Graded on a Curve:
Bread,
The Best of Bread

I’m listening to The Best of Bread, and if I get any more mellow I’ll be urine.

It’s easy to mock the anodyne sounds of soft rock avatars Bread; easy enough, for example, to point out that like their name their music is white, bland, and utterly lacking in nutritional value.

But what you gotta understand about David Gates and Company is that come the bitter end of the sixties and the turn of the seventies, when America’s once idealistic and optimistic young longhairs were ready to assume the collective fetal position in the face of such shattering “happenings” as Altamont, the Manson killings, Kent State, savage acid trips, and the Vietnam War, Bread was there like a giant aural Quaalude to calm their frazzled nerve endings. If the Age of Aquarius had become a grim joke and America one big lunatic asylum, soft rock bands like Bread were the music being piped through the nationwide hi-fi to sedate the inmates. You could pull Bread up to your neck like a snug childhood blankie and HIDE.

In short, Bread provided an important mental health service and may even have saved lives, and who am I to gainsay a bunch of American heroes? Sure, they constituted a craven retreat from social engagement or even leaving your apartment, but what with all the evil hoodoo going down in the streets, who wanted to leave their apartments anyway? A National Guardsman could shoot you! Or a Weathermen bomb could blow you sky-high! Better to say to hell with it all and sing along to “It Don’t Matter to Me,” which is a pretty good song and might as well have been the National Anthem of the New “I Give Up” Generation.

Forget the synapse-frying sounds of Jimi Hendrix and the mutant blooz of England’s heavy metal monoliths; what America’s youth needed was some gentle soothing in the form of quietly strummed acoustic guitars and hushed vocals, and Bread had ‘em both in spades. Throw in some lobotomizing strings and a lovely melody and you’ve got Wonder Bread for the ears in the form of such unforgettable classics as “If,” “Everything I Own,” “Diary,” “Baby I’m-a Want You” (you parse the grammar, I dare you) and “Diary.” They were all immensely popular songs not only because they’re very good popular songs; they also expressed Universal Sentiments in a simple way, helping America’s shell-shocked young adults to focus on something other than the fact that the whole damn planet appeared to be fucked.

“Baby I’m-a Want You” is a love song for the ages and eons away from the frustrations of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and “Street Fighting Man”; sure it’s precious beyond words but there’s no denying its loveliness. And the same can be said for the rest of the “Monster Hits” that make up the A Side of this 1973 Elektra Records compilation. If it’s a mellow boat ride through the jasmine of your mind you’re looking for, The Best of Bread is your ideal canoe. Parse the lyrics and what David Gates was really saying was, “Forget about Tricky Dick and all that napalm on the nightly news and retreat to that quiet still sylvan glade inside your cranium where the moss is soft and you can throw yourself down and just sorta liquify like a pat of melting butter. Seriously–who doesn’t want to be melting butter?”

The B Side is a different story; on it Bread gets, well, almost freaky. It was this side Robert Christgau was referring to when he described their music as a “country-rock crossover of unprecedented spinelessness,” but I humbly disagree. “Mother Freedom” boasts a rumbling electric guitar, Buffalo Springfield-style vocals, and a bona fide guitar solo (turns out Gates wrote “Guitar Man” for a reason), and who knew Bread had it in ‘em? This ain’t Sopor for the ears it’s rock’n’roll, while “Down on My Knees” is jaunty Poco-school country rock complete with some very nice vocal harmonies. Good stuff. “Too Much Love” is more soft-rock but the perfect demonstration of how far an evolving Bread had deviated from their sure-fire hit-making formula; it’s less homogenized… and more filling. Wheat bread, one might say.

“Let Your Love Go” is raw-boned country rock; the harmonies are smooth, but the guitar has an edge that brings to mind John Fogerty. “Look What You’ve Done” is lovely, and another slice of California country rock that deserves to be heard, especially when the boys kick into overdrive during the song’s second half. As for “Truckin’,” it ain’t the Grateful Dead, but I like it. The band fools ya with a big strings introduction, then rides a funky groove down the highway, boogalooin’ and playing the old mouth harpoon as they go. Sure they’re in the middle of the road, but I’ll take “Truckin’” over most of the hot wet tripe their soft rock competition–not to mention the likes of the Eagles–were sliming the airwaves with at the time.

In short, The Best of Bread demonstrates that there were two Breads; the Bread that soothed America’s frayed nerve endings at the beginning of their career, and the later Bread that said, albeit quietly, to hell with soft rock, we’re tired of kneading America’s youth into little doughy balls. And it’s this Jekyll and Hyde aspect of Bread that makes The Best of Bread worth checking out. I’ve always credited Bread for a lot of things, but an interesting career trajectory wasn’t one of them. Turns out bread can evolve. I mean, who knew?

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text