of the Week #16
10 Lovin' Spoonfuls
By Beppe Colli
Though a potential
source of much ridicule, in the 60s the tag "American Beatles" was
generously attributed to many groups who obviously lacked the required
Though most of them
didn't bear comparison - artistic considerations notwithstanding, nobody has
ever been as enormously popular as the Beatles - for a moment it looked like
the freshness and the vivacity of the music performed by the Lovin' Spoonful brought
the Beatles to mind.
A quartet from New York whose music was
often called "good time music" - a label that was in many ways
appropriate, but which didn't cover the full spectrum of their musical output -
the Lovin' Spoonful were never "the American Beatles", but for a
moment they influenced the Beatles, especially Paul McCartney: as
"Macca" has explained many times, the Beatles song Good Day Sunshine,
featured on their album Revolver, was written in the style of the Lovin'
I'll add the "love song to pot" that
he wrote, Got To Get You Into My Life, featured on Revolver: while the music is
definitely a homage to the R&B sound of the time, the lyrics bring to mind
the Lovin' Spoonful hit Daydream, which goes: "It's starring me and my
sweet thing/'Cause she's the one makes me feel this way".
(Readers are invited to remember that a lot
of music from that time was sung and played by musicians with "very heavy
eyelids" as the Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian. The best
"graphic" specimen of the genre being the picture of Dave Mason appearing
on the cover of the second Traffic album of same name.)
The discovery of the "John Lennon
jukebox" revealed the presence of a 45 single by the Lovin' Spoonful.
While a recording of a rehearsal, many years after the fact, has Lennon looking
for a chord he can't find - maybe a Dmin7? - while performing a song by the
1965 was the year the Lovin' Spoonful
entered the charts for the first time, with the song Do You Believe In Magic. In
just two years the group had seven singles in the Top Ten, with one single -
the world-famous Summer In The City - going to #1. While three albums - Do You
Believe In Magic (1965), Daydream (1966) and Hums Of The Lovin' Spoonful (1966,
their best) - showed their music had depth.
Let's not forget that in February,1969 -
the original group by now having split up - the first edition of the pioneering
book by Richard Goldstein, The Poetry Of Rock - a very thin book - featured
three songs by the Lovin' Spoonful, which makes their perceived relevance quite
Do You Believe In Magic - no question mark
- was the question the Lovin' Spoonful asked on American radio. Their music was
for many years completely forgotten: when Peter Buck - the guitarist of a new,
already popular US group called R.E.M. - mentioned Zal Yanovsky as an important
influence, not many people still remembered his name and his contribution to
the "American guitar sound".
In 2000, Lovin' Spoonful being admitted into
the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame convinced their record company to re-release
their albums on CD. (Just a few years earlier, the only CD I had managed to
find was a "Best of" of pretty low quality - the kind that were sold
at gas stations - at a cheap price).
Today John Sebastian is mostly well-known
for playing harp under the moniker G. Puglese on the Doors' Roadhouse Blues, on
(What I didn't know was that John Sebastian
had a father who was a harmonica virtuoso, whose name was... John Sebastian. Hence,
my confusion when I happened to see the cover of an album by a "John Sebastian"
who looked very different - not to mention quite older!)
Canadian guitarist Zal Yanovsky had become
friends with the young John Sebastian, and the timbral variety of their guitars
- both acoustic and electric - and the great variety of "genres"
played by the group should make it easy for fans of the Byrds and other
guitar-based American groups from that time develop a liking for the music of
the Lovin' Spoonful.
An exuberant and versatile rhythm section -
Steve Boon on bass, Joe Butler on drums - also brought new vocal timbres to the
mix. Though just a little more than twenty, all group members were fine
instrumentalists possessing a substantial background. Let's not forget Erik
Jacobsen, the producer who - acting as the proverbial fifth member - made the
music make sense in the studio. (Quite young at the time, future world-famous
sound engineer Roy Halee worked on some of their albums.)
While sounding simple and user-friendly,
the songs by the Lovin' Spoonful don't suffer when listened to side-by-side
with those by many famous groups of the time, from the Hollies to the Byrds, from
Creedence Clearwater Revival to Buffalo Springfield. Theirs are the kind of
songs that are maybe best appreciated as singles - one at the time, in a radio
program - than as whole albums; in my opinion, this is also true of many groups
and artists of the time - to those already mentioned, I'll add Donovan's greatest
hits - and this doesn't mean that those songs were in any way lacking in
quality or too similar to each other.
Maybe, when compared to music of the time,
sometimes the Lovin' Spoonful sound a bit "naïve", but definitely not
when it comes to form: just listen to their first album, with Do You Believe In
Magic as the opener, then a cover of Other Side Of This Life by Fred Neil, and
the instrumental Night Owl Blues as closing track, to conclude this is a group
of fine quality.
As a grown-up, I finally managed to find
the lyrics to the songs of the Lovin' Spoonful. I immediately noticed a couplet
appearing on Do You Believe In Magic: "And it's magic if the music is
groovy/It makes you feel happy like an old-time movie". I thought about
the time, long gone, when schools were closed for the winter Holiday Season,
and late in the morning the State-owned TV broadcast old slapstick comedies and
beautiful Disney cartoons, something that invariably made all members of my
family quite happy.
And it's precisely this quality that, in my
opinion, makes these songs stand out: the Lovin' Spoonful speak to us from a
world that is no more, where old movies make you happy, summer showers have two
teenagers hide under a roof of tin, people sweat in summer - meaning: there's no
air-conditioning - love affairs last a while, "joints" are something
to be mentioned with great caution, it's still possible to enjoy silence in a
famous vacation resort in Florida, and wearing the first pair of glasses can
still be a traumatic event for a young boy.
As it also happens with other
"minor" groups of the time, the Lovin' Spoonful always appear to have
a few "Best of" on the market, some of them good. Below, readers will
find my brief notes about ten of my favourite tracks, coming from different times
in their career. Again, I ask readers to pay attention to the guitar work,
since the beauty of these songs is quite subtle, and the guitars are to be
listened to for their sound, or for some background parts.
Do You Believe In Magic
group's first hit single, obviously the opening track on their first album of
same name, Do You Believe In Magic celebrates the "magic" power of music
- which music? all music, if it's good: (...) "don't bother to choose/If
it's jug band music or rhythm and blues" - with contagious rhythm and
melody, and fine guitar motifs.
is the most appropriate adjective for this song, sounding quite sleepy:
"And I'm lost in a daydream/Dreaming 'bout my bundle of joy". Fine
rhythm guitars, just a pinch of feedback, walking 'round whistling, a day to
take as it comes.
Rain On The Roof
pairing of acoustic and electric guitars, fine sounds from the electric, and a
vocal melody that's quite pleasant-sounding. Time stands still: "Maybe
we'll be caught for hours/Waiting for the sun". The positive side of
famous tourist place in Florida, Coconut Grove is the perfect background to a
moment to live in the quiet and privacy of one's mind: "The ocean's roar
will dull the drummin'/Of any city thoughts or city ways". The dunes, the
stars, and the word "cool" - as polysemic as "groovy" - to
mimic the movement of the waves: "The ocean's breezes cool my mind".
"country & western" moment, guitars played "finger
picking", perfect background vocals, a fine "imitation" of an
old genre that "the boys" replicate to perfection.
neurotic mood for a song that paints a sad picture of a boy's trauma for having
to wear his first pair of glasses. The lyrics appear to anticipate some of
Randy Newman's more sadistic moods: "How many fingers? Ha ha ha". 4
Eyes gets its forward motion by drums and full volume bass guitar, with
harsh-sounding guitars galore. An advice to parents: (...) "Give a break
to little Clarence" (...) "And please recall that after all he wears
them on his face".
Summer In The City
complex production - claxons, loud drums, pneumatic drills - for the group's
only #1, in the Summer of 1966. A perfect contrast between verses and chorus, a
nervous-sounding electric piano, guitars, tense vocals describing people
walking half-dead, and night's cool air: "But at night it's a different
Darling Be Home Soon
group's main songwriter, John Sebastian gradually developed a fine degree of
maturity, this fine song later being covered many times. Thoughtful mood, a
delicate string section, then winds, an "almost-married" sentimental
mood, elaborate production, for one of the best moments from the group's late
perfect illustration of a moment of... well, boredom: the narrator would prefer
to be anywhere, but here; silence only broken by tracks; a telephone that doesn't
ring; a bleak motel; a slide guitar that appears to encourage the coming of sleep;
"I feel about as local as a fish in a tree". "And the Late Late
Show died long ago/With a few words from a priest".
Six O' Clock
late-period song, here John Sebastian meditates - with fine backing - about an
who have never seen the episode in the Woodstock movie where John Sebastian
makes a surprise appearance - it was after heavy rain, and groups using
electric instruments were in danger to being electrocuted - are invited to
watch it now.)
© Beppe Colli 2021
CloudsandClocks.net | Mar. 28, 2021