I’ve ridden this hobby horse before, but man, there’s more than a little to be said for honest-to-God, old school professional pop music, crafted by professional composers, lyricists, arrangers and producers, and supported by professional session musicians who knew well how to serve the music – listen to those subtle strings, the horns that come in for the bridge, the sheer precision with which the drummer locks in with the vocal and keeps the whole thing humming along at 80 beats per minute. The older I get, the more I appreciate it.
Strange, but Warwick never liked the tune herself, thinking it “silly”, and had to be cajoled into recording it, after which she needed further coaxing to return to the studio to do it all over again when her vocals wound up sounding flat and unenthused. She liked it a little better once it had sold four million odd copies, but she never thought it was anything serious, saying later that “I giggled all the way to the bank, what can I tell you?” Gotta say, I just don’t get it. Silly? Hunh? Musically upbeat certainly, delightfully so, but underneath it’s actually an awfully sad little number, Hal David’s typically crisp and clever lyrics riffing on the classic L.A. cautionary tale, the would-be starlet chasing dreamy dreams of making it big, until she’s so comprehensively crushed that there’s nothing for it but to give up, pack the car, and go back home, leaving all those other stars who never were to their day jobs of waiting tables, parking cars, and pumping gas:
Fame and fortune is a magnet
It can pull you far away from home
With a dream in your heart you’re never alone
Dreams turn into dust and blow away
And there you are without a friend
You pack your car and ride away
It may come off as all sun-kissed and lighter than air, but that’s the clever ruse, drawing the listener in to what tuns out to be a cynical, rather depressing story of failure and disillusionment, much as L.A. itself, described as essentially a non-place, a soulless “great big freeway”, seduces successive waves of seekers and strivers with its sunny facade of boulevards lined with transplanted palm tress, only to chew them all up and spit them back out.
It may seem strange, from our modern perspective, to contrast that unpleasant reality with the equally shiny, sprawlingly synthetic metropolis that is modern San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley and America’s tenth largest city (and growing), but back in the day, when Hal David was stationed there by the Navy, it was mainly farms and orchards, quaint and almost rural, like so much of California used to be. Everything changes, landscapes, people, popular tastes, and the songs that make it to the top of the pops, not always for the better, but what are you gonna do?