Happy birthday to David Gates, the mastermind behind Bread, who turns 69 today. Bread purveyed a variety of music - wimp-pop - that is more or less reviled these days, but they did it far better than anyone else did, and that deserves our respect. Bread's oeuvre is much more satisfying than that of, say, Lobo, and worlds better than the likes of Ambrosia or Gino Vannelli.
The way Gates dis this was by avoiding the pompous self-pity of most wimp rockers, coming across instead as more ruminative about his often-pathetic fate. The basic theme of most Bread hits was to manfully face up to the fact that the woman you loved has become more interested in someone else; this is the idea behind "It Don't Matter to Me," "Aubrey," "Diary," "Everything I Own," "Lost Without Your Love," and probably a few others I'm forgetting. Even in "Baby I'm a-Want You," he is aware of the need to be a-praying that she'll always be a-staying beside him.
To see how these things can be handled badly, one need only listen to Chicago's bombastic "Look Away," maybe the worst Number One hit of all time. But Gates greets these moments with quiet acceptance, which makes them all the more heartbreaking. In "Diary," he ends up wishing for his ex-wife all the sweet things she can find with her new husband, which is probably more than I'd be capable of. It's not even like he's set his sights all that high; in "Aubrey," he sings, "I'd go a million times around the world just to say/She had been mine for a day." For a day!
"Aubrey" to me is the key song in the Bread catalog. In some ways, it's simple-minded - Gates actually rhymes "moon" and "June" - but it's also a gorgeous melody, and his singing, quietly evoking an obsessive memory, is stunning. "And Aubrey was her name/I never knew her, but I loved her just the same/I loved her name": The repetition of "name" echoes like the repetition of a memory you can't shake, and he sinks into a reverie when he sings that last line, wholly convincing himself that even her name had reached a kind of perfection. It is a nice name.
All of Bread's hits came in the short period between 1970 and 1973 (they were like the wimp-rock CCR), except for a brief reunion in 1976 that produced the hit "Lost Without Your Love." On that song Gates sounds like he has just returned from the dentist with a mouth full of novocaine; I would honestly like to know why his tongue sounds so thick. God only knows what was going on there.
Actually, David Gates' birthday is December 11. I just felt like writing about Bread. This, though, is the truth: Telly Savalas went all the way to Number One in the U.K. with a spoken-word cover version of "If." Crazy, huh?