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.”