The Partridge Family + The Manson Family = The Poppy Family

by Kim Cooper

The sixties ended with bloodbaths at Cielo Drive and Altamont, and as 1970 slouched into view there was no reason to think that the giddy bubblegum genre had one last great wad in its maw. But up in the wilds of Vancouver, B.C., a young married couple was forging a new style of bubblepop, suffused with a blast of stale dark air that was utterly redolent of the times.
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From our present vantage it seems obvious that all that folk-rock-protest crap was just an entertaining shuck, and the only songwriters who were really tapped into the esprit des temps were Boyce and Hart, Bo Gentry, Kasenetz and Katz, Neil Diamond and the like. Bubblegum hid its insight into politics and human behavior in a midst of infantile fancy, but in the end it’s songs like the Archies’ “Hot Dog” and “Love Beads and Meditation” by the Lemon Pipers (that’s the one that goes “the tangled mass of membranes that used to be me/ is a memory”) that continue to speak to the youth of today, while few still breathe who can tell Zager from Evans. It’s no accident that this music was only appreciated by eight year olds when it came out, because little kids had tons more on the ball than their boo-huffin’ older siblings, not to mention the critics, who were too busy praising Dylan’s new direction(s) to notice all the great music on Saturday morning TV. But I digress.

Terry and Susan Jacks recorded two albums for London Records as the Poppy Family before Terry’s lumberjack obsessions made Susan decide to hit to road running while she still had her health and looks. And despite her indisputable talent (imagine a Karen Carpenter who really meant it), it must have been her looks that got Mrs. Jacks noticed, especially when contrasted with the weirdos in her band. Terry resembled a misguided genetic experiment fusing a komodo dragon with one of the Campbell’s Soup kids, and had been a walking bad hair day for years. The session hacks who masqueraded as band members looked stranger still. Satwant Singh could have been the model for Apu, the Kwik-Mart manager on “The Simpsons,” right up to the turban that added six inches to his height. And Craig Mccaw seems to have been a stoned lumberjack like Terry, although his coke-bottle glasses and white boy ‘fro gave him the look of a White Panther sympathizer. Against this nebbishy cross-section, Susan stood out like a goddess. She had a compact, curvy figure that she liked to drape in skintight red jumpsuits, nicely offsetting the bubble of platinum hair that grazed her shoulders. With her sexy smile and feline eyes, she was your basic Vegas-style knockout. She must have caused quite a stir up there in the woods, and it was only a matter of time before she caught the attention of lecherous label execs throughout the lower 48.

The debut album, Which Way You Goin’, Billy?, is a haunting brace of menacing melodies, featuring eleven atmospheric classics and one hilariously misguided dog. From the opening number, the broken-hearted bus-ride opus “That’s Where I Went Wrong,” there’s a dizzying air of mystery and hopelessness, with Terry’s impressive studio work adding to the general sense of doom. Terry’s songs have a knack for never resolving the troubled situations they describe, trailing off into washes of eerie noise instead. Despite the brilliance and difficulty of the album, the title song (a pathetic tale of abandoned womanhood) was a big hit