FRIENDS & LOVERS.
The late sixties were a strange time for many stars of the mid sixties rock boom. But their (relative) fall from grace more often than not provided music of a rare and beautiful delicacy. One of the lost classics in this genre within an genre is the solos ingle from Sal Valentino. The Van Dyke Parks produced Friends & Lovers’ from 1969. Sal Valentino had found huge success with the seminal rock group the Beau Brummels from the early sixties til their fantastic album Bradley’s Barn in 1968, the group could do no wrong, but as with many other groups of the time (such as Paul Revere & The Raiders) the passage of time and the evolution to the ‘serious’ rock groups and Singer Songwriters of CSN(Y) and the soul rock of Blood Sweat and Tears had left guys like the Beau Brummels with a serious credibility gap. Faced with this development, many of these groups either disbanded, or factioned off with some members taking ‘serious’ approaches to the music they were making.
Two people who had found themselves stuck in this very dilemma were Valentino and his producer, the L.A producer and all round whiz-kid Van Dyke Parks, his last shot at solo success (the crazily ambitious Song Cycle) had people mystified and Parks somewhat disillusioned with the sudden turn of events. It’s the context of these two souls adrift in an ever changing musical landscape that make Friends Lovers such a compelling listen.
Backed by the Wrecking Crew – the insanely talented collection of studio musicians that soundtracked the first golden age of L.A rock, the song has an echoey haunted quality, with the Valentino’s vocals drawn out, with a country twang right at the top of his pitch. It’s this slightly country feel to some to the backing track combined with mournful mumbled horn sections that hint at a soundtrack style arrangement that makes this song so weird and so beguiling. Van Dyke’s production is spaced out, filled with little details that reveal themselves in small pockets throughout the record. At a little over 2 minutes it’s a wonder all of this is crammed in. Which makes the end of the track so compelling and offputting. Dissolving into itself as if for that moment in time, everyone has just given up, is looking for something new. It’s a truly remarkable ending that sums up so much about this period of time.
Valentino followed up this mumbled ending with a progressive rock act called Stoneground, but achieved little success, a band lost in the pack as the sixties turned into the seventies, with returns intermittently to the Beau Brummels to show for the decade. For Van Dyke Parks, the seventies was spent at the helm of the wildly successful Warner/Reprise Records, which was at the epicentre of the Singer Songwriter boom.
The “45 is insanely hard to find, as unsurprisingly it didn’t sell in great numbers, so here is the only copy I know in existence, which I ripped from a fantastic podcast ‘Come To The Sunshine’ Which celebrates all things L.A and 60’s. Check it out.