Friday, 14 October 2011


I have made an amazing discovery.  It is something that pertains to a song that I have known since its release in 1967 yet has only just revealed itself to me via the almost inevitable service of YouTube.  When I tell you what it is, you’re probably going to say, ‘Oh, that old thing…didn’t you know?’ but then I’m always the last to pick up on most things.

Anyway, the year of release - 1967 - will give you a clue as to what sort of song it is.  The Summer of Love was the height of Psychedelia and anyone who was anyone was experimenting with studio weirdness following The Beatles’ lead.  Most of the experimenters were taken from the growing ‘albums-only’ underground which would reveal itself as progressive rock in the 1968/69 period so it was a bit of a shock to find that the voice of Young America, Tamla Motown, a label carefully geared towards the commercial singles market, was also a willing participant.  There were several ‘experimental’ singles released by Motown during this period, mainly by the more progressive elements such as The Temptations, but the one I am referring to here is ‘Reflections’ by Diana Ross and the Supremes.

Written and produced, as always, by the Holland-Dozier-Holland team, ‘Reflections’ is one of my favourite Supremes hits.  It has all the usual hallmarks of a great H-D-H song with Ross’s breathy vocal carrying a compelling melody over a classic Funk Brothers backing track (with, unless I am mistaken, a signature slithery bass line from James Jameson).  But it is the psychedelic extras that are most interesting – the signal oscillators over the intro and verses and the strangely reverberated tambourine being just two devices on show.

And now we get to it, the bit that has surprised me over 40 years later and it is this: the main rhythm is carried by, of all things, an accordion!  I mean, who knew?  I didn’t expect to find an accordion in pop music at all let alone in a Motown single.  But then the Summer of Love opened the door to all sorts of exotic instruments, many from India, so I suppose it was inevitable that that most Victorian of instruments would turn up eventually.  Just not in Detroit.

Well damn me, if the video I based this post on hasn't been blocked over at YouTube.  You'll just have to listen to Reflections and try to pick out that accordian for yourself!


Adrian said...

In search of the lost accordion... naturally, this brings to mind the Moodies :)

I had a different, but similarly ephiphanic moment just a few days back, with YouTube and a Van Morrison tune from 1970. I discovered a lyric that not only did I not know for decades, but, which was transcribed wrongly on the original liner notes.

Now, I shall breathe deep the gathering gloom, and see if I can pick out the polka dots in the Supremes track!

music obsessive said...

Hi Adrian - what would do without YouTube? The video I'd originally appended to this post and which is now blocked comprises a listen to the original master tape on a mixing desk where the individual tracks are separated to reveal the lost accordion! In the video I now have appended it appears at about 0.30 secs as a sort of huffing heavily on the beat behind the vocal and then stronger in the following chorus. Once you know it is there it becomes quite obvious but if you don't - as I didn't for 40 odd years - it seems quite invisible.

Alan said...

Interesting to hear the accordion behind all the fiddly bits now that you mention point it out.

However, I think you are overlooking a couple of classic tracks from 1966 that used the accordion - Wouldn't It Be Nice and God Only Knows from Pet Sounds. Each used two accordions (played by Carl Fontina and Frank Marocco) and the accordions certainly carried the rhythm on Wouldn't It Be Nice although they are less prominent on God Only Knows.

music obsessive said...

Hi Alan - Yes, good point. I think I knew about the Beach Boy tracks and have been aware of the old squeezeboxes for some time. The trouble with 'Reflections' is that they don't make themselves known in the same way - or is my hearing worse than I thought?

Adrian said...

I listened this evening to a two-hour college radio program - and the entire show was made up of the two hosts surfing YouTube, and playing music, themes and clips from tv shows - The Flinstones, Barney Miller etc. - and it was greatly entertaining!

Yes, hooray for YouTube :)

music obsessive said...

Adrian - I beginning to get nightmares about YouTube - that it will be shut down or we are made to pay for access. Noooooooooooo....

Adrian said...

You can witness the efforts to bring about a controlled, corporate, structure on YouTube.

The creation of "premium" channels - VEVO and others - and lots of behind the scenes efforts by these and other folks to get independent "content providers" to get with their programs is a worrying trend toward a much-less free and varied experience.

Hopefully, it takes a very, very, long-time to get to that state of corporatized control. And, by then, perhaps a new forum will be created that does not follow that path.