Good White Boys
It's easy to dismiss Johnny Rivers as a harder-edged Pat Boone, a male Linda Ronstadt, a lost member of the Crew Cuts—a gabacho who covered the work of black boys and found fame and fortune. Rivers did it with Chuck Berry's "Memphis, Tennessee," the Four Tops' "Baby, I Need Your Loving," the Miracles' "The Tracks of My Tears" and other tunes during the mid-1960s. But Rivers, who's performing at the Galaxy this Saturday, was also a great pop-rock songsmith in his own right, the man behind "Secret Agent Man" and other rollicking, Southern-y live songs (most recorded at the Whisky A Go-Go) that represented an alternative to the British Invasion. He's also the author of "Poor Side of Town," one of the stranger compositions to top the Billboard charts.
"Poor Side of Town" begins with schmaltzy violins and Rivers' soft, whiny voice shoo-be-doo-be-ing. The former flame of the song's protagonist has returned to him in shame, dumped by a rich guy who used her as "an overnight fling." The protagonist is ecstatic, not just with love but also schadenfreude: "Welcome back, baby/To the poor side of town," he states. The man isn't that bitter, though, and Rivers plaintively yodels that "With you by my side/They can't keep us down/Together we can make it baby/From the poor side of town." The heavy themes in the song—class conflict, the poor eating one another, one-night stands—is offset by a high-pitched flute and a syrupy female chorus: Rage Against the Machine by way of Muzak. After hearing "Poor Side of Town," you won't know whether to cry, wince or throw loose change toward the Galaxy stage.
Johnny Rivers with the Dave Silver Band at Galaxy Concert Theater, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.galaxytheatre.com. Sat., 8 p.m. $29.50. 16+.
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