Yesterday’s Gone: Complete Ember & World Artists Recordings
UK: 19 Aug 2016
The so-called “British Invasion” served as both a blessing and a curse to those artists originating from the British Isles. Through the enormous popularity of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, there was a trickle-down effect much like what Seattle saw in the early ‘90s with the commercial success of Nirvana—it seemed nearly any group or artist on the local club circuit could find themselves internationally recognized. As with the grunge boom, the British Invasion saw the unavoidable law of diminishing returns take hold and ultimately prove to be its own undoing as the market became oversaturated with British acts and sub-Beatles wannabes.
And while there are plenty of artists worth merely skimming over who unabashedly glommed onto the British Invasion tag in hopes of financial success, there were a handful of artists who found themselves swept along with the prevailing tides and lumped in, often unfairly, with their peers. Perhaps the best example of this is the Kinks, a group who proved so decidedly English as to turn their backs on America completely (after admittedly being banned from performing in the country) and instead explored the rich musical and cultural heritage of their homeland in increasingly idiosyncratic and brilliant albums. Others, however, were not so lucky and tend to be overlooked in favor of the more critically hailed acts who came to define the era.
Generally relegated to footnote status, folk/rock duo (heavier on the folk) Chad & Jeremy nonetheless managed a certain level of influence among a group of navel-gazing sensitive types who couldn’t totally commit to either the Beatles or Stones camps. And yet they still managed to make something of a splash riding the crest of a wave that was the British Invasion. At a time when it seemed every artist was copping the sound of the Beatles and/or Stones, Chad & Jeremy remained (relatively) committed to their folk origins. The trouble with this was their particular brand of folk was slowly falling out of favor following the arrival of Bob Dylan.
As if an attempt to split the difference, they embraced an approximation of the British Invasion sound while still attempting to adhere to their folk roots. But it didn’t quite suit the soft folk within which they best operated, and their attempts at continued relevance beyond a few early singles (“Yesterday’s Gone” and the song for which they are perhaps best known, “A Summer Song”) sound forced. They only truly succeeded when sticking closest to their roots; any venture into mainstream pop tended to fall short, sounding like a feeble attempt to tap into a commercial market quickly losing interest in them.
Because of this, Cherry Red’s comprehensive Yesterday’s Gone: Complete Ember & World Artists Recordings, featuring their first several albums, assorted singles, edits, and live performances, presents a warts-and-all portrait of the duo struggling to remain culturally relevant and commercially successful within styles ill-suited to their strengths. Often sounding like a second tier Simon & Garfunkel, they tried to temper their sound with elements of the burgeoning folk rock movement. Unfortunately, they were too lightweight to be celebrated by those who got behind the Byrds and too progressive to be considered by the more adult market to which their sound ultimately gravitated. This attempt to bridge the gap left them with something of a faceless identity. Evidence of this identity crisis can be found in their awkward cover of “Girl from Ipanema”, an attempt to reach a pop market that was beyond their purview. Similarly, “If She Was Mine” relies on a Tijuana Brass-esque sound that, while melodically memorable, is so lightweight it threatens to float away.
At the heart of their sound was an unabashed love for American folk revivalism—see their spirited live take on “If I Had a Hammer”—that sadly failed to connect with an audience looking for the next Beatles. Their post-British Invasion arrival on the public’s radar came along at a time when the sound they favored was becoming passé. The arrival of Dylan reshaped the folk milieu, adding a level of seriousness and introspection that was a far cry from the simplistic lyrics and melodies of traditional folk songs.
Yet throughout this collection, they prove to be fine interpreters of contemporary folk and standards of the genre. They take on Ewan MacColl’s perennial folk classic “Dirty Old Town”, giving it a decidedly country bent. “No Tears for Johnny”, while sounding feather-light, possesses a lyrical profundity and anti-war stance that far surpasses anything Simon & Garfunkel and their ilk ever attempted. It is within these unexpected moments that the music of Chad & Jeremy rises above much of the filler that weighed down their studio albums and prevented them from finding the favor they perhaps deserved. And while they would eventually surrender to the times with their generally well-regarded psychedelic albums Of Cabbages & Kings and The Ark, these early recordings show the pair trying desperately to get their music heard.
Unfortunately, it’s clear that they were struggling to reconfigure their sound to a commercial market rather than sticking to their own traditionalist folk path. Throughout, there are elements that manage to shine through (“Like I Love You Today”, “Too Soon My Love”, “What Do You Want with Me?”, and “How My Time Goes By” are all worth the listen for fans of pure ‘60s pop), but the overabundance of overpowering orchestrations too often threaten to smother the soft-voiced duo. Regardless, the music of Chad & Jeremy has been unfairly overlooked by all but the most ardent fans of ‘60s pop music. While this collection will do little to change that, it stands as a fine reminder that the pop landscape wasn’t all Beatles, Stones, Dylan, and Motown.