Spanky and Our Gang "The Complete Mercury Singles" (Real Gone Music, 2014)
It’s impossible not to think of The Mamas and the Papas when one listens to Spanky and Our Gang. The two groups’ blends of folk-tinged soft pop were near identical in approach, and Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane’s singing style is so close to that of Mama Cass. And while it has to be said that the comparison between the two bands does not favor S&OG, they were a force of their own kind in their time and still worthy of consideration now. “Sunday Will Never Be the Same” couldn’t have been more perfect as a breezy, dreamy song to hear over your car radio in 1967. “Like to Get to Know You Better,” “And She’s Mine,” their reading of Margo Guryan’s “Sunday,” etc. are also era-defining gems. What this collection – mono mixes of all their singles, A and B sides, for Mercury between ’66-69 – reveals, though, is that there was another side to them: there was an undercurrent of corny, revue-style performance to their act, like they were always just about to break into a Vegas style routine. They seemed trapped on the cusp of being a band people needed to take seriously, and a novelty act. Maybe things would have been different if they’d had a John Phillips within their circle, writing their material, or the kind of explosive interpersonal chemistry between the members of Phillips’s band. Instead, they mostly relied on outside scribes to provide them with tunes. Still, at their best they had a strong command of the type of fare they handled and they made some classic singles. The truth is that a more apt way to see them, rather than as a second-rate Mamas and Papas, is to compare them to other psychedelic bubblegum bands of the day. They made trippy soft pop akin to that done by the likes of The Free Design, The Yellow Balloon, and The Peppermint Rainbow; seen in the context of that set of bands, they were taste-making leaders rather than wannabes.
Review made by Brian Greene/2014
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