Almost Hits: Andy Kim, “Rainbow Ride” (1969)

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I like to think I’m pretty normal, or at least I can pass for normal on most days. But as I get older, I’m beginning to visualize that somewhere, in the back of my mind, there’s an office where some part of me spends time sorting, evaluating and archiving memories of key events, moments, and influences in my life.

Some memories are kept current and out on the work table, constantly in sight and under continuous evaluation or re-evaluation; some are filed away only to be pulled out if and when they are needed; and some go right into the “circular file” (it’s like the Recycle Bin icon on your laptop for those of you not familiar with archaic euphemisms). And in that little office, there’s an old Emerson console entertainment unit — the old one piece wooden cabinet complete with record player, radio and speakers that was just part of the furniture of my childhood — and all it plays are scratchy old ’60s compilation records by K-Tel International. It’s probably not that farfetched an image, particularly to those of you of a certain age. Unfortunately for me, I’ve never been particularly well organized, so that part of me which is the backroom archivist hasn’t filed things away particularly well either, and it always seems like stuff ends up on my mind’s workbench when I’m supposed to be thinking about something else. I guess I’m just used to it; everyone in my life just gets used to it sooner or later as well.

Sometimes I get careless and verbalize whatever’s happening back in the workshop, which gets me a few raised eyebrows and some “Oh yeah? … well — how about that?” sort of comments that force the managing “front office” personality to re-emerge in order to provide a cover story or even some form of misdirection: “Sorry, folks — just a stray thought. Nothing serious going on here: Hey — a new Pope! What happened to the other guy?” Yeah, I know. Freud would’ve had a field day with this.

The more or less permanent displacement of the folder that contains Andy Kim’s “Rainbow Ride” is a fine example of just how disordered this filing system has become. Really — it’s just a semi obscure tune from the 60s that over the years sometimes didn’t even make it onto Andy Kim’s own greatest hits albums. So, what’s this song all about? The simple data says it was a single that cracked the Top 50 (peaked at no. 49) sometime in January of 1969 and didn’t linger around much after that. Looking into it a little deeper, it appears to have began life as the B side of “How’d We Ever Get This Way?” which was released in mid-1968, and charted somewhat better at #21. This A side was typical of Andy Kim’s pop material -– catchy, well written and well produced, which made it an easy sell in the late 1960s teeny bopper 45 RPM singles market.

“Rainbow Ride” was a little bit different: it had all the elements of a pop record, but it also had all the elements of a 60s psych/garage band production. So, you got not only the great lead and backing vocals singing typical pop mush angst and “Ooh-ooh-oohs,” but you also got the “Last Train to Clarksville” style electric twang-tone twelve string surf guitars. And for authenticity’s sake, there’s also some occasional electric organ riffing that swirls in and out of the mix that sounds much like Iron Butterfly trying to act casual while attempting an under the wall prison break where they’re stuck serving a life sentence of having to play “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Structurally, the song even has a flown-in-outta-nowhere bridge in a different key that plays hard and tough and right on top of the backbeat before the whole thing returns home to ride the coattails of the chorus to the fadeout — a pop masterpiece/monsterpiece if there ever was one. I mean, the chicks could dig it and the guys could dig it, too — it has “HIT” written all over it, right?

No such luck. The only way I can figure its failure to chart higher is this: perhaps when Kim’s management decided to promote “Rainbow Ride” as the new single, people who had already bought “How’d We Ever Get this Way?” already had “Rainbow Ride” as the B side, so they felt no need to buy it again. Too bad; I really think this song could have gone all the way to the top — well, Top Ten anyway. It’s a perfect balance of well written vocal hooks and pop clichés merged together with bursts of day-glo paisley sonic manipulations that could only be concocted in some way out on the edge of town psychedelic garage where the hippies bring their VW microbuses to repair or rest in peace. I can just imagine … though I’ve got to admit — it’s a building that looks a lot like my own cramped and messy archival headspace. If I’m being honest with myself, “Rainbow Ride” is not just a guilty pleasure that I ought to just file away to make room on my workbench/desk for examining something new and current.

As it turns out, Andy Kim’s “B side turned A side” is actually central to my personal understanding of all things rock and roll. Though “Rainbow Ride” seems to be lost to the ages as a bubblegum classic, it’s also a tribute to all those 60s production values that seem to have been made up on the spot by writers and producers who hijacked many contemporary pop music traditions, often with only a limited understanding of what technology was or wasn’t available. To that point, they sometimes even found themselves in no man’s land, breaking the rules that no one had even bothered to write up; they were too busy already circumventing new ones they didn’t even know were there to break.

Someone once said, “We cannot choose the things we remember.” Of course not — the fact is, when it comes down to it, maybe things usually get filed away correctly the first time, and songs like “Rainbow Ride” have every right to remain front and center on the mental work bench, along with Little Steven’s Underground Garage, Lenny Kaye’s original Nuggets compilation (and subsequent offspring), and the fundamental belief that every kid who rediscovers an E chord, a tremolo unit and a whammy bar is always a good thing. And so is Andy Kim’s almost hit “Rainbow Ride.”

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JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito spends most of his day keeping the wolves from the door. When he's not occupied with this pastime, he's interested in all things rock and roll -- which may or may not have died back in the late 1950s, the late 1970s, or the early '90s, depending on who you believe. Contact Something Else! at
JC Mosquito
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