Go to Forgotten Pop Nuggets: Songs By Alan O’Day to read the first part of this article.
by Steven Goss
O’Day followed Songs By Alan O’Day with his first major release as a recording artist, Caress Me Pretty Music, on the long since forgotten Warner Brothers label, Viva. How O’Day ended up on Viva is an interesting story in and of itself. O’Day had been writing songs and playing music with different groups throughout the sixties. In 1969, he decided to focus on songwriting and began working with Sidney Goldstein as a staff writer for the publishing company Edwin H. Morris. During his tenure, a deal was made between Goldstein and Snuff Garrett, owner of the publishing company and record label Viva, to share the publishing rights to O’Day’s songs. It was during this period, when O’Day was producing demos in earnest, that he also started recording songs with Garrett for release on Viva. In fact, it’s out this collaboration that O’Day and Garrett produced the rare single, Heavy Church, which generated interest in pursuing a full-length O’Day album. While this was happening, Warner Brothers acquired Viva. O’Day stayed on with Warner Brothers as a staff writer and they continued forward with O’Day’s solo effort. Only now, instead of working alongside Garrett as producer, the album was being supervised by Warner Brothers president Ed Silvers and vice president Mel Bly. These were the circumstances that brought O’Day to Viva and under which O’Day’s first commercial release, Caress Me Pretty Music, later took shape.
The transition to Warner Brothers resulted in a new sound for O’Day. Gone was the brilliant lo-fi production technique he had developed on Songs By Alan O’Day. O’Day says of the change, “I was still in the same building, but not in the same situation. It wasn’t a bad situation, just different. It was my first time taking directions. I had been used to being in control of all aspects of the recording process up until then.” The higher-ups at the label recruited Dallas Smith to produce Caress Me Pretty Music, and although Smith’s technique differed from O’Day’s, he enhanced the power pop sounds O’Day alluded to on Songs By Alan O’Day. The singer describes his relationship with Smith as, "we were different, but we worked well together. Dallas was more hard edged, looking to bring out the more soulful and rock stuff.”
The promotional materials for Caress Me Pretty Music include a quote from O’Day declaring the album to be "cheerfully overproduced." When asked about this, he remarks, “unlike Songs By Alan O'Day, there was more than a drum machine, electric piano and overdubs.” O'Day credits a lot of the album’s sound to Smith, who does a fantastic job of bringing out his strengths as a pop and soul singer. Nevertheless, from a lyrical and musical standpoint, the album is very much O’Day’s. In fact, several tracks from Songs By Alan O’Day appear on Caress Me Pretty Music, including Caress Me Pretty Music, Good Book and Everybody Is An Only Child.
Selecting the songs for the album somewhat mirrors the process used for putting together Songs By Alan O’Day. O'Day, Smith and Silvers surveyed O’Day’s catalog and chose a number of songs to record. However, Caress Me Pretty Music does not come off as a compilation of distinct songs. Instead, the album plays very much like a concept album. The blending of O’Day’s soulful songwriting and Smith’s pop psych production provides listeners with a cohesive and consistent experience. O’Day explains, "I was working on my spiritual side back then, I wasn't seeing it as a concept album, but my writing took an earthy, spiritual look at the world, and I think maybe Dallas recognized that and tried to bring the album together, that he had a concept in mind. Dallas had more of the concept than I had, but I think that what he was doing was bringing a more soulful sound to the spirituality of the songs. Caress Me Pretty Music was very much a down to earth album."
Caress Me Pretty Music should be a delight to all fans of psych and power pop sounds. The first track, Somewhere She Is Sleeping, is a quick flash of power pop and sets the atmosphere for the rest of the album. The best example of the album’s sound is Caress Me Pretty Music. Smith took all of best components from O’Day’s home recording and added a fuzz-drenched guitar, rolling piano and bass and a wailing sax. It should be noted that O'Day recorded Caress Me Pretty Music not only for Songs By Alan O’Day and Caress Me Pretty Music, but also for his first major hit, Appetizers. O’Day joked about this by saying "I guess I was trying to get it right."
Just like Caress Me Pretty Music, Good Book is also on Songs By Alan O’Day. The lo-fi recording is great and Smith did not stray to far from what O'Day had already done. It's a rollicking performance with bluesy piano and a chugging bass riff to keep it moving. It almost sounds like a Faces recording. Song is another highlight, featuring O'Day's lush vocals and some superb guitar work by Dan Parks. Parks, who played most of the guitar on Caress Me Pretty Music, also played on Songs By Alan O'Day and brings some of the sound from that album to Caress Me Pretty Music.
There is a surplus of pop biscuits on this album ready to satisfy all cravings. Heavy Church is a cosmic pop hymnal. The psych pop Crucifixion 2000 A.D. has Beatlesque nods throughout, which O'Day credits to Smith, saying "Dallas was into Beatlely things, for example on Crucifixion 2000 A.D., Dallas flipped the piano riff from the song and added it to the front as a lead in. Very Beatlish.” Everybody Is An Only Child* is another song that has a great “Beatlely” sound inspired by Smith. O’Day adds that the psych pop piano at the beginning of the song resulted after Smith had pianist Bill Cuomo improvise an introduction, which he then played in reverse, re-recorded through an echo chamber and added some “spacey reverse reverb.” It gives way perfectly to O'Day's charmingly sad vocals.
The album closes with the surreal upbeat rocker Any Road. It makes for a perfect ending, as O'Day recommends instead of giving others a chance to define who you are, it's better to make your own choices and see where life takes you. As he sings,
Any road is yours to run
Follow the fun, catch the sun.
Any Road is yours to run.
What makes Caress Me Pretty Music an excellent listen from beginning to end is that Smith and O’Day embrace a variety of sounds to make for an unyielding pop experience. The album definitely lives up to Warner Brothers marketing hype, as they claimed, "anyone into homogenization is going to have his head turned around some by this album. It is not the same song over and over. It is the songwriter's patchwork quilt - a journey in many directions." And yet somehow it all came together nicely.
* High Voltage covered Everybody Is An Only Child and turned it into one of the gloomiest soul-funk tracks you may ever hear.
Special thanks to Alan O’Day for agreeing to be interviewed for this article. If you want more information on Alan O’Day, check out his Facebook page: We Like Alan O’Day.