A few days ago, I bought the CD compilation Music to Watch Girls By
Music, 2000), prompted by saturation-point viewings of the recent Mastercard
commercial--set to the instrumental version of the popular hit Music to Watch Girls By
--that promised the credit card
user "three summers in one year" as a prize. It didn't intensify my interest in spending a year-long summer
in the company of nubile
young women whose breasts bounce mesmerizingly as they frolick in the waves or jog in slow motion. Instead, I was captivated by that song
. It was the sound of my 1960s childhood
as I imagined it, being too young to remember.
I think the music you hear as an impressionable babe-in-arms becomes an unconscious part of you, but you don't know it until you hear it later in life--like Raymond Shaw programmed to respond to the Queen of Diamonds. That's The Girl From Ipanema for me, and Up, Up & Away, and Moon River. What's today called "loungecore".
Music to Watch Girls By includes Downtown and Don't Sleep in the Subway, and the title track by Andy Williams--but most crucial of all, his Can't Take My Eyes Off You.
This was music made in the Vinyl Age--when you put the shiny black 12-inch LP on your Garrard turntable, made sure the record speed was set to 33-and-a-third, and gently dropped the needle onto the run-in groove, upon which you heard the slight hiss at the start of the track. This was the sound of the record opening a door into another room. A secret one. A room which always had a slight reverb, a room that was warm and dark and sexy and cool and grown-up in that way they had in the 1960s--before popular music became "pop". It's a room you can't see except in your inner eye. It's a room you can't enter any way other than listening to certain records from that time. It's magic. It's romance. Even the Beatles didn't have it. I think this is why people later took to listening to records through headphones in the dark. And I think it was what Phil Spector was trying to reinvent, but he was wrong when he called it the Wall of Sound--it's the Doorway of Sound.
All of this came to me suddenly a couple of days ago when I listened to track number 15 on CD 2 of the compilation. You're too good to be true, Andy Williams crooned quietly, Can't take my eyes off you. It took me quite by surprise. Rooted to the spot, I played the song about ten times in a row. I don't think I can coherently explain what happened to me. It wasn't as if the Doorway of Sound gently swung open; no, it shattered into a black velvet blinding flash of 1960s lounge music reverb that became a dimension of its own--maybe what Aldous Huxley meant when he was nattering on about the "doors of perception" or somesuch. Not entirely sanely, I had the non sequitur realization that if there were such a thing as love at first sight, it was going to happen while I was listening to that song, sung by Andy Williams in that way. After this I was too frightened to play it again, not only because I was afraid about what else it might do to my head, but also in case it had all been gold dust that would dull in the cold light of rationality.
But I listened to it about ten times again yesterday evening, and today too. And I began to worry, perhaps neurotically, that I was going to turn into an old fogey who'd start wearing cardigans and muttering about the good old days when music was something you could hum. What was I going to tell my friends? Only earlier this week my favourites were Lemon Jelly's Soft and an UNKLE remix of Tomorrow Never Knows! Now I'm obsessed by Williams' extraordinary phrasing like a deranged conspiracy theorist poring over a string of "coincidences". I've been brainwashed by an Andy Williams song. I get light-headed when I hear it, which is often. And I can't stop wanting to hear it. It's like a drug. I think I'm losing my mind.
(Don't Sleep in the Subway is also on CD 2. When was the last time I heard it, in the early 1970s on a worn-out BASF tape my mother used to play on a portable Sony mono-aural cassette deck? Today I figured that either the song samples Good Vibrations, or that Brian Wilson was too smart to overlook a musical gem when he heard one. Diamonds are forever.)