Pete Ham, Golder's Green (Rykodisc, 1999)

My first thought upon hearing the first track on this CD was “My goodness, the Beatles are alive and well, and living in my CD player.”

Once I got past that bit of early morning whimsy, I realized that this was nothing like the Beatles. Well, mostly. Sort of a cross between the feel-good innocent days of the Fab Four and the more wistful days of Simon and Garfunkel.

It sounds like an odd combination, but I assure you, it’s all true. Would I lie to you? (Crossed fingers behind back, along with Richard Nixon mask.)

Let me back up a little. What we have here is the latest album by Pete Ham, best known for his work with the bands The Iveys and Badfinger. This is a remarkable accomplishment, largely because Pete Ham has been dead for a good twenty years. In this day and age, not even death can stop the truly talented, or very determined. Just ask L. Ron Hubbard.

On a serious note, Golder’s Green is a collection of demos and other songs recorded between 1965 and 1975, all written or co-written by Ham during his career as a musician and songwriter. Twenty tracks in all, rescued from the vaults in which they’d been stored all these many years. Some have been updated for the new era, but most are presented in their original form, like a time capsule.

These songs represent the length and breadth of Ham’s talent and abilities. Whether it’s “power pop” ballads reminiscent of the Beatles, slower tunes more evocative of Simon and Garfunkel, or songs that are uniquely his, Ham manages to deliver a fascinating range of music. This album is nothing less than a trip down memory lane, visiting to era when music was magical and you made it or not on the power of performance, rather than the validity of music videos.

To give you an idea of just how varied the songs really are, the liner offers comparisons to the Beatles (“Ob-La-Di,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Can You Take Me Back?”), solo McCartney, Stevie Wonder (from his Talking Book period), the Kinks, and Emmit Rhodes. His influences include jazz, rock, country and western, and rhythm and blues, along with classical. And it shows.

The liner notes speak excellently for the music, offering up descriptions of the song, comparisons to other related music, and the details regarding the origin of each song. In fact, half of the value of this CD should be for the liner notes, as a reference and a quick dip into the pool, so to speak. My words just can’t do justice to the songs contained within. All I can do is point out the songs that particularly catch my attention.

The opening song, “Makes Me Feel Good,” is an attention-catching, toe-tapping pop song in pure Beatles form and the perfect opener to the mix. “Whiskey Man” contains some soulful lyrics and masterful harmonica riffs, as well as a quiet warning against the power of hard drink and sorrow. “Richard” is an adventurous, happy-go-lucky guitar-powered ode to … er … a man’s best friend. And I’m not talking about women or dogs. Trust me on this one. It’s lively, catchy, and unrepentantly bawdy in a sophisticated subtlety that seems to be a lost art form these days. “Midnight Caller” evokes the Beatles once again, but this time to deliver a quietly moving homage to former Badfinger friend and booking agent turned call girl, Sue Wing. It’s a touching, sentimental tune, full of emotion and wistfulness.

All in all, this is a great album. The majority of the songs are “feel good” tunes, and very few of them ring out of tune. It’s not the best CD you’ll ever run across, but it’s certainly able to stand tall under its own merits. Pete Ham truly was a talented musician, and this is as competent and comprehensive a representation of his abilities as any.

Music from that era isn’t really my usual interest. I prefer my rock a bit louder and a lot more energetic. However, I can definitely say that Golder’s Green is an album worth having, if you want something to fill a slot and represent the time period in your collection. Of course, your mileage may vary. If the Beatles give you a headache, this probably would also. And just be warned that the liner notes, while very well-written and explanatory, are also shamelessly pro-Ham, and heavily biased in his favor. If you want impartial opinions regarding Pete Ham, this isn’t the place to start.

That said, I’ll finish by saying that I enjoyed this album. Now if I can only get the lyrics to “Richard” out of my head…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>