Usually when I get into new music I obsess over certain songs, they take over my life, I burn out on them, and put them away. But there I have another category of favorite songs that I call "rare gems" - not because they are hard to find but because, for some reason, I rarely listen to them. For that reason, I am always really excited when they come on the radio/TV/wherever. "Dedicated to the One I Love" falls into that category. It's short enough that it is difficult to burn out on, but full of interesting moments.
The Mamas & the Papas did not write the song, it should be noted. The original version comes from The 5 Royales in 1957. Theirs scores points for being the original, but it's kind of rough, pretty cliche, and full of hokey secondary dominants that don't hold up well. The Shirelles' cover a few years later is closer to the version we know. It's a little more patient and dreamy, but still lacks originality.
In 1967 The Mamas & the Papas coopted the song for good. This is one of those covers that becomes the de facto standard version by virtue of being so much better than the original. There are several things I love about their cover, including:
- Soft guitar intro leaves room for song to grow, heavy reverb sets tone.
- Chords of the intro stay pretty close to the original version.
- Abandons the I-IV-I progression at the end of each A-section.
- After intro, choruses strip chords back to powerful I, IV and V.
- The treatment of the bridge is a little unusual, with a sudden honky-tonk piano, but not unwelcome.
- I think there's a mistake (?) around 1:41, where the band plays a Bm chord but the bassist plays an A. I love mistakes.
- The second bridge is completely different from the first - like a whole new variation.
- I love how Mama Cass pulls that Eb out of the Bm chord at 2:07 - that line comes out of nowhere.
But there are two things that really make the song, and that gets to the meat of my article:
1. 4:6 Rhythmic Hits
In the first big chorus (not counting the intro) we hear those big 4 hits over the 6/8 time. It's kind of a cross-rhythm: not unusual, but unusual for pop music. I can think of a few ways it could be written:
I actually find myself leaning toward the last, just because I feel like it reflects that feeling of dropping into a different meter for a moment.
2. Vocal Stacking
The vocals in the chorus are so nice that they rightly decide to get the band out of the way in the last chorus and just let them shine for a couple measures. In addition to that good choice, there are a handful of nice things happening here. Check out my rough transcription:
There are so many things you could do with four vocalists: when do you double notes? Where does the melody sit? Do you use that fourth voice for good or evil?
The harmonies in this chorus are really brilliant. (it is very difficult to hear, but I'm pretty confident I got the transcription mostly right) There are times when the two men seem to double up, other times splitting to fatten the chords. Michelle's melody is in the middle the whole time, but mixed in a way that it really stands out. The second line is especially genius. The four notes in measure four mostly have no business in that chord; they are an anticipation of a big C6/9 chord in the next measure. And I'm like 90% sure I can hear Mama Cass' high G crunching against the F# in the melody on that last measure.
The great thing about "rare gems" is when you sit down to look at them and find out what makes them so great. I don't think I'll burn out on this one any time soon, but I'm going to put it away for now...just in case.
The ending is really nice too. This song is the total package.