I came late to Before Today (4 A.D.) – the grand-pop blowout by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, all over 2010’s best-of lists – with good reason: the self-conscious indie-loner eccentricities and lo-fi bric-a-brac on the leader’s previous records. But Before Today has stayed in heavy rotation for a great reason: track two. And it’s a cover.
“Bright Lit Blue Skies” was composed by singer-bassist Ronn Campisi of the Boston mid-Sixties quartet the Rockin’ Ramrods and originally issued by that band (as the Ramrods) on the Plymouth label in the summer of 1966. The single was a perfect nugget of its time – aspiring-Beatles ingenuity with a Byrds-style twelve-string-guitar lick and long, sighing vocal harmonies. The song was a regional smash too, going Top 20 that August on WBZ in Boston, then resurfacing during the first garage-rock revival, on an early-Eighties LP, Bay State Rock Vol. 1: The Sixties (Star-Rhythm). “Bright Lit Blue Skies” is now on iTunes with other Ramrods A- and B-sides, including the wistful charmer “Mr. Wind” and a spirited takeover of the Beatles’ “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
Ariel Pink’s version of “Bright Lit Blue Skies” is fuller in arrangement and choral flash – what the Rockin’ Ramrods might have done with the song if they were the Beatles and had all the time in the world at Abbey Road. Pink and his Graffiti maintain that high standard of pop’n’glow – modern evocations of the mid-Sixties Beach Boys and British tea-time psychedelia – all through Before Today, with the notable exception of “Round and Round,” which is closer to the shark-skin sheen of British New Romanticism. But printing the words to the originals was a mistake. The lyrics (and titles) of “Butthouse Blondies” and “Menopause Man” are unworthy of the music, compared to Campisi’s second verse in “Bright Lit Blue Skies”: “My tired thoughts are/Just like chalk/Rub it across your mind/Just like a clock/2:45 and 8 PM/I’m sorry but you won’t see me again.”
Now that’s great weird goodbye.