Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Song A Day: We Five, "You Let a Love Burn Out"

MAY 23, 2017




To quote This is Spinal Tap, San Francisco’s We Five currently reside in the “where are they now” file, regarded as nothing more than one-hit wonders.

That’s a shame, because this quintet was really talented. Their one super smash, “You Were on My Mind,” reached #3 in the country in fall 1965 and is one of the great songs of the mid-1960s. But their other material never quite took off commercially.

While We Five were not, as some claim, the first big rock/pop group to come out of San Francisco—the Beau Brummels preceded them on the charts by several months—the fivesome forged a crucial link between the pop/rock and folk/nightclub movements in the Bay.

A 1965 stint at San Francisco’s hungry i, the coast’s most prestigious folk/comedy club, brought them to the attention of A&M co-head Herb Alpert. A&M signed We Five and issued its first recording, “You Were On My Mind,” that summer. Within weeks, the single hit big and international stardom beckoned.

Singer Beverly Bivins gave the group a rich, distinctive voice, combining with the four male members on three- and sometimes four-part harmonies. Banjoist/guitarist Mike Stewart provided strong arrangements. Augmented by a drummer on stage and record, the well-rehearsed and tight We Five always walked a fine line between their interests, balancing folk, contemporary ballads, show songs, rock & roll, and even proto-psychedelic elements.

The group’s third single, “You Let a Love Burn Out,” was penned by Randy Steirling, a friend of the band who performed with Mike Stewart’s brother John, late of the Kingston Trio and a popular solo artist in the 70s.

This was a lot of single packed into 2:10, well ahead of the curve in innovation and harmony. Stewart provided an Indian underpinning on the banjo and Bob Jones’ careful 12-string picking lent folk-rock flavor. Bivins and the rest provided strong vocal work. The affecting lyrics are delivered with beauty and palpable regret.

Issued in late in 1965, it didn’t catch on, picking up only sporadic radio play. Perhaps the lyrics and music were too down, too strange, or too Eastern (which wouldn’t be a problem a few months later), but despite promotion and live shows, “You Let a Love Burn Out” didn’t even make the charts.

Either way it was the start of the end for We Five. After one more single, Bivins decided to hang it up and the original group capitulated, leaving behind a finished second album. While not all their material was chart-worthy, most of it was very, very good.

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