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Greatest Hits. (Carousel Corner).

Spanky and Our Gang, Greatest Hits (Mercury)

Elaine McFarlane, dubbed "Spanky" because of an alleged resemblance to Our Gang's "Spanky" McFarland -- and hence the band's eventual monicker, assembled a group of vocalists, Nigel Pickering and Oz Bach, in response to a Chicago club owner's suggestion that she was opening for a well-known act in a week's time. The off-the-cuff agglomeration garnered better reviews than the headliners, and a band was born. A bit later they added Malcolm Hales and drummer John Seiter and his three-octave range to the mix. Spanky and Our Gang's run at the Top 40 spanned barely two years, 1967-68. And while they lasted a few years longer, they're remembered for their first two albums, Spanky and Our Gang and Like to Get to Know You and their unique capture of the infamous Summer of Love. Both albums blended the band's jug band heritage ("River City"), covers ("Brother Can You Spare a Dime", "Stardust"), catchy novelties ("Garbage"), with songs carefully chosen by producer Jerry Ross for their hit potential.

And hit they did: "Sunday Will Never Be The Same", "Making Every Minute Count", "Like to Get to Know You", "Lazy Day", "Sunday Morning" charted successively, propelled by a precious innocence, the thin veneer of peace and love that soon descended into a drug-riddled hell. Doctor Atomic begat "Heroin". The songs were characterized by string-laden overproduction, the fabulous blend of four- and five-part harmonies, and an infectious feeling of good times and free love. Indeed, the made-for-the-times lyrics, "Blue sky, sunshine/What a day for takin' a walk in the park", fell not far from those of "Good Day Sunshine" and "The 59th Street Bridge Song". But regardless of the material, the band's unique vocals avoided stylistic clashes with contemporaries The Mamas and The Papas and presaged retro-stylists, The Manhattan Transfer. The silky texture of their harmonic power is always present and is perhaps best captured on this disc with their live version of Gordon Lightfoot's "For Lovin' Me." Spanky and Our Gang's Greatest Hits is at worst a nostalgic stroll through a time long displaced and at best a celebration of vocal dexterity, the likes of which are rare enough. This band wrought too many transcendent moments to be set aside as a period piece. Nonetheless, I still wish the producers had included signature numbers such as "River City" and "Garbage" in this collection.
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Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Jan 1, 2002
Words:397
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