Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Feuerzeig Video Covers Project #15: "I Wanna Be With You" (The Raspberries)

Lyrically, “I Wanna Be With You,” may have few words and lack the ambiguity of more ‘sophisticated,’ but darker, songs I’ve written about---but the words are the perfect complement to its complex musical arrangement.[1] Their power is precisely in getting to the point quick, and letting the music do the talking-- a lesson probably learned from the woman in the Raspberries first hit, “Go All The Way.” It’s one of the most convincing romantic rock songs in a “teen-love” setting (and can even convince those of us who also can groove on the cynicism of songs like No Trend’s “Teen Love”).

The singer’s persona, and his lover are presumably both under 18, living with their parents (“if we were older, we wouldn’t have to be worried tonight”)[2] Such themes were more common in 50s and early 60s rock and roll (when that was the majority demographic), but it’s the bridge that make it more convincing as Carmen’s voice reassures the woman that he will indeed still love her tomorrow, and doesn’t just want sex or even a kiss. He wants to soothe, to ease, and please her, as he asks her permission (“if you believe”) before telling her to close her eyes. Lyrically, it’s the perfect complement to “Go All The Way,” in which the woman taught the man what the man is teaching the woman here. The earlier song was in the present (and immediate future); this follow up emphasizes the future: “be with you” means “stay with you,” “live with you.”

In the Shadow of “Go All The Way”

In order to write about the music of “I Wanna Be With You,” I have to take a closer look at what its prequel does. By 1972, was difficult not to take sides between “heavy rock” and “light rock”—as the radio playlists, and the culture in general, was fragmenting into more specialized, segregated, niches. But if you were a band who loved to rock, but also loved the glories of a mid-tempo melodic romantic ballad, what do you do if you want a “hit record, one they play on the radio?” You write and record a song that does both, as they’ve never been done before!

“Go All The Way” burst on the scene with the sound that sufficiently establishes a heavy cred for many—but it amazingly and seamlessly slows down, quiets down, and opens the curtains of the heart, to a beautifully melody, and a short, but intimate testimony in the verse: “I didn’t know what I wanted to say/ till she kissed me and said baby, please Go All The Way.” On the chorus, the choral harmonies and countermelodies enter, obviously influenced by the Beach Boys & Beatles (but in my opinion even more glorious in the context of this song), to soothe with their power.

But the song can work on the dance floor too--the heavy rock returns on the bridge, when lead singer Eric Carmon exhibits a Small-Faces-era Steve Marriot vocal range (“before her love I was cruel and mean”) and Wally Bryson rips some the most tasty guitar leads ever in pop & rock music. After this pay-off, it quiets down into rhythmic build up with call & response vocals, which makes me want to clap your hands as they build back up the pretty chorus. The “come ons” here are as close to the musical equivalent of sexual foreplay as you can achieve in a romantic pop song. The words say what the music does; or is it the other way around?

The woman in this song makes the first move. We don’t even know if she wants to stay with him forever—but in this song, the singer doesn’t mind or need that. He’s happy she took the lead, and it has unlocked him. In the process, “Go All The Way” fulfills a male fantasy and lives up to its name as it pulls out almost every hook in the book to balance melody and rock, harmonizes the yin in this all-made band with the yang, at least as much as Chicago’s “Make Me Smile,” but lyrically it’s especially refreshing, as it balances a rock and roll swagger (that could be ‘cruel and mean’ by itself) with a vulnerability and shyness on both a musical and lyrical level.[3] They may have looked to “femme” for some men, or some women for that matter, but by the end of the song, the male singer is transformed, as if he’s the one saying “Go All The Way” as much as woman who unlocked him.

When a rock/pop band comes out of the gates this strong, on the strength of one song, the challenge of the follow-up inevitably arises. How do you top it? Or even repeat it? One answer is, you don’t try. You can fill it in. The range of this song left enough wiggle room so you wouldn’t have to worry about getting pinned in, as if the song is like a woman you can go back to for inspiration and mystery so much, you gotta be with her, even if we have to pretend this night could last forever and dream it might come true.

“I Wanna Be With You,” certainly borrows from the “Go All The Way” formula musically as well. It’s much shorter, and doesn’t include as many various elements as that earlier gate-smashing song, but the chords are surprisingly complex---as Barrett Avner and I discovered while rehearsing it for the video. It’s an education to experience the song from within its structure, and learn from Carmen how to include chords that deviate from the standard I-iv-IV-V chord progression it’s based on. These chords may not necessarily be crucial for the melody to be carried, but give the overall arrangement a magic, and help underscore the maturity that probably wouldn’t come off in a ‘rock lyrics as poetry as class.’ But the song—taken a whole—does something the post-“Wasteland” modernist poetry of complexity often fails to achieve. It makes much of the ‘poetic rock’ seem more ‘cruel and mean’ by comparison. It speaks in vocal harmonies and ‘beat group’ instrumentation, without mincing words. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings....

Here's the video:

[1] just as the complex lyrics of Leonard Cohen work best when complemented by simpler melodies, chord structures and arrangements.
[3] 1972 was also the height of “feminism” (in pop-culture at least); which may or may not play a part in this song’s popularity. Would love to hear your thoughts or feelings!!

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