Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April 14: Unit 4+2, "Concrete And Clay"

Artist: Unit 4+2
Song: Concrete And Clay
Album: Concrete And Clay (single)
Year: 1965

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Throughout the course of music history, there is perhaps no more a long running and well known phenomena than that of the so-called "one hit wonder."  In nearly every aspect, success of this type is absolutely impossible to predict, and if one looks at the history of this idea, it is filled with some of the strangest and most diverse musical contributions one will find anywhere.  Though many consider the "one hit wonder" a new idea, as it is far more common in "the era of the single," the truth of the matter is, "one hit wonders" are as old as music itself, and some of the most unique songs in history come from the earliest uses of this term.  Case in point: the short-lived 1960's acoustic/electric group Unit 4+2.  Reaching their creative high-point at the height of the "British Invasion," few bands so perfectly exemplify the idea of "too much, too soon," and both the band and their biggest song remain largely hidden gems within the overall history of recorded music.  From their days as a simple acoustic duo, to their sudden rise to fame, the group played a rather "standard" fare of music until they found themselves as a sextet in the studio and ended up recording what is without question one of the most uniquely wonderful singles in music history.  Combining together a number of different genres and musical instruments, there is simply no other song that sounds quite like Unit 4+2's 1965 hit, "Concrete And Clay."

If there was ever a point in history where a "standard" sound had been solidified within pop music, it was the brief period following the "arrival" of The Beatles.  The fact of the matter is, anyone and everyone wanted to sound like them, and if one inspects record sales from those few months, the trend of similar music succeeding is quite clear.  Yet this is also the perfect "breeding ground" for the one-hit wonder, and "Concrete And Clay" perfectly fits the situation.  At its core, the song is more a bossa nova than it is anything resembling a rock song, as the swinging rhythm from drummers Hugh Halliday and Bob Henrit is one of the most infectious beats in history.  Punctuated by the granddaddy of all non-rock instruments, the triangle, "Concrete And Clay" is without question one of the most instantly recognizable songs in history.  The interplay of the acoustic guitars on the song reinforces this Latin feel, and the contrast of the drumming and guitars is unlike anything else in recorded history.  The overall tone of the song constantly shifts from an almost Elvis-era croon to something that almost resembles a "true" rock sound, and the fact that this is coming from a group that is almost completely acoustic in nature makes it even more inexplicable.  Regardless, the success of the song is not all that surprising, as the rhythm and melody are truly irresistible, and offered a fantastic contrast to the sound that a majority of other bands were making at the time.

Providing a fantastic contrast to the unorthodox musical arrangement, the vocal work throughout "Concrete And Clay" is more straightforward, and the leads and harmonies are nothing short of perfect.  Led by vocalist Brian Moules, the singing on the song brings forth the "classic" 1960's sound, and it is clear that Moules possessed one of the most purely beautiful voices in music history.  Again walking the line between crooning and a more aggressive singing style, there are moments when the group harmonies are almost reminiscent of the sound the Beach Boys would make famous, and it is perhaps due to this amazing musical texture that the song found success.  It is during the bridge section of "Concrete And Clay" that the Elvis comparison becomes more obvious, and yet it is also clear that the group is in no way attempting to "copy" The King, it is just the natural result of their wonderfully unique sound.  The other key aspect to the success of "Concrete And Clay" lies within the brilliantly crafted lyrics, and these words quickly make the case for the team of Tommy Moeller and Gregg Parker being one of the finest writing duos in history.  The lyrics are nothing short of beautiful, and it is one of the more fast-paced and oddly arranged love songs in history.  The chorus of "...the concrete and the clay beneath my feet begins to crumble, but love will never die...because we'll see the mountains tumble, before we say goodbye..." is without question one of the most touching lyrics ever penned, and all of "Concrete And Clay" is filled with similarly moving, original musings on the theme of true love.

While the list of "one hit wonders" throughout music history is massive, those songs that were able to top the record charts are comparatively small, and it places those elite tunes into a musical category all their own.  With "Concrete And Clay" falls into this list, it rises quickly to the top, as one must take into further account that Unit 4+2 achieved this unique accomplishment in a year in which more than half a dozen of the number one singles came from either The Beatles or The Rolling Stones.  The fact of the matter is, such an achievement puts Unit 4+2 into a class all their own, as one cannot deny the fact that every aspect of the song is wonderfully unique, and there has never been another recording that sounds even remotely like "Concrete And Clay."  Based around a heavy Latin influence, the acoustic guitar work brings with it a very "Spanish" sound and rhythm, and the mulitple percussionists further this mood, making the song swing in an era when songs "rocked" more than "swung."  Perhaps the success of "Concrete And Clay" is due to the fact that it defied so many of the trends of the time, yet remained impossible to ignore as every aspect of the song is unforgettable, and it is one of those songs that "gets stuck in your head," but in a good way.  Supported by some of the most original and truly heartfelt comparisons like " to me, are sweet as roses in the morning..." as well as a vocal track that is nothing short of stunning, there is simply no denying the fact that Unit 4+2's 1965 hit, "Concrete And Clay" is one of the most uniquely amazing songs ever recorded.


Anonymous said...

Great review but one glaring mistake; the lead singer was Tommy Moeller.

ray said...

fine review, much obliged

agreed, this song is absolutely unique and utterly perfect, as impossibly sweet as an autistic child

they'll be singing this one in eternity


Anonymous said...

I completely agree. I have been obsesses with this song for 40 years!