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Bargain Bin Babylon: The Golden Earrings

Bargain Bin Babylon: The Golden Earrings

One of the best ‘60s pop records you can get for the money.

Sometimes a knockoff is better than the original. At least, in a complicated discographical switcheroo, that’s what you have with this quickie, tacky 1974 repackage of a 1967 album. While certain pressings of this durable beat/baroque pop album (under its original title Winter Harvest fetch high prices, The Golden Earrings shouldn’t cost you more than a fiver.

The Dutch hard rock band Golden Earring (they started out plural but dropped it in 1969) had been kicking around for more than a decade by the time they had their first international breakthrough with “Radar Love,” from the 1973 album Moontan. That AOR staple with its driving beat and anthemic chorus suddenly gave the band—and MCA Records–a worldwide hit. Somebody at Capitol Records must have realized they had the band’s sophomore album—seven years old by the calendar but seeming much further away stylistically–in their coffers. Why not repackage it to capitalize on the (albeit modest) Golden Earring-mania?

That’s how The Golden Earrings came about. The reversion to the band’s original plural name (and the definite article they dropped after 1967) and the fact that it sounded nothing like ‘Radar Love” may have led to some confusion. But here’s the thing; the band’s songwriting was better in 1967. Co-founders George Kooymans and Rinus Gerritsen, who were teens when they formed the band in The Hague in 1961, would of course be influenced by the Beatles. But
the drastic contrast between Golden Earring’s very different stylistic periods might best be likened to that of another band that made the transition from the foppish mid-‘60s to the heavy mid-‘70s: It’s as if someone came upon the Kinks’ “Destroyer” and went back to “Waterloo Sunset.” Sure, that ‘70s energy is more rockin’ than the introspective character study of the ‘60s.

Golden Earring wasn’t as good as the Kinks, but that’s the kind of stylistic de-evolution you hear. Imagine the perplexed listeners who’d heard “Radar Love” on the radio and brought this album home to hear the opener “Smoking Cigarettes” playing; it’s a mid-tempo rocker sung from the point of a guy whose girl has gone and so now he’s just wasting time. The strong bassline and mildly bluesy feel shifts from blue-eyed soul to Beatlesque harmonies. No, they weren’t as good as the Beatles either; but maybe they were as good as the Pretty Things, if a little more fey.

“In My House” is a good example of their distinct Dutch Invasion pop hybrid. A rock ‘n’ roll piano intro with onomatopoeic harmonies starts things out from the blues, with rhythmic verses calling out a confident invitation: ”In my house/ You have everything you need.” But a middle section shifts into a subtle, softer melody, as if this is just a practice run for a real girl: ”And someday you’re gonna be happy/ And someday you will be mine.” A fevered Hammond organ solo worthy of blue-eyed soul gently shifts this deceptively simple track in yet another direction.

Tracks like “Baby You Make Me Nervous” keep the Earrings going as solidly as any other rocker of the time. But the most brilliant track here is the haunting “You Break My Heart.” Singing against what sounds like rhythm guitar played on harpsichord (none is credited), this bitter lament tells of a man who’s done his woman wrong: “Darlin’ darlin’ where have you been/ I said words I didn’t mean/ I’ve been searching everywhere for you.” There’s an organ solo played at the upper registers of the instrument, and the fugue-like rhythms and baroque instrumentation suggests a mini-rock opera in period clothing—and it’s all over in 1:59.

Golden Earring has gone on to release more than two dozen albums, but most American listeners may not have gotten much farther than Moontan. And much of that later work is available to stream on Spotify. Unfortunately, the only way you can hear The Golden Earrings/Winter Harvest online is in pieces on YouTube. So go ahead and pick up a physical copy of this gem—it’s one of the best ‘60s pop records you can get for the money.

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