One of my bigger inspirations artistically is the American band The Connells. The Connells are a band from Raleigh, North Carolina, and have been around since the mid-eighties. More than 25 years later, they are still going strong, although with a few line-up changes. The core line-up consisted of the brothers Connell (Mike Connell being the main lyricist for the band) on guitar, bass player George Huntley (who also wrote a significant number of songs AND was the vocalist on the self-written hauntingly beautiful "Lay me Down"), vocalist Doug MacMillan (also having written several songs) and drummer Peele Wimberley. Of the core line-up, the Connell brothers and Doug are still in the band. The early records of the band (the albums "Darker Days" and "Boylan Heights", who spawned several fantastic songs such as "Darker Days", "Seven", "Scotty’s Lament", "Over There", …) had a post-punk-esque sound at some points, drawing comparisons with the UK’s contemporaries The Smiths, but the sound of the Connells evolved over the years. The influences of their home ground of the Southern USA were never far away, but some songs also displayed a strong Celtic influence (mainly the intro of "Scotty’s Lament" as prime example, which sounds like you find yourself in an Irish Pub party until the intro fades and the song takes a different direction) … but I would safely say The Connells quickly enough displayed a very own sound.
All those gems from the early albums will be the subject of a future article on this blog. Because these early records are mostly unknown beyond the alternative scene in the States, and this is a great injustice: The Connells were amongst the best bands of their era and deserved much more credit than they received. A future article I am working on will appear on this blog to let you readers discover a few of those grotesquely underrated yet beautiful songs the band created.
As a warm-up to draw your attention, this is an article on the song that suddenly turned the band into famous rock stars for a while, more so in Europe than in their native US: "74-75".
The Connells are often shown with this video and song in the "one hit wonder" lists on European music TV channels. As I said before, this is injustice because prior to 74-75 and the album it was taken from ("Ring"), the Connells had already released several albums that contained some true gems. These songs were popular in the alternative circuit in the US and became played often on college radio stations across the United States. So to call the Connells a one hit wonder is simply wrong and just shows how much Europeans underrate this band. That said, "74-75" is a masterpiece. An evergreen that probably will still sound as hauntingly beautiful in 50 years’ time than it did when it first came out (the mid nineties).
"74-75" is different than many evergreens. Because the reason why it shines and never fails to move you is its simplicity. We don’t see a band doing strange things on stage, controversial lyrics, or a high-tech video. The strength of this song is in its simplicity, because I doubt that there are people on this planet that can not recognise themselves in the lyrics and that can listen to this song and watch its promo video without somehow getting tears in the eyes or getting nostalgic. That fact that this song is so recognisable, is what makes it so strong. Since the emotions discribed are universal and not a temporary thing, this is also why I believe the song will still sound as beautiful in 50 years’ time as it does now.
The song is about looking back to your youth, when life was still simple: you had your whole life ahead of you, you were full of plans and full of dreams, everyone was making plans, looking forward with expectations. Then, before you know, time flies by and consumes your youth, before you know the years have passed and you’re far from the worryless teenager anymore you used to be. The song refers to a school year 1974 – 1975, looking back in time. Looking back at your youth, when life was full of promises, looking back and digging up pleasant childhood/youth memories, but also feeling a sort of sadness at the same time because you know that that worryless time will never come back. There is no return. In a way the song brings happy and sad feelings at the same time: the happily looking back to the nice moments of your youth, and the sad feelings when you realise that time has ticked away rapidly and that those worryless youth days will never come back. I think this is a sentiment that we all experience now and then, and the song captures that so beautifully well that I doubt people can be emotionless when hearing the song. This is what makes it an evergreen that, without exageration, can stand amongst the great evergreens such as (to name one example that brings the same feelings) "Yesterday" by The Beatles. That said, I think 74-75 is a much better song, but this is my personal biased opinion as a fan of the Connells 🙂
As powerful as the song is, the video is extraordinary powerful too for the same reason: it is simple but oh so recognisable. The video shows a class reunion of the class of 74-75 in a Raleigh secondary school (I am not entirely sure if the people in the video were actual classmates of the band, but that doesn’t matter really). We see the people’s pictures from the yearbook of 74-75, when they were teenagers, then we see the same people 20 years onwards. Simple but oh so powerful. The facial expressions of the people, some looking back with sadness, some with nostalgia, some with happiness … are again very simple in the first sight but they make the video extremely powerful. And again there is the feeling we all have now and then: we think back on our youth, making plans, whole life ahead of you… But just as we look back on our own youth and what we’ve eventually become, we probably do wonder what happened to the first girl we had a crush on, or what became of our best friend during childhood…. Are they married with kids? Are they a succesful artist or sportsman? Did they move somewhere far away? …
This song is so recognisable, both the video and the actual lyrics, that I think someone who is not moved by the song has some problems with showing his emotions. "74-75" launched the Connells into fame and took them to Europe to promote the song and the Ring album across the continent. In several European countries the song hit nr 1 or stayed in the top-10 for a very long time. The song still ends at a quite high spot in lists of "best songs ever" in many European radio station shows. And all I can say is that this is both justice and injustice at the same time: justice because this song indeed is so beautiful that the term "evergreen" is well-deserved, but also injustice because a lot of European fans think that Ring was the ONLY moment of fame for the Connells. This is very much an insult to the fantastic songs they had already been producing for 10 years (but which only received some attention in the States itself) prior to the release of 74-75.
I will publish an article on The Connells soon dedicating time and attention to some other gems. Hopefully those who visit my blog, will give those other tracks a listen too, and they’ll soon conclude that 74-75 is one of the many epic songs the band has written. It is an evergreen, but in my opinion songs such as "Seven" or "Over There" deserve the same status.
One last paragraph of course about the lyrics of this song: it opens with "Got no reason for coming to me in the rain running down, there’s no reason…" — how beautifully written. Wouldn’t we all want someone caring enough to come to us even when the rain pours down? Then the song goes on with the chorus summing up the emotions of the song very well:
"I was the one who let you know, I was your sorry-ever-after
Giving me more and I’ll defy, cause you’re really only after 74-75"
The full video and song can be found on the Connells’ official webpage. www.theconnells.com : after the intro, then on the main home page of the site click on the image that looks like those small boards shown when a scene is going to be filmed (since I don’t know the English term for it: it’s on the right side of the music note and on the left of the pen). You will then see a selection of videos to display, the song is there amongst some of the other gems like "Seven", "Scotty’s Lament", "Over There", … An article on those songs will soon be at my blog.
If you wish to see the band live: they are still going strong after more than 25 years, regularly performing with David and Mike Connell and Doug MacMillan still present (the other members of the line-up changed over the years). They mainly perform in the southeastern US where they originate from. My wish to ever see them live thus may never be realised, although you never know a once-off European show may ever occur.