John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“Call Me”

Chris Montez invented soft rock with this classic. Don’t blame him for what followed.

By - Jul 31st, 2015 03:46 pm
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Chris Montez

Chris Montez

The sad, whimpering end of a once-proud form, that nasty little vibe-killer we nowadays call soft-rock and can only hope is prosecutable, was probably invented by this artist. It can be carbon-dated to the day this song was released in 1965 to generally wide acclaim, achieving a high chart position. In the same way it’s possible to blame the amazing Smoky Robinson for the sleep-inducing “Quiet Storm” format of a few years back, Chris Montez, a wonderful Chicano singer from East L.A., might have to bear the onus for springing soft rock and, ultimately, Bread, upon the world.

Montez has a mighty claim to a place in rock and roll history by virtue of his first couple of hits, Let’s Dance and Do You Wanna Dance? These songs not only rocked, they sent him across the ocean to England, where he had to ask the name of his opening band, The Beatles. Back in the U.S., after a couple quieter years, he was talked into the easy-listening strategy by none other than Herb Alpert, owner of his new label, A&M. This was in increasingly hard rocking mid-1960s and hardly an opportune time to go all adult. Montez resisted, but eventually relented and is probably very glad he did.

Call Me, a song that could be used as a primer in the study of jazz harmony, was a clever song by a very clever Brit named Tony Hatch. It had already been recorded by Petula Clark, that ray of of peppy sunshine given human form, who scored constant hits with his songs. With songs like Downtown and Don’t Sleep In The Subway, you might compare Hatch’s well-constructed pop pieces to those of Burt Bacharach. While he had fewer hits, the ones he had were immediate earworms, drilling deep into the prefrontal cortex.

I like to pull this one out when the guitar students want to take a step beyond the three chord structures common in blues, country and rock. It’s such a nifty set of changes, notable for the seamless way each verse cycles through three different keys then drops you back home with a neat little melodic twist. It’s such a friendly and unassuming bit of expression that it soon became ubiquitous, heard in lounges and ski resorts  around the world. Here are the oh-so-chipper lyrics, as bright as our high summer weather:

If you’re feelin’ sad and lonely
There’s a service I can render
Tell the one who loves you only
I can be so warm and tender

Call me, don’t be afraid, you can call me
Maybe it’s late but just call me
Call me and I’ll be around

When it seems your friends desert you
There’s somebody thinking of you
I’m the one who’ll never hurt you
Maybe that’s because I love you

Call me, don’t be afraid, you can call me
Maybe it’s late but just call me
Call me and I’ll be around

Now don’t forget me ’cause if you let me
I will always stay by you
You’ve got to trust me, that’s how it must be
There’s so much that I can do

If you call I’ll be right with you
You and I should be together
Take this love I long to give you
I’ll be at your side forever

Call me, don’t be afraid, you can call me
Maybe it’s late but just call me
Call me and I’ll be around

© Tony Hatch (No, Robert Plant, and the seven others listed at one site, did not contribute to the writing. If anyone knows how all these extra names get tacked on at these lyric sites, well, call me.)

One thing you hear more often in easy listening or soft rock are major and minor seventh chords. I’ve mentioned these before — they are built with four notes, one more than simple majors and minors. Favored by those who create jazz or standards, they take advantage of that little hint of complexity to deliver emotions that are a little cooled off and at a distance, unlike those hot-headed triads. The net effect is often songs that leave room for the listener to conjure their own stories.

Chris Montez is still around, as his song promises, and the oldies circuit is his to milk as long as he cares to. His breeziness and beaming smile might offend those who prefer the scowl, but you get the sense he comes by it naturally. More than a soothing singer of aural wallpaper, Montez is one of many Mexican/American singers, many who grew up near him, who added their very soulful voices to early rock and roll. Listen closely and you can hear in his voice a wonderful tradition that extends in an unbroken line from Richie Valens to David Hidalgo of Los Lobos — none of them all that interested in irony or anger, but all of them able to make you feel something warm and special. Let’s hope there are more in the pipeline.

One thought on “Sieger on Songs: “Call Me””

  1. Wayne Corey says:

    I do not recall, nor do I see any evidence, that Chris Montez ever recorded “Do You Wanna Dance.” That song began as a 1959 hit for Bobby Freeman and was subsequently recorded by numerous artists including the Beach Boys. “Do You Wanna Dance” is one of the all-time great summer R&R songs, IMO. It was a hit just before R&R became more tame. “Let’s Dance” by Chris Montez was a fine record with a great cheesy organ riff but it didn’t have the rock drive of Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Wanna Dance.”

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