While the British Invasion relied on British bands reinterpreting American forms of music, the ratio of “Americanness” (blues/country rave-ups, emphasis on the groove) to “Britishness” (polished, traditional pop song structures) could vary wildly depending on the band. At one end were groups like Freddie and the Dreamers, rockers more out of circumstance than conviction; at the other, The Rolling Stones, whose earliest singles betray a band convinced they were the reincarnations of the not-yet-dead Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders leaned closer to the latter end of the spectrum; both their hits (the other being “Groovy Kind of Love,” released later in 1965 after Fontana left the group) were even written by Americans. But unlike their compatriots, who drew from ’50s rockabilly and R&B, the Mindbenders adopted the trappings of the burgeoning garage rock scene.
Why the Mindbenders topped the charts when The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” didn’t is more likely due to the momentum of the British Invasion than because “Game of Love” is the superior record. Really, “Game of Love” isn’t even a garage rock song; it’s a compilation of garage rock archetypes strung together with only the loosest attempt at coherence. First up is the I-IV-V-IV semi-verse, which starts off sounding like a draggy “Louie Louie” before suddenly perking up (“Come on, baby!”) and tumbling into the chorus. This is the best part of the song because it features future 10CC-er Eric Stewart’s credible blues-rock riffing and has the two hooks everyone remembers: the lines “The purpose of a man is to love a woman/ And the purpose of a woman is to love a man” – lyrics so simple and direct it’s a marvel they hadn’t turned up before – and the octave-bounding call and response “LUH” “UV” “LUH” “UV” “LUHLUHLUHLUHLUHLUV.” Then “Game of Love” decides it wants to be a Bo Diddley tune for a few bars, because even though every frat-rock band in the United States played “Who Do You Love,” no one had made a hit out of it yet. The band switches off between faux-“Louie” and faux-Diddley again before veering right into a Beatles impression in the coda, just to remind everyone they were, in fact, a British Invasion band (even though U.S. garage rockers were equally capable of the same).
So yes, it’s a bit of a mess. And as much as I’d like to add “and so is rock and roll!” to that statement and slap a 10 on the end of this paragraph, something about “Game of Love” is a bit too disjointed and by-the-numbers, as if the different parts were pilfered from the discarded remains of pastiches that didn’t quite take. Wayne Fontana is an OK singer, and the Mindbenders are perfectly able rockers, but there’s no raw power or exuberance in the execution to make up for the lack of imagination. Which doesn’t keep “Game of Love” from being worthy of its place in permanent rotation on oldies radio, or stop it from sounding good coming out of tinny speakers. But compared with their fellow British rockers’ developing songcraft and the Americans’ commitment to attitude, it can’t help but feel distinctly second-tier. 6
Hit #1 on April 24, 1965; total of 1 week at #1
133 of 1008 #1’s reviewed; 13.19% through the Hot 100