It’s been fifty years since the end of the 1960s, and yet it still looms large over our pop culture landscape.
One of the most acclaimed television shows of the past twenty years, Mad Men, is essentially a series-long exploration of the entire decade, from its carefree beginning to its turbulent end (and the scotch glasses and cigarettes in between). It’s a continuing source of fascination for filmmakers like the Coen Brothers (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood). And musically speaking, the greatest artists of the 60s have had an incalculable effect on all the music that’s come afterward; you can pick your favorite genre, from pop to jazz to rock to electronic music and trace its modern iteration back to the 60s.
“Gently”, a charming indie pop number by the Grand Rapids-based Pretoria, takes inspiration from the first half of the decade, which was ruled by the Wall of Sound production technique and the insistently hooky tunes of Brill Building pop. It’s less common an influence than, say, the Beatles; for a long time, the line on early-60s pop music was (and to some degree, still is) that it was a bunch of candy-colored cheese that badly needed a kick in the rump to keep things interesting. But it’s certainly not an uncommon influence. However, although the YouTube description for “Gently” describes it as a “60s-inspired love song”, that influence is comparatively subtle. There’s no Wall of Sound influence, no “Be My Baby” drum beat, no “oooh-aaah” harmonies to lay it on thick.
No, there’s just some familiar, comforting chord changes and a refreshing straightforwardness that makes it stand out.
The lyrics are simple, but they’re the right kind of simple; they say as much as they need to say, neither overcomplicating things nor dumbing things down.
Our singer asks his troubled lover to go easy on him, as he’s still deeply in love with her and hasn’t come to terms that they might not live happily ever after. The relationship at the song’s center feels like a good rom-com,in that it’s reassuringly familiar without resorting to dippy cliches; when lead singer Rob Gullett laments that
After a while
I won’t make you smile anymore
You can imagine an actual person singing it to another person, not just one archetype singing to another.
To be sure, “Gently” isn’t exactly an uncanny out-of-time throwback.
It’s not original-flavor Brill Building pop, but rather 60s-tinged indie pop, and you’ll have to adjust your expectations for things like Gullett’s intensely earnest voice and the occasional surge of guitar. But once you’ve been pulled into its orbit, it’s a hard song to resist; it’s pleasant on the ears, it’s catchy and hooky, and there’s a sweet-natured simplicity to lines like “I guess I never thought there would be/A day you wouldn’t want to kiss me” that sells the universal appeal of a good pop song.
And to think there was a time when early-60s pop was condescended to!
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