November 14, 2011

I linked to this song just the other day, and it just occurred to me why it strikes such a chord with me. Consider the lyrics:

Late last night I got an S.O.S.
The fairy tale girl’s in deep in distress
She says I don’t know where I am
But it’s near Japan

My engine’s all burned out
My crew has all bailed out
I don’t know where I am
But it’s somewhere near Japan

And she said
“Rescue me”
I’m somewhere in the
China Sea
I think I’m sinkin’ fast
This call is probably my last
I’m throwin’ out a life line
And I’m doin’ it for old time’s sake
Though I know you’re gonna break my heart
One more time

Late last night I got an S.O.S.
The fairy tale girl’s in deep in distress
She says I don’t know where I am
But it’s near Japan

My engine’s all burned out
My crew has all bailed out
I don’t know where I am
But it’s somewhere near Japan

And she said “thank you dear”
I think she sounded quite sincere
And when she turned to go
She said “I crave adventure don’t you know”

And now she’s driftin’ on some Chinese junk
Her world is spinning and her hope has sunk
So I close my eyes
And somewhere near Japan
The spinning stopped and the world stood still
I broke her fall and I always will
Strung out in no man’s land
Somewhere near Japan
Rescue me

Replace “Japan” with “Florida”, “China Sea” with St. Petersburg, and “my crew” with my sister-in-law Tammy’s family, and two years removed you’ll know what I’m talking about.

John Phillips (late of The Mamas and the Papas) penned this tune concerning his daughter Mackenzie’s honeymoon experience – evidently, she and her new husband (both serious substance abusers at the time) flew to Guam where both their money and their drugs ran out. This was when Phillips received a late night phone call begging him to send money or drugs (preferably both). When he asked where she was, the reply was “somewhere near Japan”.

In our case Tammy fit the “fairy tale girl” role rather well; at the time she was indeed in “deep distress”, stuck in some fleabag motel in St. Petersburg with some dude who had rescued her from a Greyhound bus station two days before. His own intents were more than questionable, so the night before we were supposed to head out on a long-anticipated Caribbean cruise I found myself instead on a red-eye out of Phoenix to Tampa to rescue a sister-in-law who didn’t know really where she was; she only knew she was in trouble and needed rescue. So it was up to me to come and rescue her. And there’s no doubt at the time that, like the lyrics say, I was doing it “for old times sake”, knowing there was a damned good chance she was going to break out hearts sooner or later, one more time. Which, subsequently, she proceeded to do.

Fortunately two years later things are looking a whole lot better!!

Ever wonder what the role of a producer is in pop music? One of them is to take a song composed (and in this case already released) by someone else and craft it for their contracted artist. In this case the late, great Terry Melcher (he of The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” fame) took John Phillips’ fore-mentioned tune and arranged a new version that the Beach Boys could do in their own style. The difference, I think you’ll agree, is striking. And, I might add, better.

Another reason why I like this song so much: while the vocals are great throughout, of course, listen to the final verse sung by Alan Jardine. I’ve always respected Jardine’s voice so much – I think he’s one of the great underrated rock vocalists of our time. His dry, midwestern style has always served as a beautiful contrast to the nasal tone of Mike Love, the sweet harmony of Bruce Johnston, the angelic sound of Carl Wilson, and the classic falsetto and (at least in later years) the odd rasp of Brian Wilson. Jardine’s vocal brings a unique, earthy quality that wouldn’t be quite as noticeable if his voice hadn’t been part of the vocal mix before that. Give producer Melcher credit for this – Jardine’s verse actually serves as a tag; it’s addition through subtraction, if you know what I mean.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:36 | Comments (3)
  1. Now the song makes sense…has been a favorite of mine.

    Comment by Jana — November 14, 2011 @ 6:09 pm

  2. And let’s not forget Terry Melcher here, he created as much of the California sound that laid the ground work for later acts like Poco and the Eagles. He took Roger McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker (which McGuinn got after seeing George Harrison play it during the movie “Help”) and made it an integral part of The Byrds’ sound. Melcher also took John Phillips’ Kokomo and helped the Beach Boys turn it into their first #1 hit in 22 years (since “Good Vibrations in 1966) – the longest span between #1 hits of any pop music act in history.

    Comment by The Great Whire Shank — November 14, 2011 @ 10:08 pm

  3. When I saw the Mamas and Papas on the Riverboat President, the Times-Picayune ran a story about John’s and Mackenzie’s struggles with addiction. He described the straw that broke the camel’s back as the time he was injecting cocaine into her arm. Can you imagine?

    That show featured John Phillips, Denny Doherty, Mackenzie Phillips, and Spanky McFarlane of Spanky and Our Gang fame. They played all the standard Mamas and Papas plus Mackenzie’s “This Is It” from One Day at a Time and Spanky’s Sunday Will Never Be The Same. Maybe it was the small venue and the 60s throwback outfits but that was a great show.

    Comment by Rob — November 16, 2011 @ 4:55 am

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