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Harmony and Subversion

Most people my age grew up with parents who listened to the Beatles. I didn’t, and it shaped me in some interesting ways. The most obvious is that I don’t care much for the Beatles. I do appreciate that they were great songwriters, but I usually find anyone else’s arrangements of their songs more interesting than theirs.

The band that most closely took the place in my life that the Beatles filled in friends’ lives was the Chad Mitchell Trio (later the Mitchell Trio). They instilled a love of minor-key melodies in me while impairing my sense of pitch for years with the harmonies on songs like this:

Four Strong Winds

But we’ve been through that a hundred times or more.

They were very political and used both compassion and satire to make their points, sometimes subtly, sometimes not. The material they chose pointed out the hypocrisies on both sides of the political fence.

The Battle Hymn Of The Republic Brought Down to Day

Our might is marching on.

The Draft Dodger Rag

I hate Chou En Lai, and I hope he dies…

They sang about civil rights and the realities of war, commercialization and commodification, political corruption and assassination, global paternalism, history and, of course, love. Understanding what they were singing about was right up there with figuring out Doonesbury for getting myself a political education. They sang songs in several languages. They worked with excellent musicians but never let making beautiful music get in the way of making great songs.

Yeah, knowing the Chad Mitchell Trio is about half of understanding my approach to music and a healthy chunk of understanding my approach to life.

Comments

  1. says

    Just goes to show ya’, Stephanie, (or to show me in this case) that one is never too old to learn something. I’m embarrassed to admit that before going to your blog this morning I wasn’t even aware of this group. The name sounded familiar but not their music. This is amazing because I’m much older than you and was definitely into “protest music” back in the day. But more the Crosby, Stills and Nash, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Richie Havens types and the original cast of characters assembled at Woodstock. These guys have pure folk singer harmony with a powerful political message. Don’t know how I missed them. Thank you for posting this and I’ll seek out more of their work. PS: The lyrics to Draft Dodger Rag are both hilarious And brilliant.Cheers!

  2. says

    Scribbler, I think these guys had a major fish-nor-fowl problem. I think that making lovely music undercut their credibility as counter-culture spokespeople, and that their penchant for making people uncomfortable hurt them with the prettier folk crowd. Makes them just perfect for me, of course.My understanding is that they played very well on college campuses and not much at all anywhere else, so you would have had to be in the right place at the right time to have found them. Or have had parents who did, like mine. By the way, you’re probably underestimating my age. Most people do. I could not possibly have been at Woodstock, but I didn’t miss it by much. We’re not all puppies out here in blogland. :)

  3. says

    Gotcha, “Puppy”, thanks for that bit of honesty! And also… good explanation of why this group was in such a niche. Make perfect sense.

  4. Anonymous says

    I have always thought what took them down was a song they recorded called "The Ides of March". It was about Billy Sol Estes, and directly connected him, and the illegal operations for which he was convicted and sentenced to, to the president and first lady.Lyndon and Ladybird directed the White House to put the pressure on, and somehow the trio started experiencing problems.