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Written in 1988, 'Class of '65' was my endeavor to revisit a day in the life of Al Thomas, a gangly, curly-haired teenage doo-wop singer just graduating from East Islip High school, way out there on the south shore of Long Island, NY, about fifty-seven miles east of Manhattan. Herein lies a polaroid snapshot of a time of innocence and hijinks, of first loves, fast cars, American Bandstand and high hopes for the future. The protagonist gleefully recalls and gives shout-out's to some of the great and inspiring musical artists who were indeed the soundtrack to it all that particular day back in 1965. I'm sending this out to my fellow graduates in EI, and everywhere, who are lucky enough to be above ground on this fiftieth anniversary of the class of '65.
We originally recorded 'Class of '65' during the sessions for my second album 'The Island', 1987-1989. Thing is, we never finished the recording and overdubbing on this track due to monetary constraints at the time, so the song was left off the record and sat there in limbo for twenty-two years, wondering if it would ever see the light of day.
Slow motion forward to 2010 when 'The Island' record producer and master archivist, Stephen Barncard (Grateful Dead - David Crosby) transferred the original 2-inch multi-track tape masters into Pro Tools digital format and sent them to me via FTP internet service. As I was downloading the files into my big Mac Pro I kept thinking how amazing and surreal it was to now have access to this song in my own recording studio all these years later, and to be able to listen to these cool performances copied from the original 24-track tape recorded at Cherokee Studios, in it's time, one of the great Los Angeles studios.
I imported the files into a new Pro Tools session and slowly brought up the faders on the virtual mixer, listening track-by-track to each of the performances myself and my brother musicians had laid down in what seemed a lifetime ago. Surprisingly the tracks, now in hi-resolution digital files, sounded fresh and well recorded - big thanks to Mike Morongell for getting the sounds right from the start. I fell into the groove-zone and realized right then and there I had to finish recording this light-hearted time-stamped tune. And so began a two-week sojourn from recording my fifth record 'Deep Water', to now re-visiting the past, and getting some closure to boot.
The players on 'The Island' album were and are Class-A studio cats - see credits below - and it was a joy to once again be immersed in their soulful contributions. As I didn't get the chance to nail a decent lead vocal when we originally tracked the song, I decided the first thing I would do now is re-record it. Being able to re-sing the vocals with that cooking rhythm section in my headphones was big fun, it felt like I was time-traveling back to the tracking date at Cherokee Studios. After that excursion into lead vocal land it came to me that it would be highly appropriate to honor that time in my youth when I lived and breathed singing in doo-wop vocal groups, so I spent some hours recording four-part harmony backing vocals, something I'd always wanted to do.
Upon reviewing keyboard player Michael Ruff's original electric piano parts I felt like we could do better both audio and part wise so I asked Mike, who lives pretty close by, if he would like to re-record a new part. He responded with brand spankin' new piano, wurlitzer and organ parts that complimented the song perfectly. Mahalo Mr. Ruff, always coming through.
Drummer Rick Schlosser and bassist Cliff Hugo's parts were spot-on audio-wise and in the groove department so I left them untouched. But for a fun experiment and another tip-of-the-hat to the '60's I reversed my own and Bryan Kessler's electric guitar parts in sections of the bridge (this backwards effect was used frequently back then especially to good effect by George Martin on Beatle songs) and that seemed to work righteously. The last layer I recorded was real tambourine in the style I'd heard on countless Motown records of that mid-sixties soul epoch. Now the song was telling me it was ready for mixing.
At the time of the new overdubs and re-birth of this track (2010) I was regularly in touch with Grammy award winning mixer and buddy Mike Shipley, and his more-than-able assistant Brian Wohlgemuth, regarding the upcoming 'Deep Water' record which they were planning to mix. As Shipley was busy mixing another project I asked Brian if he would mix 'Class of '65' in his off-time. Agreeing with much enthusiasm he sent back a keeper mix in June of 2011. That version of this song sat for another four years until today when I realized it was time to let it go, see if maybe some baby boomers might get a kick out of stepping back in time and remembering the liberation we felt upon graduating from our various high schools, and for a minute steep ourselves in the memory of those great recording artists who provided the soulful sounds that we were fortunate enough to be within ear-shot of in our youth. Enjoy...
Class of '65
words and music
I'be been thinking back to a time I used to know
When we heard the latest sounds on AM radio
Smokey Robinson the Miracles Drifters too
After all these years those songs still ring true
But times are different now then they were back then
With my '55 Pontiac and my steady girlfriend
In the class of '65
I remember signing yearbooks graduation night
Everybody was destined to do alright
The future before us like an unread book
And we listened to Aretha Ray Charles and Sam Cooke
Adolescent outlaws innocent and studious
Out for a chuckle and wing our way through it
Class of '65 we were the class of '65
Back before Walkman's and satellite TV
American Bandstand and high fidelity
Ducktail hairdo's Silvertone guitars
Drive-in movies back seat of your car
Listening to Wilson Pickett and Ben E King
A concealed transistor radio so we could hear 'em sing
In a class of '65
Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Dylan and the Beatles
Soundtrack of our day
I remember now we were the class of '65
©1988 Black Bamboo Music - BMI
released July 16, 2015
Allan Thomas ~ vocals & rhythm guitar
Bryan Kessler ~ rhythm guitar & riffs
Michael Ruff ~ piano, wurlizter & organ
Cliff Hugo ~ bass
Rick Schlosser ~ drums
Produced and mastered by Stephen Barncard
Original tracking session engineer ~ Mike Morongell
Additional recording ~ Michael Ruff and Allan Thomas
Mixing ~ Brian Wohlgemuth
Charts ~ Jeff Richman
Photo ~ Al Thomas singing with the Majestics somewhere on Long Island, NY. 1965 ~ photographer unknown.
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