I went to a whole lot of Bar Mitzvahs back in 1977. There was one band that played at almost every one. It was composed of four or five guys who worked as dentists during the week. They played these weekend parties in three-piece suits — or, sometimes, open vests over puffy shirts — that went quite nicely with their well-trimmed beards. This was, of course, 1977.
For some reason, the song that got everyone on the dance floor, at every party, was “Evil Woman” by ELO. I never pegged the song as a “dance” tune coming, as it did, in the middle of the disco age. Maybe it was the jazzy, scratchy guitars, or the slightly funky keyboards that got everyone moving. The whole scene still seems kind of mysterious even after all these years. A truly “live” (meaning not “lip-synched”) version of “Evil Woman,” culled from The Midnight Special television program, best captures its essence and Jeff Lynne’s not-so-well-trimmed hair:
Fast-forward a couple of decades.
Brian Kassan, who played bass and guitar in the Wondermints before they backed Brian Wilson, founded a band called Chewy Marble in 1995. The All Music Guide described its 1998 self-titled debut as:
a sparkling power-pop effort spotlighting founder Brian Kassan’s versatile songwriting skills, which touch on influences ranging from Badfinger (‘Loneliest Man’) to the Zombies (‘Peculiar’) to even contemporary chamber-pop revivalists like the High Llamas (‘Teacher’s Pet’).
When you listen to the band’s follow-up effort, 2001’s Bowl Of Surreal, you can add “mid-70s Bar Mitzvah dance music” to their range of influences. “Reasons Why,” the tenth track on the longplayer, makes me think back to those days of dancing to “Evil Woman” on Saturday afternoons and Saturday evenings. The song is all about swing-y keyboards, lounge-y lead vocals, scratchy guitars, dreamy background vocals and string instrument sounds. You know, kind of like ELO, even if Lynne often sang with more conviction that your basic lounge singer:
A couple of years ago, Kassan discussed on Power Popaholic his early early days in the Wondermints playing a “small dive bar” called The Irish Mist:
we were playing tons of fun covers that most bar bands wouldn’t attempt or even know for that matter…’Magic’ ‘Go All The Way’ ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ ‘Telephone Line’ and many others!
“Telephone Line” was, of course, recorded by ELO and released in May 1977 — the peak of the Bar Mitzvah season that year. The Wondermints’ version of the song, if you can find it, is awesome. And so is “Reasons Why.” I feel “all 70s” whenever it comes on, which Kassan obviously intended.