june 2012


Summer Love: An Exegesis

By David McGee

The Tymes
Real Gone Music

Introduced at the Apollo as “those finger-poppin’ daddies from Philadelphia,” the quintet known as The Tymes finger-popped and crooned its way into legend in the summer of 1963 with the swoon inducing classic “So Much in Love.” Named as one of the Songs of the Century in 2001, “So Much in Love” doesn’t so much capture the tenor of its pre-Beatles era so much as it sums up a style of close-knit, romantic group harmony singing that hearkens back to the Mills Brothers (whose dreamy 1944 recording of “Till Then” seems a template for “So Much in Love”) and echoes the plaintive pleadings of titans such as the Ravens (albeit without the striking bass leads of Jimmy Ricks), the Orioles (with their great lead singer Sonny Til), the Flamingos (and their towering lead, Nate Nelson), the Spaniels (with primo balladeer Pookie Hudson), and the Moonglows (with the formidable tandem leads of Harvey Fuqua and Bobby Lester) and solo vocal masters such as Jesse Belvin and Percy Mayfield.

“So Much In Love” kicked off the Tymes’s career, but it was followed in short order by a version of Johnny Mathis’s “Wonderful! Wonderful!” that charted higher (at #7) than Mathis’s hit, echoed the finger-poppin’ of “So Much in Love” and incorporated the ethereal, soaring background cries of the Orlons’ Marlena Davis supporting George Williams’s thunderstruck, heartfelt lead, and a third ’63 hit in “Somewhere” (#19). It all happened so quick for the group that was calling itself the Latineers when it caught the attention of a judge at a talent show, who promptly tipped off Cameo-Parkway Records’ A&R director Billy Jackson to check them out. No slouch he, Jackson had been a member of the Revels (“Midnight Stroll,” 1959) and had written “Don’t Throw Your Love Away” for the Orlons before it was picked up by the Searchers and became a #1 U.K. hit and Top 20 U.S. hit in 1964.

The Tymes, ‘So Much in Love’ (1963)

Auditioning for Jackson at the Cameo-Parkway studios on what first tenor Albert “Caesar” Berry remembers as “a real hot summer day,” the Latineers sang some 15 songs a cappella. They were thanked for their time and sent home. Weeks passed with no word from Jackson, until finally Berry placed a call to Jackson’s home.

“Man, it’s a good thing you called me,” Jackson told Berry. “I lost your phone number and was trying to find out how to get in touch. I want to record you guys!”

Returning to the studio, the group cut an original song it had been referring to as “As We Strolled Along.” Jackson made some changes to the arrangement and retitled it “So Much in Love,” and, says Berry, “it just took off. Cameo-Parkway founder Bernie Lowe renamed the group the Tymes and out on the road the group went on what is now on a saga of more than forty years’ duration. “It was an adventure,” Berry says, “going into the studio for the very first time and coming out with a monster hit, having no idea how bit it was going to become.”

The Tymes’ version of ‘Wonderful! Wonderful!’ from So Much In Love

In a departure from the standard practice of the time of packaging a group or artist’s big hit or two with enough cover songs to fill out an LP and capitalize on the momentum the hit(s) had generated, the Tymes and Jackson came up with the idea of fashioning an album that would probe the varieties of the summer love experience, in effect making it an exegesis of summer love.

Beginning with a solitary man yearning for love in the silky ballad “Alone,” the story arc moves on to chronicle “the start of my happiness, the end of my loneliness” (“My Summer Love”); the first flush of new love (“Wonderful! Wonderful!”); the spellbinding feeling (Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen’s “That Old Black Magic,” which takes off on a sprint about halfway through, and if you listen close at the 1:17 mark you’ll hear the piano player toss in a quote from Bobby Troup’s “Route 66” theme); night moves (the uptempo, Latin-tinged—with woodwinds a-fluttering throughout--“Let’s Make Love Tonight” and a warm take on Jesse Belvin’s “Goodnight My Love”); the all consuming passion (“So Much in Love,” “You Asked Me To Be Yours”); the vows of commitment (“The Twelfth of Never,” “Way Beyond Today”); parting and then reuniting with the seasons’ change (“Summer Day,” which posits, “’til the autumn leaves will fall/I’ll count each summer day…” and leads into an exquisite, aching doo-wop influenced (and finger-poppin’) treatment of Johnny Mercer’s “Autumn Leaves,” with its lovely melancholy musings over the lover yet absent and slow, subdued fadeout before the song is really over. Not only do the songs tell a story, but each tune begins with a spoken prelude (by Jackson) designed to capture the essence of the song we’re about to hear (on “So Much in Love,” for instance, after a series of chiming notes, Jackson intones, “We find ourselves in a world of our own…”). Yes, it’s a concept album, hardly an anomaly in the classic pop or country fields at this time but arguably a first for the R&B world and well predating the advent of same in rock ‘n’ roll.

‘Seasons pass, but nothing ever changes my love for you’: ‘Autumn Leaves,’ from So Much in Love

This Real Gone Music reissue of So Much in Love includes six bonus tracks. Notable among these: the classic single version of “So Much In Love,” which supplants the spoken intro with the sound of sea waves crashing and birds chirping; an Italian language version of “So Much in Love”; the rare raucous Tymes on the novelty song “Roscoe James McClain,” so close in style to the Coasters’ “Searchin’” that lawsuits were threatened (it’s also the least substantial of all the Tymes’ cuts here—novelty was not in their wheelhouse); and, inexplicably but hilariously, a near-perfect recreation of Jan and Dean’s “Surf City”—right down to the harmonies on “two girls for every boy,” the “wee-you” background vocals and the very white lead voices. How did five black guys from Philly wind up sounding like a couple of blond-haired, blue-eyed California beach boys? ‘Tis a puzzlement, indeed, but a hilarious track nonetheless.

‘After a little walk, a kiss and a sigh, you have feelings never felt before’: ‘That Old Black Magic,’ from So Much in Love. A fleeting quote from ‘Route 66’ begins at 1:17.

The Tymes weren’t finished having hits—they returned to the Top 20 in 1974 with “You Little Trustmaker” and had a UK #1 in 1975 with “Ms Grace”—but “So Much in Love” was their Olympian moment, and the like titled album, practically a genre unto itself, is as durable as its big hit single and equally informed by history. In the end, a summer without the Tymes is no summer at all. As the ancient Egyptians were wont to declare, “So let it be written.”

(All quotes in this review are from the album liner notes by Gene Sculatti)

The Tymes’ So Much In Love is available at Amazon

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024