Graded on a Curve:
Zager and Evans,
2525 (Exordium & Terminus)

Your kind human being will tell you it’s in poor taste to speak ill of the awful, but speaking well of the awful is downright dangerous—it just encourages it. In the case of classic one-hit wonders Zager and Evans, finding good things to say about them and their 1969 LP 2525 (Exordium & Terminus) doesn’t make you a kind human being—it makes you their doting aunt.

Most everybody I know thinks bad thoughts about the LP’s title track—which topped both the US and UK pop charts—and no one I know has ever heard any of their subsequent singles, perhaps because not a single one of them made the pop charts. This is both a historical record and a good thing—it was as if the band’s later singles evaporated into the ether upon release, for the good of all mankind.

“2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” is an exercise in the ridiculous. It begins as a flamenco or something, boasts some spaghetti western horns and overt string treacle, over which the duo (Denny Zager and Rick Evans) quaver portentously and sententiously about mankind’s technology-induced doom, one century at a time.

Every stanza boasts at least one howler; my personal faves include “In the year 4545/Ain’t gonna need your teeth, won’t need your eyes/You won’t find a thing to chew,” and “Everything you think, do, and say/Is in the pill you took today.” As if that pill wasn’t already available in 1969—it was called LSD, and the borderline freaky “2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” notwithstanding, I doubt the duo ever tried it.

Most of the LP’s remaining songs fall under the category of “Icky Ridiculous Love Songs,” but one comes from out of nowhere. “Fred” is a very disturbing number about an animal-torturing sociopath (they’re quite graphic in the details) who gets arrested after robbing a local Dairy Queen. But love is the duo’s forte, and boy do they let loose the dumb. Theirs’s is an antique 1950s sensibility—your grandmother would have liked these songs.

The opening lines of “Less Than Tomorrow” are worth quoting in full: “We made love before we wed, didn’t we?/Mantovani played a lovely song/Passions made us yield, we’d held it back so long/You cried the whole night through/You were sure I’d lost respect for you somehow.” Meanwhile, on “I Remember Heide,” they sing, “I could touch her any time, any place,” leaving you guessing as to whether they’re talking physiology or Des Moines.

“Bayoan” is a “we’re breaking up and I’m talking my shit with me” classic: “Bayoan, give me back the hubcap off from your wall/Bayoan, give me back the hawk that I killed last fall/I’ll take that jar of shiny dimes, we were saving for our time,” it goes, and I’m with the guy to the max—I’d want my goddamn hubcap back too. “Cary Lynn Javes” includes the highest compliment one can pay one’s lover: “I used to think you were the dumbest person ever made.” And this from a guy who sings, “I looked up at the stars that I was closer to,” as if he was holding a yardstick.

It seems odd that the futuristic “2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” should have showed up on the historical throwback that is 2525 (Exordium & Terminus). It’s not so odd that “2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” is the only song that ever struck a chord with pop music listeners at the tail end of the 1960s, dystopian futurism being big and all. But in the end, doesn’t it really make any difference? In the words of Zager and Evans themselves, “Elephants are gray, and that’s all that matters.”

GRADED ON A CURVE:
F

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