Ain’t It Good, Ain’t It Right: Ode to a Classic

Andy Kim 1974

Forty years ago today (September 28), Andy Kim‘s enduring classic, “Rock Me Gently,” hit the top of the U.S. charts. Of course, back then the song wasn’t yet a classic, enduring or otherwise. The track had just been recorded a few months earlier, and the single was released in June, when it began its steady climb to the #1 position. For disc jockeys and program directors, it was little more than business as usual; records hit the streets, get included on radio playlists and loaded into jukeboxes, garner radio play, are purchased at retail outlets, and (hopefully) ascend the charts, with the lucky ones going all the way to the pinnacle. An everyday occurrence and nothing to get worked up over. For Andy, however, the process was nothing short of a miracle.

When Andy Kim finished composing “Rock Me Gently” in February of 1974, he knew he had come up with a winner. He could feel it in his very heart, through which the melody and lyrics had flowed with sublime ease during a ten-minute session on guitar. So convinced was he that this was the song that would mark his return to the music charts that he carefully put his guitar down and proceeded to do a hand-spring across his living room, followed by a return hand-spring back to his instrument and the window through which he’d been gazing as the poetry residing in his soul was made manifest. It was the sort of moment we all live for, when everything comes together and the less athletically inclined among us pump our fists in the air—”YES!” A moment of joy when our grins all but split our faces in two, and we feel at one with the Universe. For some people, this happens only a handful of times in a lifetime.

Yet Andy’s euphoria was quickly followed by a strong dose of reality: He had been without a record label since the previous year, and if his new creation was to see the light of day, he had to get that little dilemma solved. And fast. Though only in his twenties, he knew that time waits for no man; all we have is the present in which to act. This was a life and work ethic to which Andy held fast. He had had a run of success as a songwriter and recording artist on Jeff Barry’s Steed Records from 1968 to 1971, recording eleven singles and three albums for the label. Five of those singles, including his first effort, “How’d We Ever Get This Way,” hit the national Top Forty; his remake of “Baby, I Love You,” which has come to be as identified with Andy as with the group that originated it, The Ronettes, made the Top Ten and earned Andy his first gold record. After Jeff Barry discontinued Steed Records and relocated from New York to California, Andy was signed to Uni and recorded an eponymous album for the label, in 1973. The Montreal-born singer of Lebanese extraction was accustomed to moving forward; he hadn’t become a successful singer/songwriter by resting on his laurels or sitting on his ass. There was work to be done, arrangements to be made, music to record. Details such as booking a studio and finding a record company willing to press and release this new creation of his had to be seen to, as well as getting all of the promotional ducks in a row. Andy enlisted the help of his older brother, Joe, to help with the business end of his chosen profession; then he raided his piggy bank for the funds needed for studio time. The record wasn’t going to cut itself.

Andy Kim, 1970s

For a time it looked as if the record wasn’t going to be cut at all. But Andy was nothing if not resourceful, and he decided to bring Muhammad to the mountain, so to speak, by founding his own label, Ice Records—a fitting name for a Canadian-based company—and proceeding with the studio work on pure faith. After getting the track laid down to his satisfaction and with the remaining session time down to minutes, Andy made the decision that, rather than his recording another song as a “B” side for “Rock Me Gently,” its flip would be the instrumental backing track (which would be entitled “Rock Me Gently [Part II]”). Actually, the decision was made for Andy by his newly svelte piggy bank, which vetoed the idea of paying for another session.

Andy had done all he could. Things were now in the hands of the gods … who came through with flying colors when the folks at Capitol Records heard “Rock Me Gently” and decided to sign Andy to a record deal and to release the single, with its instrumental counterpart on the B side. Andy was on his way, and the song itself was on its way to attaining hit status.

The rest is musical history. “Rock Me Gently” began a steady climb to the top of the (U.S.) charts and would reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on September 28, 1974. It would go on to hit the #2 spot on the U.K. Singles Chart two weeks later, on October 12, 1974, and subsequently garner a second gold disc for Andy (which was intercepted and informally presented to him by John Lennon at the Capitol Records building!). In the years since, the song has stood the test of time and become a pop standard. It remains in constant rotation on classic rock radio stations and is probably being played somewhere on the planet at just about any given moment. It’s even been used in commercials. And, in 2012, Andy Kim himself good-naturedly recorded a parody of the song, entitled “Mock Me Gently,” for Toronto radio station CHBM-FM (Boom 97.3)’s Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest.

Andy Kim - Gold Record

“Rock Me Gently” came into being at the perfect time. First of all, it’s a wonderful dance tune, so it’s fitting that it became a hit as disco was emerging as a musical genre. Second, and perhaps more important for reasons of longevity, the song is classy; it makes perfect sense that it became a classic. “Rock Me Gently” is both romantic and sexy, without being blatantly sexual or using explicit lyrics of any sort; the physical intimacies are hinted at rather than baldly spelled out, with whatever may have been taking place between the sheets laying between the lines. It’s the perfect song for amorous couples to listen to during romantic nights in front of the fireplace, and in fact the track has shown up on more than one CD compilation of love songs. It’s safe to say that Andy Kim’s financial investment has paid off many times over—and his personal and emotional investment continues to pay off, with  multiple generations of music lovers reaping the dividends. Thanks to the dream and vision of Andy Kim, “Rock Me Gently” has become part of the world’s DNA.

Videos

Andy Kim – “Rock Me Gently” (official video):

Live Performance of “Rock Me Gently” by Andy Kim on Top of the Pops (UK, October 1974):

TV Commercial for Jif Cleaner (UK):

2008 Jeep Liberty “Pouring In” Commercial feat. “Rock Me Gently” (US, 2007):

Andy Kim (with Blair Packham) performing “Mock Me Gently” for Boom 97.3 FM’s Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest (Toronto, 2012):

Distinguished Artists: Interview with Andy Kim (2009):

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