Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Grass Roots -- "Midnight Confessions"

Rock and roll is filled with "manufactured" groups -- acts that were put together solely for the purpose of looking good and singing hits written by professional songwriters and producers. The most famous case, of course, is The Monkees.

The Grass Roots (and note that "grass" and "roots" are two separate words for these guys) started off as one thing and then, like a writer taking out his pencil eraser, wiped it out and created something completely different.

I was listening to The Grass Roots' Greatest Hits today in my car and was struck how their first great hit, "Let's Live For Today," sounds almost nothing like what followed afterwards. Heck, that song was even in the famous Nuggets garage rock compilation.

The Grass Roots were ABC subsidiary Dunhill's baby, under the wing of the Steve Barri/P.F. Sloan team. It was when they released "Midnight Confessions," a completely re-arranged version of a song written by Lou Josie for a group he managed called The Evergreen Blues, that the group exploded into a string of best-selling singles.

"Midnight Confessions" was truly the template for the big songs that came afterwards: slick pop/soul tracks, infused with traces of bubblegum, performed and arranged by the top L.A. studio cats. In a way, The Grass Roots were like an even smoother version of Three Dog Night, white boys with great voices, covering other people's songs with a little soul inside. The personnel of The Grass Roots may have changed every couple of years, but the one constant was lead singer Rob Grill.

That pop/soul LA sound really blossomed in the early 70's, notably with Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds ("Don't Pull Your Love," "Fallin' In Love") and the Four Tops' post-Motown run at Dunhill ("Keeper of the Castle," "Ain't No Woman (Like The One I Got").

For a simple pop single, the arrangement for "Midnight Confessions" is quite intricate, changing keys and chords patterns throughout the song. With that unmistakable opening bass line and cracking Jimmy Haskell horn arrangement (same guy who did Steely Dan's "My Old School" and you can definitely tell), "Midnight Confessions" just sort of grabbed you with its infectious tambourine beat and prominent organ arpeggios and chords. Grill has an air of desperation with his pop single predicament -- the girl he loves is engaged? Married?

The sound of your footsteps
Telling me that you're near
Your soft gentle motion, baby
Brings out the need in me that no-one can hear, except

In my midnight confessions
When I tell all the world that I love you
In my midnight confessions
When I say all the things that I want to
I love you!

But a little gold ring you wear on your hand makes me understand
There's another before me, you'll never be mine
I'm wasting my time.

Staggering through the daytime
Your image on my mind
Passing so close beside you baby
Sometimes the feelings are so hard to hide, except...

In my midnight confessions
When I tell all the world that I love you
In my midnight confessions
When I say all the things that I want to
I love you!


In around 2000, I was out in LA handling the publicity for Maxim magazine's first party there ("Circus Maximus") and the contracted producer had a gorgeous staff member helping us get ready for the big event. She was in her early 20's and was tantalizing us all with promises that she was going to visit New York City. She said her last name was Grill and her father "toured and sang." Well, leave it to the music trivia nut to take a few seconds and pull it out of the hat to ask her, "Rob Grill? The Grass Roots?" And yes, this was his daughter.

Below is a classic late 60's video of the band lip-synching their way through the marvelous "Midnight Confessions." I'm loving Rob Grill's pink frilly shirt under his brown tassled jacket... very hip.


4 comments:

Jon O said...

Do I feel guilty for having liked the Grass Roots at one time? Yeah, a little. So thanks for reminding me that there was some solid songwriting that made the songs interesting even if they were pop.

soulful_strut said...

Great post...you probably know this already, but Rob Grill and Warren Entner weren't part of the "Where Were You When I Needed You"-Grass Roots, they were an existing band that took over for Sloan/Barri. Here's a cover that I did for fun, in case you're interested...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7V_Jcibj0ME&feature=email&fmt=18

or better quailty:

homepage.mac.com/soulful_strut/custom/midnite.mov

Thanks!

thechzman said...

The version by the Grass Roots is exactly like the version by the Evergreen Blues Band, note for note. You cannot tell the difference. The Grass Roots fit the mold of the type of band popular at the time. The Evergreen Blues Band was mostly a Latino group for the Eastside of L.A.

Anonymous said...

The Ever-Green Blues version instrumental backup is superior IMHO.It was also released first.