The Infinite Jukebox: Jim Croce’s ‘Time in a Bottle’

It’s always sad when a musician loses their life, removing forever the possibilities of where their talent could have taken their audience. It is doubly painful to think of the death of Jim Croce, killed in a plane crash returning from the last night of his tour.
Croce had started his career, unsuccessfully, in the mid-Sixties, recording one album with his wife, Ingrid, but first came to commercial notice with his third album, an American no. 1 and its attendant single, the title track, ‘You don’t mess around with Jim’. Further singles followed, including his only lifetime no. 1, ‘Bad Bad Leroy Brown’, which was covered by the unlikely figure of Frank Sinatra.
Croce had become a hit, and several of his songs got Radio 1 airplay without selling, but he became increasingly unhappy at the amount of time spent touring, keeping him away from Ingrid and his son, A.J. So much so that he wrote her, after his last gig, telling her he was giving up music so as to stay closer to her. In the morning, his plane crashed on take-off, killing everyone on board: Croce’s letter arrived after Ingrid had learned of his death.
But in 1970, after learning that his wife was pregnant with A.J., Croce had sat down and written a song, encapsulating his lover for Ingrid. It’s recording had been a fortuitous experience: Croce found a harpsichord on the studio which blended beautifully with the two acoustic guitars he played, with the addition of a very small amount of electric bass, and no percussion.
The song was called ‘Time in a Bottle’. It appeared on You don’t mess around with Jim, and after his death, albeit with some misgivings about the sentiments of the song, set against his loss, it was released as a single, and became a second American no. 1. I heard it that year and bought it, though like everything that came before it, and most undeservingly, it made no headway in Britain.
I could never persuade anyone else just how good it was, but then I was surrounded by prog fans.
The song is simple, dealing with the most simple of subjects, the love one person has for another. There are three verses and two choruses, the verses dealing with desire and hope and the awe of that other person, that Croce sings in a higher register, his voice full of wonder at the fact at the thoughts of eternity that dance through his mind. He sings of abstract ideas, becoming concrete in his dreams, the idea of saving time in a bottle, to be used to spend time with her, turning days into forever and words into wishes that come true, so that all of time may be spent within her presence, of a box for wishes and dreams that never came true, a box that would be empty of everything but the memory of how she made them come true.
And the choruses are repeated in a lower register, in a softer, less urgent tone, because the choruses are what is, what is real between them, which is that there is never enough time in the demands life makes for what you want to do, and that is still her, for he has had enough time go past to know that she is the one he wants to spend all his time with.
The contrast between the dream of the verses and the practicality of the choruses, between what should be and what is is the cornerstone of the song, and the painful poignancy of the contrast between the understanding that Croce is singing from the heart and that he never had the time at all, that what he needed was not time in that bottle but rather a genie who would have preserved him to live at least some of that future to which he looked.
The song received a beautiful, crisp, clean production in which each note was individually sounded, with crystal clarity. And Croce was right about the interplay between the harpsichord and the guitars, which mesh seamlessly, creating a delicacy of sound over which his voice rises in what is, in many ways, a private hymn to the woman he loved. But he expressed it in a way that each and every one of us recognises in ourselves, in universal terms that only require the existence of another person, a someone that they want beside them.
Even in 1974, and having behind me only my first, puppyish love that I hadn’t known how to make work, I was moved to deep emotion by this song. Sometimes I wonder if I recognised the future that was waiting for me. There never were enough times to do the things I wanted to do once I found them. This song remembered for me before I had the memories.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Smiths”How Soon Is Now?’

When it came to having a cavalier approach to singles in the Eighties, New Order were the unashamed masters. It wasn’t that they took unconventional steps, but sometimes it was like they were deliberately anti-commercial. Eventually, they either learned better or they got fed up playing games, but for a while there they were the kings of doing the nonsensical thing.
I can think of only one contemporary band who ever pulled off a stunt to rival New Order, and that was The Smiths, with ‘How Soon Is Now?’
I was an eager Smiths fan for a few years, packed inside my years following New Order. It began with dear old Peely playing ‘This Charming Man’ one night, which I immediately thought of as the Postcard sound, done right (you’ll understand what I mean if you were there too) and ended less than halfway through the only time I ever saw the band live, during the all-day G-Mex gig, the Festival of the Tenth Summer.
But for that few years, I was indeed enthusiastic. I bought the singles as they came out, quickly enough to capture original picture sleeves, like when Morrissey had to stand in for Terence Stamp, I think, to duplicate an unauthorised still on ‘What Difference Does It Make?’ The fifth one was the disappointingly nondescript ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’; not just nondescript, but also short, at 2 minutes and 10 seconds. It’s b-side was even shorter, a mere 1 minute and 50 seconds, though every second of it was lush and gorgeous, because this was the achingly wonderful ‘Please Please Please (Let Me Get What I Want)’.
Still, a total of four minutes of music spread across a 7” single was not really value for money in most people’s books.
But I was a fan, and fans bought everything, and besides, there was a bonus track on the 12”, and my Lord it was 6 minutes and 50 seconds long, and it was called ‘How Soon Is Now?’
First of all, how insane was that? That’s three-quarters as long again as the other two tracks put together. Who does that?
And then I listened to it. And listened to it again. And again. Who, in their right mind, throws away something like this on the bonus track on a 12″ single? Are they all completely deaf to what this is? Or are they setting out to out-perverse New Order, because if they are, they’ve done it.
I now know that ‘How Soon Is Now?’s placement was down to Rough Trade label-boss Geoff Travis’s aversion to it being released at all, it being such a compete contrast to the rest of the group’s music. So the answer was that Travis at least was completely deaf to ‘How Soon Is Now?’ and if it had been up to him it would have been a secret known only to the group itself.
Given how widespread people’s musical tastes are and can be, I rarely say things like this, but I am genuinely flabbergasted that someone like him could not recognise that here was a monumental, magnificent piece of music, an epic. Who cares that it was totally unlike what had come before it?
Cribbing a bit from Wikipedia, I can report that the song is built around the use of a single chord, F#, and that Marr wanted a swampy sound (the track’s working title was ‘Swamp’). But interesting though that is, I concern myself with effects, not causes. And ‘How Soon Is Now?’s first impact came from the contrast between its shimmering effects, the multiple guitar licks built upon the base of Marr’s sustained, growling, crawling, almost grinding rhythm, the guitar riff that isn’t a riff, that sustains and multiplies throughout.
The song peals in on a higher guitar lick, but the rumble takes over. Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce maintain a complex yet simple beat, metronomic in its crispness yet lacking any element of a dance-beat, as Marr crosses and criss-crosses the slow chugging rhythm with layers and layers, and Morrissey slides across the face of the song, singing melancholy lyrics of shyness and vulnerability that were, in many ways archetypal Smiths, but which, in their self-pity were in complete contrast to the solidity, the complete self-confidence of Marr and the implacable sound he’s built.
In the end, like Morrissey’s crippling introversion, the song has no ending. The music has formed itself into a barrier, an unscalable wall. It has no ending, the riff is perpetual motion, the guitars play and dance and the song has to be faded out because it cannot be stopped. The song could last forever – one take was apparently fifteen minutes long – and who would care?
‘How Soon Is Now?’ is the thing that The Smiths will ultimately be remembered for, a hundred years from now, no matter how separate it is from the rest of their music. It was thrown away as the extra track on a 12” single. It became the band’s sixth single, in a version edited down to 3 minutes and 41 seconds, a song already released on a single, released as a single, but only got to no. 24, after three Top Twenty hits. We’d all bought it already. On reissue, seven years later, it reached no. 16.
But it’s still an amazing song, an amazing performance, a thing of tensile strength and extraordinary daring that, despite the decision of some people to condemn the guitar-based rock track as a passé remnant of the Twentieth Century, still sounds as vigorous and magnetic as the day I first heard it, and will remain so.
Not bad for something they threw away and wasted.

The Infinite Jukebox: Robert Wyatt’s ‘Yesterday Man’

Has it ever occurred to you, when listening to any Golden Oldie show that broadcasts Chris Andrews’ colossal 1966 hit, ‘Yesterday Man’, that there is a massive gulf between the sound of the song – peppy, poppy, bouncy, delirious, uptempo, upbeat, danceable – and what Andrews is actually singing about?
After a brassy, bright intro, trumpeting to a halt to give a platform for Andrews to deliver his first line, he announces that he’s a Yesterday Man, and affirms to his friends that this is what he is. And, in case there should be some doubt about a linguistic shift that has utterly transformed the meaning of the words, he repeats it and repeats. That’s what I am, that’s what I am, a Yesterday Man, with a quick confirmatory echo behind him of ‘Gone is the look of love she had last night.’
Ok, it’s plain, and the verses make it plainer. He had a girl. She was great. He thought she was in love with him, but she’s dumped him overnight. He was sure taken in. And now he’s her Yesterday Man and he couldn’t sound more pleased about it if you’d offered him a 14″ Deep Pan Pizza with all his favourite toppings on it.
Hey, wait a minute. This is a break-up song, no doubt, break-up-I-was-conned, and Andrews is singing about it as if it was the best experience of his life, and no-one seemed to have noticed? Truly we are strange people.
Jump now to 1974. Robert Wyatt, once of Soft Machine and Matching Mole, now confined to a wheelchair after a fall from a window resulted in a broken back, records a cover version of The Monkees’ ‘I’m a Believer’ for a John Peel Show session. It goes down well enough that Wyatt records it as a single and has an unexpected minor hit and a controversial Top of the Pops appearance.
In the New Musical Express, it’s reported that Wyatt has recorded a version of ‘Yesterday Man’ that’s even more brilliant as a follow-up, but for unknown reasons, the single is cancelled. Until one day in 1977 when, listening to Piccadilly Radio, an unknown track started to play. ‘Gone is the look of love she had last night’, it began, and I dived for the tape recorder and hit Record, for I’d never forgotten about the Robert Wyatt version and this was indeed it, but what it was doing on Commercial Radio at that point I have no idea, and I never heard it played again.
Wyatt’s interpretation differs massively from Andrews. He takes the song at a slower pace, noticeably but not dramatically so. His vocal range, which is in a higher register than Andrews, lends itself to the plaintive, whilst the instrumentation is thicker, weightier. The song is immediately recognisable: the syncopation is there and the song structure hasn’t been tampered with.
But what distinguishes it most clearly is the simple difference that Wyatt is singing to the words and not the arrangement.
And make no mistake, this is a melancholy song, and incredibly so in its last line, when the singer confesses that in spite of all that I say, I’d take her back any day. And Wyatt sings it like it is and in the process turns a cheery romp into a sorrowful lament and a confession of obsession and weakness. It’s what his voice is made for, and the arrangement reflects it perfectly.
As for the original, we all know that the juxtaposition of elements in any form of art can be a fruitful form of tension, but really, singing about heartbreak in a happy-clappy jolly voice and arrangement as if you’ve won the EuroMillions jackpot on a multi Rollover week is not going to produce anything for anyone. Wyatt got it right, taking his cue from the words, and on a long ago day in 1977, I reacted instinctively and grabbed the chance to hear this, and to take it into my memory where it resonated for the rest of my life.

The Infinite Jukebox: Mr Acker Bilk’s ‘Stranger on the Shore’

After nearly eighty entries, this is only the second instrumental to appear on the Infinite Jukebox, and it is something of an odd choice. It’s a spur of the moment choice, brought about by one of those moments of YouTube serendipity: I put on an album of surfer instrumentals as background music for a post I’m writing, get bored with how samey the guitars all sound, decide to play an instrumental not on this collection, put up Jack Nitzsche’s ‘The Lonely Surfer’, notice he’s done a version of ‘Stranger on the Shore’, play it out of curiosity, check a couple of other versions using trumpet, piano, guitar as the lead instrument, then play the original with the urge to explain why it works and they don’t.
First, I have to distinguish for myself why this isn’t just a case of infinite familiarity trumping the shock of the new. For I am familiar with the Acker Bilk original, right back from when it was a commercial phenomenon, a number 1 hit single and a single that hung around the British charts for a full year.
And I am familiar with something that not many people recall, and even fewer know, which is that ‘Stranger on the Shore’ was the theme music for a BBC children’s Sunday teatime drama series of the same name, that it was retained as the music for the show’s sequel, ‘Stranger in the City’ (silly kid me, I expected the music’s name to be changed when the sequel appeared), and that the single was credited as being the theme to the TV series.
To my amazement, though I remember nothing about either series, it has its own Wikipedia entry, describing it as a five part drama about a shy French teenager in Brighton, acting as an au pair and facing culture shock. ‘Stranger on the Shore’ was broadcast in 1961, and would seem to have been shown over the five weeks immediately before my sixth birthday! And it seems that I was not that wide of the mark in thinking the instrumental’s title would change thanks to the sequel, because it had originally been entitled ‘Jenny’, after Bilk’s daughter, and it had been renamed to the show’s title.
By rights, I should have no time for this track. It’s from the pre-Beatles era, lacking in that energy and aural freshness that Merseybeat introduced, and Bilk – Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band – were mainstays of the “trad” boom (traditional jazz) that was supposed to have replaced rock’n’roll, and I do not dig jazz and I especially do not dig trad (spare me, please, from ever hearing ‘When the Saints go Marching In’ again).
But ‘Stranger on the Shore’ rises above everything else recorded by Bilk and his band of pretend Somerset yokels in this period. Bilk is the only ‘band’ participant on this track, which features sweet strings from the Leon Young String Chorale. This is yet another factor that ought to prejudice me against it, that and its associations with my parents’ ideas about music.
Yet it works. It’s more than just a time capsule that, without fail, takes me back to those black-and-white days, to the Light Programme whilst Mum did her housekeeping, to making a mini-den out of the clothes maiden, hiding between its wings, surrounded by the smell of drying cotton, to dull and empty Sundays waiting endlessly for the TV to come back on again, to those times before my sister was born. It contains all these things and even nearly sixty years later, tied indelibly to its times, it is still a moving, soothing, atmospheric piece of music, whose TV-born title lends to it an air of fitness. It is, despite its smoothness, the sound of loneliness.
Those alternate versions I’ve listened to today fail, not just because they replace the clarinet with other lead instruments, but because they fail to understand the meaning of the music. They treat it as easy-listening, as nothing but a good tune. They apply a rhythm, a beat, background instruments, against which the trumpet, the piano, the guitar plays the music, and they pick out the individual notes, and they lose it completely.
Mr Acker Bilk’s version doesn’t bother with such things. There’s just his clarinet, supplemented by the sweet strings, in little background moments that complement the melody, that work with and for it, or provide an ‘instrumental’ break from the voice of the clarinet. For the breathy, low-register smoothness of the clarinet flows forward, the notes integrated, almost elided into one another. Nothing else intrudes, there is no beat to dictate the tempo, just Bilk out on his own, the stranger through whose mind these sounds progress, heedless of others, on a shore that in the tv series (the early episodes of which I missed) was that of Brighton but which in the music is merely a shore in the mind, ethereal and endless.
Sometimes, when I focus upon it rather than listen to it with familiarity, tears start up, for the wish to live then again, a little boy without cares or fears and two parents he loved in that instinctive way that is the right and necessity of all small children, and for the contemplative mood of the music, the sound of being alone.
Acker Bilk understood that. The others don’t. A good tune is a good tune, but in only one man’s hands does it have soul.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Chi-Lites’ ‘Have You Seen Her?’

Serendipity in musical terms is pretty much out of the window now I no longer have Brian Matthew and the much-missed glory era of Sound of the Sixties. But sometimes YouTube can fill a little of that absence. This morning, a combination of circumstances led me to pull up a track that’s featured in a previous Infinite Jukebox blog. The next track on the Autoplay was The Chi-Lites’ first British hit, from early 1972, ‘Have you seen Her?’
I used to have a friend, a girl, a contemporary from Elysian Street Mixed Infants & Juniors, with whom I played in innocent times. We were separated at age eleven, first by going to different one-sex-only Grammar schools, then by my moving from East to South Manchester. Nearly five years later, out of the blue, I got a letter from her, suggesting meeting.
She’d grown into a long-legged, long blonde-haired fifteen year old who was utterly gorgeous. In my naïve and extremely inexperienced way I fancied her something rotten. Thanks to her, I started going to a Sunday night Church Youth Group, run by the then-Vicar of our old East Manchester Church. I was reintroduced to my oldest mate, met another lifelong friend, met the first girl I ever fell in love with.
My friend left the Youth Group about six months later, and I was not to see her for another decade when, in an ironic inversion of circumstances, I wrote to her after the death of her father, and we formed a firm friendship that lasted nearly twenty years before dissolving in disappointing fashion.
But what this has to do with The Chi-Lites goes back to that brief teenage reintroduction. For some inexplicable reason, given that for all my passionate enthusiasm for music I was still pretty much an ignoramus, come December she decided she wanted to buy herself a single for Xmas and asked me to suggest something.
Eager not so much to please as to impress, and showing my desperation in doing so, I covered two sides of a narrow-feint lined sheet of paper with at least a dozen possibilities: names, title, what they were like as music. Thankfully I’ve no memory of anything I offered, except for one already-dated piece of fluff that I heard exactly once, and which went on the list solely because it’s title was her name. I cribbed my notes on that single from what the DJ said afterwards, only to find she’d heard the same broadcast.
With no more than a day to go before handing my list over, I heard another song on the radio for the first time: The Chi-Lites, of course, and ‘Have you seen Her?’. They were unknown in this country, and had only recently charted in America after a dozen years together. I knew of them vaguely, having spotted in the American chart published in Record Mirror that they’d had a song called “Give more power to the People”, and curious as to how it differed from John Lennon’s strident “Power to the People” (it differed, people, it differed).
“Have you seen Her?” was out of my usual parameters. I was not a soul boy, not by any means, despite a nascent attraction to some of the Motown reissues of the time, and this slow, hazy, lazy, mostly spoken piece was nothing like I had ever liked before. Besides, my sheet of paper was full. But I still managed to cram in a mini-rave, in a scruffy corner, about The Chi-Lites, based on that one play, and predicting it would be a big hit.
For once in that decade, I was exactly in tune with the Great British Record Buying Public, for it was a hit, and it was big, reaching no 3, a placing only reached by one of their other UK hits, six in total, ironically with their last. It was popular enough to get back to no. 5 when reissued only three years later.
Which of my suggestions my friend bought, or whether she bought any of them, I can’t remember even finding out. I suspect I’d be on safe ground in thinking that The Chi-Lites was the one most likely, given that she loved Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. I’m sure I’m on safe ground in thinking it to be the best of my selections and even safer in thinking it to be the only hit. Listening to it again, marvelling in its soft, warm, melancholy glow, connects me once more to those days and someone who used to be one of the very best friends I had.
Yet “Have you seen her?” is a memory of it’s own. It sits in a long tradition of songs about women, girlfriends, who have disappeared, as in “A Day Without Love” or “Carrie”. The singer may sound laidback, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t missing her, isn’t hurt, as that meltingly gorgeous chorus, as much whispered as sung, constantly reminds us. Have you seen her? Oh tell me, have you seen her?
She’s gone and he’s lost and lonely. Nothing holds any value for him. Everything he sees or hears reminds him of her. He tells himself she’ll come back, but each day proves him a liar. What has caused this breach, when he loves her so deeply and needily?
Well, maybe there’s a clue that ears of 1971 were less receptive to than those of our modern age. You know, its funny, Eugene Record muses, I thought I had her in the palm of my hand… But those of us who are in love want to be held by a hand, not in it, where we have no agency of our own. Sometimes it’s necessary to escape that kind of loving.
Did she come back? Did he ever see what was under his nose? With music this soft and sweet, this humble and loving, you have to believe him capable of getting it.

The Infinite Jukebox: Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’

Before you read this, if you have never heard this song before, click on the link below, and listen to it, in silence, with your ears wide open.
Go on, play it, go off and listen, for this is more than a song of great beauty, of superb singing, from inside the depths of a man’s soul. It’s a landmark song, a song that, on the eve of change, looked into the heart of the need for that change, and back into what was and had been for far too long.
Sam Cooke came from Clarksdale, Mississippi, in the South: the South of segregation, repression, Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan. He’d originally been a star of gospel music but crossed over into secular pop, scoring an American No. 1 with his debut single, the sweet, smooth, ‘You Send Me’.
Cooke wrote the song in response to hearing Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowing in the Wind’, to hearing a white singer singing about racism. In part it was inspired by Cooke’s experiences in being refused accommodation at a whites-only motel, but the song, in both its words and its voice rises above a single incident to take into its hands a belief that it cannot be like this for much longer, that A Change Is Going To Come.
After recording the song, Cooke performed it once on TV, an impromptu broadcast at his manager’s urging: the tape wasn’t retained and Cooke, spooked by the music and the vision he’d laid, never sang the song again in his life. He was shot and killed in controversial circumstances ten months later.
In a way it’s as extraordinary as Otis Redding’s ‘Sitting on the Dock of a Bay’: a very late piece of music that sees the singer in a reflective mode about his life as a black man in the turbulent, Civil Rights Sixties, a song unlike the music he would regularly perform. But whilst Redding looked within, Cooke looked without. For Change was, indeed, about to come, on the heels of Cooke’s death, with the faith and optimism that permeates this song.
But that was fifty years ago, and A Change Is Gonna Come is still not what it should be, which is history. Prophecy yes, for change has come, and we are a world away from the overt, licit racism of those times, but we have not come so far that we do not need to go further yet, and that is without the growing tendency these past years to want to slide back, to go back to those times and embrace them as somehow good, somehow better. That there were things in those times that were better than those we have now is true: but it was not the racism, the grinding of people into poverty and humiliation because their skin did not look like ours.
Back in the 2000s, there was a BBC2 series, Friday nights, on the History of Soul Music. We watched it together, as a family, five of us, three children. I will never forget the first episode, which went back to the turn of the Fifties into the Sixties, laying out in cold detail what it was like to be black in America and how that fed into their music. I will never forget the awed fascination of the children as they absorbed the, to them incomprehensible, reality that had existed even in their stepfather’s lifetime, and they listened to this song.
They will never slide back as others have.
Listening to this song fills me with awe. It read the air, it smelled the wind, it spoke of hope in that moment when hope seemed the last thing to have. It still rings with meaning today, and with regression in the world and racism making great strides back into the open, let’s take time to recall that.
And to hope that we too can say, with true hope in our hearts, that a Change is Gonna Come.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s ‘House at Pooh Corner’

The Nitty Gritty Dirt band have never made much of a splash in the UK. Unless they featured on the old Sounds of the Seventies strand (which musically I was not able to comprehend until much later in the decade). But there were two singles, one from 1972 and the other from 1973, that got decent if not excessive airplay, enough to impress both upon me as favourites that should have had a better reception.
The first of these was ‘House at Pooh Corner’, a Kenny Loggins song that was a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band original, appearing on their classic 1970 album ‘Uncle Charlie and his dog Teddy’ and a 1971 US single that decorated the bottom half of the Hot 100. These were the days when American singles were always delayed for UK release, most of the time by at least six months.
These were also the days of home taping off the radio, with a four-track mono reel-to-reel recorder that was by no means instant when it came to starting a recording. Given the brevity of the track’s intro, I never managed to get a full recording, only one that started a half-line into the song.
That line sets the tone immediately, demonstrating that the title is literal. Christopher Robin and I walked along, sings John McEuen, under branches lit up by the Moon. They have questions for Owl and Eeyore, but already the days are disappearing too soon. The singer is both boy and man, child and adult, at one and the same time participating in Pooh and Christopher Robin’s world and distanced from it.
That verse is sung with joy and a nostalgic glow, but a plaintive note is introduced as we lead in to the chorus. The singer has wandered too far away, and now he can’t find his way to the Three Acre Wood (it’s Hundred Acre Wood in the books, but you trying fitting the extra syllable into the scansion).
The chorus makes it all explicit, as the singer pleads for help, to get back to the house at Pooh Corner by one. There are so many unimportant things to do, all the unnecessary importances of childhood, but the singer is now too far away, the adult that was once and never again be the child, wanting to go back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh.
The second verse is pure fantasy, pure A A Milne. Pooh’s got a honey jar stuck on his nose. The singer can’t help him but sends him to Owl, for help in loosening a jar from the nose of a bear.
And we swing back into the chorus, but this time the plaintiveness is replaced by a wistful acceptance that there is no such hope, that the Three Acre Wood is beyond reach, except in those precious memories of friends we will never play alongside again. Back to the days of Christopher Robin. Back to the ways of Christopher Robin. Back to the ways of Pooh.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were and are a country rock band. There’s a strong pop flavour to ‘House at Pooh Corner’, with an undertone of wah-wah guitar that adds a slight flavour of funk, but it’s a strong band performance, with superb unison harmonies supplementing the lead vocals.
The song was written by Loggins in his last year at high school, in 1967, but the Nitty Gritties recorded it first, before Loggins began his recording career with Jim Messina. Loggins didn’t record it himself until his own career, started, and much later re-named it ‘Return to Pooh Corner’ and added a retrospective third verse about the singer and his own son. I’m used to the simplicities of the Nitty Gritty version so even though that’s the writer’s own interpretation, I found the slower, acoustic arrangement and Loggins’ more affected singing to be twee already before the extra verse seals the impression in concrete.
No, I can only return to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, to the energy and emotion they bring to this song. The fantasia is simple but heartfelt and the performance and the harmonies create a perfect sound stage. We’ve all been there. So many of us would give much to return, even if only for a golden hour in the middle of a life of stress and strain. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band sing as if they know that. They also know it can’t be done, but they capture the exact shade of longing for such an impossibility.