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It was Walt Disney's fault. Well, more so the songs from his films to be precise but definitely his fault. When I was a young wisp of a lad I loved the music from Disney probably more than the films. Not the girly ones I hasten to add, for me Snow White and her dwarves could take their ailments and afflictions and go impale themselves on Mary Poppins' brolly.
But the gutsy, soul driven ones and those jaunty jazz jives they got going, they were my thing. If that crow from 'Dumbo' didn't have the best voice ever then I'll be damned and as for the trumpet solo in 'The Bare Necessities', well, it's just nectar.
Now some 30 years ago I borrowed a Disney tape off a friend of mine, copied from the original (as most things were then) and clearly copied over something else as after King Louie's pleadings to become a Man-cub this delicate, dulcet song, clearly halfway in, floated out of the speakers. That song (I later found out after haranguing my mate's mum) was 'Diary' by Bread. Following in the gentle footsteps of this little taster 'Guitar Man' then presented its elegant credentials before the taped clicked off leaving my fledgling music brain well and truly hooked by this accidental snippet of melodious purity.
Released in 1996, 'Essentials' by Bread and David Gates is basically a Greatest Hits album featuring songs from their highly productive pomp between 1970-77. Gates was pretty much Mr Bread and gets his special mention due to the inclusion of a couple of his solo efforts on here brought about by the band's several splits. Tension was always in the air between main songwriters Gates and Jimmy Griffin as it was Gates' material that was always selected for single release. Strange that a band as soothing and inoffensive as Bread were susceptible to plenty of in-fighting but the musician's ego can be an unrelenting beast at times and can rear its ugly head in the midst of any genre.
Bread's sound is often described as soft rock but I think that's being a little generous. They do have occasional dalliances into more up tempo stuff but it is the slow, mellow, well crafted ballad with which they are most synonymous. For those unfamiliar, think a little of Simon and Garfunkel but with marginally better hairstyles.
Crystal clear and harmless, Bread are the band that probably serenade unicorns at the rainbow's end. Cleanly strummed, often plucked acoustics, sweeping strings, air-tight harmonies and a touch of piano here and there are evident in the majority of their songs. The intro to 'Aubrey' for a split second is reminiscent of 'Georgia On My Mind' by the great Ray Charles.
Although the band was formed in Los Angeles, Gates spent his early life in Oklahoma which is where I detect the little country twist to their sound stems from, and also possibly the lyrics. Ah Oklahoma! "The wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain" - this contrast could well be affiliated to the kind of poetry Gates weaves into his songs. Often touching, maybe a little too twee at times but rather than just tickling the belly of the casual listener there occasionally lies a dark undertone lurking within the content which can often be missed due to the sublime, relaxing delivery.
A large slice of the lyrical composition is about what has been lost rather than romantic intent but I'm still not altogether at ease with it. True, with a sound as feather-like and subtle as theirs they're not going to be singing about the bloody slaughter of fluffy virgin kittens but maybe my one gripe is that the scales do tilt with a groan-like creak towards 'tad soppy' at times but you forgive it somewhat because the melodies are absolutely angelic.
There are a couple of variations of 'Essentials' depending on where you get it from but it'll just be an extra song here and there. All the big hits are on here (you'll be surprised at how many you actually know when you hear them) such as 'Make It With You', 'Guitar Man', 'Baby I'm A Want You', 'Diary', 'Sweet Surrender', 'Everything I Own', 'If'... oh I could go on. They all have a certain sing-a-long quality about them, they are wide open for it, which leads me on to my next point.
I would strongly advise you only attempt to sing along to these when you're on your own. Gates' vocal range is a strange one to figure out. In most males, when switching into falsetto you sort of use your Adam's Apple as a clutch to change gear. Gates doesn't seem to have to do this. It just rolls up effortlessly making the songs quite unique and thus incredibly difficult to replicate. When people do attempt to cover Bread material they really have to change things around. Telly Savalas of 'Kojak' fame once recorded a version of Bread's 'If' where he just read the entire song as a poem. Telly had a very raspy 100 Malboro-a-day croak to his voice and possibly the only way he could ever have got near to the original was if he had inserted his lollipop in the alternative orifice of his anatomy other than his mouth. 'Who loves ya, baby?' Probably not Bread after you dished up this tudge, Tel.
You may also remember Boy George making an absolute bollock-cake out of 'Everything I Own' by ripping out its soul and doing a reggae version.
Gates plays the melancholy jailor to perfection. He can hold your interest without being in your face. The arrangements compliment his relaxing tones and the band are clearly at ease with themselves. The chord structures are generally nothing complex, a busker's dream, but with the versatility of Gates' voice, sections can float off at tangents, steering you down a fresh path away from predictability to pleasantly surprise the listener. These mild interjections act as no more than a tame rhythmic rollercoaster but are cleverly done. It is a manoeuvre that fully utilises his talent and what probably does separate them from the pack - a busker's nightmare.
As mentioned before some of their more up tempo material is on here such as 'Dismal Day', 'Down On My Knees', 'Mother Freedom' and 'Anyway You Want Me' (which actually gets a little funky - go Dave) and these are still worth a listen as they are decent songs in their own right. However, I feel they are just in there to break up the more frequent slower tracks which are obviously the band's forte and true calling.
I must admit Bread are a bit of an Achilles heel for me. Something tells me I shouldn't like them but I do. They take me somewhere but I don't really know where. There's a grinning rock n roll imp painting a white dotted line from my head to my toe smugly declaring to me that I am a middle of the road traitor. But it is not the frantic horns of juggernauts I hear as they evade my discordant presence but the sound of some rather pleasant music, gently massaging my mood. Horses for courses indeed.
In the song 'Guitar Man'(which ironically only features a token wah-wah gesture of lead playing) there's the line, "Then you find yourself a message and some words to call your own and take them home". This is actually what Bread force you to do in a strange subliminal way. They are very lyric oriented and certain bits do prick your emotions.
Mellow, that's the key word. Bread are definitely a red wine, eyes closed, cat curled up on the lap band. Rocky Balboa won't have them on his ipod as he charges through the streets at 4 in the morning but if the mood's right and you feel you want to relax your ears a touch, then a little bit of Bread is just fine. My rock n roll street cred has just plummeted, I know. I'm going to have to go off and fix a tractor whilst wolf-whistling pretty ladies or something after this to dirty my cleansed soul again. But I doff my hat to Gates and his band as I solemnly stand and declare, "My name's The Adder and I'm a secret Breadoholic."
My mate never got his tape back by the way.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Dismal Day
2 Goodbye Girl
3 She's The Only One
4 Lost Without Your Love
5 Sweet Surrender
6 Never Let Her Go
7 He's A Good Lad
9 Guitar Man
11 Soap (I Use The)
12 Let Your Love Go
13 Too Much Love
16 Everything I Own
17 Down On My Knees
18 Make It With You
19 Look What You've Done
20 I Want You With Me
21 Baby I'm A Want You
22 Mother Freedom
23 It Don't Matter To Me
24 Anyway You Want Me