Monday, April 09, 2012

They still don't give a damn, Spanky

This was a controversial minor hit in 1968 by the folk rock group Spanky & Our Gang, which was led by Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane with major assistance by lead guitarist Malcolm Hale who wrote most of the songs, did most of the arranging and handled most of the business end of things. "Spanky" was a contemporary of "Mama Cass" Eliot and had a similar big voice (and wasn't petite by any means, though not as big as "Mama Cass"), but there really wasn't much pollination between the two bands because Spanky was a Chicago band while The Mamas & The Papas was a West Coast band. The band released two albums, then Hale died and the band pretty much dissolved at that point.

I mentioned that this song was controversial in 1968. The title, of course, was one source of controversy. But there were quite a few radio stations run by right-wing nutballs who refused to play it based on its content too. Hmm, the more things change...

-- Badtux the Music Penguin


  1. Nice to hear that song again. I really liked that group; they had a few great songs while they lasted.

  2. Indeed, and one of the most interesting things is that they're actually *singing* here. They're singing to pre-recorded music of course (and the rest of the band is merely miming playing -- I mean, you don't see any trumpets out there, right?), but most of their contemporaries didn't even bother with the singing part in these "live TV" appearances, they merely lip-synched to the pre-recorded song. You look at the Mamas & Papas' appearances, for example, and they don't even bother with the pretense of microphones in front of the "singers", Mama Cass does her adorable little dance shuffle while Michele Phillips poses and the boys flounce, but the heavily-layered vocals quite clearly aren't being sung in real time by the people standing there on the stage. It's too bad about Hale dying so young and early, it really hit "Spanky" hard, she says she cried every night for the next year, and she simply lost any will to continue the band or indeed to continue with music, and after they fulfilled their contract she went on to other things. Sort of the opposite reaction that Emmylou Harris had after Gram Parsons died, except that Emmylou had been just a backup and duets singer in the Burrito Brothers while Elaine was the leader of "Spanky & Our Gang" and had already had the top 40 hits and such, so maybe that was the difference in her reaction.

    So anyhow, I'm not quite sure how I ended up back in the 60's, I usually try to stay somewhat more contemporary, but this is a decidedly underappreciated band that deserved more attention, so (shrug).

    - Badtux the Music Penguin

  3. Elaine joined "The New Mamas and the Papas" in the 80s, singing the Cass parts and doing the state/county fair gigs. I saw her belt it out with Denny Doherty, Scott McKenzie (replacing John Phillips in the 90s) and Laurie Beebe (replacing Mackenzie Phillips in the 90s) at a Multnomah County Fair in Portland around 1995. And, Scott did "San Francisco (Flowers in Your Hair)"
    It was outdoors and many herbs were smoldering.

  4. Yah, I knew that, but it basically took her over a decade before she was interested in music again. She definitely had the big Mama Cass type voice and wasn't exactly a lightweight herself, though not as big as Cass. The wonder was that her group managed to have four top-40 hits despite being led by a female singer who was a bit, well, chunky. Think that could happen today?

    -Badtux the Reminiscing Penguin

  5. The wonder was that her group managed to have four top-40 hits despite being led by a female singer who was a bit, well, chunky. Think that could happen today?

    One word: Adele.

  6. I can't help it. When I think of Spanky and Our Gang, I think of Commercial...


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