Friday, September 14, 2007

The Magic Garden

Yesterday a friend asked me if I had ‘The Magic Garden’, the 5th Dimension's 1968 album. Yes was the answer I've had it since the day it came out. It remains one of my all time favourite albums and would definitely feature amongst my top ten all time favourites. It was the follow up the their ‘Up, Up & Away’ LP from a year earlier, and I bought ‘The Magic Garden’ purely on the strength of the single from which their earlier album was named.

Still being at school meant that albums were a very discretionary purchase and so I'd just bought ‘Up, Up & Away’ as a single from Rhythm’s Record Retailers in Reigate. The flip side of the single was ‘Pattern People’, which like the A side was written by Jimmy Webb and to me was just as good as the hit side. I must have read that several more of the 'Up Up & Away' album tracks had been written by Webb, which interested me. When I heard that a 5th Dimension album written and arranged and conducted by Jimmy Webb was in the offing I needed to start saving. When 'The Magic Garden' came out I was there with my money.

I wish I could have bottled the feeling that happened often back then of rushing home, record in your hand and getting up to my bedroom to put it on the record player. Sitting there listening to something for the first time and having that wave of pure joy pour over me. 'The Magic Garden' was no disappointment. Although it wasn't quite all Jim Webb as they'd covered the Beatles, 'Ticket To Ride'. The opening of 'The Magic Garden' is almost symphonic and it was a trick that Jim Webb was to use on his brilliant creation for Richard Harris - A' Tramp Shining'. This little 'Prologue' is a minute and a half of perfection.

The album’s title track follows and it has echoes of 'Up Up & Away' but is far more sophisticated. The lush harmonies that are the band's signature ooze from every bar, along with Webb's lush orchestral arrangements, which coupled with time changes and musical interruptions make every track on the album fascinating. Standout tracks are hard to pick because every one is embedded in my soul as a memory of wonderful times past. But 'Summer's Daughter', '820 Requiem', 'Paper Cup', and 'The Girl's Song' are from the very top drawer of Jimmy Webb's writing and the band's interpretation. 'The Girl's Song' is a homage to Burt Bacharach and it's doubtful there's ever been a better one?

The album was never a hit, the singles from it barely troubled the US Hot 100 and certainly most people in Britain were oblivious to it at the time. The years have changed all that and for me it's one of those defining albums, you either love it or you don't know it. It's that easy.


r morris said...

I have also liked The Fifth Dimension since childhood, and have several of their albums (and, like you, several singles) to this day. However, I think I missed out on this one. I'll have to check it out.

I wonder how many people make the link between the 5th Dimension and the later, nearly-equally-successful Billy Davis and Marilyn McCoo?

I never realized the Fifth Dimension covered Jimmy Webb songs. Hmm. Just another piece of proof that I'm a musical novice. Thanks again for the education, Richard. :)

Richard Havers said...

Oh Rob, you are in for a treat! There's a twofer with the first two albums that came out last year. It's wall to wall JW as it is the Magic Garden and Up Up & Away..

Another track of theirs I really love is there singing of the American Declaration of Independence. It is a tour de force when combined with A Change is gonna come and People Gotta be free.

When they get to the part where they sing...

it is there right, it is their duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security....

it is so uplifting, and so beautifully sung with gorgeous harmonies.

r morris said...

You convinced me. I'm going to find the CD.

mgriggy said...

I too have been a longtime fan of TMG. Many are not aware that the song "The Worst That Could Happen" was a hit for The Brooklyn Bridge and they were subsequently sued for the lead vocalist's dead on imitiation of Billy's vocal on TMG. I believe TMG was then re-packaged as "The Worst That Could Happen" Can anyone verify that???

Richard Havers said...

It was indeed repacked as The worst That Could Happen.