherish is replaced by its exact rhyme, Perish. That’s the word that more than applies to the hope in his heart each time he realises, and there is a further litany, each line of despair and denial. He’s not going to be the one who shares her dreams, nor is he going to be the one with which she shares her schemes, nor yet what seems to be the life that she will herself cherish as much as he does hers.
This literary approach continues into the bridge, as more of the band join the two who are sharing these vocals. He’s beginning to think that Man has never found the words that would make her want him, words with the right amount of letters and sounds that will make her hear, and see, and if until this moment you’ve entertained any thought that his careful, articulate words are a put-on, too clever for words, now the band strip away the circumlocution and he openly, plainly states that she is driving him out of his mind.
There’s a momentary pause in the music as these words are absorbed, and then the careful distance, the attempt even now to find words that will unlock the distance between them. The band sing of things he could say: he could say he needs her, but that would be a dead giveaway, because then she’d realise that he wants her, and that in turn puts him on a level with a thousand other guys who’ve told her they love her for the rest of their lives, but really that’s just a cover for their real desire, which is to touch her face, her hands and gaze into her eyes, which is about as far as this kind of contemporary pop allows the singer to state, even though we all now how to decode it into physical desire: you don’t really think that all John Lennon wanted to do was hold her hand, do you?
But he is above that, or at least he’s trying to tell her so, by implication. Yes, she’s gorgeous and any guy would want her, but that’s not all for him. He wants more than her body, her kisses. He wants that life, to share it intimately, and he’s so far from it, but it means so much to him, and that’s when the band respond with a force that surprises.
It’s that first verse again, the helpless wishing, but instead of the polite two-voice enquiry, backed by quasi-doo wop ornamentation, this time it’s the full band, six-man harmony, at full-tilt, with vocal swoops and stresses. No more Mr Polite Guy, this is the sound of hurt and pain, of direct need, wrapped up in jewelled harmonies, coming from a gang of immaculate musicians, who surely can’t produce something this powerful?
But they do. Just like they cherish her. There is no relief. Not even the lushness of this arrangement will convince her, though it convinced enough people to take it to number 1 for two weeks in 1966, and launch The Association’s commercial career.
A band with that vocal flexibility could never be just the cabaret audience entertainers they affected to appear. A song like this might not be hip, it may be constructed, manufactured, but the workings were genius and the sound inspiring. If a sound like this couldn’t win her over, check her for breathing.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Association’s ‘Never My Love’

According to Wikipedia, ‘Never My Love’ by The Association was the second most played song on American radio in the Twentieth Century. I don’t have access to the list, but I doubt I’d be far out if I assumed the top placed song was The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’. For a band almost completely ignored over here, that’s high company. Anyway, listening to ‘Never my Love’ never fails to make me question what the Great British Record Buying Public are using in place of their ears.
Not long ago, I discoursed on Spanky and Our Gang’s ‘Sunday Will Never Be The Same‘, and on how its apparent simplicity was merely a window into something deeper. The two songs are completely different in subject. ‘Sunday’ is a classic piece of Heartbreak/break-up pop, but ‘Never My Love’ is about the love that is, and always will be.
But not necessarily for both.
The singer sets his stall out in the first line. You ask me, he says, gently and without petulance, if there’ll come a time when I grow tired of you. She’s hesitant, fearful, not sure if she should respond to him. Has he given her any reason to doubt him? Not if you listen to him, to the whole song. But what of her? Has she been hurt before, been let down by false promises, been heartbroken? Does she think he’s only staying it to get her into bed?
We don’t know, nor will we know. What we do know, and the band comes in as a whole, breathy, harmonious, quiet and firm, is his answer: never, my love. Never, my love.
She asks again, will his heart ever lose it’s desire for her? Again, quietly, undemonstratively, with complete sincerity, never, my love. Then it’s his turn to ask her a question: how can she think love will end when he’s asked her to spend her whole life with him (and this being 1968, he’s talking marriage)? Why does she doubt him?
Unable to say more with words, the band turn to a weave of ba-das, as much an instrumental break as any guitar or organ solo.
As a band, The Association, pioneers in soft rock, were known for their superb harmonies, six members, all of whom sang, several of whom took lead, and sometimes they would produce vocal arrangements almost as complex as those Brian Wilson devised for the Beach Boys. They dressed in three piece suits, with quiet, perfect ties, and neatly combed hair. They didn’t look like rock stars of any kind.
But still she doubts. You say you fear I’ll change my mind, that I won’t require you: never my love, and each time he says it twice, as if the repetition ends all uncertainty. He’s sincere, he is only sincere. For him this is it, for the rest of all time. If she would only reach out to him.
And still he tries to make it plain. The song, a gentle ballad built upon low-key group instrumentation, decorated by those superb harmonies, offers commitment, lifelong commitment. If only she will accept it.
In the end, we don’t know whether she does, and we never will know. Does she accept him, accept his love? In a ballad as beautiful as this, with harmonies like soft kisses, and a gentle, easy melody, some of us at least are seduced into hoping she believes him. He is without doubt: she is the one for him, the only one, if only she will have the confidence to accept him. Why does she resist? What makes her cautious, over-cautious as he sees it. Has she been hurt too deeply to ever easily extend her trust again, or saddest outcome of all, does she not really love him enough?
Until such time as an answer is forthcoming, he and the Association can only use the best words they know, perhaps the words they were unable to summon two years earlier in that other awesome ballad, ‘Cherish’. But there aren’t many more beautiful hymns to commitment, to love and a lifetime of it, than the second most played song on American radio in the Twentieth Century, that a cloth-eared British Recording Buying Public turned down flat.
You fools. You poor, benighted fools.