This is the fourth installment of a series. Due to the subjective nature of what quantifies a One Hit Wonder, how much of the band must be dead to be a One Hit Wonder With Dead Guys, etc., etc., etc., there will be some shifting of the goal posts across these essays. Such is life and rock ‘n roll.
It’s a song that should induce a sugary coma (nylon-string guitars + xylophone + strings + oboe and…shudder…soprano sax solo? Sap overkill!). It’s a song that should carry the nauseating tinge of a prom theme (if the theme of your prom was Getting Your Ass Dumped, that is). It’s a song that should collapse under its own weight and pretension. But it doesn’t. Denis Yost’s voice prevents The Classics IV’s “Traces” from becoming too maudlin.
Dennis Yost (died of respiratory failure on December 7, 2008, two years after suffering severe brain trauma after a fall) was The Classics IV’s drummer when they were a Jacksonville cover band, but he had a great set of pipes. They started playing the circuit, moved to Atlanta, signed with Capitol and then Imperial Records, and had a #3 hit in 1968 with “Spooky.” One year later, “Traces” did even better, hitting #2. Love is kind of crazy, indeed.
If “Spooky” was pure ‘60s garage rock, then “Traces” was pure anytime angst. The (mostly) wonderfully metaphoric lyrics of “Traces” tell of a man sifting through the ashes of a relationship, resigned but hopeful of a reconnection. Yost could hit any sort of emotional tone with his voice, and there is an edge in his vocals, a toughness that does not belie self-defeat. This is what saves the song from emotional collapse.
Breakup songs are often too overwrought to bear. “Traces” is not. It is a breakup song that defies the traditional oh-woe-is-me mode, leaving the listener with the faint hope of a do-over. This is the stuff of AM Radio Gold (and of great prom dances, no matter the prom theme).