The third of three posts on Bergen White’s 1970 soft pop album For Women Only.
10. The Bird Song (Bergen White, 2.28) *****
One of the album’s most essential tracks, Bergen’s finest composition comes with a minor key baroque treatment in which to tell its quietly desolate tale.
Bergen doubted that the story would be immediately clear to the listener but a short experiment with a record company executive proved this not to be the case. From his cell window, a prisoner sees a bird and envies its freedom. In his mind, the prisoner changes places with the bird in a futile attempt to undo time and save the girlfriend he murdered.
The Bird Song is carried by harpsichord, bass and a small string section. Bergen’s vocal inventiveness gives us a passage of sobbing vocal, a deathly whisper on ‘her lips so cold’ and the sobering voice of conscience ‘You can’t go back to her, What’s done is done’.
A superb song and the epitome of baroque pop elegance.
11. Now (Bergen White, 2.38) ****
I think Bergen wanted to be Scott Walker at this point. Now would not sound at all amiss on Til’ the Band Comes In or perhaps Scott 4. He almost gets there but despite its fullness of sound, this song feels slightly underwritten and leaves you wanting something more.
Bergen mentions that he was influenced by the Beatles’ orchestral ‘Long and Winding Road’ though ‘Now’ employs a smaller section for its imploring passion: ‘So come home…’
There is an interesting electronic keyboard sound to the fore at the song’s close.
12. It’s Over Now (Bergen White, 3.01) ****
Bergen says hearing this song now annoys him but I like its whip-cracking sense of urgency, organ and fuzz guitar adding to the sense of a fairground ride gone askew. We are treated to a lovely Beach Boys-like harmony breakdown (’how beautiful the world would be with you’) before the dramatic momentum builds again.
Bergen maintains It’s Over Now ‘started sounding like a Sandy Posey record’ and indeed the song’s roots feel as if they are in the earlier part of the decade (the album was recorded in 1969, but released in 1970).
The CD then adds four tracks recorded in 1967 which fit in extremely well with the feel of For Women Only.
13. If It’s Not Asking Too Much (Bergen White, 3.03) ****
Like ‘It’s Over Now’, the melody of If It’s Not Asking Too Much works through a ‘chart’ of chord progressions which isn’t as contrived as that maybe sounds. There is a great lead-off.
This is the only track not arranged by Bergen – musician and collaborator Charlie McCoy takes over the reins.
14. Don’t Keep Me Waiting (Bergen White, 3.08) ****
This boasts a great bombastic 60s introduction with piano, timpani, woodblock and some fetching backing vocals. That strange yet oddly fitting bendy-bass moment takes us into a powerful lead-off. Bergen’s voice is as good in the lower registers as it is in the high.
15. What Would You Do In My Place (Bergen White, 2.41) *****
Bergen quietly asks for advice or perhaps it’s just a plea for understanding. This song has a wonderful production, a certain resonance – particularly around the vocals – which gives it an appropriately enclosed feel.
I tend to link this to ‘The Bird Song’, perhaps because of the guitar-harpsichord combination or its air of extreme reflection. Whilst lacking ‘The Bird Song’s narrative, I find something completely involving about this track. It’s as if we are not just privy to the singer’s inner musings but are actually allowed into the depths of his mind.
With its arpeggiated guitar and harpsichord splashes, What Would You Do in My Place has an air of understated elegance. Simpler verses are contrasted with a clambering bridge.
Although different production wise, it’s a shame ‘What Would You Do… ‘ couldn’t find inclusion on the album proper, perhaps replacing its weakest track, ‘Gone Again’.
16. House on Bonnie Brae (Denis Linde, 2.00) ***
The mood here is subtly different from the overall feel of For Women Only, being more overtly sentimental, Bergen’s slightly faltering bit-lip vocal set to a lolloping rhythm. There’s another one of those pleasing counterpoint breakdowns.
17. The Bird Song (Bergen White, mono 2.26) *****
18. It’s Over Now (Bergen White, mono 3.03 ) ****
We conclude with tracks 17 and 18 – mono versions of The Bird Song (from 1967) and It’s Over Now from 1970. ‘The Bird Song’ in mono benefits from a more prominent vocal.
It’s Over Now
A 1970 gospel-style single Spread the Word sounds nothing like ‘For Women Only’ though a lone 1975 single does; Have You Taken a Good Look Lately by David Gates is pleasant but with perhaps a less ambitious arrangement and a more overtly soft-rock feel at a time when that genre was coalescing around the conventions which made it so derided.
There followed a 1976 Duke of Earl single on Private Stock which I haven’t heard.
Other than that, Bergen White returned to largely conducting and arranging for others, never seeing himself as a singer-performer first and foremost. Perhaps the most prestigious of his many successes was as arranger for Elvis’s ‘Moody Blue’.
Meanwhile, for lovers of baroque pop of a melancholy disposition, For Women Only remains an indispensable crystallisation of a unique vision in sound.