Thursday, June 27, 2013

Forgotten Music Thursday: Gladstone - A Piece of Paper (1972)

Have you ever heard of Mike Rabon? No? I didn't think so. He was the lead guitar player for The Five Americans, a band that charted five singles a long time ago. They reached the top twenty only once, in 1967, with "Western Union," a song co-written by Rabon that is still played on oldies radio stations today.

Eventually, The Five Americans went their separate ways and in the early 70s Rabon hooked up with another band, Gladstone ("From down home in Tyler, Texas U S A," their debut album cover said). From that LP the unknown group lifted "A Piece of Paper," as a single. It only got as high as number 45 on the charts in October 1972.

The song's title was derived from the fact that all it takes to decree something legal, moral or not, is a signed piece of paper. Its lyrics are telling: "Some folks live by others paper, some folks live like they should." Featuring some very nice vocal harmonies, "A Piece of Paper" accurately reflected the era in which it was conceived. The band used it as a vehicle to express their opinions on many of the changing social norms and politics that were popular at the time. In less than three minutes the song's lyrics cover a lot of ground: the draft, war, marriage, religion, and abortion. It's a fine piece of music but it's a relic of its era so that could be the reason why the 45 RPM continues to languish in eternal obscurity.

Gladstone released a second album that received even less attention than the first one, which means no one heard it at all.

Rabon eventually gave up rock 'n roll for teaching. He went back to school, received a master's degree, and worked in Oklahoma's public school system for three decades.

7 comments:

  1. I'd never heard this until it came on a compilation I bought several years ago. Its overt mention of abortion is interesting, given that it was recorded and released before Roe v. Wade, when abortion would have been legal in some states and not in others.

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  2. Yep, when abortion still carried a very infra dig stigma even among folks who, when pressed, would probably be at least functionally pro-choice.

    Nice bitter song!

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  3. I vaguely remember hearing this on the radio way back when. Hearing it now I'd say it earned its status as "forgotten".

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  4. Hey Charlie: I BOUGHT the "Piece of Paper" 45 when it came out -- it got quite a bit of airplay in Tacoma, Wash., when I was 12 years old. Thought the vocals were nice -- the message was kind of secondary. Still have the 45, too. Interesting how open radio station playlists were back then -- a song that criticized issues as directly as this one does probably wouldn't get much airplay now....
    Thanks for the blast from the past....

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  5. They were still free to criticize abortion. Good times.

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  6. The lyrics date the song (not really if you understand their message) but those harmonies are timeless. I only heard this song on the radio a few times when it was released, but carried it in my head until Napster let me hear it again. Thanks for remembering it yourself, and thanks for the info on Rabon.

    Alby
    albydm@aol.com

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  7. Doug Rhone who was a key part of Gladstone - composer, guitarist, and leader, has been one of the guitar players and back up singers for Neil Diamond for decades.

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