Friday, October 14, 2016

Dance With Me (1975)

Performer: Orleans                                            Writer: John & Johanna Hall
Highest US Chart Position: #6                           Label: Asylum Records
Musicians: John Hall, Larry Hoppen, Lance Hoppen and Wells Kelly

Thinking back this long after, I don’t remember exactly why I received my parents’ old tape deck but it seems that I’d probably been using it for a while before 1975 and so that summer they finally just gave it to me. One of the first things I did was to make a tape of my favorite songs on the radio. At the time I had no idea you could just walk down to the department store and buy the records, so that tape remains a treasured memory and I can still remember every song on it. One of my favorites was “Dance With Me” by the band Orleans. But it wasn’t until decades later that I learned there were two other versions of the song. The first was from their second album on ABC Records, Orleans II, from 1973. This version is very open sounding, with more clarity between the instruments, namely the mandolin and the vocals on the opening, but it also has an electric piano solo by John Hall. Hall’s vocals are also more up front and distinct from the harmonies backing him. The second version is off of their third album, from 1975, titled Let There Be Music, released on David Geffen’s Asylum Records after ABC had dropped the band. The album cut has the distinctive melodica solo that’s on the single, but on the album it begins behind the mandolin for a full verse before the solo. The single version cuts out that first half of the solo and is only about twenty seconds shorter than the album cut.

The song begins on the downbeat with acoustic guitars of John Hall and Larry Hoppen and Hall’s overdubbed mandolin, followed by two upbeats and an ascending and descending line on the upbeats that continues playing the entire, medium tempo melody of the verse. This is followed by a nice, galloping vamp before the vocals come in, dense with harmonies, singing the verse over the same into by the stringed instruments that now includes Lance Hoppen’s bass. The bass walks quarter notes down to the second verse while Hall plays some electric piano fills and Wells Kelly plays heavily baffled drums. The verse ends with the words from the title and the bass walks down into the bridge, which has some interesting muted drum work from Kelly and acoustic strumming on the guitars throughout. The vocals are the real focus of the song, especially at the end of the bridge when the instruments drop out. There’s not really a chorus, as such, as the title line is sung at the beginning and ends of the verses. After the third verse is a terrific melodica solo by Larry Hoppen, supported by the mandolin work of John Hall and the audible snare drum by Kelly. The bridge is an interesting piece of writing, lengthy and ending with the trademark vocal harmonies the group was known for. The last verse has the full band playing, with the melodica in the background. The song plays out with the intro rhythm, the mandolin forward in the mix, three times through and then the band stops on an intricate run by all the stringed instruments together and fading out on the last held note.

The song was written by Hall with his wife and writing partner, Johanna. He had come up with the melody and when she suggested the title he thought it was too simplistic. But when more words came later it was clear she had been right all along. It’s one of the couple’s many love songs that, while elementary in terms of sentiment, are nevertheless musically intricate and melodically satisfying. It entered the Hot 100 at number eighty-nine on July 19, 1975, the summer my dad was in the hospital in Seattle, and gradually climbed the charts for thirteen weeks through the summer and early fall, finally peaking at number six three months later in mid October. It managed to stay on the charts for another month on the way down for an impressive eighteen week run. The B-side of the record is called “Ending of a Song,” also from the album, a piano based ballad written by Larry Hoppen and Marilyn Mason, and sung by Hall. The single was covered a year later in a jazz fusion version by saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman, who had played for decades with Ray Charles, on his album Mr. Fathead. But for me, “Dance With Me” will always remind me of the summer of 1975, between seventh and eighth grade, hanging out in the living room of one of my dad’s friends, listening to his stereo, while dad was in the hospital. And, of course, recording it on my tape deck as soon as I got home.

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