by Doug Stalnaker
July 22, 1999
My first impression of Golders Green is that it is a quicker paced and more varied collection of demos by the late and great Pete Ham than 7 Park Avenue. Its content, while containing the same emotional depth and musical craftsmanship as 7 Park Avenue, I found overall to be much more ebullient. After repeated listenings, my initial reaction became my firm opinion. To put is simply yet obliquely, Golders Green is the Yin to 7 Park Avenue's Yang. With several exceptions ("Catherine Cares," "Leaving On A Midnight Train," and "No Matter What"), the somber and heavy energy--particularly at the end--of 7 Park Avenue is centripetal, its force of movement towards a dark center. A real winter's twilight kind of album, especially the final tracks "Just How Lucky We Are," "No More," and "Ringside." These songs, stark and emotionally charged, were created during Pete Ham's final days in this world. They are aural diaries of his downward spiral, the weight on his shoulders, the unrelenting pressure, his sense of utter hopelessness. Yet, even near the tragic end, Pete's creative fire, lyrical sincerity, and melodic genius shown brightly in his compositions. In Pete's music, no matter how dark the cloud, there was always a silver lining.
In stark contrast to its predecessor, Golders Green, is more ethereal and uplifting. Its energy is more centrifugal--moving from the center to the periphery. Again, with a few notable exceptions ("I've Waited So Long To Be Free" and "Where Will You Be"), the overall feel is more buoyant and warm and experimental. Even with the occasional cloudburst this is definitely the album of a warm and sunny summer solstice.
I cannot really add too much to the observations made by others, particularly those found in Ken Sharp's lovely liner notes, regarding each specific song. The bookends "Makes Me Feel Good" (a brilliant idea), specifically the 1967 version, does indeed recall the Monkees and particularly Michael Nesmith. "Keyhole Street" is pure Kinks. "Good-bye John Frost" does sound like a lost gem from the White Album sessions. "Pete's Walk" would fit nicely amongst the numerous instrumental jams that Paul McCartney intermingled on his first solo effort. The jazzy, majestic "Dawn" does echo Chicago and is certainly, and unfortunately, unlike anything Badfinger as a group ever approached. "Helping Hand" is classic Pete, determined affirmation in the face of adversity.
The songs that really caught my ear were the ones least expected. The chugging music of the humorous "Richard" immediately made think of Cosmo's Factory era Creedence Clearwater Revival and dispels the pedestrian notion that Pete needed somebody to show him how to rock. "I've Waited So Long To Be Free" echoes John Lennon's "Working Class Hero," only with a dash of McCartney melodicism added for good measure. My favorite, though, is "Gonna Do It." This brief twenty-two second snippet is direct from the school of minimal input into overlapping tape systems introduced by Steve Reich in "It's Gonna Rain" and made famous by the Brian Eno in "Discreet Music" and "Music For Airports." In short, I was shocked to hear Pete Ham was, whether he knew it or not, experimenting in the realm of ambient music in the early 1970s! This song, more than any other on Golders Green, really makes me long for what might have been had Pete survived--what Eno himself would term "a nostalgia for a future that did not happen."
In closing I must say that I love Golders Green every bit as much as 7 Park Avenue. Taken separately each represents a different facet of Pete Ham's creative genius. Taken together they serve to give us a more complete picture of Pete Ham the man and Pete Ham the musician.
Thank you Dan Matovina for making Pete's magic available to us all!