[4 September 2007]
Time is not always kind to artists associated with significant cultural eras, such as the ‘60s. Yet The Association is hipper now than they were back then, as their Sunshine Pop continues to stay in vogue within some fan circles. Gary Lewis, the son of famous comedian Jerry Lewis, wasn’t hip (though he was once popular) and never will be. But he nonetheless comes off far more charming than expected. Gary Puckett, sadly, looks just as far from hip now as he did back when his band, the Union Gap, wore matching Civil War attire.
The Association is the best among these three simply because they have the best songs. The bright vocal harmonies on “Windy”, “Along Comes Mary”, and “Cherish” are as impressive today as they were when first released. This DVD also finds the act covering “Walk Away Renee”, which fits right in with the rest of their repertoire. Not only that, but they also cover Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings” without embarrassing themselves. Each member of the group, now at six in total, handles lead vocals at least once throughout this show. They also look sharp, by the way, dressed in their white suits. It’s a good thing they never went for Civil War uniforms.
Gary Lewis’ nasal singing gets old fast. But even such an annoyance cannot spoil a fine song like “This Diamond Ring”. Most of his eleven songs are nothing to write home about. It’s the between song interview segments that make his particular disc worth watching. Lewis tells one story about how his dad asked a drummer/friend to give his boy a few drumming tips, back when Gary was only five. He enjoyed these lessons, though it wasn’t until much later that he realized his teacher was the jazz great, Buddy Rich.
Gary Puckett had a number of memorable hits, which included “Lady Willpower”, “This Girl Is a Woman Now”, “Woman, Woman”, and “Young Girl”. As good as those songs are, Puckett’s voice now has so much vocal vibrato that he nearly ruins them. Sadly, his between song interview segments do not shed too much light on his music. The interviews are mostly record business talk about how the band came upon its uniformed look (just a sudden Puckett idea), and how it got its big break with Columbia Records. He also wastes a lot of stage time with the oldies medley of “Runaround Sue/ Oh Pretty Woman”, as well as a cover of “American Trilogy”.
When we look back at the ‘60s, it’s hard not to also think about hippies, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and other all the many pivotal instances of social upheaval. But it’s as if these three musical acts moved through that distinctive decade untouched by all that was going on around them. After all, even The Monkees and the Prefab Four, don’t ya know, got into protest mode after a while. Instead of becoming protest march soundtracks , these songs could have been written a decade earlier. About as close as this three-DVD set gets to giving away its era is with Puckett’s cover of Stephen Stills’ “Love The One You’re With”, which celebrates the period of free love. But then again, I fondly recall hearing The Association’s “Windy” played on Sesame Street, and you don’t get much more innocent and apolitical than that.
Although these are not the pop legends they’re misrepresented as being in this package, at least they aren’t referred to as rock legends. Only The Association, with their complex and ever-pleasurable vocal harmonies, added anything significant to pop music’s legacy. It’s hard to recommend this three-disc package to anyone, unless that person is extremely nostalgic. If you missed Gary Lewis & The Playboys and Gary Puckett the first time around, you didn’t really miss much. But if you don’t own any The Association music, you really ought to pick up the DVD and have a look at them now. That’s all you really need.