Song Of The Day 10/24/2014: Think - "Once You Understand"

Cautionary Tales: C'mon -- how could I not? How else could I wrap up Cautionary Tales week than with Think's "Once You Understand," the 1971 single that tried to heal the generation gap in one lurid, melodramatic swoop? A pop moment indivisible from its era yet just as potent forty-plus years hence and, without question, one of the worst singles of all time. It takes herculean effort and elbow grease to pull off that kind of blubbering weltanschauung, and by God, that's what this semiliquid tonsil wag does. Let's just go straight to the bullet points.

  • "Once You Understand" was written and produced by Lou Stallman and Bobby Susser. Stallman wrote some other, much more substantial hits that were recorded by people like Clyde McPhatter, Dion & The Belmonts, The Supremes, Deniece Williams and the big boss man Perry Como. According to his website Stallman is "working on an exciting and dynamic Broadway Show." The web page is dated 2010. Susser was a childhood friend of Paul Simon's, and spent most of the rest of his career making children's albums. They seem like very nice guys.

  • "Once You Understand" was banned from radio stations in several U.S. markets for its "heroin content." I am relatively sure at least some of those stations' program directors came up with that excuse so they didn't have to play the record. Nevertheless it still managed to hit #23 on the Billboard Hot 100. This was in 1971. A lot of cringeworthy music ("One Bad Apple," "American Pie") was popular that year. So keep that in perspective.

  • The song came from a weird-ass album called Encounter, which is preserved online thanks to WFMU and Otis Fodder. Encounter features two songs surrounded by what sounds like an unscripted, rambling series of discussions between adults on the nature and pitfalls of child-rearing. Some of the conversations are appreciably honest and somewhat touching; they're just odd in this context.

  • The other song on Encounter is called "Let Him Go" -- and for what it is, it's actually pretty good. Killer hook, a gritty, throaty John Lennon-esque vocal, a sweet Nilsson-style brass outro. And no death by overdose.

  • In 1972 a "Christian psych band" called The Bridge actually covered "Once You Understand" -- and man, is their version off the chain. More of a Sam Shepard, True West kinda vibe.

  • Has "Once You Understand" been sampled? Of course! By 4Hero, the Deadkirks (both "Living" and "Death" mixes), 4 Horsemen Of the Apocalypse, Acen and, most creatively, Luke Vibert. Supposedly De La Soul sampled it for "Ego Trippin' (Part 2)," but I can't hear it.

  • When I played this song on my show at KAOS Olympia I would silence the cop's explanation of how Robert died -- "He died of an overdose" -- and make up another cause of death on the mic. The only one I remember coming up with "He had the patty melt at The Reef." (The Reef's gotten much better.)

  • If you can't figure out why this song rocks the world's socks off for yourself, you're stupid!!!!

  • Just kidding. Go join a group with your guitar.
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