Song of the Week Revisited – Hammond Song, The Roches

I just learned Maggie Roche, of the Roche Sisters, died yesterday after a battle with breast cancer. I’d like to pay tribute to her by resubmitting a SotW article I originally posted on December 4, 2010.

Ignored Obscured Restored

When I got my first career job out of college (1978, ouch!) the first priority I made for my new found “wealth” was to buy a hi-fidelity stereo system. Beside the money I had to set aside for rent, utilities, and a little for food and drinking – EVERYTHING else was squirreled away for that first big purchase. About nine months later I had $750 set aside for a stereo. (That’s the equivalent of about $2,200 in today’s money.)

I went out to the Tech Hi-Fi store on Commonwealth Ave in Boston (near BU) and bought an Onkyo receiver, Dual turntable and a set of Infinity Qb speakers. I loved those speakers and they’re still being put to good use at my cousin’s beach house in Florida.

My roommate Jimmy D had a pair of the same speakers, so we set them up in the four corners of our listening room in a faux “surround sound” setup. I can still remember lying on the floor listening to pure sound of certain vinyl records that we loved.

One of my favorite cuts to listen to this way was “The Hammond Song” by The Roches. Their self titled, 1979 album was beautifully recorded in warm, analog sound. It was produced in “audio verite” by Robert Fripp (King Crimson) which in this context means recorded “as is”, substantially without alteration or addition. The Roches wonderful three part harmonies are the focal point of the recordings. They have minimal instrumentation although Fripp provides a very tasteful guitar solo in the middle of “The Hammond Song.”

The lyrics are a bit obtuse abstruse but seem to tell the story of a woman that plans to visit her boyfriend, told from the point of view of her disapproving family.

If you go down to Hammond
you’ll never come back
In my opinion you’re
on the wrong track
We’ll always love you but
that’s not the point

If you go with that fella
forget about us
As far as I’m concerned
that would be just
throwing yourself away
not even trying
Come on you’re lying to me

The dynamics of the Roche’s vocal harmonies ebb and flow to capture the emotional apprehension of the story.

Enjoy… until next week.

After this was posted one of my readers, Tom V., responded with further commentary that adds more insight into my original post so I’ve included it below.

“I’m a couple weeks behind in my SOW observances, so this one caught me by surprise.

Hearing The Roches for the first time at a party somewhere outside Atlantic City, I thought it was the dawn of a new era in songwriting. The words were so organic and conversational and musical all at the same time. “Mr. Sellack” is inspired. The way they leave syllables hanging, then resolve them in a way that should be bad lyric-writing but turns out to be genius. In subsequent work, even they didn’t live up to what I thought was happening that night.

But to the matter at hand, I’m convinced The Hammond Song is an appeal to a younger sister’s better instincts. She’s not visiting, she’s moving in. Moving away to be with him. She’s about to pass up higher education to follow some fella, (quitting school or not getting her masters, who knows)?

“That would be throwing yourself away, not even trying. Come on, you’re lying to me.”

And the lying part is her sisters knowing she’s bullshitting when she says she “really wasn’t all that excited about school in the first place” and how “there’s lots more opportunities in Hammond than you’d think,” and “he’s got a really terrific opportunity there” and on and on.

It just occurred to me that in some ways they were the musical children of J.D. Salinger.

And you’re right, I love the sound of this recording. Never a big Fripp fan, I love him for bringing us this.

Good one, cuz.”

18 thoughts on “Song of the Week Revisited – Hammond Song, The Roches

  1. The lyrics may be “obscure” or some other “O” word, but they sure as hell aren’t “obtuse”, warden.

  2. I always thought it was those three sisters talking about, well, that guy, you’re kidding? you’re not leaving us for Hammond and that stupid empty macho ***hole! As the Dutch say, “that’s not the way we were married”, meaning: our life was meant to be about something else than this. It’s as good an interpretation as anyone’s I guess. But a lot of sisterhood is into the mix!

  3. I think surprisingly this is written from the perspective of a record company exec telling them not to go off and join a commune run by a charismatic guy in Hammond, and that they’d be giving up their music career… But Maggie had had enough of their falseness and responds to this in some of the middle verses.

  4. One of my all time favorites. Their wordplay and Zen-simple eloquent lyrics, not to mention the sparkling harmonies, are so much greater than the sum of the parts (although Fripp’s egotistical guitar solo always seemed excessive to be, but not enough to “unfavorite” the recording.. (And I always felt it was a cautionary tale about a bad boyfriend – “you can do better, and should.” People told me that on a few occasions. Luckily, I did.)

  5. Thank you for adding Tom V’s insight. Playing the song again, it remains a work of wonder. I was privileged to see The Roches in Northampton, Mass., about the time this album came out. It was a transcendent evening.

  6. Hammond song is one of the best written songs I’ve ever heard. Maggie, dropping her voice to “on the wrong track” suggests these are the words of the father, with Mum chiming in later “just stay in school” Some harsh words and disappointment, their young daughter leaving home to be with her new BF. But in the overall context things aren’t as bad as they seem, and tomorrow will be a new day. I really recommend Chicago band Whitney’s version of the Hammond song. That takes it to another level. RIP Maggie Roche, I admit to coming to the party very late!

    • Afternoon Dave has got the right idea entirely. It’s a pair of parents speaking to (and speaking down to) their child, who wants to fly off in pursuit of some lover, abandoning home and school. The parents use wisdom and scolding and shaming and provide warnings and threats.

      What makes it heartbreaking is that it’s a song about maturing, which means making mistakes but which also means independence and discovery. Parents want to hold on and they do because of love and care. But in the dialogue, or the negotiating, pain is created.

      The parents feel the pain of worry. The child feels the pain of not being supported and the pain of causing hurt through disappointment.

      The song closes asking when will the circle become a whole, when will there be love and acceptance? Will it ever occur or will it be lost through the passage of time, through people growing apart?

  7. It feels to me like it would fit perfectly on the soundtrack to Licorice Pizza. It’s got that same feistiness.

    • YES!!

      That connection was floating around in my unconscious until I saw your comment. It would have been so perfect !!


  8. The real story, via Wikipedia: “Paul Simon had been so impressed by Maggie and Terre Roche that he invited them to sing harmony on the song ‘Was a Sunny Day’ on his album ‘There Goes Rhymin’ Simon’. He helped them get a publishing deal and a record contract, and even produced one song on the duo’s 1975 album ‘Seductive Reasoning’. The label advised the sisters to ‘wear hipper clothes.’ Terre Roche later said:

    We were humiliated…we wanted to get out of the whole situation. We had a friend in Hammond, Louisiana, who was running a kung fu school. We gave up our apartment and told the record company, ‘We’re not going to promote the record anymore; we’re going away for a while.’ This was two weeks after the record came out. Maggie wrote the ‘Hammond Song’ about the whole experience.”

  9. Okay, I can buy that. The music biz is littered with stories of “the adults” thinking that they know what “the kids” want. Of course, that’s frequently not true….

  10. Pingback: Best 19 Hammond Song Lyrics - Thú Chơi

  11. I adore the Hammond Song
    It’s special to me ♥️
    Back in 86’ a dear friend of mine put the song on a comp tape for me (thanks Liz S)
    Touches my heart tenderly
    The Roches – I applaud you
    Alli x

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