Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Seals and Crofts - "Summer Breeze" (1972)

Seals and Crofts' Summer Breeze album was the first album I ever bought. It may have been Led Zeppelin II, but it was definitely one of them followed by the other. As this was the advent of the 70's soft rock era, I was curious about the songs I was hearing on FM radio from the album, since they featured unusual chord progressions compared to what else was being played.

The duo went on to become huge stars for the next few years, ushering in the soft rock music, which they were unfairly maligned for. Unlike other acts lumped into this category, there was nothing syrupy or schmaltzy about Seals and Crofts, that's for sure. They also got grief later on for their abortion views, but that's another story.

Utilizing the cream of LA studio musicians and produced by guitarist Louie Shelton, Seals and Crofts were immensely talented singers and songwriters whose arrangements were quite sophisticated. Best described as "folk pop," they very rarely utilized typical chord combinations, and definitely had an affinity for the major seventh chord.

Jim Seals played acoustic guitar while Dash Crofts, with the more reedy voice, was a master mandolinist, which also stood out on the musical landscape. And as if that wasn't enough, they were both strong followers of the Baha'i Faith, which originated in Persia in the 19th Century, and they incorporated its spiritual unity tenets throughout much of their works.

After three poorly received albums, this one broke through bigtime. There was nothing religious, however, about their first huge hit, "Summer Breeze," which depicted rural domesticity, coming home from "a hard day's work," and seeing "the paper lying on the sidewalk." Even some hippie allusions of "blowing through the jasmine in my mind." Pretty damn simple.

However, they mixed major and minor inversions of the same chords, fifths and sevenths -- I mean, simple to play on the guitar but very atypical chords for a pop song. "Summer Breeze" was not the exception to this style, as they continued to experiment with the formula for the next five years to resounding fame. You would have thought that with all these striking elements -- a distinct mandolin, complex songwriting, some exotic religion -- this would be an unlikely success story, but clearly the public was ready for something different.

I remember seeing the TV clip below from "Midnight Special." It's just Seals and Crofts with a bassist playing "Summer Breeze" at the end of the show.

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