Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Bread
1972 was a year of hard-rockin’: the Rolling Stones cut their classic Exile On Main Street, the Allman Brothers invited everyone to Eat A Peach and Rod Stewart promised Never A Dull Moment. The Band, Led Zeppelin, the Kinks and Creedence Clearwater Revival still walked the earth. But when it came to rockin’ the top of the pop charts, there was really nobody like Bread.
You might consider Bread to be some mellowed-out schmaltz for old hippies, but back in the day those mellifluously rockin’ hits could sink their sharp little hooks in your soft fleshy parts. So get ready – today we’re spinning Baby I’m-A Want You, Bread’s fourth and most commercially successful album.
Bread was made up of four members who happened to be virtuoso musicians, and most of the lead vocals were handled by David Gates and James Griffin, who also wrote the lion’s share of the group’s songs. In 1971 original bassist Robb Royer left and was replaced by another virtuoso, Larry Knechtel (who played the piano on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”). This foursome started the Baby I’m-A Want You LP with a guitar rocker, “Mother Freedom.” This is safe, middle-of-the-road rock: everything is very tastefully played and sung.
Then comes the title song, written and sung by Gates. Today, as then, you could hear the enormous influence that Paul McCartney had on Gates’ work. “Down On My Knees” doesn’t resemble the Beatles as much it does Badfinger; nevertheless, you can see the place Bread filled in the era’s pop music. “Knees” is sung by Griffin, and it’s listed as a co-write between him and Gates. There was some tension between the two, because Gates’ songs were usually chosen for the A-sides of the singles and those were the tunes that became big hits.
Griffin’s voice was a little rougher, and a little more rock and roll, truth to be told. On his “Nobody Like You” you can hear his lighthearted approach, which was appealing but maybe not as chart-friendly as Gates’. But Gates dominates – “Everything I Own” and “Diary” are cut from the same cloth as the title song, and naturally they were also Top 40 hits. When Gates tried his hand at anything but ballads, he was less successful, as with the message songs “This Isn’t What The Governmeant” and the aforementioned “Mother Freedom.”
Baby I’m-A Want You went gold, as did the followup, 1972’s Guitar Man. The group would go just a bit longer, and by 1974 the group disbanded. David Gates had a moderately successful solo career – remember his “Goodbye Girl” hit from the movie? – and in 1996 he rejoined Griffin, Knechtel and drummer Mike Botts in a regrouping of Bread. They toured for about a year then broke up again, this time for good. Griffin and Botts died in 2005, Knechtel in 2009. As Bread, they made beautiful and gently rockin’ music together.