The idea that there can even BE lost classics in this age of the Internet and the obsessive record collecting and notating and such is kind of stupid. But here at The Freelance Mentalists, when we say stupid we mean stupid FRESH
So I am going to here nominate an album that I guarandamntee none of you have ever heard; or, if you’ve heard it, you won’t think it’s THE LOST CLASSIC because you’re too busy monkeying around with SmiLE
(which I haven’t heard because for me because I’m on a budget and because for me the Beach Boys fell the eff off when they stopped singing about cars and because I was reasonably sure that white people would love that shit like they loved "Cheers" and "Friends" and "Seinfeld" and "Frasier," and I love two of those shows and like another of them but COME ON NOW), or some Captain Beefheart thing or whatever.
I’m nominating an album that I’d heard most of the songs of already, but never heard it all together before the way it was supposed to be, back before we all convinced ourselves that albums didn’t need to be novels but rather collections of unlinked short stories or even books of poetry. No, this is a novel, a concept album really more or less, and it’s a good (if sappy) one, and it’d probably turn your hipster stomach if you listened to it casually without wanting to try. But if you can find it (I just grabbed it in a Baltimore store for $7.99 used, CD reissued in 1990) and you let yourself feel it, you will understand that The 5th Dimension and Jimmy Webb produced one HELL of a Lost Classic when they turned out The Magic Garden
I have a lot to say about this record but this isn't really supposed to be a review, so here's some history. Bones Howe hooked the 5D up with Webb from the very beginning ("Up Up & Away," people!), and thought this second record could be a masterpiece along the lines of Pet Sounds
and Sgt. Pepper
. But Webb was hip-deep in depression stemming from a bad breakup, showing up for meetings with holes in his shoes, and the singers were like dood OMG WTF, and Webb was pulling out utopian craziness like the title track (lyrics like "it's the place I've made for you / from pipecleaners, hearts, and dominoes / and it won't fall down") and hippiedelic stuff like "Orange Air" and "Summer's Daughter" and pretentious orchestral insanity like the suite called "Dreams/Pax/Nepenthe" and "Requiem: 820 Latham." There's also a couple of amazing singles: "Carpet Man" got to #29 (not bad, but their first single went #1, so kind of a disappointment) and "Paper Cup" stiffed big-time. Oh, and a funked-up label-insistent cover of "Ticket to Ride"!!!
Listen, this is nutso. The arrangements are over-busy but GORGEOUS, sitars everywhere and soaring strings and the lushest vocal charts ever heard -- seriously, the 5th Dimension is the top vocal group of all time, every one a winner but magic together. Billy Davis Jr. is the main voice, this is a guy album because it's rife with Webbian self-pity, but he lovingly gifts Marilyn McCoo (THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN THE HISTORY OF POP MUSIC GOSH DARN IT) and Florence LaRue (also hottt, but no one can beat MMC) with a beautiful but demeaning tune called "The Girls' Song" that talks about how she's gonna take the dude back if he ever calls her, oh poor long-suffering woman, geez, Webb was a schlockster when he was in a misogynist mood! But Billy D. is in TOP FORM, as are Lamont McLemore and Ron Townson, really they were so wonderful.
And ambitious! This is a group that sang the Declaration of Independence at Nixon, y'know, and this was pretty brave of them (okay, they were tools of their label, but whatever) to enlist their fine un-hip un-funky talents in the service of a mad genius like Webb. If he hadn't hated women quite so much, this would be one of the top five greatest pop albums in history; as it is, it's in the top 20 probably, but it sank like a stone, even with the Neil Diamondisms of "Carpet Man" ("she walks all over you, she knows she can") and the popularity of "The Worst That Can Happen" (a big hit for The Brooklyn Bridge a year later, causing the label to reissue this album under that title, which sucks but whatever).
It's hard to describe how great this album sounds. It's a unified piece (except for "Ticket to Ride," which fits in anyway) describing a casual descent from hope into hopelessness, from letting her walk all over you to accepting your new place at the bottom of society, doing drugs and living like a homeless bum. All fantasy stuff for Webb -- 'what if I could just drop out from sadness and heartbreak, depriving the world of the wonder that is me?' -- because he was incredibly rich and famous anyway, and sadly this album is hoist on that petard...but it's still so pretty in its self-pity! This might be as sad/pathetic/angry as Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear
or Allison Moorer's The Duel
or Dylan's Blonde on Blonde
, might hate people and society more than any punk record, Hal Blaine whacking the snare on "Requiem: 820 Latham" like he's tapping the nails into the coffin of innocence, it kicks ass on both Sgt. Pepper
AND Pet Sounds
, it might be one of my top fivers after all.
And NO ONE TALKS ABOUT IT. Oh it's too lovely, and it's lost. Find it, dig it, reestablish it in whatever canon you want...or don't. Leave me alone with it if you want. I won't mind. I feel a lot like sad depressed Jimmy Webb these days. Life is always looking up from inside my paper cup.