Thursday, April 12, 2007


The Fleetwoods, Come Softly To Me (A Cappella).
The Fleetwoods, I Care So Much.
The Fleetwoods, Mr. Blue (A Cappella).

The flipside of teen rebellion: the sound of awful yearnings, quiet defeats, of a love always just out of reach.

Greil Marcus, on The Fleetwoods' Greatest Hits.

The Fleetwoods were Gretchen Christopher, Barbara Ellis and Gary Troxel: they had known each other since childhood, in Olympia, Washington, and in their senior year of high school, they formed a vocal trio.

Bob Reisdorff, who was setting up a record label in Seattle, heard a demo tape the trio had made, and in the summer of '58 recorded them in the tiny basement studio where, two years later, the Ventures would record "Walk Don't Run." "Come Softly," as the trio had called it, began as a melody Gretchen and Barbara had composed on a piano together. Troxel originally had intended to provide trumpet accompaniment, but instead wound up contributing another vocal line, which later Troxel would say was a take on the opening riff of the Dell-Vikings' "Come Go With Me."

Reisdorff had the Fleetwoods shorten the song, and asked that they add "To Me" to the title, so as to avoid any salacious implications (which is a bit ludicrous, as Gretchen would later claim she didn't even know what 'obsession' really meant). The trio recorded their vocal over and over again until it was perfected, and then the tapes were sent down to Los Angeles for overdubs. When it was released in February 1959, the single became a colossal hit, eventually reaching #1 nationwide.

The magic of the Fleetwoods lies in the intertwined, ever-changing points of view that the three voices provide--sometimes Gretchen and Barbara act as a chorus for Gary's longings; other times they're the heartbroken ones, with Gary musing alone in his own world. It's far from the typical set-up of male-lead-with-female-backup. Take the way, for example, Marvin Gaye sings "Don't Do It" with a chorus of girls behind him--it seems meant to assure the listener that Gaye's girl really isn't going to break his heart, or if she does, Gaye's got other options.

But with the Fleetwoods, nothing is certain in their records--heartbreak, fragility lies all around them, and the three dance through their little world, sometimes linked, sometimes walking alone. The original vocal of "Mr. Blue," their third single, is startling in its purity--the way Gretchen and Barbara both provide comfort to Gary's woes, but never quite assure him things will get better. Even a lighter-sounding track like "I Care So Much" reveals itself to be wracked with envy, longing and misery.

"Come Softly to Me" and "I Care So Much" were released on February 16, 1959 as Dolphin 1 (and later Liberty 55188); "Mr. Blue" as Dolton 5 in July 1959. On the tremendous collection Come Softly To Me.

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