The River is Wide (YGtCTO Music #13)

Song written by Billy Admire and Baker Knight
Performed by The Grass Roots

My older brother owned the first cassette player/recorder that I had ever seen. Of course, you could buy cassette tapes in record stores and he did. Somehow, he also managed to record some records onto blank tapes. I believe early attempts were made using a microphone plugged into the cassette recorder and held against the speaker on our console record player in the living room, probably when I was not around in order to keep external noise from bleeding into the recording. The introduction of cables connecting the recorder directly to our new console stereo system greatly improved the sound quality.

In his bedroom, my brother kept a shoe box full of cassettes, any one of which would be playing when I dropped by in the evening to distract him from homework. Soon enough I started pestering him to let me listen to music when he wasn’t around. The fact was that he was not playing my favorite music often enough.

Once permission had been granted (at least, I remember the granting…), I had to figure out which tape had the right music. Just looking at the labels made it fairly clear that it was not David Bowie or Yes or J. Geils. Somehow, I stumbled onto the right cassette: Sixteen Greatest Hits by the Grass Roots. I cannot explain how the tape survived my repeated plays, including rewinds and fast forwards to get to the best song at that moment.

The song that I adored above the rest was The River is Wide, or, as I referred to it for years- the one that starts with the thunderstorm. The thing about blank cassettes in those early days was that they did not come with cases or cardboard inserts to list songs, so… You either knew the titles or you didn’t.

So, here’s the deal- up through college, I could talk about Bowie and Yes and anything else from that shoe box of music with anyone and they always had an idea of who I was talking about. But The Grass Roots became a strange barometer of some common heritage. It was not enough to have heard Midnight Confessions (which pretty much everyone had), but that strange knowing smile that crossed people’s faces revealing shared knowledge- they were part of the tribe, too.

As it turned out, K-tel or one of the other television packagers had included Sooner or Later on one of their collections somewhere along the way and people recognized that one also, whether or not they were really in the know.

So, were the Grass Roots really any good? Was most of their music recorded by the Wrecking Crew? Tommy James accomplished some amazing things in pop music and the Monkees certainly have staying power. Something about those sixteen songs by the Grass roots though… they have a brightness and a tightness and that certain something. I don’t know if you can really go to these songs later in life and appreciate them- maybe they are the soundtrack to a feeling and that is probably enough.

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 263 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.

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