During the sweet days of summer of 2010, for 2 whole months, I was obsessed the music of ’70s soft rock troubadours Seals & Crofts. 10+ years later and I’m still trying to make sense of it. The jasmine’s in bloom….
For someone who endlessly whinges about how much she hates the term “Guilty Pleasure”, I admit I still feel a tiny challenge when it comes to celebrating the thing I’m about to explain. Come to think of it, “celebrating” might not be the right word, what I mean is it’s hard trying to relate why I liked it, or why I got quite so into it for what turned out to be a pretty short span of time. To be honest I have only the vaguest idea. I think it relates to the general concept of both “childhood” and “better days” and the kind of fantastically remembered notions you have about the past once you get a little distance. But shit, I also just like some ridiculous old pop music.
Right so in the summer of 2010 I became inexplicably fixated on the music of Jim Seals & Dash Crofts aka Seals & Crofts, the ’70s soft rock duo who dominated the AM radio airwaves throughout that decade. They’d been huge back in the day, scoring a handful of truly infectious hits including “Diamond Girl”, “Get Closer”, “We May Never Pass This Way Again” and laid back behemoth “Summer Breeze” (which made putting plates on the dinner table seem like the most romantic thing in all of humanity). Like most people of my generation (X), I was pretty familiar with the aforementioned hits but admit that was solely down to old school osmosis…meaning that every car journey of my childhood was tuned into and soundtracked by sugary sweet AM radio. Thus the malleable little kid brains of my brother and I were exposed to this sweet but sinister musical asbestos on a daily basis as it reverberated through our insanely cliched succession of ’70s family vehicles: the requisite station wagon (kids pinballing in the back), a blue Econoline van (kids pinballing in the back even more violently) and most importantly, our Mom’s white Chevy Nova which had a huge sunflower painted on the side, as commissioned by my hippie Mom, often resulting in my grade school classmates letting me know that “I saw your Mom’s car today” which though I love now, I found unspeakably humiliating at the time.
Sorry got off track there but that was some f-ing car. Now to be clear, I genuinely enjoyed some of the songs I was exposed on those car rides. Not usually enough to sacrifice allowance money on, but enough so that I might possibly sing along to them under my breath as they wafted through the Nova, like for example the Captain & Tennille’s “The Way That I Want To Touch You” (hell yeah) or the Eagles “One Of These Nights” (ni-hi-hi-hi-ights)…but as open as I was to a good hook, Seals & Crofts aka S & C, never quite managed to capture my attention. Not only was I not moved by the songs ( the lowest common denominator), they also didn’t meet my crucial, non-negotiable young girl in the heat of pop music infatuation standards i.e. they didn’t rock and they weren’t young and cute.
Seals & Crofts 3 biggest hits all peaked at the # 6 position in the Billboard Pop Chart. 666. Just sayin’.
Yet there I was in our year of 2010 eagerly rooting through their entire recorded catalogue on iTunes like a freakin’ Smithsonian archivist, painstakingly cherry picking songs that sounded cool and stuffing them into a playlist. And like a kid who prefers the packing peanuts to the actual gift in the box, I found myself way more interested in exploring the deep cuts I’d never heard than the familiar hits. Once assembled, I proceeded to listen to this approximately 10-12 song “Ultimate Seals & Crofts Playlist” every day. On the daily train ride to work. While riding loops around Central Park. As I was washing the damn dishes. For all of July and August. It was like a ’70s AM radio themed version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers wherein some soft focus, earth shoe wearing, incense cone burning, hang-gliding, Chevy van driving, ambiguously spiritual, herbal essence shampooing, Tab drinking muthaf*cking ghost had moved into my person and taken control. What triggered this ? The hot July days ? Memories of catching fireflies in the backyard as a kid ? What the holy hell was happening ?
Look, we can’t talk here, meet me in the next paragraph…
I need to get factual for a minute but I swear I’ll be brief. That up there⬆️ is the inner sleeve of S & C’s 1974 album Unborn Child featuring the lyrics of the title track. They were written by Lana Bogan, wife of the duo’s recording engineer Joseph Bogan and then set to music by S & C. The song was actually released as a single but due to the controversial nature of its subject matter many radio stations refused to play it (especially as it came in the wake of the Roe v.Wade decision in 1973). And so it only got as high as #66 on the Billboard pop chart ( wait, 66). Still S & C were popular and “hot” enough at that point that the album itself landed in the Top 20 and ultimately went Gold.
Okay so I have a confession to make. About a year before my official S & C infatuation began, I had actually purchased an LP of theirs…it was, yup you guessed it, the infamous, aforementioned Unborn Child. It cost $1 and I bought it along with a pile of other cheap records from one of those NYC street vendor guys who sell old albums out of crates on the sidewalk. My first reaction upon seeing the album title and perusing the lyrics of the song it had been named for on the inner sleeve, was a hearty “what the f*ck“. To be honest, knowing how popular S & C were at the time of Unborn Child’s release, it kind of pissed me off. It seemed downright insidious, packaging this particular sentiment on an album released at the peak of their fame, knowing those who’d been seduced and won over by the sweet hits the previous year would just buy it based on history. Anyway, it didn’t matter that it was already 35 years old, I just couldn’t let it slide. And so I bought it as a curio, a historical object, a weird ’70s artifact to be incredulous about with music nerd friends. I bought it because because it made me (gently) angry. I know that seems weird and counterintuitive as f*ck but there you go. I’d like to think we’ve all done things like that ( uh, right ?), like bought an elderly book with debunked ideas or a piece of hilariously misshapen fruit just to have, to be amused or astounded by, or to make your friends laugh or whatever. And that’s literally all it was to me, this thing I could wave around every few years and say “have you ever seen this?”. I admit never actually listened to it, not until a year later in 2010 when the S & C obsession took hold of me. All of which is to say yes, that sleeve pic above is of my own actual copy.
My deeply ingrained disdain for the song ( and album title) didn’t derail my Seals & Crofts Summer Love Experience though. We had a difference of opinion yes but I mean, I didn’t necessarily agree with everything my beloved Prince sang or said over the years so slack was cut. S & C and me, let’s just agree to disagree.
This line up is nuts for more reasons than I can list.
Thankfully someone had the good sense to document this incredible event for posterity. Want to see Dash Crofts in a fetching white suit and shades looking exceptionally rock star like and view some truly inspired interpretive dance by denim clad audience members soundtracked by “Diamond Girl”…yeah you do, so please, if you will, cast your eyes here. In addition I recommend you watch this vintage intro to a TV broadcast of the C-Jam here because the last couple of minutes are pure gold. And one last thing, Jim Dandy to the rescue. Truth be told, watching the audience enjoying the C-Jam is way more fun than watching the actual show. It’s an endless sea of sun-visors, jeans and mustaches…Linda’s and Susie’s…Mike’s and Tommy’s…and though we can’t technically see it, home to a no doubt staggering amount of weed.
“I’m not dumb Lindsay, I know what high people look like. I went to a Seals & Crofts concert last summer !”
Quote from Millie ( Freaks and Geeks Episode 13)
Listening to Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace album or watching its companion documentary of the same name doesn’t require that you follow her same faith or even practice any religion ( except maybe worshipping Aretha herself, hallelujah). Experiencing both of those aforementioned things is a visceral experience, the emotion expressed transcends specifics, it’s about a feeling. Before you get crazy, I am not about to compare listening to freakin’ Aretha to digging into S & C catalogue. It’s just easier to explain this next stuff by using the Amazing Grace experience as an example. Okay so while I was digging into the S & C discography I inevitably delved into a bit of the duo’s history and discovered they were longtime devoted followers of the Baha’i Faith. There are references to its tenets within the lyrics of some songs, not aggressive, but definitely in there if you’re looking. But it didn’t color my listening experience, didn’t come across as proselytizing. What I’m getting at is, like The Queen’s Amazing Grace the music of S & C is more about a feeling for me, evoking things that aren’t necessarily religious…like when we used eat outside at McDonald’s as kids and throw fries to the birds on hot ’70s Saturday afternoons. Does that make sense? It’s a feeling.
“Cause You Love” is a wake up call directed at all of humanity that is as gentle as being hit with a pillow stuffed with cotton balls and I love it.
What did I discover on my journey into the S & C discography? Well, Crofts’s voice had a quirky, occasionally cartoonish quality and sounded best when it was singing in harmony with Seals, who himself generally took the lead. And though things were sometimes cloudy lyrically, it never really rained, which is to say even the saddest, most serious Seals & Crofts songs were brimming with melodic optimism. Sure the aforementioned “Cause You Love” offers that times are “heavy” and “hard” but it still sounds like blazing sunshine. Yeah, “Baby Blue” is a song about leaving someone to go play the field but its melody is so joyful, its sentiment so polite and empathetic that it makes behaving like a restless bastard sound like flying a multi-colored kite. I liked how laid back plea for closeness “Million Dollar Horse” employed an actual “chk” sound in and around the chorus to represent a tiny bit of spur kicking. And while “Desert People” is specifically related to the aforementioned Baha’i faith and features the lines “so let your sweet rain fall on me, for I am dying, we’re desert people and we’re in pain, but we’re still trying”, it also sounds like something you’d listen to while driving to the freakin’ beach. “I Keep Changing The Faces” describes going from partner to partner and justifying the action because our protagonist is “in love with love” but its groovy Doobie Brother-esque backdrop makes him sound like the sweetest lounge lizard alive. And even though “If and Any Day” drips with regret and craves assistance from above it still sounds like the theme song of a ’70s movie about rollerskating at Venice Pier. Yup, songs by Seals & Crofts are fueled entirely by the fumes of a straight up unadulterated ’70s summer breeze.
If it’s cool enough for the THE GREATEST then clearly it’s cool enough for us all.
A summer fling. That’s really what it was, my Seals & Crofts obsession. A sort of sweet memory that lives mostly in the rearview. While I still have a handful of tracks in rotation and occasionally play ’em when the mood strikes, I haven’t indulged anywhere near as much as I did that July and August, haven’t felt the urge to hit play on the old playlist.
As a child I kept a scrapbook of celebrity obituaries and admittedly maintained only a tenuous relationship with the concept of “carefree” and “happy”. This kid who lived down the street was constantly referring to me as being “mad at the world”. And it used to piss me off (if only I’d known the word pragmatic back then I could’ve defended myself properly). I think in some weird way my infatuation with Seals & Crofts was related to that. They were like the sonic embodiment of the innocent carefree ’70s kid days and some particularly elusive feeling I wanted to grab a hold of and apply retroactively. That innate musical lightness and laid back groove they peddled seemed particularly in sync with that time or at least felt “as one” with it in my mind. Truth be told, it was f-ing fun, randomly becoming obsessed with a band from days of yore for reasons I both totally understand yet totally don’t. The whole experience was weird as hell…and I highly recommend it and wish it for everyone. Gonna close this out with something that’s never gonna get old because yeah, just have to…