This was originally posted as part of a longer piece. It's separated here for convenience.
In retrospect, it seems a little odd that I don't really remember The Lovin' Spoonful from when I was a kid in the '60s. Granted, I was only five years old in 1965, but I do remember The Beatles in all their fab ubiquity, and (to a lesser extent) I remember The Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, and "Get Off Of My Cloud" by The Rolling Stones. But a contemporaneous memory of the Spoonful ain't there.
It's likely that I did hear The Lovin' Spoonful on the radio in '65 and '66, even if I don't remember them. But if I didn't know the Spoonful at the time, I was at least exposed to their image, albeit second hand. The goofy, colorfully flamboyant good-time vibe of the group was frequently appropriated without apology in TV sitcoms; whenever a TV show wanted to feign hipness and include a faux rock 'n' roll group, the resulting fabrication was sometimes clearly derived visually from The Lovin' Spoonful, with a bit of The Byrds tossed in. Neither The Lovin' Spoonful nor The Byrds ever appeared on Gilligan's Island or F Troop, but their doppelgangers did.
And, in 1966, TV presented a made-for-the-medium combo called The Monkees. The Monkees didn't take much from the Spoonful, but it's worth noting that the show's producers, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, had considered the idea of doing a series actually starring The Lovin' Spoonful, before deciding to create The Monkees instead. (And hey, look! The Everlasting First is nearing the letter M in its A-Z checklist! I wonder what M-named musical act we'll be discussing then...?)
But it wasn't until the 1970s that I really discovered The Lovin' Spoonful. "Summer In The City" was the track that got my attention, an amazing slice of sweaty urban verisimilitude turned into shiny pop music, its glossy sheen accentuating its desire rather than sublimating it. These city boys was out to get some. But at night it's a different world. Go out and find a girl. This suburban kid approved of the idea.
My mid '70s embrace of all things '60s included the Spoonful. My brother Rob had a copy of the group's debut album, Do You Believe In Magic, which I borrowed (along with Rubber Soul, Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow, Big Brother & the Holding Company's Cheap Thrills, and Dylan's Greatest Hits and Self Portrait). I was disappointed that the Spoonful LP didn't include "Summer In The City," but I dug the title track and included it on one of my lo-fi cassette tape compilations. (How lo-fi? We didn't own a tape deck, so I put my little portable cassette player next to the speaker and pressed RECORD while the LP track played. You can laugh, but I'm pretty sure that's how Ronco and K-Tel did it, too.)
I also borrowed a whole bunch of LPs and 45s from my cousin Maryann. This killer stash of vinyl included Beatles For Sale, Meet The Beatles, The Beatles' Second Album, Something New, Glad All Over, The Dave Clark Five Return!, The Beach Boys Party, Summer Days (And Summer Nights!), Meet The Searchers, "Get Off Of My Cloud" by The Rolling Stones, and "Summer In The City" by The Lovin' Spoonful. SCORE!
The first Spoonful track I owned was my beloved "Summer In The City," contained on the soundtrack album for the David Essex film Stardust; my copy came out of the dusty budget basement at Record Revolution in Cleveland Heights, where my sister Denise lived. This would be circa '76 or '77. By then, I'd read a bit about the Spoonful, and I knew that the John Sebastian who sang the theme song from TV's Welcome Back, Kotter was the same guy who'd previously sang "Summer In The City" and "Do You Believe In Magic." I'd heard more Spoonful on oldies radio--"Nashville Cats," "Rain On The Roof," "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice," "Daydream," "Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind," and "Darling Be Home Soon"--and liked 'em all. The Lovin' Spoonful was one of the many fine acts included in Rock Of The '60s, the fabulous video program I attended at Syracuse University one evening in 1977.
But, aside from my undying allegiance to "Summer In The City," my favorite Spoonful tune was a lesser-known hit that I also heard on oldies radio: "She Is Still A Mystery." This fragile-sounding ode to love's quirks and uncertainties, its elusive nature and endless allure, took command of my equally-fragile inner romantic, which surrendered unconditionally. My inner romantic fights like a girl. I bought my first Spoonful LP, a used copy of The Very Best Of The Lovin' Spoonful, off a table set up at the Student Union in the Fall of 1977, my freshman year at Brockport; I also bought a copy of The Rolling Stones' Aftermath at the same time. The so-called "best-of" set didn't include "She Is Still A Mystery," but I snagged that 45 at the flea market in Syracuse.
I can't quite say that The Lovin' Spoonful ever became one of my very favorite groups, but I never stopped liking them, either. I had an interesting opportunity to see John Sebastian live in the '90s, when he appeared at the Borders bookstore in Syracuse. Sebastian mostly told stories, but also sang a couple of songs, and the good-time vibe of The Lovin' Spoonful was alive and well. I bought a copy of his children's book J.B.'s Harmonica; he autographed that for us, and he also autographed two LPs: his solo Welcome Back and the Spoonful's soundtrack to the Woody Allen movie What's Up, Tiger Lilly? I'm not one hundred per cent positive, but I think that was the last time I ever asked any celebrity for an autograph.
I don't remember The Lovin' Spoonful from when I was a kid, from the time when they were briefly thought of as America's potential answer to The Beatles. But I came to know them later. And, belatedly, I understood the simple, magic appeal of being caught up in a summer shower, lost in a daydream, of running up the stairs to meet her on the rooftop, and praying "Darling, be home soon." Her mystery remains. I will try to tell you about the magic that can free your soul. After all, why can't we tell a stranger about rock 'n' roll anyway? The magic endures. It inspires belief. Just like the days, it'll be all right.
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby!