In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
The folk-rock explosion was, in a lot of ways, a necessary advancement. And in a lot of ways, it was great. This generation of bohemian kids who’d grown up on the poppier outgrowths of the Greenwich Village folk revival and who’d then had their minds blown by the Beatles were hybridizing the things that they loved, doing fascinating things with them. In the realm of pop music, folk-rock found room for psychedelic spaciness and sonic experimentation. But it only took a year for folk-rock to become easy listening, and that’s where the Association come in.
The Association were a six-piece band who formed out of the morass of the pre-hippie scene in Los Angeles. Its members had played in folk bands and in a massive 13-man folk-rock club band called the Men. Bandleader Terry Kirkman had been college buddies and occasional bandmates with Frank Zappa. They’d had their first hit with “Along Comes Mary,” a fun-enough kinda-psych rocker that may or may not be about weed. But “Cherish” — the Association’s first #1, but not their last — was the moment that they dissolved into absolute fluff.
There are things about “Cherish” that should be good — things that look nice on paper. The Association were singing in lush, Beach Boys-esque harmonies, and they were doing it over intricately layered guitars and banjos and horns. But “Cherish” is a bloodless affair, a sickly-sweet melody backing up a somewhat creepy lyric about fixating too hard on a girl.
The narrator of “Cherish,” rendered in florid multi-man harmony, is looking for the right word to tell a girl how much she means to him. (He settles, of course, on “cherish,” which is not a good enough word.) But he’s talking about her from afar, and he knows that he’ll never get a shot from her. So there’s some bitterness in the way he talks about her: “I want you / Just like a thousand other guys / Who’d say they loved you / Like all the rest of their lies.” Easy there, bud.
Songs like this — vaguely queasy pop songs with lush and lightly orchestral arrangements — would pretty much dominate pop music for a few years in the early ’70s. The Association got there first, but they don’t get any points for it.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Jodeci’s not-bad new jack swing cover of “Cherish,” from the soundtrack to the 1991 movie Fried Green Tomatoes: