Deep Tracks: The Grass Roots

GrassRootsMainIf you asked me to the describe the Grass Roots in just a few words, I would have to say “hit-making machine.” It’s really incredible how many great pop songs they churned out, from “Let’s Live for Today” and “Midnight Confessions” to “Sooner or Later” and the unforgettable “Temptation Eyes,” which caused me to fall in love with the band at age 14. But while many people have probably heard a Grass Roots song at some point in their life, they might not know much about the musicians behind it.

Truthfully, the Grass Roots have a rather complicated history, starting out as a nothing more than a vehicle for songwriting team P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, who passed the name on to a group formerly known as the Bedouins to record the first album. This incarnation soon dissolved, and was followed by the most successful lineup, which I would consider the “classic” one, consisting of Creed Bratton (vocals/guitar), Rick Coonce (drums), Warren Entner (vocals/keyboard/guitar), and Rob Grill (vocals/bass), who accepted the Grass Roots title upon signing with Dunhill Records. Even after the name had settled on some faces, however, the Grass Roots were still a fabricated group in many ways. Most of their hits were written by professional songwriters, while session musicians played much of the music on their records.

Yet, as the Monkees have taught us, being pre-fab doesn’t mean a band isn’t worth appreciating or exploring. In addition to their many hits, the Grass Roots put out plenty of catchy, interesting, and memorable songs that never went far on the charts, but still deserve to be heard. So, in chronological order, here are 15 of my favorite deep cuts, drawn from the B-sides, the albums, and the singles that just didn’t make it.

1) “Look Out Girl,” Where Were You When I Needed You (1966)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rAe9yzoqXE

Let’s start off with a fun, upbeat, and very typically ’60s pop song. “Look Out Girl” came out on the Bedouins’ album, which was largely just a studio cash-in on the current folk rock craze. But greedy corporate motivations aside, it’s still a really enjoyable song and a fine example of the great tunes Sloan and Barri were writing at the time. It’s also especially interesting to compare this Byrdsy number to the horn-laden, blue-eyed soul productions that would come to be associated with the Grass Roots only a few years later.

2) “Tip of My Tongue” (1967)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ2DZ3sA3sM

Another fabulous P.F. Sloan composition, and this time, it’s sung by the writer himself! There are actually two different versions of this song under the Grass Roots name. Rob Grill did the other one, which came out on Let’s Live for Today and the B-side of “Things I Should Have Said.” Some folks claim the first version was actually recorded by the Bedouins’ Bill “Willie” Fulton, but most sources I’ve read seem to agree that it’s Sloan, so that’s what I’m going by. Perhaps REBEAT should call up P.F. Sloan for another interview to settle the score.

You can also hear Grill’s remake here, which I think has a somewhat sadder, smoother feel.

3) “House of Stone,” Let’s Live for Today (1967)

I chose to include this song because it’s surprisingly psychedelic and heavy, at least compared to the usual Grass Roots fare. Although, it is much more upbeat and less abstract than Creed Bratton’s other bizarre composition, “Dinner for Eight,” which is interesting to hear, but not really all that great, so I didn’t include it on the list. “House of Stone,” on the other hand, has a nice, grungy garage rock quality. I love the fuzz guitar and oh-so-’60s keyboard, as well as the little guitar riff at the end of each chorus. It really makes me wonder what the band, formerly known as the 13th Floor, might have sounded like if they had stayed their path and never become the Grass Roots.

4) “No Exit,” Let’s Live for Today (1967)

Here, we have yet another garage rock-flavored tune, this one penned by Warren Entner, Rob Grill, and Creed Bratton, featuring a rather dark theme and tone that stand in contrast to the Grass Roots’ more uplifting anthems. I really dig the solo that sounds like it’s being played on a mandolin, and the cool harmonies, for whatever reason, sort of remind me of the opening to the Beau Brummels’ “Just a Little.” In my opinion, this song would fit right into one of the Nuggets collections, and it sets us up for the next album, which brought the group back to their roots (no pun intended).

5) “Feelings,” Feelings (1968)

As you may have noticed, I really like a lot of the songs that the band members came up with themselves. Many of the tracks from Feelings were written and played by the guys, hearkening back to their more experimental, DIY days. “Feelings” was the first Grass Roots title track not to chart, but nonetheless, it’s a very cool tune, especially with the harpsichord riff that runs throughout the song and that reoccurring xylophone line. It’s got an awesome groove and even features those classic trade-off vocals between Grill and Entner that helped make so many of their songs great. By the way, “Feelings” actually predates the Grass Roots, as it was written a few years earlier by Rick Coonce, Warren Entner, and Kenny Fukomoto, the band’s pre-Grill bassist who happened to get drafted just as they were signed to Dunhill. Talk about tough luck.

Note: I almost included “Hey Friend” from Feelings on this list, but only found one version on YouTube with horrible sound quality. I still urge you to check it out though for the mellow, sunshine-pop mood and Entner’s uniquely beautiful vocals.

6) “Baby You Do It So Well,” Lovin’ Things (1969)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOAZeKzrVjo

Lovin’ Things is such a fun album, and you’ll see that most of songs on this list come from it. I had a hard time choosing between tracks, but I picked “Baby You Do It So Well” because it’s a) incredibly catchy, and b) a perfect example of how the Grass Roots were beginning to take on their definitive blue-eyed soul sound with this album. And what’s more, the album proves they were really well-suited to the sound, as we finally get to hear Warren Entner and Rob Grill’s great soul vocals fully utilized in this era. Also, fun fact: “Baby You Do It So Well” is one of the last songs the Grass Roots would pull from the Sloan/Barri catalog, though Barri would continue to produce them for the remainder of their stay on the Dunhill label.

7) “I Can’t Help But Wonder, Elisabeth,” Lovin’ Things (1969)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnDz0xBpUl8

Making this list has reminded me just how much I love Rob Grill’s voice. I’ve always thought he was really good at conveying strong emotion, and he is basically the reason I chose to include this song. For another example of his singing chops, check out “Bella Linda,” one of my all-time favorites, which peaked at #28 and appears on a number of greatest hits comps. There’s not a whole lot more to say about “I Can’t Help But Wonder,” as it’s a fairly simple song. But it’s another nice Sloan composition, and I love how it highlights the Grass Roots’ softer, quieter side in a way that you don’t often see.

8) “I Get So Excited,” Lovin’ Things (1969)

I honestly believe that most of the songs on Lovin’ Things had pretty decent chart potential, but for whatever reason, they were never released as singles. “I Get So Excited” would’ve at least made a nice B-side, in my opinion. It’s got great energy and all the hallmarks of a Grass Roots hit: upbeat tempo, prominent horn section, passionate chorus, and a cool soul edge.

9) “Pain,” Lovin’ Things (1969)

Many of the Grass Roots’ singles like “Temptation Eyes” and “I’d Wait a Million Years” have what I would call a “desperate energy.” Like something big is happening, and the only thing you can do about it is sing your heart out! This is exactly the vibe I get from “Pain,” and that pure energy, stemming from Rob Grill’s emphatic vocals, the fast tempo, and the dramatic horn section is what makes the song really great.

10) “(You Gotta) Live for Love,” Lovin’ Things (1969)

While “(You Gotta) Live for Love” is a good tune in its own right, I have to admit that part of my motivation for adding it to the list was finding this cool clip, where we get to see the guys on American Bandstand. The individual interview at the beginning, as well as all the many closeups on his face, seem to imply that Warren Entner was supposed to be the frontman of the group, which does make sense because he sang lead a lot and was arguably the cutest. Although, I’ve personally had a soft spot for Grill ever since I met him at a concert when I was 15, and he signed my homemade Grass Roots t-shirt. I couldn’t stop smiling for an entire day.

But as for the song, it’s a great little pop number that complements Entner’s voice very well. The acoustic guitar and harmonica opening on the album version sort of bring to mind Neil Diamond’s early stuff, but it’s definitively a Grass Roots tune. Yet another fine effort by the unsung songwriting duo Entner and Grill, “(You Gotta) Live for Love” was actually the B-side of “The River Is Wide,” but could have held its own if the sides were flipped. I know I’ve managed to get the catchy chorus lodged in my head on more than one occasion.

11) “Back to Dreamin’ Again,” Leaving It All Behind (1969)

I really love the laid back attitude of many of the songs on Leaving It All Behind, and “Back to Dreamin’ Again” is no exception. By the way, is it just me or does this sound like a song that Rod Stewart might have covered? Never mind, it’s probably just me.

Anyway, this is one of those Grass Roots tunes, like “Lovin’ Things” or “Heaven Knows,” that just makes you feel good. Even though it’s kind of a sad song thematically, the music’s carefree mood is pretty infectious, and the way it swells from the quiet opening to the chorus immediately lifts my spirits.

12) “Don’t Remind Me,” Leaving It All Behind (1969)

I really love it when the Grass Roots get their country on. Granted, they only did that a few times, the other main example being “Truck Drivin’ Man” from this same album, which is even more countrified. But “Don’t Remind Me” has the same mellow attitude inherent in “Back to Dreamin’ Again” that I find so relaxing and comforting. I also like the contrast of the sad subject matter with the upbeat tempo (I feel like I’ve used the word “upbeat” way too many times today, but then, we are talking about the Grass Roots here), and it creates a nice melancholic vibe, especially with that twangy guitar. All in all, “Don’t Remind Me” just goes to show this band really ran the gamut of genres throughout the years.

13) “I’m Livin’ For You Girl,” Leaving It All Behind (1969)

“I’m Livin’ For You Girl” is somewhat comparable to “Baby Hold On,” which would come out the following year. But it doesn’t have quite as big of a hook, which is possibly why it was passed on as a single. I still love the spirit of it though, and it makes a great opener for the album. Plus, this is another prime example of that “desperate energy” that gets you really invested in the song. Don’t worry, Rob! It’ll all be okay!

14) “Keepin’ Me Down,” More Golden Grass (1970)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8dRGPqWYxU

And now, from left field, here’s some awesome heavy soul, courtesy of Dennis Provisor! I know I haven’t mentioned him up until now, but Provisor is a great musician with a ridiculously good voice who actually came in on Leaving It All Behind. He was only with the band for the tail end of their success, but he certainly made his contribution. I tend to think of him as the Michael McDonald of the Grass Roots, like how the Doobie Brothers were kind of R&B-influenced, but then Michael McDonald came along and brought it to a whole new level. That’s sort of what Provisor did for to the Grass Roots, and this song really showcases his talent. He also wrote and sang the band’s minor hit “Walking Through the Country,” as well as “Get It Together,” which was the theme song to a short-lived American Bandstand spinoff, hosted by Cass Elliot and Sam Riddle.

15) “Anyway the Wind Blows,” Move Along (1972)

The Grass Roots came out with a few more albums after Move Along, and although those contained some neat tracks like “Love Is What You Make It” and “Mamacita,” Move Along was the last album to produce any real hits. “Anyway the Wind Blows” was the only single to fail, dipping just below the Hot 100, but its soaring quality has earned it a warm place in my heart. It’s just so sweeping and dramatic, like the song that plays during the closing credits of a movie, and as usual, Rob Grill’s vocals are lovely. All things considered, I think it’s a perfect note for us to end this list on.

 

So those are my 15 picks for this edition of Deep Cuts! There are so many more I wanted to include, but if you enjoyed this list and are new to the Grass Roots, or have only heard a handful of their songs before, I’d highly recommend exploring their music further. They had some really wonderful minor hits, like “Come On and Say It” and “Glory Bound” that I’d hate for you to miss. Check out the All-Time Greatest Hits collection that got me started as a young fan, or the 1965-1975 Anthology if you’re willing to make an investment. I truly believe the Grass Roots are one of the most underrated pop bands out there, and their discography contains a lot of gems if you’re willing to do just a little bit of digging.

Do you have any favorite Grass Roots deep cuts that you would’ve included? Share them in the comments below!

About Gretchen Unico 31 Articles
Gretchen Unico is a 20th century pop culture fanatic and record collector from Pittsburgh, PA, currently breaking into a radio career in northern Ohio. Her favorite decades are the '60s and '70s, and she digs everything from bubblegum to hard rock. In her spare time, she enjoys watching old TV shows, movies, and rock docs, listening to and reading about music, and shopping for retro-inspired clothing, which she talks about on her fashion blog: The Retro Wardrobe.
  • George L

    Hi Gretchen! Yeah the Grassroots were great! Wonderful sunshine pop! “Back To Dreamin Again” is a great song. Did you know that back in 1969, a guy named Pat Shannon had a very minor hit with that same song. Keep rockin!