Friday, December 30, 2011

December 30: The Leaves, "Too Many People"

Artist: The Leaves
Song: "Too Many People
Album: Too Many People (single)
Year: 1965

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During the middle years of the 1960's, there is no question that it was somewhat difficult for any rock band from anywhere aside from The U.K. to breakthrough on an international level, as "that" sound was overpowering everything else across the globe.  However, while there were a handful of bands that manged to do just this, it is the music of some of the lesser-known groups of that era that provided not only some of the finest music, but the building blocks for the next generation of musicians.  Though it was certainly most famous for being the hub of the psychedelic movement during the latter part of the decade, the reality is that preceding those years, San Fransisco, California produced some of the finest rock bands of the entire generation, and their contributions to the progression of music cannot be denied.  Among these fantastic bands, there was the group that took influence from many of the British rock acts, and yet founds ways to incorporate far more blues and folk into their sound: The Leaves.  Seen by many as one of the strongest and most talented bands to emerge in the wake of The Byrds, one can easily make the case that they had a unique sound all their own, and they remain one of the few bands of the era that once heard, can never be forgotten.  Though they had a handful of hits during their career, few songs better define their sound or the mood of the time period than The Leaves' classic 1965 single, "Too Many People."

The moment that "Too Many People" begins, the unique musical approach that The Leaves brought to nearly every one of their songs is obvious, and it is led by the brilliant harmonica work from John Beck.  While the instrument itself has its roots in blues music, it is the way that Beck gives it a bit of a swing and more modern feel which sets it apart from the more "standard" harmonica sound, and one can hear his influence on many later bands that attempted the same idea.  The way that it blends in with the rest of the instrumentation is nothing short of perfect, and "Too Many People" gains as much of a "classic" 60's sound as one can handle the moment that the guitar of Bill Rinehart enters the song.  It is the tone with which he plays that is so unforgettable, as one can hear everything from surf rock to rockabilly to the "new" sound of rock and roll in his playing, and it is also the rhythm with which he plays that lights up this song.  Rhythm guitarist Robert Lee Reiner emphasizes these elements, and the swing created by him is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the entire song.  The fact that the bass from Jim Pom is so far forward in the mix, as well as the way that it deploys a heavy, strict groove along with drummer Tom Ray gives "Too Many People" almost a growl that is far more aggressive than most other songs of the era, and one can easily make the case that The Leaves were the precursor to what is now called "garage rock."

However, if there is one element that shows just how much The Leaves were simultaneously breaking new musical ground, whilst somehow fitting in perfectly with the sound of the time, it was the vocals from Jim Pons.  As soon as one hears his voice, it is almost impossible to not draw a comparison to the sound of Mick Jagger, and yet at the same time, there is no question that Pons was in no way doing this purposefully.  Yet the reality is that even though this similarity exists, it almost reinforces the fact that such a singing tone is as perfect as one can ask for within the rock and roll style, and when Pons gets a bit gritty with his singing, it is nothing short of pop-rock bliss.  But perhaps the most unexpected and yet undeniable aspect of this entire song is that within the way that Pons sings, especially what he is singing, one can argue that "Too Many People" is one of, if not the first more modern incarnation of what would become the punk rock sound over the next few years.  At its core, "Too Many People" is a song of frustrated angst and defiance, and the direct nature with which Pons sings was certainly a rarity during that time period.  From lines like, "...too many things that I got to do, too many bags that I got to run through..." to the wonderfully defiant, "...wear a suit and tie, when I'd rather sit and die...," it is impossible to deny the element of punk rock present in this song, and the attitude that runs throughout the vocals serve as the ideal finishing touch to a superb recording.

There is a power and presence in every element of "Too Many People" that is far beyond what any other band of the era was doing, and it is in this song that one can see how the sounds of mid-1960's rock and roll developed into the hard rock, heavy metal, and punk rock that would dominate the next decade.  Yet even with being such obvious influences on this reality, as well as being so far ahead of their time musically, The Leaves are one of the many bands from that time period which fail to receive the accolades which they so clearly deserve.  It is the way that the band takes the more standard sound of rock and roll that was becoming a hit across the globe, and simply add more attitude and authenticity to it which makes their songs so magnificent, and it is almost impossible to comprehend that not only did this song not catch on across the country, but few bands from their hometown followed in their footsteps.  Oddly enough, it would be one of the bands' later singles, "Hey Joe," which would give them greater exposure, and yet one can easily make the case that "Too Many People" is a far more accurate representation of the bands' overall sound and spirit.  It is the way that the harmonica and guitars seem to have an edge that cannot be found in any other band of the era, along with the flawless vocal performance, that vault The Leaves' 1965 single, "Too Many People" to stand as one of the most important and impressive recordings in all of music history.

1 comment:

Brian Phillips said...

This is a great song, but the 45 version is better; this is the version from the LP.