Irritating My Brother and Making Up for It in the Same Breath
My older brother HATES Bubble Gum Pop. HATES it. As Dickens said, that fact must be understood before anything good can come from this story. You remember Bubble Gum from the seventies. It was a designed music targeted to a younger crowd. It worked around a simpler chord structure based around the major third, and, well, typically sappy sweet lyrics. But my brother truly hated it. When it came on the radio in the next room you could hear the cries of dismay and anguish followed by the crash as he dove for the station selector. When we were kids, if I put on anything even resembling bubble gum he’d wander by my room before the intro was over to grouch, “Turn off that crap!” Since we’ve both grown up and spent years in our careers I won’t tell my brother that I worked closely for years with a founding member of the 1910 Fruit Gum Company, for fear that the sheer horror might knock something seriously loose from him.
But the simple fact is that despite my penchant for heavy rock (I love the Allman Bothers, having been introduced to them by my brother) I have a soft spot in my heart for a few treasured songs that absolutely qualify for the moniker, “Bubble Gum Pop.” “Rings,” the only hit from one-hit wonders Cymarron was one of those songs. Cymarron rode that song to number seventeen on the charts in 1971 before disappearing back into the mists of pop history. The song was written by veteran songwriters Eddie Reeves and Alex Harvey and produced by Chips Moman and has an interesting back story, but I’ll leave that for later. Though it was covered by the likes of soft pop superstar Lobo and model Twiggy, the version by Tennessee-based band Cymarron just seemed to be a complete package – nice vocals and harmony, nice instrumental hooks, nice arrangement, short length, leave ‘em wanting more.
But it is definitely pure Bubble Gum, no getting around it, and you know what that means. Crash!
However, I’ve come across a nifty YouTube clip of a cover of this song by, wait for it, fingerstylist Leo Kottke that will make up for all that. You see, like me, my brother loves Leo Kottke and has since the early ‘70s. That's when Leo first came out, my brother first saw him live, and Leo first joked that his voice sounds like “geese farts on a muggy day.” In this clip, Leo gives us a dose of music theory, a hit of music history (Hey, I studied the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, too!), the story behind the song which swabs up a bunch of the sappiness, and a cover performance that introduces some really interesting harmonic interplay and doesn’t emasculate Leo in the process. Here's Leo: