July 9 2011: Battle in the City by A.M. Gately (US Columbia Promo 45, 1969)

This promo 45, featuring the same song on both sides, was passed on to me a couple of years ago by a friend, and while I’ve loved its sunlit melancholy tone, built around acoustic guitar, cello/strings and horns since first hearing it, it took a long time to find out more about the mysterious A.M. Gately and his recording career. It turns out that he wrote and recorded mostly under the name Michael Gately, releasing several singles (perhaps the least obscure with Robert John, a rather lovely Beach Boys inflected bit of sunshine pop called If You Don’t Want My Love) and two US albums, Gately’s Cafe (1971) and Still Round (1972), both on the Janus label. Both LPs feature contributions from Gately’s regular collaborator Al Kooper (for whom he seems to have returned the favour, appearing as a writer, arranger and backing vocalist on Kooper’s own records) but despite his links to better-known musicians, a berth on a major label, and the fact that it’s clear he was a highly distinctive singer-songwriter, with plenty of commercial promise, it seems none of Gately’s various releases left the kinds of mark they deserved to, and Gately himself eventually died of a heart condition in 1982 at the age of 39. All of which, considered in the light of Battle in the City (one of the best songs of its kind I think I’ve ever heard) seems a terrible waste, and offers further proof, if any were needed, that success and talent more rarely coincide than is generally assumed.

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