Long ago in a land far, far away (okay, so it’s less than an hour away, depending on which international bridge you prefer), some dude wrote a book dedicated to the 100 ‘best singles of all time.’ I recall picking up a copy at Empire Books or Prospero or Leishman or one of the other fine independent bookstores in Capital City, and being happily surprised to see a deserved entry somewhere in the high 80s or low 90s: Another Girl, Another Planet by The Only Ones.
I was impressed. That is, until I read the author’s critique of the song. Dude explained (I’m not sure I’ve ever referred to someone as a dude before, so I’m going to get it out of my system in this post)… anyway, Dude related a story of how, upon learning the author was penning a book about the greatest singles of all time, a pal said: “Dude! Have you heard this?”
The author had not, despite the fact that — and I can’t stress this enough — he felt qualified to compile a list of the greatest singles of all time. Hence, The Only Ones’ inclusion.
I paused for a moment to consider what I had just read, before putting the book back on the shelf, never to be considered for purchase. It seemed to me that unless you are reasonably certain that you have heard every great single in the history of recorded music, you should not feel worthy of inflicting upon the public a supposedly authoritative list — in book form, no less. Had this dude heard Fairport Convention’s Meet on the Ledge? The Flamin’ Groovies’ Shake Some Action? Wreckless Eric’s Whole Wide World? Fist’s Hot Spikes? I didn’t see any of the above on his list, but that may merely have meant Dude did not listen to enough of his friends’ records.
Today, lists are everywhere. And, too often, they are similarly uninformed — if equally haughty. Music has never been more accessible; yet, this reality has likely made it impossible to truly keep up with every new sound that hits the ether. And as Homer Simpson might note, every new sound surely pushes some old nugget out of one’s selective memory.
Moreover, dear listmaker, what about all those neglected older sounds? What if, for instance, the greatest pop song of all time is not a familiar and well-worn classic? What if the greatest pop recording has never even made the virtual leap to YouTube, or iTunes, or Bandcamp, or whatever? What, indeed, if that masterpiece was only available in limited quantities, on an independent LP that is long out of print?
Friends, readers, listeners, have you met Wendy?
Now, I’m not saying Wendy is the greatest pop recording of all time. But I’m not saying it isn’t. I consider it, if a longshot, to at least be a contender for the title. And it can be yours on CD, it says here on Amazon, for as little as one penny. Plus postage. A bargain, by any measure. (Except for the postage.)
Few songs bring me greater joy than The Children’s 1989 toe-tapper. I dare say it is nearly impossible to not have a smile on your face by the end of the song’s visit to your ears. Only Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s recording of Swimming Song can perhaps better that experience. The warm vocal. The warmer sentiment. The insistent drums. Those jangly guitars. (Allmusic.com remembers the band as “a folk-rock/jangle-pop quartet,” doncha know.) Perfect.
And so, Children, I salute you.
And to that end, I have made an effort to find out what happened to the band behind two charming pop albums — and just who the heck Wendy is/was. It took some effort, but I did track down The Children’s Claudia Handler, living somewhere in New York state. She, in turn, directed me to Joseph Jedrlinic, her former writing partner, bandmate and lover.
It turns out the pair have a daughter — not, alas, named Wendy.
Indeed, according to the song’s co-writers, there is/was no Wendy. Or, perhaps, we are all Wendy. Certainly, Handler has entertained the latter thought.
“I was always a sucker for the Hold On Yoko/Don’t Worry Baby/everything’s-gonna-be-alright kind of songs,” she reveals. “That may have been in my head or heart when we worked on that song. You know, just believe in yourself and don’t you know who you’re betraying if you don’t. Maybe that sounds hokey. Maybe it’s not hokey. It’s true… It was just one of those please-believe-in-yourself songs.”
Nice. Nice to think the greatest pop song ever could offer such an inspiring message. I mean, I’m willing to listen to arguments for Lost Highway or Tracks of My Tears or Caroline, No or I Fall to Pieces or In the Wee Small Hours or The Grand Tour or… well, I could go on. It’s hard to beat a good downer of a song.
But sometimes a touch of optimism is a good thing.
“It is a catchy little song,” Handler observes after revisiting the tune for the first time in many years. “I love the opening, the guitar. And when (vocalist) Theresa (Pesco) comes in, it’s beautiful.”
It’s also, at two minutes and 25 seconds, the perfect length. Not a moment wasted.
“Joe said, ‘Let’s leave ’em wanting more,'” Claudia confirms. “We were big fans of the Beatle length. The 2:20, or whatever it was.” Indeed, the band’s self-titled debut full-length, on which Wendy can be found, is full of such brevity. And is the better for it. Credit the songwriting partners’ love of the 2:20 song. Credit producer Bob Rupe (he of The Silos). Credit Wendy, whenever we may find her.
Unfortunately though perhaps not surprisingly, neither Jedrlinic nor Handler can recall the moment when Wendy first entered the pair’s lives. But guitarist Jedrlinic remembers the time.
“I can imagine sort of how it went,” he muses. “You know, Claudia and I were really back and forth a lot; we were great editors of each other’s work. Probably I played a riff on guitar, and then we got into the whole idea. There is no Wendy that we actually know of, but she represented something. I just think, first of all a girl’s name in a song is always great; just ask Ray Charles. You can’t go wrong. Definitely, you put your situations and your own thoughts about things into your songs. Maybe the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
“I’m proud of it. To listen to it after so many years, it holds up in so many ways. Maybe we should think about re-releasing it through iTunes.”
Maybe you should, Children. Maybe you should.
After all, Handler boasts of receiving as many as “a letter a year from somebody who has the album.” That means this year’s letter writer is me. For now. Here’s hoping that number can at least triple in 2015.
And if you can one day find The Children on iTunes or purchase the album for more than a penny, my work is done here. All part of spreading the word about a great pop record. Twenty-six years after the fact.
And well over 26 years since young Claudia and Joe grew up together on Long Island and began to collaborate on songs.
As The Children, with bandmates Pesco and Michael la Volpe (the “Ringo” of the local music scene, Jedrlinic recalls) they would release an EP and two LPs, and with Wendy would make the world a better place to listen to. The albums received favourable press and airplay on campus radio stations, including CKCU. Touring, however, was not a priority for the quartet, and never really happened. “Everybody had dayjobs,” is Jedrlinic’s explanation. There were also issues with management, or the lack thereof.
Ultimately, he adds, as can happen with friends, bands and lovers, “Life gets in the way.”
(Incidentally, before we spoke neither Jedrlinic nor Handler was aware of the existence of the Ottawa-based band The Children, the 1960s combo that gave Bruce Cockburn and David Wiffen their first taste of singing and songwriting success. The Children was, Handler concedes, perhaps not the most original name for a band, “But it suited who we were.”)
Life would take Handler to an unreleased album of songs about penises, to the west coast, to teaching and to poetry, before bringing her back east and back to songwriting. Jedrlinic, who produced the second Children album (some of whose songs can be found in the digital world), also took to teaching while continuing to write and produce, and to design and build recording studios. Their daughter Cleo, meanwhile, is doing very well in her own artistic right, and can be seen in a new web series called Young Like Us.
As for The Children, Jedrlinic looks back on it as “a labour of love, definitely.” It’s a sentiment echoed by his former partner, who tearfully speaks of love being “slathered” on the songs. And of Theresa’s “sweet and powerful and unpretentious” voice. “We loved writing for Theresa,” she says.
The Children existed for but a brief time; Jedrlinic and Handler wrote a number of lost-lost songs never recorded by the band. And, perhaps prompted by memories of Wendy, Jedrlinic notes, “I see the possibility of future collaborations.” Moreover, both grown-up Children are favourable to the idea of making Wendy and her siblings available once more. For one thing, as Jedrlinic was reminded while trying to track down the original masters and in the process finding many a corrupted file, it would be a handy way to make that scant catalog more permanent.
(Indeed, even the Wendy file he kindly donated for this post was ultimately culled from a compact disc.)
Fingers crossed, The Children’s wonderful music may live to soothe again. Just believe in Wendy.
You’re welcome, music lovers.
Me, I’ll always have the vinyl. (“You have that one on vinyl?” Jedrlnic says with some envy. “I wish I had vinyl.” Sorry, it’s not for sale.)
And, as becomes clear while chatting with Handler and Jedrlinic, The Children remain dear to hearts other than my own. Here’s to future collaborations.
Wendy vocalist Pesco, by the way, would later view firsthand what stable management can do for a band by working for U2. Handler recalls joining her former bandmate at a Los Angeles stadium show during her west-coast years. “Most boring concert I ever attended,” she reflects. “I don’t think my toe tapped once.”
But then, U2 never wrote a song like Wendy.