Those Old darts #95: “Memories”

#95: “MEMORIES” (EARTH AND FIRE)

Earth and Fire.
One of Holland’s most popular outfits and probably second only to Focus, this band covered quite a diversity of music genres in barely a ten-year period. They started off in 1969-1970 with a naïve psychedelically infused series of short straightforward pop hits, then in 1971 they moved towards long, complex and transcendental progressive compositions, enriched by 1974-75 with some touches of funk and world music, only to decidedly veer towards light disco by the end of the decade. Some musical shift….
Actually, this sort of evolution was not that unusual for European progressive bands in the 70s and early 80s. By 1976-77 it was already clear the glory days of symphonic and progressive rock were over, and two distinct music styles had already taken the lead: punk (a direct reaction against prog rock and its lack of moderation in virtually every respect), and disco (a derivation of motown, funk, soul and dance music). Punk (predictably) only lived for about a couple of years, but disco overstayed its welcome well into the 80s, finding its way out into techno pop while the New Wave of music erupted in Britain. Of course, ‘big’ British bands like The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin managed to survive (at least for a while) without having to resort to any of either new overwhelming styles. But the future of many bands outside Britain was much more uncertain. Earth and Fire firmly opted for the ‘commercial’ path in their 1977 album Gates to Infinity, which in my opinion already displays a lot of inconsequential plastic disco fluff —that said, the first side of that LP, while not being strictly ‘progressive’, is certainly interesting and tightly built, even though it flirts with complete chaos at times.
“Memories”, however, was created way before the band turned into a cheap second-rate Abba clone. Despite its short duration, there is no denying this is a piece of progressive rock (or, rather, progressive pop) at its best. Released as a single in 1972, before and after their two epic albums, Song of the Marching Children (1971) and Atlantis (1973) respectively, it shows how the band nails their compositions when restrained to 3 or 4-minute songs. I’ve always found “Song of the Marching Children” a tad overstretched in length, and “Atlantis” sounds to me like a sequence of different tunes and melodies stuck together rather than a proper epic song. “To the world of the Future” (1975) is probably their best achievement in terms of creating that kind of musical cohesiveness.
The soul of “Memories” clearly lies in singer Jerney Kaagman’s darkly-coloured voice —I think the same could be said of most of the short numbers and singles the band released up to (but not after) 1975. Kaagman was an incredibly charismatic singer with an instantly recognizable voice and a great English accent in spite of not being British/American. She could balance her playful side with a much more thoughtful and obscure attitude within the same song without losing an inch of charm (much like Peter Gabriel around 1972-74, but without Gabriel’s theatrical antics). Her 1970-1971 performances still recall an uncanny mixture of Grace Slick and Julie Driscoll; by 1972, however, she had already consolidated her own distinct look and singing style.
If you listen closely to “Memories” you will recognize an undeniable anthemic quality in it. This could be said, admittedly, of most of the material the band produced between 1970 and 1975, but I think this song epitomizes the band’s drive to produce effective tunes with a punch and a catchy chorus, a melody anyone could instantly remember: a melody that sticks to your emotional ‘memories’ right after you have listened to it even for the first time.
The structure of the song is fairly simple: a dark and menacing introduction (including a great use of mellotron to enforce the scary sound) and, right away, the vocals and the upbeat rhythm that will lead the main melody; then a brief bridge, again dark and menacing, and the third verse/chorus section in a lively vein, just before a marvellous guitar solo by Chris Koerts, which is extended until the sound finally fades away. Exemplary songwriting, in my opinion. The lyrics, despite not being outstanding, are definitely effective in their simplicity, especially as regards the chorus: “Alone again/Feeling very sad/Left with your memories”. That’s the sort of direct and easy line that hooks in you and you can feel attached to at once.
The song is awesome on its own, but the real treat is watching a monumental performance from around 1972 (I’ve provided the link on youtube below). This performance is 200% drenched with Jerney’s charisma and liveliness, the Koerts brothers fantastic playing, and the bass-drum tight connection. I reckon the audio for this video is actually the original studio recording of “Memories”, though the image clearly comes from a live performance. I have no idea why they dubbed the sound….

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