Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold 22

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Welcome back to another Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold! It’s frickin’ freezing outside here in NY, and I’m tired of it. I was going to save today’s track for a warmer month, but I need a little summer right now. And so do you. I’ve decided.

Jay Ferguson – Thunder Island (download)

Sha-la-la-la-la-la, my wussies!

“Thunder Island” has been recommended a few times here, and I can tell from other comments on the web that this is one of those well-loved summer tracks from the late ’70s. And with good reason! “Thunder Island” is a Mellow Gold gem in the same vein as songs like “Chevy Van” – ones where the protagonist doesn’t wind up sitting at home, quietly crying himself to sleep while clutching a teddy bear and a pint of Chubby Hubby, but instead actually gets the girl – and totally nails her!

First, of course, a little about Mr. Ferguson.


I’m whacking the shit out of the next person who mocks my shirt!

Jay Ferguson was a grew up in California and found his musical calling at a young age, learning the piano, banjo and drums and utilizing these skills in a number of bands – mostly garage bands, although he did form a bluegrass group at an early age with his brother Tom. His first successful band was formed after an afternoon love-in at Griffith Park.

awkward silence

Named Spirit, the group had a psychedelic sound (did the love-in give it away?) but also included elements of jazz and hard rock. The band had modest success, and a couple of Top 40 hits, but Ferguson left in the early ’70s to form Jo Jo Gunne with Spirit bassist Mark Andes. Jo Jo Gunne had a couple of hits as well, but Andes left to join a little wussy band named Firefall, and after a few more member changes, Ferguson embarked on a solo career. His first solo album was entitled All Alone In The End Zone.

awkward silence

The album wasn’t much of a success, but his follow-up Thunder Island – was a biggie. Produced by Bill Symsczk Szzymzyck Sczczczcz Szymczyk (as was the first), the title track reached #9 and brought both Ferguson and the album strong success. Ferguson did have other minor hits (most notably a song entitled “Shakedown Cruise”), but he never matched the success of “Thunder Island.”


We get it! You like showing off your chest! Now button up! And shave your moustache!
Look at his left hand next to the bushes: kinda looks like Wolverine, no?


Musically, this song is tons o’ fun: strong piano and drums, with a bass run at the end of each phrase that I’m pretty sure was timed to match up with pelvic thrusts on the beach. The backing vocals are joyful – the kind you can’t help but sing at the top of your lungs in a convertible (if you’re still in 1978, of course). And if the slide guitar sounds familiar, you can thank Joe Walsh, who guested on a number of Ferguson songs, including “Thunder Island.” Don’t go looking for any examples of musical mastery here; it’s not like we’re dealing with tricky bridges or endless chord changes like in “Never Gonna Let You Go.” Nope, this song is as simple as they come – but what more do you need, really?

And these lyrics – well, to start: I’m sure you’ll agree with me that nothing says humpin’ in the summer like Du Du De-Dit, Du De-Dit, Du De-Dit, Du Du Du Dit Du, right? Right. As we already know, there’s nothing more Mellow Gold than calling your female companion your “woman” or “lady.” I don’t know what the hell Ferguson means by “Sha-la-la-la-la-la, m’lady,” but it doesn’t matter. He’s stickin’ it to her and she’s not complaining. In fact, through the lyrics, Ferguson tells a fun story about this wonderful romp with his lady – “a summer’s day laughin and a-hidin’, chasin’ love out on Thunder Island.” I don’t think I need to tell you what he was a-hidin’. Huh? Huh?!?

But, of course, the wonderful days didn’t last. No, the sad truth is that one day – I’m choking up as I recount this story – it rained. Yup. They were “caught by the rain and blinded by the lightnin’.” And then she got struck by lightning and burned to a little crisp. No, I’m kidding. They rode out the storm. And then…yes. You guessed it. They went back to humpin’ around.

If any of these edge-of-your-seat plot points seem unfamiliar to you, I’m guessing it’s because you tuned out after the Du De-Dits and Sha-la-las. And that’s perfectly okay. Let’s face it, a song like this gets its point across within the first ten seconds. Here’s an appropriate comparison: remember “Make Me Lose Control” by Eric Carmen? Pretty much the same song. You remember the chorus – “turn the radio up for that sweet sound” etc – but you’d be hard-pressed to remember any of the lyrics in the verses. Again – totally fine. You’re enjoying both for the way they made you feel during the summer that you heard them. (Nevermind that “Thunder Island” hit the Top 10 in April.)

So where IS this magical Thunder Island, anyway? Maybe it’s this Thunder Island, located in beautiful Fulton, NY:

Let’s all hope this is not the paradise of which Jay Ferguson was speaking. (And it it just me, or is Tubby talking on his cell phone while presumably being sucked down a drain of some sort?)

Perhaps he was referring to a place of discovery and knowledge, pathways of knowing who you really are and how to create a world for All Our Relations and future generations to live and thrive in:

No, that’s not it. I know! He was referring to a place where you can buy some cheap bitches! Or maybe the state you’re in when you have some really fine coffee! Actually, if it were anywhere, it’d probably be here, right? After all, the song is quoted right there on their homepage. But Jay Ferguson isn’t Canadian (although there is a Canadian musician named Jay Ferguson, but that’s another story). The truth is, according to Ferguson, that “Thunder Island is an invention, with the idea that everyone is invited to fill in their own Thunder Island – real or imagined. My personal Thunder Island experience involved meeting the girl I later married….I was in a very erotic state of mind when I wrote that.”

awkward silence

Wanna see a great video? Here’s Ferguson performing “Thunder Island” in Japan, 1979. I’m not going to spoil it, but suffice to say that at around 4:00, he breaks out the big guns.

[youtube]pdfyUZUllLI[/youtube]

So what’s Jay Ferguson up to lately? Well, after releasing his final album in 1982, Ferguson opted to focus on composing music for television and films. He worked on the scores for movies such as License To Drive, Johnny Be Good, Tremors 2: Aftershocks, and even contributed the song “Pictures Of You” to the soundtrack for The Terminator. (Hey, Jefito…Lost Soundtrack Classic? Call me.) Chances are that you haven’t heard most of these. However, you might be familiar with the theme song to the US version of “The Office” – that’s all Jay Ferguson, baby!

So if you find that the winter weather’s getting you down, and you need just a bit of summer lovin’ to get you through…this is your track. Enjoy! And see you next week for another episode of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!

  • jb

    All I can say is, “oooooo-yeah!”

  • Good Stuff, man, but why Focus on The Past?  Jay is still Rockin’ Hard, and that’s What Matters.  You know Who Else still Rocks Hard?  Nelson, that’s Who! Stop by thenelsonbrothers.com and You’ll See what I Mean!

    [AWKWARD SILENCE]

    (For those who haven’t visited Jefitoblog in the past few days, here’s what I’m referring to.)

    Great post once again, Jason!  I especially liked the waterslidin’-while-on-the-phone bit.

    Is THIS a magical Mellow Gold compilation or what?!  It’s where I first heard "Thunder Island," and I’ve liked the song ever since.

  • The Office theme!?? Shut-up! How funny.

  • Thanks for that track!

  • Dude’s got Marty Feldman eyes!
    (Big ups to Bruce Baum)

  • For Christ’s sake!  This dude composed the theme music for The Office?  One of my favorite shows which, by the way, hasn’t dropped a Thunder Island reference yet!  One would think that Michael Scott would have been singing Thunder Island after he came back from Jamaica with his "lady."  

  • I always thought the storm was his golden opportunity to make his move – like they’d been coyly flirting until he had the chance to "hold her close until the storm passed."  Once the storm ended, it was the perfect opportunity for some skinny-dipping and nookie.  Did you catch the last verse, where he changes "in the sun with your hair undone" to "with your dress undone?"  Even at age 10, I found this pretty lecherous.
    Come to think of it, how convenient that he allegedly bedded this girl on a deserted island, where no one could corroborate his story.  "Then the Coast Guard rescued us, we were put on different boats, and I never saw her again."  Yeah, uh-huh.  This goes double after watching his dorky video.  The "big gun" moment in the video is pretty great, but how ’bout that towel dance at 1:00 or so?  And how he BOWS after it??!! 

  • Have Keith Richards ever been accused of stealing Ferguson’s riff for Start Me Up, or is it just me? It’s even in the same key. Or maybe it was the other way round? Who’s the creative genius here, I wonder: Richards or Ferguson? It all depends on if the riff was already there on their 1975 or 1978 session… unless I’m way off base, that is. Any opinions?

  • I have, he has… f***&%#¤

  • woofpop

    Has there ever been a more out-of-place-looking guy than Jay Ferguson? He looks like he should be in some southern rock band – yet, here he is, in a hawaiian shirt and khakis, and onstage in Japan strutting around and sha-la-la-ing..  Spirit was one of the best things to come out of 1968 – and a lot of good things came from that era. The first Spirit album was in the young Woofpop household, and I remember loving it – "Uncle Jack", "Fresh Garbage" and all the rest – I will forever be grateful for older siblings. Thunder Island  still rules – tres  mellow..

  • woofpop

    Robert, That’s a nearly perfect mellow collection…

  • Ain’t it, woofpop?  It’s almost the Eden of this Mellow Gold series even if Jason doesn’t own it.

  • The Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band is Mellow Gold?

  • woofpop

    hence the "nearly"…  "Black Betty" and "Telephone Man" don’t qualify, either. ALL music declares it "mellow", as well as "laid-back" which might be even better than mellow..
    I’m partial to volume 25, though, with "Love Is Like Oxygen" among others..

  • I had a funny parody half written entitled "Marty Feldman Eyes", with lines like "He’s a mild man / And he’ll take you to Thunder Island", but it occurred to me that many won’t even know who the hell Marty Feldman is nowadays. Well kids, he was British (I think), had bug-eyes (I’m sure), and was in a movie called "Young Frankenstein". Someday you’ll ask what came first, the Broadway musical or the movie, and by then I’ll need the nurse to change me and freshen my dentures.

  • Tim

    "Dude’s got Marty Feldman eyes"…That fits the song "Bette Davis Eyes" perfectly. Somebody call Weird Al.
    Thanks for the Thunder Island/Jay Ferguson dissection. I must be getting tired..while I was reading, I  briefly got Spirit and the group Pilot confused and thought that Ferguson had a hand in "Thunder Island" and "Magic"…2 of my faves from the 70’s.

  • Ahhh… that ‘big guns’ moment was so incredibly satisfying.  I was walken in the clouds after hearing that.  (i know, i know… boo indeed)  However, when he got back to the piano, he does this running-man-esque dance that made me burst out laughing. 

  • Jeff

    I bought this album when it came out in 1978. I may have been under the influence. I really have no other explanation. Has the statute of limitations run out yet?

  • Tim, you could be forgiven for equating Pilot’s "Magic" with Mr. Ferguson, since both dabble mightily in the sha-la-laas. However, as a part-time know-it-all, I will say that Pilot consisted partially of David Paton (bass & vox) and Ian Bairnson (guitar) and both were absorbed into the monolithic Alan Parsons Project. In latter days, Paton also provided bass lines for former Marillion singer Fish and some dude with really bad hair named Elton. Bairnson was still with Parsons up until his last disc which took on a really awkward electronica vibe and was generally considered not so good. And now that I’ve bored you all to tears, I remind all that Jay Ferguson had some really goofy-ass eyes!!!

  • David

    Mock Alan Parsons at your own risk. As it stands, at least seven former Soviet republics have been “absorbed” into the monolithic Project.

    … Speaking of which, APP’s “Time” might be worthy of Mellow Gold. It’s smoother than pudding …

  •  Yes, but "Time" ignores a critical tenet of Mellow Gold in that it’s lyrically  transcendentalist. No talk of ‘my lady’, ‘my woman’ or ‘my lov-ah’ anywhere. Vocalist Eric Woolfson neither bemoans love lost or hot lust pined, he’s just ruminating of the essence of time itself (and mortality). To be perfectly honest, APP is more like Pink Floyd than Mellow Gold, in thematic structure, in non-specific songwriting and liberal use of instrumental and segue (check out I, Robot or Pyramid if you doubt me). So, as you may be able to tell, I am not an APP mocker, I’m an APP defender, which is really just as bad.

  • Excellent point, DwD.  Now, please ruminate on "Eye In The Sky."  I mean, it IS pretty smooth…Mellow Gold, or no?

  • brad

    Thanks for the look back at Jay. I graduated high school in 76, played in heavy metal/rock bands and I must say, we listened to (and covered) JoJoGunne as part of our main playlist. Then we got into Jay solo. We used to do a song, and I forget whichof hte two albums it was on, that had a great guitar riff and went like this. It starts out, “Somebody said it was easy to (something something, sounds like “lie here” or “like it,”), asked what my youth is worth? Somebody said it’s the greatest attraction on earth, ooo–nnnn earrrrr…thhhh.” Then the music kicks up a notch and the song continues to rock for another several minutes. I’m quite sure if I heard it I could STILL play along with that riff after 30 years!

    Does anybody know it? Could anyone post it? I would be forever grateful!

    Brad

  • Actually "Marty Feldman Eyes" was actually a song done by comic Bruce Baum in the 80s. That’s why I gave him big ups in my last post. Damn, the only thing worse than my music nerdiness is when said nerdiness is combined with my additional pop culture nerdiness, creating a black hole of inside references out of which no uselessness can escape. 

  • David

    I’m with you DwD. No Alan Parsons is Mellow Gold by that construct. I was just testing Jason’s elastic limits – we’ve seen a fair amount of A.M. Cheese and Corny Country creep in here, and so I wondered if there’d simply be room in the tent for Wimpy Prog.

    (I say that as an admirer, and proud owner of all 7,648 APP releases.)

  • As a previous poster lamented, I’m pretty open to most songs up for Mellow Gold status.  I’m starting to think that maybe it’s just more about the fun of dissecting wussy songs than making sure they’re meeting all the criteria for MG.  As long as people are getting a chuckle, I’m happy.  So who knows?  Maybe APP will show up at one point.  A wuss is a wuss is a wuss.

  • David

    It wasn’t a lament, Jason; please don’t take it as such. This blog is a hoot, and I’m just happy to read it every day.

    … Frankly, I’m not sure any of us would WANT the responsibility of separating the mellow wheat from the wussy chaff.

  • "Eye In The Sky" in prog terms equals "I am Big Brother, a controlling force in your life. I am the inevitable Powers That Be". "Eye In The Sky" in mellow terms equals "I like to watch." Who’s your daddy? Who’s your daddy?? Only Maury Povich knows for sure!!

  • Elaine

    For some reason I have this song in my head.

    Lady let me take a look at you now
    You’re there on the dance floor making me want you somehow
    Lady, I think it’s only fair I should say to you
    Don’t be thinkin’ that I don’t want you
    ‘Cause maybe I do

    It’s not APP, though, is it.

  • DwD probably just had a heart attack.  :)  That’s "Lady" by Little River Band, and is DEFINITELY on the Mellow Gold list!

  • No, not a heart attack. That’s what the pace maker is for. And by the bye, have you heard about the lonesome loser?

  • Are you kidding?  That’s my life story right there!

  • EightE1

    Nice to see him bring out the cowbell at the end.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — I’ve got a fever, and the only cure is more cowbell.RobEightE1

  • Jay Ferguson’s follow-up, "Shakedown Cruise," is pretty clever — and is kind of a soundalike to "Feels Like the First Time" by Foreigner. Needless to say, that means it’s good listenin’.

  • It turns out that one of the guitarist-singer-songwriters in the Canadian band Sloan is also named Jay Ferguson. I did a double take when I saw his name.

  • Ray

    This is definitely one of my favorite guilty pleasures from the 70s, was a big hit right about the time I was getting ready to graduate from 8th grade.  Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but I guess you could say that Jay Ferguson may not have had a "Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang" but he certainly had a "Sha-La-La-La-La-La M’lady thing".  (Sorry, but it HAD to be done!!!)