"Do You Know What I Mean"
"Do You Know What I Mean?" was a #6 single from Lee Michaels's 1971 album "5th," which climbed to the #16 position on the Billboard Hot 200 and remained on the charts for 36 weeks. In 1992, Rhino Records released the CD compilation The Lee Michaels Collection (above), which features "Do You Know What I Mean?," "Can I Get a Witness?" and 16 other Michaels songs.
ee Michaels was a California kid who played organ like Ray Charles and had a singing voice that sounded like a surf dude. The juxtaposition was interesting, because nobody ever gave surf dudes credit for having any soul, but Michaels pulled it off easily. At times, he could be as convincing when singing the blues as someone like Robert Plant. At other times, he would just run with it, and the results would be hilarious. "Do You Know What I Mean" has Michaels exaggerating the "Oh wow, man" aspect of his voice until it imbues the lyrics with the loose attitude of his character. Although the lyrics tell a tale about losing his lover to his best friend, he seems to be hovering somewhere between disbelief and confusion. If Sean Penn's character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High got dumped, he'd probably sound a lot like Michaels does on "Do You Know What I Mean." He doesn't scream or cry. Instead, he just seems dumbfounded when he sings, "I just saw her yesterday. I just saw her, had nothing to say. Do you know what I mean?" The result is a feel-good song about losing your girlfriend. Anybody who can accurately portray such a goofy character and diffuse the pain as well as Michaels does on "Do You Know What I Mean" is OK in my book. The unique instrumentation only adds to the song's one-off appeal. Except for the really cool drum part and the occasional overdub of piano and harpsichord, the record is virtually an organ orgy. Although Michaels is a talented multi-instrumentalist, the organ dominates his recordings, and "Do You Know What I Mean" is no exception.
After his big hit, Michaels did a disappearing act quite unlike anything I have ever seen. Although most people might assume he was a one-hit wonder, this was not the case. He released four albums previous to the single "Do You Know What I Mean," and all of them featured an eclectic blend of pop and blues, mostly with the same sparse instrumentation. His only regular sideman was a drummer who went by the name of Frosty and later formed Sweathog. (Remember their hit "Hallelujah"? It went to #33 in 1971, but it's probably long forgotten by now.) Michaels's "5th" contained "Do You Know What I Mean," as well as his only other Top 40 single, a reworking of Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get a Witness," and introduced him to the pop audience. With Michaels's fan base now greatly increased, Columbia Records bought out his contract from A&M, obviously assuming that his career had only just begun. They were wrong. None of his Columbia releases sold anywhere near what was expected, and after a few failures, he vanished completely from the music scene. It seems unlikely that he will surface again, particularly since time must have destroyed the appealing youthful naïveté of his voice, but who knows. There's always room for another good blues singer, particularly one who plays keyboards as well as Michaels.
- Thomas Ryan, American Hit Radio, Prima Entertainment, 1996.