The Lovin’ Spoonful

by Gary Pig Gold

Excuse me, but I think America had already produced a more-than-competent “answer” to that great big British Invasion quite some time before the Byrds and “Mr. Tambourine Man” ever reared their jingle-jangled heads.

I speak of the undeniably brilliant, once and forever Happy Hit Machine known as the Lovin’ Spoonful.

With long tangled roots deep within folk, jug-band music and the blues, this quartet somehow squeezed from its diverse musical lineage the deceptively simple brew they called, quite perfectly, Good-Time Music.  In fact the band’s first monumental hit, “Do You Believe In Magic,” was no less than a musical manifesto – a Top Forty Call-To-Arms even! — which instantly launched a solid three-year run of immense yet ** always ** innovative international hits.

The story began in New York City on the momentous night of February 9, 1964.  At 8PM, on the corner of 53rd and Broadway, Ed Sullivan was introducing those four guys from Liverpool to a rightfully astonished nation.  A couple of miles downtown, three under-employed folk singers named Cass Elliot, Zalman Yanovsky and John B. Sebastian were among the 73 million most definitely tuned in.  Then and there, all three decided to form their very own rock ‘n’ roll combos, and after various incarnations and permutations – not to mention a recreational side trip or two (all documented in song and dance, by the way, within the verses of the Mamas & Papas’ “Creeque Alley”) — it was John and Zal who, when the haze had cleared, were wowin’ em every night from the stage of the Night Owl Café with co-conspirators Steve Boone and Joe Butler in tow.  Taking their name from a Mississippi John Hurt tune, the Lovin’ Spoonful soon numbered among their most loyal fans Phil Spector (who lobbied, unsuccessfully as it transpired, to be their producer), local boy Bob Dylan (getting ready to plug himself in at that very time), and a would-be Andrew Loog Oldham name of Erik Jacobsen, who quickly signed the band to the brand new Kama Sutra label.          

Of course, you can safely call the Spoonful “bubblegum” (as just one look at lead guitarist Zal Yanovsky, a human cartoon if ever there was one, will attest), but they were in fact one of those rare bands who dared to – and were capable of – supplying a goodly amount of Substance with their Pop.  Certainly hits such as “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?” and especially the landmark “Summer In The City” laid the keyboard-crafted game-plan for much Super K gumness to come, plus the band’s on-stage penchant for brightly-striped T-shirts and over-sized cowboy hats make even the 1989 Musical Marching Zoo‘s stagewear seem downright demure by comparison.  In fact, so potent was the Spoonful’s aura of goofy, glorious mayhem that they were briefly being considered for a starring role in their very own weekly television series!  Lucky for Davy Jones though, the Spoonful seemed content instead to make a cameo appearance in – not to mention write the score for — Woody Allen’s first (and by far greatest) film, 1966’s Japanese Bond spoof “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?”   

Yet beneath all this day-glo zaniness, the band remain widely respected and revered more for their musicianship, and in particular Sebastian’s songwriting, than they are for their happy-go-lucky mugging across Hullabaloo and Shindig.  Tragically though, the luck began to run out in 1967 following the controversial arrest and subsequent removal of Yanovsky back to his home and native Canada (where, until his above-untimely demise in 2002, he continued cookin’ up storms as owner and proprietor of the legendary Chez Piggy restaurant);  by 1969, all that seemed to remain of those once Good Times was the disturbing sight of John Sebastian, clothed from head to toe in tie-dyed denim, babbling about far-outness on the stage of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.  Yikes!

Nevertheless, the Lovin Spoonful remain a very vital part of 1960’s American Pop, and their early breakthrough period provided a veritable musical and visual blueprint upon which all manner of Bubblegum was shortly thereafter concocted.  And as if that alone wasn’t ample legacy enough, may I now remind you all that the late, so great Zally’s 1968 solo album “Alive And Well In Argentina” just has to be one of the drop-down, most magnificent works of bubble-fried art ever created by man or beast, and as such should immediately be searched out and purchased by each and every person reading these here words.

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