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Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold 37


A quick anecdote before we start today: on Saturday, Mike and I did one of our “Acoustic ’80s” gigs. In between songs, we somehow wound up mentioning Little River Band, which was met with unexpected enthusiasm from the crowd. Mike started playing the opening of “Reminiscing,” and before we knew it, we were doing the entire song (I had no idea I knew all the words). The crowd response made it clear that we’ll have to do a Mellow Gold acoustic duo evening at some point in time. Stay tuned.

Silver – Wham Bam (download)

I need to make something very clear to you right now: I did not pick this song. I’d never heard of it before, none of you had mentioned it in the comments, and I never received any e-mails requesting this song. Rather, this song picked me. It showed up on my iPod last Wednesday as I was running for a morning bus, and I was blown away that I had never heard it before (there are only 9,319 songs on my iPod, after all, a number that doesn’t even make sense to me), and that nobody ever requested it. This song may be more on the pop side of mellow, but it’s mellow. And even better, there’s some great, truly classic record label drama behind this song. I can’t wait to share it with you.

But clearly, the first question on your mind is: who the hell is Silver, and why should I give a shit? That’s an excellent question, especially since the band’s Wiki page doesn’t even bother to list all the members. For the record, though, the members were:

John Batdorf (of the duo Batdorf & Rodney, and I’m scared to see what you’ll write about them in the comments)
Brent Mydland (who eventually became “the new guy” in the Grateful Dead)
Tom Leadon (Bernie Leadon’s brother)
Steve Oates (John’s brother…okay, I’m making this one up. This guy’s not even in the band.)
Greg Collier (who?)
Harry Stinson (wha?)

And yes, THE Phil Hartman designed their record cover.

To quote Triumph The Insult Comic Dog, it’s like a Who’s Who of Who Cares.

There’s not much to say about these guys. They formed, put out this one album, and then broke up. “Wham Bam,” also known as “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang,” was their only hit, peaking at #16 in August of 1976. Although it’s often labeled as “bubblegum,” I think it has plenty of the traits we’ve come to love from our Mellow Gold tunes.

Lots of strings……check!
Whiny guitars…….check!
Gentle drums…….check!
Limp backing vocals….check!
Stupid lyrics in the verses….check!
Even stupider lyrics in the chorus….check check check check check!

Let’s look at some of these. I won’t torture you too much with the lyrics, I promise. Just the first four lines.

Starry nights, sunny days
I always thought that love should be that way
Then comes a time that you’re ridden with doubt
You’ve loved all you can and now you’re all loved out

That’s right: “You’ve loved all you can and now you’re all loved out.” That’s just painful. And I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t point out the shitty chorus.

We got a wham (!) bam (!) shang-a-lang and a sha-la-la-la-la-la thing

Those exclamation points in there are to replace the strings that attack in between those words, by the way. I consider them to be part of the lyrics.

What the hell are these guys talking about? What does it mean? What point were they trying to get across? Next time Jessica and I have another one of our fights (“It’s McD or me!”), I’ll grab her by the arm, look her deep in the eyes, and inform her that she can’t possibly leave me. Not with all that we have together. After all, doesn’t she realize what she’d be giving up? We got a wham (!) bam (!) shang-a-lang and a sha-la-la-la-la-la thing. And then I’ll watch her run the hell out the door, never to return.

But here’s the real problem I’m having: I can’t get this chorus out of my head. The critics are right: it definitely is a bubblegum pop song. They sound like The Archies (who also had a shang-a-lang in one of their songs). I’ve been singing it for the past week, kinda groovin’ in my chair, and sticking my hand up in the air each time the strings attack in the chorus.

Don’t get me started on the rest of the lyrics. They’re inane. Pointless. Idiotic. Most Mellow Gold lyrics are pathetically impassioned. That’s not the case here. Just stupidity, repeated for three and-a-half minutes.

Sometimes I feel bad ripping on songs like these, but I’m not feeling any remorse over this one. You know why? Well, remember the story of Climax Blues Band and “I Love You” – how all of the members, save for one, hated “I Love You?” Well, this is kinda like that, except everyone in Silver hated “Wham Bam.” And you know who gets the blame? John Batdorf, who put fame and fortune above musical quality as a career goal. I know all of this because I’ve read Batdorf’s extensive history of Batdorf & Rodney, which includes Silver. It’s an interesting read, but it’s long, so here are the important parts.

Batdorf & Rodney were an acoustic duo known for their inspired instrumental jams. After having some success under the tutelage of Ahmet Ertegun, the guys broke up, only to reunite and sign with Clive Davis over at Arista. Davis had just experienced great success in getting Barry Manilow to record “Mandy,” a song that Manilow despised, but nonetheless was a gigantic hit. Batdorf & Rodney, eager to finally get the fame and fortune they desired, acquiesced to Davis’ desires, which included recording outside material and slicing the guitar solos out of all of their songs for their upcoming album. As Batdorf puts it, “it’s hard to argue with the man who made Barry Manilow a superstar…the album sold more than our previous albums so we went with it and kept our creative disagreements to a minimum.” And that, my friends, is how John Batdorf sold his soul.

So Davis brought them this song called “Somewhere In The Night,” which he knew was about to be released by Helen Reddy (and if Alan O’Day’s name just popped into your head, you are a true fan of this website). Davis wanted to get the single out before Reddy’s version did. Batdorf loved the song, but there was a catch: the duo had to also record “Wham Bam,” a song Davis was convinced would be a hit. Batdorf hated the idea and despised the song, but by now you know what Batdorf chose to do.

The duo recorded both songs, and Davis decided he didn’t care for Rodney’s parts. He had an outsider sing on “Somewhere In The Night,” and had Batdorf double track his vocal over Rodney’s on “Wham Bam.” Still, fame was on its way, right? They couldn’t possibly give up now!

“Somewhere In The Night” debuted at #80, but Reddy’s management figured out what was going on, and told the radio stations that they’d never get a song by Reddy again if they continued to play the Batdorf & Rodney version. The stations caved, and the duo’s song was dropped. Reddy’s version went to #19, but guess who brought it all the way to #9 in January of 1979? Barry Manilow. LOVE IT!

Rodney – and I have no idea why it took him this long – was fed up, and the duo split. Batdorf formed Silver, and…well, I’ll let Batdorf tell it:

Clive heard us and told us if we released “Wham Bam” as Silver’s first single he would sign us to an album deal. What choice did we have?
(Jason’s note: I dunno, walk away with what was left of your pride and dignity?) We replaced Mark’s parts and went on to cut the album. The single was a big hit but the album sounded nothing like the single and we didn’t draw well. We were a West coast sounding band with a stupid bubble gum single.

When it came time for Silver’s second album, Davis again wanted the group to bend to his will. Batdorf refused. The group eventually dissolved, and that was the last anybody ever heard of Silver.

If you’re still with me after all this text…is that a great story or what? In all honesty, I doubt I would have done anything different from Batdorf. I’ve done some pretty stupid things for money. Hell, I’ve done some pretty stupid things on this website. Still, it’s interesting to see how a string of fucked-up priorities led to this lame, yet ultimately successful tune.

See you next week for another Adventure Through The Mines of Mellow Gold!

  • David

    Jason, my hat is off to you. It fell while I was white-man-overbiting-‘n-head-bobbing my way through that chorus for the tenth time this morning. I wondered who the hell Silver was, but now I sure the hell know –- and love. Sure, there was some bubblegum in there, but everything about this song was mellow gold. Right down to the skeeviness. “You’ve loved all you can and now you’re all loved out” ? Better not tell your pimp.

  • I gots to get me my own string section now! The possibilities are endless:
    In a bar: What’ll you have?
    I’ll have a Bush (!) mills (!) on the rocks and a Bud-Bud-Bud-Bud-Bud-Bud Lite.
    At the cleaners:
    Hey, the stain’s (!) still (!) here on my pants, I’m not pay-pay-pay-pay-paying for this.
    ‘Scuse me, I’ve got a few calls to make. 

  • On an entirely different note, have you ever, or do you intend to do one of these on Randy Vanwarmer’s ‘Just When I Needed You Most’?
    Just a thought… what a tune!!

  • woofpop

    God! I had totally forgotten this song. It sucks and I love it – that irrational statement alone makes it perfect for MG.. It’s 1976 and I’m wearing rust-colored Levi’s cords and a long-sleeved button down shirt in neutral tones – probably from Chess King, and this is on the radio in the Cutlass Supreme. I’m really happy right now.. 

  • "a string of fucked-up priorities led to this lame, yet ultimately successful tune"  Could be the story of "Babe" by Styx. 

  • Todd

    Just because I’m curious…
    How did it get ON your ipod? What collection is it a part of?
    Or do mellow ex-shoemaker elves program your ipod while you sleep?

  • I was waiting for someone to ask that question.

    I have every song on the Billboard Top 100 from 1970 -1989.  2000 songs.  It’s wonderful.  I pretty much got a bigger iPod just to accommodate the collection.

    Ted – the difference between "Babe" and "Wham Bam" is that at least Dennis DeYoung believed in "Babe."  Only Clive Davis believed in "Wham Bam," and the best part is that he was 100% correct.

    Spence – I covered Vanwarmer sometime last year – maybe I’ll do a repost of that one sometime soon.

  • Dw Dunphy

    Oh crap, those string stabs sound like the Psycho shower scene to me (tons of alliteration in that one, kids). But I actually can see where Davis’ mind was heading here. As dumb-as-dog-shit as this song is, and there are some Alpo-laden stools out there with higher IQ, the hook works. God help me, the hook works. Try wrenching this track from your skull after hearing it. Can’t be done. By the same token, Davis is also accused of imposing himself on Kelly Clarkson’s recent "My December", and she has flat-out refused his "tutelage". Now the album’s out, the songs are tanking in relation to previous stuff and Clarkson is considering taking a country road next time out.

  • Wouldn’t it be funny if Davis foisted "Wham Bam" on every artist he hired?  Like, he tried to get Pearl Jam to do it?  "I’m tellin’ ya, kids, this is gonna be a hit!  Don’t you know who I am?  ‘Mandy,’ goddammit!"

  • Hey Jason, cheers on another get-it-the-hell-outta-my-head song! Actually when I was a kid and didn’t know any better I thought this was the Bay City Rollers. Heck it could be the Bay City Rollers doing a Carpenters track? WOuld that make it MellowGum? It’s produced perfectly for mono AM radio, mind.twostepcub

  • Oh, I suppose now I’ll never be able to listen to "Home Again" without this popping into my head. God bless you, citizen!

  • MC

    I have 2 things to say:
    1) I can’t buy this: "I had no idea I knew all the words". C’mon. Anyone who knows all the words to LRB’s "Reminiscing" must know that he knows all the words. It would be impossible to not know that you know this.
    2) Wasn’t Brent Mydland GREAT during his time in the Dead?  Or was I just trippin’?

  • David

    Whoah! And who knew (thank you Jason and Wikipedia) that Phil Hartman also designed the classic album artwork to Poco’s LEGEND and Steely Dan’s AJA?

  • DW beat me to the Kelly Clarkson reference. I knew there was a reason I respected her.

    So Jason, how would you suggest replicating those screeching strings in a live show? Synthesizer blast?

  • Are you suggesting I try doing this infection of a song live?

    I think I’d probably sing them.  Or I’d bring my cat and squeeze him at the appropriate moments.

  • Old Davy

    Talk about your lost oldies that have fallen way off the radar!  I had totally forgotten about this little ‘gem’ until your article brought it all back.  Strange, the picture of the album cover looked vaguely familiar.  So I checked my vinyls and there it was, lurking in my record collection under "S".  I think I paid about 20 cents for it at a year-end close out at K-Mart.  My life is pathetic.

  • How ’bout that — I found this song on my iPod a few months ago, and I was surprised I had uploaded it onto my computer. It’s one of those Rhino “Super Hits of the ’70s” CDs I own. I almost deleted it from my iPod, but, like you said, that chorus works its way into your brain.

    Phil Hartman isn’t credited in the liner notes for “Aja,” but I too am finding references to him designing one of their covers. Dammit, which one, Internet?! He apparently designed CSNY’s logo. Sigh … I miss the Anal-Retentive Chef and Lionel Hutz.

  • Tony Billoni

    I will never again make fun of England Dan and John Ford Coley’s lengthy name now that I’ve learned the saga of Batdorf and Rodney.  They sound more like a ventriloquist act, with the dummy being a miniturized Rodney Allen Rippy.  Hell, their album covers alone made me laugh.
    Could you imagine being in your dorm in 1974 and your roommate walks in?  "Hey, what you listening to… new Clapton, James Taylor?"
    "Actually, it’s Batdorf & Rodney.  They’re mellow and…"  Peals of laughter follow.

  • Tony Billoni

    From an upcoming Noble House Concerts page (show is June 23):
    John Batdorf started his career in the ’70s with Batdorf & Rodney. They headlined many shows, and were an opening act for America, Seals & Crofts, Dan Fogelberg, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers, Bread, The Youngbloods, Hall & Oates, Harry Chapin and many others.
    In the ’80s, John was a staff songwriter writing songs for America, England Dan, The Curry Sisters and Kim Carnes, and as studio singer singing on hundreds of jingles, movies, and TV shows. He also sang background vocals on recordings by Rod Stewart, Motley Crue, Dave Mason, The Jefferson Starship, Berlin, Donna Summer, and David Lee Roth to name just a few. In the ’90s, John started producing records and commercials.

    Oh, he’s a mellow fellow, but also mixing with the disco and hard rock crowd.  Wonder if he’s somewhere on "We Built This City"?

  • woofpop

    Phil Hartman did a lot of covers as a graphic artist in the ’70’s. In addition to the mentioned covers (yeah, that Poco horse graphic was him), he did that (kinda creepy) cover for History: America’s Greatest Hits .

  • I’m looking forward to hearing this. I downloaded it but I can’t play it right now because I’m only halfway through "Nantucket Sleighride" from the "Mountain Live" album. And you know, when the randomizer gives you a song that runs 17:31, you gotta let it run!  But thanks for the mellow stuff and the history lesson. Truly appreciated!

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  • clorox

    I always thought this was the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. I still do, Jason’s research aside.ooooooh Jackie Blue . . .Now THAT would be a good Mellow Gold Posting.

  • Stephen

    I just love the fact that on my iTunes it goes straight from Silver’s "Wham Bam" to Silver Jews’ "Honk if You’re Lonely." Not as different as you might initially think! Quite complimentary in fact…

  • Elaine

    "Jackie Blue!"  Great idea.  It also makes me think of Atlanta Rhythm Section’s "Imaginary Lover."

  • Ray

    OMG I did a Google search on "Silver Wham Bam Shang A Lang" and it (eventually) took me to your blog.  I am literally doubling over in hysterics reading your blog entry!  I remember this song quite well from the late summer/early fall of ’76 (matter of fact I still have a copy of the 45 somewhere!) and it was a sizable hit on WLS, spending two weeks at #8 and making their year-end "BIG 89 OF 1976" list (squeaking in at #80 for the year).  The story behind this song is quite interesting and I am thanking you for sharing it!  Thanks again, and "now that it’s said and we both understand, let’s say our goodbyes before it gets out of hand".  LOL

  • As a teen in the 70’s I liked this type of music and I still listen to it having purchased the re-issue of this CD a few years ago. One of my favorie songs from Silver is “Climbing” written and performed by Brent Mydland, great keyboards and the harmonies are tight. I will happily listen to Silver and other one hit wonder bands from that glorious decade of music over the sh** they put out today.

  • karen

    Just for the record someone should look up Harry Stinson, He has done more in music than any of you ever dreamed of doing, including winning awards in country music. he is a man with soul, and integrity. Check him out you wont be sorry