It may not have been the strangest story ever told in pop music, not by a long shot. But it had to be right up there: a fella is smitten with the fisherman’s daughter, but her overprotective daddy apparently never lets her out of his sight. It seems she’s tied to the dock, and can’t get free: “Fish all day and sleep all night/Father never lets her out of his sight/Soon I’m gonna have to get my knife and cut that rope!” This offbeat little tale of love conquering all shot all the way up to a Top 10 berth on the Billboard singles chart, and launched the short-lived career of Every Mothers’ Son. The clean-shaven, well-scrubbed harmony pop band from New York City recorded two albums for the MGM label in 1967, and for the first time commercially, those two albums have been collected together in full on one CD. Now Sounds’ Come on Down: The Complete MGM Recordings (CRNOW 36, 2012) takes its name from “Come on Down to My Boat,” that catchy 1966 hit with the infectiously aggressive organ riff. But the new two-for-one collection reveals that there was more to the band than just that one well-remembered tune and the albums’ photos of five smiling, fresh-faced, clean-scrubbed young men.
“Come on Down” was actually a hand-me-down from The New Breed, courtesy of producer Wes Farrell (Jay and the Americans’ “Come a Little Bit Closer,” the McCoys’ “Hang On, Sloopy”) and his co-writer Jerry Goldstein. But the remaining ten songs on the band’s eponymous debut, produced by Farrell, were all penned by its members. Most were collaborations between Dennis and Lary Sarokin, a.k.a. Dennis and Lary Larden. If you put garage rock, harmony pop, light psychedelia and proto-bubblegum into a blender, the result might have been Every Mothers’ Son. Their two albums as heard on Complete MGM Recordings reveal both EMS’ strengths and limitations as a band.
Pop was the order of the day for Every Mothers’ Son. Every one of the album’s eleven tracks is under three minutes in length, and the one exception only goes over by a mere four seconds. The songs of Denny and Lary were clearly influenced by the sounds emanating from the brothers’ jukeboxes. In the indispensable track-by-track notes, the brothers even confirm the styles they were attempting to nail, whether subtly or overtly. There are rockers and ballads, all graced with the band’s distinctive harmonies. Denny, Lary, Bruce Milner, Schuyler Larsen and Christopher Augustine’s vocal blend wasn’t as ravishing as The Association’s, as ethereal as The Beach Boys’ or as bold as the Mamas and the Papas’, but their sound was supple and recognizable nonetheless. They were also musicians of no small talent, with Denny and Lary on guitars, Bruce on keyboards, Schuyler on bass and Christopher on drums. Most impressively, studio musicians were only utilized by Every Mothers’ Son for orchestral overdubs, some of which were arranged by Tony Romeo (“I Think I Love You," “Indian Lake”).
Though not groundbreaking, the album is a pleasure to rediscover. The ballads are the strongest songs on this debut set. Denny’s pretty “What Became of Mary” nods heavily to the sound of Michael Brown and the Left Banke with its baroque flavor, although its lyrics are a bit florid: “Is her life still gay and bright? Does she sit alone at night and dream of days with me?” Denny and Lary’s sweet slow-burner, “For Brandy,” is graced with strings, and compares favorably with The Association at their most gentle. (Brandy, as always, was quite a popular woman to serenade.) The group stretches a bit with the otherworldly electric violin on “Ain’t No Use,” co-written by Denny and Bruce, while rockabilly and country seem to have influenced “Didn’t She Lie” and “Ain’t It a Drag,” respectively. The latter, with a prominent banjo part, also stylistically recalls Bob Dylan in the rapid-fire lyrics of the verses. The laconic, jug band-styled “Sittin’ In” has more than a touch of the Lovin’ Spoonful about it, and the rocking “(I’m afraid of) Allison Dozer” would have fit snugly on Nuggets with its Kinks-esque guitar riff and groovy organ, too.
In a rapidly-changing and incredibly creative music scene, however, EMS’ songs may have been too ephemeral; despite the solid material on the debut album, not one song had a big enough hook to successfully follow “Come On Down to My Boat.” We dive into the band's second album and more after the jump!
For their sophomore album, released just a few months later in 1967, the band crafted a slightly trippier affair. Though EMS still struggled to find a consistent sound on Every Mothers’ Son’s Back, they produced some of their strongest songs. Again, the LP primarily consisted of songs from the Larden brothers, but Bruce Milner contributed a couple with Schuyler Larsen, as well. The boisterous “Rainflowers” was the most significant attempt by Farrell to score another hit, but despite a radio-friendly arrangement, the melody just isn’t as strong as that of “Boat.” Another good, solid pop effort was “I’d Rather Be Right Than Wrong,” which Denny recalled was written in the style of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. “I May Be Right” was pure folk, a cover of Dick Weissman’s song. (Weissman had been a member of The Journeymen with the future “Papa” John Phillips.) Many of the other tracks were far more experimental, however.
Denny and Lary turned serious on the darker “Another Day, Another Song,” with its soaring harmony vocals and folk-rock jangle. On the other end of the spectrum, their “Dolls in the Clock” is pure psychedelic whimsy, as is their bucolic “Pony with the Golden Mane.” “The Proper Four Leaf Clover,” from the pen of Bruce and Schuyler, is another oddity with finely textured harmonies and a driving beat. Even more insistent is “Only Child,” in which the band juxtaposed scorching electric guitar with hushed vocals and harmonies, the song veering musically from one extreme to another with finesse. The band was clearly experimenting with the studio, and various moments recall a bit of the Hollies here, the Beatles there, even the Monkees.
“Put Your Mind at Ease” marries a Monkees guitar riff to otherworldly Beach Boys harmonies and a “Good Vibrations”/”California Girls”-esque interlude. In the liner notes, Denny lets on that he still doesn’t feel the interlude belongs with the song. The jokey studio banter of “Lary’s Birthday Party” ended the LP anticlimactically; how disappointing that the group chose to close their second (and last) album with a piece of filler. But Now Sounds ends The Complete MGM Recordings instead with 1968’s “No One Knows” (“the days are draggin’ me down, down, down”) as a bonus track. Co-written by Wes Farrell and featuring Don Kerr rather than Schuyler Larsen on bass, it was the band’s only non-LP single, and their least successful. Still, the song offers intricate harmonies and an unusual arrangement. With a punchier mix, “No One Knows” might even have been a hit.
As is the label’s trademark, Now Sounds has pulled out all of the stops for Every Mothers’ Son’s Complete MGM Recordings. The 20-page booklet offers strong liner notes and a colorful, clean and attractive design from reissue producer Steve Stanley. The participation of the band members has resulted in a comprehensive history of the band via the essay and track-by-track annotations. Alan Brownstein has remastered with customary subtlety. This compilation is yet another reminder of the most incredibly imaginative time in pop history, when bands were free to follow their most creative muses wherever they might take them. Though Every Mothers’ Son will always be remembered for “Come On Down to My Boat,” The Complete MGM Recordings shows a group of young men exploring the pop terrain of the day to find their own musical identity. Though the band’s success was fleeting, they sure created some delightful sounds not just of the time, but for all time. The Complete MGM Recordings is worth savoring.
Every Mothers’ Son, Come On Down: The Complete MGM Recordings (Now Sounds CRNOW 36, 2012)
- Come On Down to My Boat
- I Won’t
- For Brandy
- Didn’t She Lie
- What Became of Mary
- Ain’t It a Drag
- Allison Dozer
- I Believe in You
- Ain’t No Use
- Sittin’ Here (Peter’s Song)
- Come On Queenie
- Another Day, Another Song
- Dolls in the Clock
- I May Be Right
- Only Child
- I’d Rather Be Right Than Wrong
- Sally (Life Story No. 3)
- Pony with the Golden Mane
- The Proper Four Leaf Clover
- Put Your Mind at Ease
- Lary’s Birthday Party
- No One Knows (Mono 45)
Tracks 1-11 from Every Mothers’ Son, MGM LP E/SE-4471, 1967
Tracks 12-22 from Every Mothers’ Son’s Back, MGM LP E/SE-4504, 1967
Track 23 from MGM single K 13887, 1968