Friday, January 14, 2005

Now all you are is "Gone"

Over on the excellent The Art of Getting By (which, if it's not already in hot rotation on your blogging playlist, certainly deserves to be), proprietress Janet recently posed this query to her loyal readers:

"You tell me what song you know and love that you think I should know and love, but that you're certain I don't know and therefore love...yet."

Which afforded me the excuse opportunity to give props to my all-time favorite Unknown Song.

"Gone" was recorded by the House Jacks, a San Francisco-based a cappella rock/funk band (and yes, I do mean "band") on their first CD, Naked Noise, way back in 1994. Written by then-member Tristan Bishop (who went on to pen and produce the chart hit "Say You'll Stay" for another vocal group, Kai), "Gone" is, quite simply, the most ineffably gorgeous power ballad ever recorded. The track features compelling lyrics, heart-rending harmonies, the incomparable vocal percussion talents of Andrew "Kid Beyond" Chaikin, and absolutely the sweetest, soaringest six-part ultimate chord in the history of music. It's a song that deserved to be the biggest smash on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1994, but never got the chance because it appeared on a self-produced CD by an ensemble no record company would give the time of day.

Well, almost no record company. The year after Naked Noise, the Jacks signed with Tommy Boy Records, a Warner Bros. subsidiary specializing in hip-hop, at the time riding high with such artists as Coolio and Queen Latifah. For Tommy Boy the Jacks recorded, with the support of several top-name producers, an album's worth of tracks for their major label debut.

And they lived happily ever after, right? "Happily ever after" only occurs in fairy tales, not in the recording industry.

As eager as Tommy Boy had been to sign the group, their enthusiasm cooled to glacial levels when they realized they had no concept of how to market "a rock band without instruments," as the House Jacks billed themselves. Tommy Boy's A&R execs thought they were getting the next Boyz II Men -- instead, they got six guys who covered stuff like Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" and featured a drummer who percussed with his lips. Onto the shelf the Jacks' tapes were hurled, to moulder in the grave of studio hell like John Brown's body.

After enduring nearly two years of dawning realization that the label was never going to release their record, the Jacks purchased the master tapes from Tommy Boy and distributed the CD themselves, with less of the boy's-choir ballad material the record company wanted and more of the funky backbeat tunes long-time House Jacks fans expected, under the title Funkwich.

And "Gone" forever lost its opportunity at FM radio stardom.

Take a listen to this clip. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Admit it. You're hooked now.

A decade later, the House Jacks are still tearing down the walls of funk in their own inimitable style. Two of the group's original members — tenor and musical director Deke Sharon and bottomless bass and chick magnet Bert Bacco — still carry the flag, along with soulful lead vocalists Austin Willacy and Garth Kravits and "mouth drummer" Wes Carroll. Their most recent CD, Unbroken, is nothing short of spectacular — check out a few sample clips and see if you don't agree. (I'm sure you'd hurt no Jack's feelings if you picked up a CD or two while you were visiting. Tell 'em "the Jeopardy! guy" sent you.)

On Sunday, January 23, the House Jacks, along with my chorus, Bay Area Metro, and a host of other acts will be performing at In Harmony for Asia, a benefit concert for tsunami disaster relief. I'll miss the gig because I'll be off celebrating twenty years with my lovely bride. But if you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, here's a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon or evening grokking some stellar vocal music, while at the same time doing good for your fellow human beings. Your Uncle Swan says you'll love yourself if you go.

You were my world
You were my song
You're everything I could depend on
But now all you are is

1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Janet offered these pearls of wisdom...

How can I be the only one to comment on this post? You know what I love? I love that you are so passionate about this song. That's how I am about music. That's one of the reasons I posted it as a topic. BTW, I didn't find your little known gem. I guess it remains one that flies just under the radar.

6:49 PM  

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