Saturday, June 16, 2007
Nothing Says Lovin' Like Something From the Coven
I know what you're wondering: How did not one but two separate groups take the enormously meaningful ballad "One Tin Soldier" onto the pop charts in the early '70s? The song actually dates from the 1960s, when it was written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who would go on to write such hits as "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)" for the Four Tops and "Don't Pull Your Love" for Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds (whose name always greatly confused me -- it consists of one name that is almost always a surname, one name that is always a first name, one name that is almost always a first name, and one name that is always a surname, but now I've learned that it's actually three guys, Hamilton [a surname], Joe Frank [a first and middle name] and Reynolds [a surname], which is still pretty confusing.)
"One Tin Soldier" became a hit when it was cut by the Canadian pop group the Original Caste in 1970, when they took it to Number 34 on the American pop charts and Number One in Canada. This version is bland, earnest and self-important: very Canadian. It's probably not the one you know.
Then in 1971, Tom Laughlin asked a singer named Jinx Dawson to cut a version of the song for the enormously meaningful movie he was directing, co-writing and starring in, Billy Jack. Dawson sang with a band called Coven, whose quasi-Satanism seems almost comically opposite to the Godspell-like quasi-Christian message of the song. Coven's previous album was called Withcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls (that's it at above left, looking like the cover of a bad Jim Thompson novel) and included the non-hits "The White Witch of Rose Hall," "Dignitaries of Hell," and 13 minutes of chanting and Satanic prayers called "Satanic Mass." Go ahead and hate your neighbors, indeed. In addition, the bassist for Coven (which originated in, of all places, Indianapolis) was named -- no kidding -- Oz Osbourne.
Then came "One Tin Soldier." Coven's version is theone you know, a nastily delivered parable of peace and violence, although it wasn't much more of a hit than the Original Caste's version, reaching Number 26 in the fall of 1971 after entering the Top 40, appropriately enough, on the day before Halloween. That was the end of the line for Coven; their subsequent album, Blood on the Snow (as Count Floyd would say, "Ooh, scary, kids!"), flopped, so they put out "One Tin Soldier" again -- twice actually, neither version even reaching the Top 50. For Coven, there won't be any trumpets blowing come the Judgment Day.