Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November 29: The Chiffons, "One Fine Day"

Artist: The Chiffons
Song: "One Fine Day"
Album: One Fine Day
Year: 1963

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Though many people may wish to group them all together under a rather strict style, the reality is that within the sub-genre of the so-called "girl groups" of the 1960's, there was as much musical diversity as one can find anywhere else.  While one can argue that there is a common sound that links them all together, one can find variations across the board in terms of tempo, intent, and power, and it is these differences that make the era one of the most exciting in all of music history.  Due to the fact that there were so many different approaches within a somewhat similar configuration, one can find a number of exceptional acts, and yet few delivered with the same power and style that one can find in the catalog of The Chiffons.  For more than a decade, the quartet recorded some of the most beloved songs in history, and to this day, one would be hard pressed to find another act from the time period that has been covered as often as The Chiffons.  Bringing a sonic confidence that was far beyond that of nearly all of their peers, it is this distinctive sound and swagger that keeps many of their songs sounding just as fresh today as they did more than four decades ago.  Though the group is responsible for a handful of the most memorable songs of all time, few can compare to the sound and resonance of The Chiffons' unforgettable 1963 single, "One Fine Day."

From the moment that the song begins, "One Fine Day" is an absolutely glorious celebration of life, and even after more than five decades, the energy and overall feeling of the song has yet to be matched.  There is no question that this song stands as one of the finest in writing catalog of the team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and it is the latter's performance on the song that while often overlooked, is one of the keys to the appeal of the track.  Truth be told, the piano riff played by Carole King that opens the song remains one of the most memorable in the entire history of music, and yet it is the way that her piano delivers what is almost an additional vocal line with the triplet-style fills with which she follows many of the lines.  There is a strength and aggression within her playing on "One Fine Day" that is rarely found elsewhere, and it is this approach that helps to perfectly mirror the similar style found within the singing.  Furthermore, the fact that her piano is so far forward in the mix is a rarity for any era of music, and even when the song seems to fall off tempo for a moment, the overall spirit is never lost.  It is the way that "One Fine Day" seems to sway back and forth that is in many ways the epitome of the "1960's sound," and one can easily picture the song being played in an old soda shop or a sock hop, and yet the song still has a massive appeal within the current music scene.

Yet even with this fantastic, oft-copied musical style, there is no question that the true power of "One Fine Day" lives within the vocals of The Chiffons, and even amongst the wide array of "girl groups," they stand out on their own.  It is the fact that the harmonies are so tightly wound all across the sound that sets "One Fine Day" as such a high standard, and it is also the overall smoothness of the vocals that become so appealing.  Though there are various lead parts, all of the voices manage to seamlessly blend together in stunning fashion, and one can easily argue that one can use "One Fine Day" as the definition of what it meant to have the "girl group" sound.  It is the spirit behind their vocal performances that separate the song from the pack, and one cannot help but get caught up in this dazzling vocal display.  The backing "sho-be-doo-be-doo" that is repeated throughout the song has also become one of the iconic phrases from the era, and one can see this, as well as the harmonies as the clear link between the "doo-wop" sound and the pop style of the early 1960's.  The final way that "One Fine Day" separates itself from a majority of songs by "girl groups" is the fact that The Chiffons are not playing the part of the "sad victim" on the song, and they bring a confident, proud sound to every word; in many ways marking one of the first instances of female empowerment on record.

As the decades have passed, "One Fine Day" has been covered countless times by artists ranging from Jackie Wilson to Natalie Merchant to Aaron Neville, and it has also been featured in well over a dozen different films.  The fact that such a wide array of performers have recorded their own version of the song, as well as its consistent use within other mediums of popular culture is a testament to the overall greatness of the song, and yet none of these later versions or uses have come even remotely close to the power and presence of the original.  Even when Carole King recorded her own take on the song, it was missing the swing and spirit of The Chiffons, and yet one cannot dismiss the fact that it is her piano that drives much of the original version.  Furthermore, one can find influences both musically and vocally across many later artists, and it is impossible to overlook the similarities between "One Fine Day" and The Beatles', "It Won't Be Long."  In fact, members of that group often stated their admiration of The Chiffons, and this is the final element one needs to solidify their place as one of the most influential groups in all of music history.  Though they had a number of unforgettable hits throughout their career, there is simply no other recording of The Chiffons that has endured quite like their magnificent 1963 single, "One Fine Day."

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