Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New Hope's To Understand Is To Love Underrated In The Extreme Until Now!

It's amazing how there still are some things out there that have a low level rep, but are actually miles better than a lot of hugely hyped and very expensive records. I find that with most American records the best ones are just really hard to locate and some of the most highly thought of ones not only does every nefarious or not-so-nefarious as the case may be record dealer have, but they just aren't any good. I was to find this out in a very revelatory way in 1994 when I grabbed for $5 a beat up copy of New Hope's only record TO UNDERSTAND IS TO LOVE and was harangued by a bad dealer about it and later in the fall heard the hyped up overrated The Frederic which many dealers rave about and hated it with a passion. My hatred over the years of The Frederic's PHASES AND FACES except for one brief bounce in the wrong direction for about a week has never lowered its fury. I consider it about the worst that there can be and it is about time somebody said who that band were and what their album really is. Hyperbole from dealers and some collectors aside The Frederic isn't psych and isn't pop psych. They were a supper club/lounge/nightclub band from Grand Rapids Michigan and that's all they were. A square, smug, smarmy, phoney, and very basic-in-a-bad-way lounge pop/folk record is all their PHASES AND FACES is. So if you've heard that they sound like The Zombies and Chad And Jeremy take my word- you've been lied to. If you want a quaint pop/folk record that has some pop psych in it actually and is great and does sound like The Zombies or Chad And Jeremy (read Baroque Pop) then for a fraction of the cost of The Frederic buy the masterful The New Wave on the aptly named Canterbury label. You will find what I have said fact when also you find that The New Wave is a lot harder to track down than The Frederic.
      However, to get back to my original shock and the point of what I'm saying to the fore here I didn't know The New Wave or who they were in 1994. I also didn't know who New Hope were. Let's get onto that. Are you ready!?
       -The New Hope Of New Hope's TO UNDERSTAND IS TO LOVE A Real Masterpiece-
      Go back in time to 1994. I was 18 years old and had been collecting psych and pop psych and other stuff from the 60s/early 70s era for a bit and I all too occasionally took the chance on something I knew nothing about for cheap and bought it. $5 wasn't the usual cheapest I'd go, but something about that bare and mysterious looking black and white cover roped me in. I'm glad I bought it. If you move ahead several months to the end of that year a friend was so knocked out by New Hope that he not only borrowed it from me- he stole it the little bastard! At the time there was no grudge and there isn't one now. I've had this album a few times over the years and funnily enough the best vinyl copy I've had and have hung onto only cost me 50 cents in (you guessed it) New Hope PA. So who were the New Hope your probably wondering? They were a band who had a minor hit when they were The Kit Kats with a brilliant song they wrote called "Won't Find Better Than Me" and were led by virtuoso vocalist Kit Stewart. Kit Stewart and Carl Von Hausman (keyboard virtuoso) reworked their hit into even more of a Left Banke/Four Seasons cross to make it a really stunning work on their next album TO UNDERSTAND IS TO LOVE by their next band New Hope. New Hope came from Eastern Pennsylvania and comprised Kit Stewart, Carl Von Hausman, "Big" John Bradley, and Ron Shane. They had some fairly wide success in the NJ/PA area, but for no reason never broke out nationally. Their album is among the best records ever recorded by an American band and as far as pop with power pop, baroque, and progressive inclinations goes you can't find better than their record TO UNDERSTAND IS TO LOVE. Recorded in Philadelphia and released by the small Jamie label they aren't hugely expensive yet, but they certainly are no longer around now. Maybe word has gotten out, but I kinda doubt it. This should be one of the most famous American albums and I was of that opinion when I first discovered it in 1994. If I've loved something that long and it hasn't worn off a bit on me then it really must be good although I must point out that I had really good taste even back then.
     TO UNDERSTAND IS TO LOVE begins with "Won't Find Better Than Me" which can rank up there with the most genius moments of Brian Wilson and Michael Brown with great vocal harmonies and a great lead voice from Kit Stewart who isn't far off from The Left Banke's Steve Martin. There is also an obvious Four Seasons influence and since they are a great band too for what they did there is nothing wrong with that. The Four Seasons, however, belonged to a different time and different kind of world. The influence of their harmonies is a prominent one in many vocal oriented groups, but unlike the bands that adapted their influence to Baroque or power pop something had happened after the early shock of The Four Seasons and that was The British Invasion. New Hope adapted to the changing times, but they also here dabble in 50s rock and roll and early 60s mainstream pop in a very energetic experimental medley of "Won't Find Better Than Me" which comes right after their headlong leap into brilliant Baroque pop on their first new take on their classic. They must have known they'd really hit the right spot with "Won't Find Better Than me" and I like the medley a lot. "You're So Good To Me" is a Brian Wilson song and sounds very much like The Beach Boys with an added bonus- there is kind of a freaky big echo effect on this album like they recorded it inside an old church or something and the huge amount of sound that comes out really is stunning. "Distance" is one of the real high points of New Hope's album. It blows the lid of The Grass Roots and some of the early Turtles hits with soaring harmonies, strong piercing lead vocals and a clever juxtaposition between minor key verses and major key choruses. It could be an American Zombies at work- well in fact it is! There are no weak links on here, but definitely "Distance" is one of the best songs on the whole record. I think that New Hope really had a lot of credibility and certainly their talent as musicians can't be questioned so the small label and mysteriousness of the whole project is fun for collectors, but must have been anything but fun for them.
  The problem is addressed in the last 3 tracks on Side One all of which are really great. I am guessing this album is from 1970 rather than 1968 going by the out and out progressiveness of Side Two's stunning first track "Look Away" (no, not an early version of the Chicago catastrophe which is anything but progressive) and the last 3 tracks on Side One sound not even 1968 or 1969. "Let's Get Lost On A Country Road" goes through a lot of changes, but the summery happiness just sounds way more earlier than with the current program. "Breezy" and "You've Got To Know" also have so much joy and optimism that despite an attempt to move the harmony pop forward they sound even less forward than Vanity Fare or White Plains- two bands who owe much of their brilliance to overt American influences. I keep using the word "American" here, but New Hope are a lot more Anglo than The Frederic! 
     The Frederic is bluntly put and truthfully put a despicable record that never should have been made. It ranks as one of the worst and most obnoxious albums ever made with an ugly truth coming out of it when their most talentless member David Idema changed his name to David Geddes and had a hit with the as sick as Bloodrock disgusting and horrendous "Run Joey Run." I rest my case here. Actually, let me rub the salt in even more and turn it to a burning painfulness. American dealers oftentimes I have noticed have their head right up their ass. I said that The Frederic, Darius, Stone Harbor all were crap albums that a lot of dealers had and a lot of dealers hyped. I then said that the best American records may have been less money, but try finding them. I then after that said that imports, particularly British Imports, were going to skyrocket in value. I was right about all of it. With me never seeing more than one copy back 20 years ago of a major label album like SATURN RINGS by Michele which I hope to own this Saturday not only will I take it and be glad it really is rare and really is brilliant.
     I have sometimes heard so many bad records from America that I really scratch my head about our country, but damn it the 1960s hit in a big way here and that is very much stated not just in heavy or even just out and out psychedelic rock, but also in pop psych and straightforward pop records. A great case would be New Hope. While they definitely were never hippies that isn't a prerequisite. What New Hope are they are. They don't try to fake you into thinking they aren't just some really talented guys who love the more pop side of the British tuppence and American coins having a great time, but they really pull off something remarkable here. Side One is the side where the flowers are blooming and summer time can be yours even on the most depressing of winter evenings. It's the side where 1967 meets before that and it all sounds brilliant. However, on Side Two there is a real move towards a more progressive direction and no track is more a perfect hybrid of progressive arranging and pop hooks than the epic "Look Away." The lyrics are actually very meaningful here all about how you can't just hide from it when things in the world and your life are not right. Kit Stewart is really passionate and the combination of soaring piano and bagpipes takes this one up to the stars. Yes, there is a long bagpipe/Scottish section and a lot of Michael Brown like piano gone to where I would think Brown would have taken The Left Banke had the huge split between him and the rest of the group not happened. Michael Brown was too moody and too cantankerous maybe. He blew a great thing and went off into oblivion before reappearing in Stories who are awesome and "Look Away" isn't far from Stories when Mike was in the band. Unfortunately, like Stories a huge amount of ongoing success just didn't come for New Hope. Unlike Stories there wasn't a number one hit. I'm glad for that actually as I can not only live without "Brother Louie" I'd make a bet with Mike Brown that we both hate it equally! Brown was definitely hipper, more of an artiste than New Hope, but that isn't necessarily something that is a brilliant attribute. When you alienate everyone you work with you must be not playing all your cards right or living in the way you should.
   That someone as talented as Mike Brown and New Hope can both just vanish is really sad. It tells you a lot about the music business. For 5 minutes and 37 seconds New Hope tell you a whole lot and they make something that lasts longer than anything else- a perfect song. "Look Away" has not one note I would change. The whole song is just so brilliant that it makes a whole lot of what else was out there sound really sterile and uninteresting. Side Two moves into two very mature melodic pop tracks with "Find Someone" and "They Call It Love" which both combine East Coast techniques with a California 1965-1967 kind of Beach Boys alike hopefulness. There aren't any angry riot scenes and bomb blasts on this record. It isn't a reflection of the despair that had set in which makes it very different from something like Liverpool England's The Koobas who sang of riots and used bomb blasts in their brilliant epic "Barricades" in 1969. Again, I'm not sure of the year of New Hope, but I would guess they came out later than most other more fresh faced and love fueled melodic pop rock bands and albums. "The Money Game" however shows that these guys could get to a sort of Elvis meets Koobas masterpiece if you can even imagine something that bizarre and it comes complete with screaming fuzz guitar! The heavy fuzz tone on "The Money Game" is another clever little trick and the words are again progressive and true. They say they've had it with wealth and greed running everything. Well I have too. More tricks come on the last real track here "Rain" which is then followed by a Gregorian Chant called (of course) "Gregorian" of "Won't Find Better Than Me" as a rather dark end to the album. "Rain" combines progressive inclinations with perfect melodic pop only here the sound is a bit more leaning to some British influences which do come up on some tracks. New Hope go where The Beach Boys couldn't. You have to remember that as strong a presence as he is to the Beach Boys Brian Wilson always had Mike Love to knock him down. The reason why The Beach Boys couldn't move further is simple. They couldn't move to consistency because of square Bruce Johnston and asshole Mike Love. There are probably around 4 or 5 Beach Boys albums that are masterful all the way through, but there also are the albums like SURF'S UP that I'd rather just forget where Brian is off his rocker and Mike Love gets his evil way with "Student Demonstration Time."
     Now The Beach Boys are reinventing themselves and making great music again thanks in no small part to Brian Wilson and his now it would seem to be permanent writing partner the unlikely Jim Peterik who masterminded one of the best AOR bands ever to exist Survivor. Survivor always cut way deeper than most. Now that Jim is working with Brian Wilson you can believe the guy really has something if you were stupid enough not to when he and Frankie Sullivan were writing all those great songs in Survivor. Yes, I'm getting to the fact that New Hope DIDN'T survive. That may be because you can tell they weren't exactly as young as most of the competition out there, but it may also be just as much because they were an East Coast band at a time when very heavy vibes were coming in everywhere and 60s melodic groups had an alarming fall out rate. Come mid to late 1970 things were changing in a big way. The progressive and hard rock influences from the West Coast, England, and Europe were coming in with sometimes brilliant sometimes painful results and the charts began filling up with schlock when it came to American bands/artists. The most easy to point out problem however must have been the small label. With a label that went under pretty much as soon as TO UNDERSTAND IS TO LOVE came out and not enough promotion there is probably the reason for New Hope packing it in. I've heard a few things over the years to the effect that New Hope also never left Pennsylvania or New Jersey. That, true or not, also would hurt. Not getting national exposure and not getting a major label deal aren't always a recipe for a masterpiece, but with New Hope that's what you have- a perfect masterpiece and one of the best records ever made. Your collection isn't complete without New Hope. I said that when I was a lot younger than today and I'll be saying it when I'm older than today. And I know.

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