Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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OMGWTFLOL: Think – “Once You Understand” (1971)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 16, 2007

OMGWTFLOL is a series covering some of the most bizarre and inexplicable moments in Pop Culture history.

I’ve recently acquired a taste for spoken word hits of the 60s and 70s, the great majority of which I had never even heard of before I started listening to the 60s and 70s stations on my parents’ XM. My two favorites are probably Victor Lumberg’s “An Open Letter to My Teenage Son” (#10 in 1967) and Byron MacGregor’s “Americans”, (#4 in 1974) but there were a whole host of these in a ten-year period between ’65 and ’74–Johnny Sea’s “Day for Decision,” Sgt. Barry Sadler’s “The Ballad of the Green Berets” (the #1 single of 1966, incredibly enough) and even Gordon Sinclair’s original version of “Americans (A Canadian’s Opinion)”. Even more incredible than the number of these was just how similarly terrible they all were–all preachy, right-wing, pro-American diatribes commending the old guard and disparaging those damned newfangled youngsters.

Even among such company, however, Think’s “Once You Understand” (a #23 hit in 1971) stands alone. At first, the song appears to be a plea for parents to be more understanding and less overbearing to their children–grouchy-sounding parent types intone such phrases as “I expect you to get a haircut by friday…you’ll do as I say as long as you’re living in my house!” and “You’d better be home by TEN–or don’t bother coming home at all!” while their kids act shocked and outraged by their parents’ strictness, and in the background, hippie-sounding voices chant “Things get a little easier…once you understand.” But all of a sudden, the music abruptly cuts out, and an authoritative-sounding voice tells a “Mr. Kirk” that “you’d better come down to the station house–your son is dead.” The parent responds “DEAD?? …WHY?” “He died of an overdose,” the voice informs him (dance aficianados will of course immediately recognize this section from its use in 4 Hero’s rave classic, “Mr. Kirk’s Nightmare.”) The father is left sobbing, as the voice comes back in, now faded and ghostly, “things get a little easier…once you understand….”

From this part, it would seem like the song is actually a warning to kids, and that we were meant to sympathize with the parents all along, since they were only being strict because they loved their children and cared for their safety. But was there really ever a time in history when parents could say things like “Why don’t you sit down and read a book? You’re wasting your life on foolish things!” or “If you can’t figure that out for yourself, you’re STUPID!” or “Son, there’s a little more to life than…joining a group, or…playing a guitar!” and not be supposed to sound totally ridiculous? Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was only 13 years away at this point, did the world actually shift that seismically in that period of time? Or was the song actually going a level deeper, attemptiing to tell parents that if they’re not more understanding with their kids, then they could push them so far away that they could get involved with drugs and other dangerous pastimes?

Answers to these questions are few and far between, at least those that can be found on the internet–the band has no Wikipedia page, no Allmusic entry, seems to have no available discography and no compilation appearances (most likely why the only version I could find of it is a shitty vinyl rip). In fact, the only google hits the song comes up with are blog and webboard posts of people who heard the song on XM and were just as confused as I was. Clearly this is a mystery we were never meant to understand completely. At least Think get the distinction of having perhaps the only spoken word hit that isn’t mind-numbing in its single-minded simplicity, even if it is mind-numbing in countless other ways.

What a time to be alive this must have been.


12 Responses to “OMGWTFLOL: Think – “Once You Understand” (1971)”

  1. Bill said

    I actually had the 45 rpm of “Once You Understand” when I was like,8 or 9. Even back then I thought it was hilarious,and it stioll makes me laugh every time I hear it. It’s just sooooo bad!

  2. Ron Cerabona said

    Good to see someone else found this “song” interesting. Have you read the book “Slipped Discs: the Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time”? There’s a funny piece on this record: the authors say that at the end the sobbing father “has learned the stupid moral of “Once You Understand”: if you don’t approve of everything your teenager does, he will kill himself just to spite you”.

  3. cyde said

    I think it stinks

  4. john said

    A Lou Stallman/Bobby Susser Production. (Laurie 3583) Know ’em well. I was 17 when it started becoming a hit in early Jan.1972. I remember FM Radio played the hell out of it, at least in my hometown in Western Pa. on WDVE-FM. A new Progressive Radio Station playing it; for me it was very relatable for it’s time. Depending on how high the DJ was, it was usu. treated as a serio-comedy.
    I also remember they tried re-issuing it (Big Tree 15000) in the Spring of ’74 and it stalled/tanked at Billboard POS # 53. I don’t know what magic they were trying for again. Live and learn.

  5. Rosa said

    It’s Cook, not Kirk. The 1991 book *The Worst Rock n’ Roll Records of All Time*, by Jimmy Guterman and Owen O’Donnell, has a detailed, witty entry on this “song”. Look it up.

    • Rosa said

      Ah, I see Ron up there was three years ahead of me. Moral: read the comments before writing your own. Y’hear, kids?!

  6. W.B. said

    This was actually the second group to be called “Think” – a few years before, there was a California band of the same name that recorded two singles for Columbia (“Stop Runnin’ Away” b/w “Faster Faster” in 1968 and “California (Is Getting So Heavy)” b/w “It’s a Good Thing” in 1969), both produced by Ron Budnik who before that had been a San Bernadino disc jockey. Members of this other Think included Mike Ballew, Keith MacKendrick, and Dan Wilder; Dick Monda a.k.a. “Daddy Dewdrop” of “Chick-a-Boom” fame co-wrote the songs on their first single. Had that Think charted with any level of success, “Once You Understand” producers/writers Lou Stallman and Bobby Susser may well have been forced to find another name for their outfit. This has not stopped some people from confusing one Think with another (i.e. presuming that the band that recorded the two Columbia singles was one and the same as that which brought forth “Once You Understand”).

    Incidentally, “Slipped Discs” was the British version of “The Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time,” with numerous differences from the American version (the British version, for example, eliminated any and all references to Phil Collins from their pages, twelve 45’s in the 50 worst rock and roll singles list diverged wildly between both sets, ditto for two LP’s in the 50 worst rock and roll albums list; in the “Overstaying Your Welcome” section, “Slipped Discs” omitted Clarence Clemons’ Red Bank Rockers group as well as Genesis; and Collins, predictably, was left off the runner-up list for the worst rock and rollers of all time in the British edition).

  7. Steve Russey said

    Hey there… yeah, that piece by Think was somewhat of an anomaly for hit radio… it got a lot of airplay on our big radio station and I recall hearing it back in ’71, confused, curious, and a bit shocked that it received airplay. Between “Ticket To Ride” and “Immigrant Song” here’s this strange piece about… the generation gap? Anyway, I’m responding because it actually is available on CD… it’s on a compilation called “Dead: The Grim Reaper’s Greatest Hits”… SR

  8. Dave said

    I would feel it’s likely this has popped up on Casey Kasem’s syndicated program “American Top 40, the 70s”.

  9. John said

    Today, January 28, 2017, that song was on the rebroadcast of Sirius/XM 70’s on 7 Casey Kasem’s AT40. My 17 yo daughter and I were listening to it on a ride home from band practice. At the time of the original airing the song was in the 30’s but I was not sure if it was rising or falling to/from its peak at #23. Listening carefully to the lyrics, we could not for the life of us figure out who was supposed to understand and who things were supposed to get easier for (obviously parents vs kids were our two choices). But, we had a nice chat about the song and its contents and especially the unexpected dark-turn ending. Who knows, maybe that was the whole point of the song.

    • I would say it’s a message to the parents… all through the verses the kids seem to be the victims… their “tones of voices” are more “pleading”, “questioning”, “unsupported”, where the parents seem to be adopting, vocally, “attack/critical” mode… I believe young people want altruistic guidance, so the tragic end with the son dying of an overdose seems to stress the point that if dad had been more supportive of his son’s musical endeavors, his son may not have sought a “coping mechanism/strategy” via substance abuse… a message to the parents is my guess… more “understanding” from parents, hence the father breaking down and crying as he utters “Oh my God!” I’m open to other interpretations… I’m a retired music therapist and one of my favorite activities was “Lyric Analysis”, so this takes me down “Amnesia Lane”, so to speak.

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