The McCoys with the host of Upbeat, Don Webster on the drums
The Birds, Ron Wood second from left
Listen – The McCoys – Say Those Magic Words – MP3
I come to you at the end of the week bearing an example of that rarest of animals, the American freakbeat 45.
Though the genre itself is somewhat amorphous, with all that “I know it when I hear it” collector-speak, the vast majority of records so classified have been UK and Euro.
The tune I bring you today is extra special in that regard, since it was written by some of the greatest US rock songwriters*, recorded by one of the great Nuggets-y bands of the mid-60s, and then covered by one of the greatest UK R&Beat acts.
The tale of ‘Say Those Magic Words’ is interesting. The tune as you will hear it today, reduced to the digital ones and zeros so that you might pull it through the strainer of the interwebs and into your earholes, is by the mighty McCoys. Though I doubt seriously anyone needs to hear them bash out ‘Hang On Sloopy’ again, I’ll step up to tell you that I ride rather strongly for their burning version of ‘Fever’, as well as today’s selection which I consider to be one of the great “lost” 45s of the 60s.
I’ve always been a collector of 60s era Bang 45s, first for the Strangeloves, and later for the McCoys and whatever obscure acts I could find on the label. The odd thing is, I first heard ‘Say Those Magic Words’ via its cover version, by the UK group Birds Birds.
If that name is not familiar, halve it so you’re only getting one (Birds that is) and you’ll have (of course) the Birds, the band that created some of the hottest examples of UK R&Beat, including their versions of ‘Leaving Here’, ‘No Good Without You Baby’, and ‘You’re On My Mind’, all of which are as unfuckwithable as those things get. The Birds, featuring Kim Gardner and a young bloke by the name of Ron Wood (who’s biggest claim to fame at the time was that his brother Art was in the Artwoods**) recorded some absolutely blazing stuff in their short tenure (and painfully brief discography). By 1966, at the urging of Robert Stigwood, following some legal hassles when the US Byrds alit in the UK, changed their name from The Birds to Birds Birds (huh???) and recorded their last 45, that being ‘Say Those Magic Words’ backed with the tune ‘Daddy Daddy’.
So, this was – via Mr Luther – the first version I heard of the song, and if memory serves I did not know initially that it had already been recorded by the McCoys.
This tale turns on the fact that when I did eventually find out, and dug up a copy of the McCoys 45 I was stunned to discover that my assumptions about “coolness” were off base, as the original version was – at least in my opinion – light years better than the UK cover.
The McCoys version is a killer on every level, earning its “US Freakbeat” label by virtue of it’s pop underpinning mixing in with the birth cries of psychedelia, all placed upon a rough, garagey foundation. It’s nothing like anything they did before, and about a hundred times better than most of what they did after. This, if you believe me, and why not, is the very zenith of the McCoys career.
Back in the olden days, when I was writing in paper fanzines (many years before the eruption of the interwebs) I wrote about this 45, basically saying that the McCoy’s version of ‘Say Those Magic Words’ is the kind of record that, if played in a frat party in 1966, would verily divide the room in two, one half unaware of the lysergic (or at least marijuanderful) filigree, and the other half suddenly set upon a path of longer hair, freakier threads and rather uncomfortable interactions with the campus underground in which they attempt to purchase mind altering substances for home use.
It’s that good.
The odd thing is, neither version of the song was a hit.
I hope you dig it, and I’ll be back on Monday.
*Oddly, sometimes this song is credited solely to Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, and sometimes to those two giants, as well as the Strangeloves troika of Feldman, Goldstein and Gottehrer
**Gardner and Wood would both go on to join the Creation, and Wood would of course have a long and wrinkly career with the greatest of all zombie bands, Rolling Stones