If ever a song begged to soundtrack a visual montage it’s “Five O’Clock World.” With its striking guitar work, competing counter-melodic vocal lines, and its lyrical celebration of the end of work, it’s an attention grabber. Arrangement-wise, the song has the structured classiness of the Drifters’ “On Broadway” or anything by the Mamas and Papas. The band behind the song were The Vogues, primarily a vocal group from Turtle Creek, Pennsylvaia who had a handful of chart hits between 1965 and 1970. The killer instrumental backing on the single comes via a kind of Nashville version of L.A.’s Wrecking Crew, featuring guitarist Chip Young (who played on Elvis and Dolly Parton records, among others). The opening guitar lick is so of-the-period and I love how the vocals create a percussive effect in this song, balanced against some soaring melodic hooks. The song and The Vogues’ performance exude the very essence of poprock.
Surprisingly for a track with this much tuneful charisma, 1960s covers are hard to find. It was common in the period for copycat versions to ride the success of a hit but perhaps “Five O’Clock World” was seen as too distinctive to reinterpret. The only contemporary versions I could find were by vanity records stalwart Dora Hall (b-siding her lounge version of the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t Get No Satisfaction”) and an instrumental from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s David McCallum, both released in 1966. McCallum’s take is eccentrically listenable, Hall’s not so much. Fast forward to the 1980s and Ballistic Kisses slather enough synth on the song to make Gary Numan proud. By contrast, Hal Ketchum countryfies things in a most refined way in his 1991 cover. The Proclaimers put their own distinctive vocal stamp on the song with its appearance on their celebrated 2003 comeback album, Born Innocent.
Now there are more straight-up rock and roll treatments of “Five O’Clock World” out there. Like the delightful, rollicking work out from Robert Crenshaw. Stepping out from behind drum kit in brother Marshall’s band, Crenshaw offers up a rootsy take with swing and some nice piano breaks. Bowling for Soup crank the amps and add some pop punk sensibility to the tune. Finally, Victoria, BC’s Scrunt Brothers indie things up in fine style with loud guitars and an X or Blaster-style vocal.
Great songs manage to shine through on just about any cover. In the case of “Five O’Clock World” just turn it on and watch everything around you become just a little bit more cinematic. No wonder Drew Carey decided to use the full 2 minutes and 10 second original single to open the first few seasons of his show.