Gold by John Stewart (RSO, 1979)

The man who was a member of the Kingston Trio in the early 60s and wrote the Monkees’ #1 hit, Daydream Believer came from out of nowhere and placed a Top 5 hit in the summer of 1979. John Stewart might not have been a name most people were familiar with, especially pop music fans. He hung around the folk circles and recorded solid but mostly unsuccessful LPs throughout the 70s. Until one day he hooked up with Lindsey Buckingham & Stevie Nick, who were still riding a ridiculous high from their 1977 domination due to the Fleetwood Mac LP, Rumours. Any sighting of a Mac member was instant news and just about anything they touched turned to….yup, gold.

That’s not to say John didn’t write a good song to begin with. Actually I would loved to have heard an acoustic version of Gold. It’s a very basic song with simple lyrics. But the production gives it a very late-night spooky feel. There’s not much even there, just an electric piano, snare & bass drum, electric guitar strumming in the distance. The arrangement is so sparse, it feels like the song is just going to disappear. The song breaks down, then that bass drum kicks in on the 1-2-3-4 and of we go again. You gotta love those harmony vocals by Stevie Nicks. It sounds like she’s drunk or she’s agreed to one take and then she needs to go meet her dealer.

They capture the feel perfectly of driving at night through the California lights. John pops his guitar in the car, excited for that next gig and speeds off. His buddy, Jim Bass, works pumping gas at a gas station. Don’t see that nowadays, except if you’re in New Jersey. Dude makes $2.50 hr…really? Sounds like Navin Johnson in the Jerk. The guy spends his days tapping our rhythms on gas cans and singing rock & roll in the shower. Is this supposed to be inspirational or pathetic? I guess there’s people out there turning music into gold, but Jim Bass ain’t one of them. The one line I will agree with is California girls are the greatest in the world, each one a song in the making. To which, Brian Wilson replies, ‘Duh!’.

Ironically even though this hit #5 and his LP, Bombs Away Dream Babies hit the Top 10, neither turned to Gold. As a consolation, he was mistaken for Garry Shandling once in a while.

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9 Comments

  1. Ironically, a Gold record wasn’t that big a deal by 1979. But…it’s really hard to rhyme something to “Double Platinum.”

    Interesting dissection of the instruments. Now, I’ll ask if anybody knows: who was involved in more side projects while away from their massively successful groups in the late 70s/early 80s…Buckingham/Nicks or Michael McDonald?

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  2. I had always assumed that producer Lindsay Buckingham played the guitar solo on this. But apparently John Stewart himself played it; he decided that he would mimic Lindsay’s style. It is a dead-on impersonation of Linday’s style (at the time). Love, love, love this song. And one day i’ll make it to California to see if he’s right about those girls…

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  3. This song hit radio just about the time I was starting to pay attention. I remember that it was inescapable that summer and it really jumped out from everything else.

    Spooky is an excellent description of its vibe.

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  4. By the way, I always wondered how our man John know that his buddy Jim Bass sang rock ‘n’ roll (or any genre for that matter) in the shower. It’s not really info that he should have, is it? (Sorry, that was childish really.)

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  5. Al

     /  May 28, 2012

    Interesting that you mention that Stevie said she sounded like it was one take so she could go meet her dealer, that’s not that far from what happened. She was there to sing background on “Midnight Wind” from the same album, but since she was there John asked her to sing on “Gold” as well.

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  6. Jason Martin

     /  November 23, 2012

    Its such a shame the greatness of people like John Stewart are so overlooked by so much of the crap our kids and grandkids listen to today. John was an incredible writer and singer. While the Kingston trio opened doors for John, they never hit their heights till John joined in. What a great talent. I miss him and always will

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  7. Road Food

     /  April 15, 2014

    I’m not exactly sure where the author was going with this critique, but this was a song that rode the Rumours wave perfectly. Yeah, the [lead] vocals are entirely different, but the guitar and the background vocals — not to mention Buckingham’s production values — would’ve made a great foundation for a track 12 on the prolific Fleetwood Mac classic. This is a great track from this particular period of the pop rock music genre.

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  8. W.B.

     /  April 5, 2015

    Re. ‘Chris S.’s’ question: Anyone notice that there was no record in the late 1970’s that had both Stevie Nicks AND Michael McDonald on backing vocals on the same song?

    But per ‘Jason Martin’, it’s not necessarily true that The Kingston Trio were at a higher peak after Stewart joined. He came in to the Trio in 1961 as a replacement for Dave Guard who’d departed amidst much acrimony – and during whose run with the group they had countless #1 albums (plus the top-charted “Tom Dooley” single); none of the albums they issued after Stewart joined got higher than #3. Incidentally, it was Guard who was responsible for the title of Stewart’s biggest-selling album – Guard occasionally used the “Bombs Away Dream Babies” saying in lieu of a countdown to starting a song during concerts.

    And Buckingham has openly admitted over the years that The Kingston Trio was one of his biggest influences.

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

     /  November 19, 2016

    This is a song that has Neil Young written ALL over it, imo. Neil should cover it. It’s his voice I hear in my head when I listen to Gold.

    Reply

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