FOR THE IDES OF MARCH'S COMMON BOND
the 1970 hit single
"Vehicle" and the album of the same name, the Ides of March became one
of the most popular bands of the era to incorporate soul-oriented horn
arrangements into a rock setting, without sacrificing the rich vocal
harmonies they'd employed since they began to release records in the
mid-1960s. On their 1971 LP Common
Bond, the group continued to explore not just brassy rock, but
also some of the polished folk-rock harmonies and lengthy progressive
workouts they'd flashed from time to time on the Vehicle album. Common Bond, however, would not
produce a national hit single on the order of Vehicle, though there are
indications they might have had one had one of the tracks in particular
been pushed harder.
story of Common Bond actually
the single they recorded as a follow-up to "Vehicle," which had gone
all the way up to #2 on the national charts in spring 1970. Initially
the band had hopes that "Aire of Good Feeling," a track that wound up
on the Vehicle LP, would be
the next single. But as lead guitarist, lead singer, and principal
songwriter Jim Peterik remembers, "Warner Brothers did not think so.
They called our management and said, would you please record another
song that's more like 'Vehicle'? That was in the days when follow-ups
sounded very similar to the prior one, a la Jackson Five or whatever.
So I went to my lab, and I wrote 'Superman.' That kind of became the
first song we recorded for the second album.
"We went to the West
Coast to record 'Superman.' It
was very exciting, because we were now at Sunset Sound, which was like
us going to Mecca or something. It was just the holy grail of studios.
We were just mesmerized. And sure enough, the sound that came back from
those playback speakers was like nothing we had heard. It was so
powerful, so punchy. And right in the middle of my vocal take, all the
members of the group Chase" -- another group with a horn section, who'd
score a big hit single in 1974 with "Get It On" -- "walked in. And then
we were all so amped up, because Bill Chase and the whole band were
there spurring us. That really set the tone for the second record."
Despite fulfilling Warners' request for a made-to-order follow-up,
however, "Superman" didn't reach the charts.
Though Common Bond
generally stuck to the same approach as the Vehicle album, there were a few
changes this time around. The band was slightly reduced in size, from a
seven-piece to a six-piece, with the departure of guitarist-bass-singer
Ray Herr. They were able to do sessions at RCA Recording in their home
base, Chicago, with engineer Brian Christian, who in the early '70s
also worked on records by the Guess Who, Alice Cooper, and Poco. "When
we heard playbacks, like [for the track] 'Tie-Dye Princess,' we were
like totally blown away, and much more happy with the sound than we had
been on the first record," enthuses Pederik.
While the album did have some aggressive,
horn-fueled soul-rock a la "Vehicle" in cuts like "Superman," "Ogre,"
and "Giddy-Up Ride Me," there was also some quite different, gentler
California-flavored harmony folk-rock, in the mold of Crosby, Stills,
and Nash. Foremost among those tracks was "L.A. Goodbye," which became
their final chart single, peaking at #73. That modest position doesn't
tell the whole story, however, as the single topped the Chicago charts
for five weeks -- "the test of a real hit record, to me," asserts
Pederik. "Chicago used to be the test market. If it made it in Chicago,
it was a pretty good chance it would make it everywhere. Well, it
didn't happen. Apparently Warner Brothers was going through a shift in
distribution, from being distributed by another major to independent
distribution. The story we got [was] that 'L.A. Goodbye' really got
lost in the shuffle between distributors."
That doesn't diminish his pride in his track, as Jim
continues, "The studio had this Neve console. That created the sound,
with the vocal harmonies, for 'L.A. Goodbye,' which of course is really
the touchstone of that record in my mind. The vocal blend just was
incredible." Adds multi-instrumentalist and fellow Ides of March
founder-member Larry Millas, "We triple-tracked the vocals. That was
the secret. If you double-tracked them, they were real good. If you
triple-tracked them, it was something else. We looked at each other and
it was like, 'Alright Carpenters, take that!'"
It's something of a surprise that the same voice
responsible for the gravelly blue-eyed soul of "Vehicle" could switch
to a much softer tone for folk-rockish material such as "L.A. Goodbye."
But Jim Pederik was gifted with a vocal versatility enabling him to
walk both sides of that line. "People think I was like a Camel smoker
or something," he observes with amusement. "I didn't smoke at all. My
voice was able to kind of split its vocal cords a little bit for that
rougher sound. Within one album, I could be as clear as a bell, or as
gruff as I wanted. It was just part of the way I sang. My dad used to
say, 'Jim, you're going to ruin your voice singing that.' I didn't. Not
Another highlight for the band was the eleven-minute
"Tie-Dye Princess," in which the group got to blend several of the
styles closest to their hearts -- horn-rock, folk-rock, and elaborate,
progressive song construction -- into an extended piece. "Like most
songs with the Ides, they start with a germ, usually a song that I
bring to the table," is the explanation Jim gives for how such
lengthy tracks developed. "Then it gets Ides of March-ized in
rehearsal, and it's just what happened with the band. We would be down
in Larry's basement, we would learn the basic song, and then we'd jam
and jam and jam, and figure out ways to expand it. Sometimes the
arrangements even unfolded onstage. We would try a song onstage, and
then we would take a section and just interact and go, 'Hey, that was
cool. Let's make that a part of the permanent arrangement.' That's how
most of our arrangements developed, kind of organically, actually."
Although the Vehicle
LP had made the middle of the top hundred of the album charts, Common Bond missed the listings
altogether. "The record company was not real supportive of diversity,"
feels Millas. "They wanted it to be one thing. Like, 'Be that, just do
that.' And we were doing all kinds of music on our albums. So it kind
of made the marketing a little confused for them."
Despite its lack of chart success, the Ides of March
found reasons to be pleased with the music on the record. "I think what
I liked most is that we could take the time and our acquired knowledge
up to that point, and come up with something as satisfying as 'L.A.
Goodbye,'" states Millas. "That record is kind of a quintessential
pop-folk, really well-done single, and I'm really proud of that." Adds
Peterik, "It's probably got some of the high points, and maybe the one
low point of my memory. The high point is, like Larry said, 'L.A.
Goodbye.' 'Tie-Dye Princess,' to me, that stands, [despite] a couple
lyrics that I wish weren't in there. But overall, it's a nice piece.
But when I get interviewed, people say, 'What is the worst song you
ever wrote?' I usually say, 'Ogre.' It's horrible. It's just a bad
was the second and final Ides of March LP for Warner Brothers, the band
departing for RCA soon afterward. After a couple more albums, they
broke up at the end of 1973. Peterik went on to more commercial success
as part of Survivor, as well as writing or co-writing hits for .38
Special. For the past 15 years, he's also been playing with a reunited
Ides of March, who, remarkably, still include all six members who
played on Common Bond.
As Larry says, "We're still the Ides of March, and
we're taking Jim's song seeds and working on 'em." Picks up Jim: "And
doing the same thing we always did. We're just having a ball doing it.
We always look to those times, especially those first two albums, for
inspiration. Trying to take what's good about those, and keep expanding
that. I really think, no matter what the diversity is, there is an Ides
of March sound. It doesn't have to do, necessarily, with the brass --
'Is there brass in the song? Is there harmony?' It's a spirit. It's
very positive music. We don't dwell on the negative stuff. That's the
kind of people we are, and that's the kind of band we are. That's kind
of been the common thread." -- Richie Unterberger
unless otherwise specified.
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