SoTW 13: Tim Hardin, ‘Black Sheep Boy’

Posted by jeff on Dec 27, 2009 in Personal, Rock, Song Of the week

Tim Hardin, ‘Black Sheep Boy’

My son is about to go away for a long time, and I’m trying hard to be philosophical about it. He’s gone away before for long periods, and has always come back, and I sure wish him Godspeed. And I have this one song running through my mind.

My son, his son

Remember how in high school a big part of dating was having an ‘Our Song’? Paul Anka probably holds the record for having welded and melded and subsequently consoled more couples than anyone else. Perhaps the Platters are in second place. Percy Faith’s “Theme to A Summer Place” is no slouch, either.

Well, I’m not talking about ‘Our Song’ in that sense. My relationship with my son is far too long, deep, complex, rich to be crystallized in one song.

But there is this one song that somehow typifies in my mind a certain special facet of his biography. Or perhaps we should call it a refrain, or a recurrent theme. Well, he’s not in that place anymore. He’s a different person, leading a different life, traveling now to different places for different reasons. But the song still sticks with me. It’s a bittersweet coming home song, not a going away one, but I suppose somehow there’s a mirror imagery at work here.

Tim Hardin has perhaps the finest career I know of based on the fewest accomplishments. Two significant LPs in his mid-20s, a drug-ruined mess by 30, dead at 39, far fewer than a dozen great songs. But there is that handful of great songs that are so incontestably fine, beautiful gems, that he earned himself a place in the rock pantheon way before he started burning himself out. Misty Roses, If I Were A Carpenter, Reason To Believe, How Can We Hang On to a Dream?, and our SoTW, ‘Black Sheep Boy‘. His songs are AM-length, barely two minutes long. But he managed to do more in two minutes than many others did in decades of writing and recording.

In addition to creating this handful of precious songs, Tim Hardin also occupies a niche of honor in the history of rock. He was in fact one of the real germinal innovators of the folk-rock sound, a sound palette on which artists are still recording today. We always think of Simon and Garfunkle’s ‘Sounds of Silence’ and The Byrds’ ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, but listen to how much more successfully integrated the drums and bass and piano and even modest string section are in Hardin’s two significant albums, circa 1966. So thanks for that contribution, Tim. It may seem modest, but I sure give you your share of the credit. But of course, that’s not why we remember him. It’s the songs.

Each song is a paragon of honesty and restraint. Beautiful and precious, but without a millitrace of the maudlin. I guess it was hard to be so honest.

Our song, ‘Black Sheep Boy’, is only two brief verses long. It starts like this:

Here I am back home again, I’m here to rest.
All they ask is where I’ve been, knowing I’ve been West.

Well, son, go knock ’em dead, and come back when the time is right. No questions asked.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

046: James Taylor, “Never Die Young”

053: The Beatles, ‘In My Life’

078: Paul Simon, ‘The Late, Great Johnny Ace’

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011: The Idea of North, ‘Fragile’ (Sting)

Posted by jeff on Dec 26, 2009 in A Cappella, Rock, Song Of the week

“Art is a matter of taste.” No one has the right to say what’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad’. Everyone’s entitled to his/her/its opinion.

Well, I guess I begrudgingly go along with the idea that everyone is entitled to vote. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that everyone has a right to an opinion about music.

A goodly number of years ago I had an ongoing informal teaching relationship with a young man, let’s call him Ohad. He was about 16 when we started, a bona fide musical genius, composer/keyboardist. I taught him everything I know about rock music. I mean, everything. The kid was a veritable sponge. We developed a private language, one which I think no one on the face of the globe could have followed. We later employed that empathy in developing music for a number of plays I wrote and directed.

He was no pushover in the opinion department, but we pretty much agreed on everything. I gave him album X, and he came back saying songs 2, 7 and 11 get a 9. The rest 7 and below. And he was right on. Precisely, Watson. Maybe we would quibble about half a point. But on the fundamental perception of the album, we were in violent agreement. That doesn’t mean we shared the same opinions, the same likes and dislikes. One could have more affection for a certain artist, the other less, but we could always get what the other was hooking onto.

Why, you may ask yourself, is that so? I’ll tell you why I think it’s so. Because some musical works are empirically better than others. How do we empirically evaluate that? I have no idea, I just like using the word. Back in the very early 1960s, I was one of the very few people who bought LPs. Everyone was buying the hit 45s. But I achieved compulsion at a young age, and I wanted to make sure that ‘Mr Blue’ and ‘Come Softly to Me’ weren’t the Fleetwoods’ only gems, that God forbid I wasn’t missing anything. And so often, those albums contained that one hit and 11 attendant 2’20” nonentities. Empirically.

How does that happen? What separates the wheat from the chaff? I dunno. I do know. You do. Heaven does. Newton, Einstein. It’s just the way it is, don’t blame me.

The one case where Ohad and I disagreed was Sting. I had nothing against him, especially “Dream of the Blue Turtles”. But Ohad just cringed. What can I say? Ohad, if you’re out there, I love you, but this song ain’t for you.

It is for everyone else, though. It’s by a great Australian a cappella quartet, The Idea of North. Listen to what four unembellished voices can do. I challenge anyone out there (except Ohad) to say that this ain’t a really fine piece of music.

In case you were wondering, the group took their name from a concept coined by Canadian pianist and wacko Glenn Gould for an autobiographical film of that name, maintaining that ‘North’ is an idea as much as it is a physical region, that things can be mapped and measured for ‘nordicity’. What a word, right? Well, TION (as the quartet nickname themselves) are from Australia, which is north of, um, of, um… They have some very lovely videos, in which they sing songs and for which the costume designers should be given a generous cash prize and a place in heaven.

‘Fragile’, like so many of Sting’s songs, displays self-righteous bleeding-heart, we-are-the-world, brainless-pacifist sentiments and a very lovely melody. And TION’s rendition is—well, you just listen and judge for yourself.

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