By Richie Unterberger
Among the many albums released by the Association, Goodbye, Columbus stands out as a real oddity. Many listeners aren't even certain as to whether to classify it as an Association album or a soundtrack. For although the group were credited as the performers on four of the cuts, the rest of it consisted of excerpts from Charles Fox's score on which the Association were not present at all. Although it did actually make #99 in the charts, it's also among the rarest of their full-length releases.
Based on a novel
American author Philip Roth, the 1969 film starred Richard Benjamin and
Ali MacGraw (both in their first major screen roles) as a young Jewish
couple whose relationship founders in the course of various
incompatibilities and navigating family/cultural issues. (In fact, in
spite of their screen inexperience, they were a little too old for the
parts, both of them being in their early thirties.) Also prominent in
the cast was Jack Klugman, future star of TV's The Odd Couple and Quincy, here playing Benjamin's
prospective future father-in-law.
According to Association singer-rhythm guitarist-keyboardist Jim Yester, "Paramount Pictures approached us to do the soundtrack. They were very aware of our music, and they asked us to meet with them. We met them in New York and went to a studio, and they played us the rushes, [i.e.] they showed us the movie without a musical soundtrack. None of us had ever seen a movie without the music soundtrack, and it was very interesting. Like the wedding scene, where there's two guys walking across the dance floor while everybody's dancing and the band is playing, and there's no sound in the room, just miming. It was totally bizarre."
Continues Yester, "They said, 'Okay, here, we want this, and here we want that, and here we want this.' We said, 'Okay.' And they said, 'Okay, go home and write. You've got a week and a half' -- or maybe it was a week -- 'and we'll meet again, and then we'll see what's what.' Which we did. We went home and wrote, we came back, we had show and tell. And they said, 'Okay, I want this and I want this and I want this. And now you've got a week-and-a-half to record it.' So the next day [after the initial meeting], I walked from the Warwick Hotel up on 54th [Street] and 6th [Avenue] down to the Village, the whole while composing 'Goodbye, Columbus' in my head. It was a slam-bang thing," he laughs.
Jim's song was the one selected as the theme, although another of the contenders didn't go to waste, getting reworked as "Goodbye Forever" (with composing credits for Jules Alexander, Terry Kirkman, and non-Associationite Rita Martinson) on the 1969 album The Association. "Originally, that was 'Goodbye, Columbus,'" reveals Yester. "When it didn't get selected, they changed it to 'Goodbye Forever.' But if you listen to the lyrics, it's about the relationship between Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw. The lyrics are about what was going on in the movie."
In addition to "Goodbye, Columbus," the other Association recordings used for the soundtrack LP were also group originals. Larry Ramos came up with "It's Gotta Be Real," while Terry Kirkman penned "So Kind to Me (Brenda's Theme)," Brenda being the Brenda Patimkin character played by MacGraw. There's also an instrumental version of "Goodbye, Columbus" to which the band contribute wordless vocals, the one instance "where we sang vocals on a Charlie Fox track," says Yester. "It's a 'Goodbye, Columbus' thing for a montage. It was kind of neat. It's real nice, it's all orchestrated and flutes and all that kind of thing. But it wasn't us. It wasn't our thing. It wasn't the band. It was us vocally. It was still kind of fun."
Prior to working on Goodbye, Columbus, Fox's primary screen credit had been as a composer on the soundtrack of the infamous, frivolous Jane Fonda vehicle Barbarella. The list of composing credits for film, television, and popular music recordings he's accumulated since then would itself fill up several liner notes. The most familiar work in which he's been involved would certainly include the theme songs for the TV series The Love Boat, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Love American Style ("if you listen to 'Love American Style,' which he did after Goodbye, Columbus, you'll hear 'Goodbye, Columbus' in there," remarks Yester). In addition, he co-wrote "Killing Me Softly With His Song," a #1 hit in 1973 for Roberta Flack, and "I Got a Name," a Top Ten hit soon afterward for Jim Croce.
Such success would not befall the Association's theme song for Goodbye, Columbus, although it did make #80 in the pop charts as a single. According to Yester, "The record company was supposed to not release that until the movie came out. And they released it, like, two months before the movie came out. It didn't make any sense. For me, that was one of the reasons it never went anywhere."
The tracks that were wholly the work of the Association were produced by John Boylan, who had only recently assumed a role on the group's recordings. Eventually Boylan would become one of the most successful producers in the business, working on albums by Linda Ronstadt, Boston, the Little River Band, Pure Prairie League, and others. In the late 1960s, though, he was just starting to get his feet wet in production, and in fact had only recently been in a rock group himself, as part of the late-'60s band the Appletree Theatre with his brother Terence. Although Goodbye, Columbus was released about five months before The Association (whose production was credited to Boylan and the Association), "we had already worked with Boylan for sure, or were working with him, when Goodbye, Columbus came up," says Yester. "I think we were either in the process of doing [The Association] with Boylan, or we had already done it. I can't remember for sure. I still really like Boylan's approach, primarily to the vocals. He had a better sense of what the group was about vocally than I think anybody that we worked with." A fuller document of that collaboration can be heard on The Association itself, also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music. -- Richie Unterberger
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