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The Complete Mercury Recordings

Spanky & Our Gang

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Album Review

Although the original LPs have been out of print for decades, Spanky & Our Gang's Complete Mercury Recordings (2005) are once again available thanks to the audio archivists at Hip-O Select — located online at www.hip-oselect.com. Featured in this thorough and comprehensive four-CD anthology are the contents of the albums Spanky and Our Gang (1967), Like to Get to Know You (1968), Anything You Choose b/w Without Rhyme or Reason (1969), the compilation Spanky's Greatest Hit(s) (1969) — notable for a few alternate and extended versions of familiar favorites — and the combo's posthumous Spanky and Our Gang Live (1970). Hardcore enthusiasts will be even more impressed with the seven never-before issued rarities and an entire disc devoted to monaural mixes of every song released on 45 — including their fall of 1966 debut 7" single with non-LP covers of the Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing" b/w "Sealed with a Kiss," which had been a hit for Brian Hyland in 1962. Although there was the occasional personnel shift during their three-year (1966 — 1969) run, the aggregate originated with the quartet of Spanky McFarlane (vocals), Malcolm Hale (guitar/trombone/vocals), Nigel Pickering (guitar/vocals) and Oz Bach (vocals). John Seiter (drums), former percussionist for Odetta was next to join, followed by Pickering's one-time bandmates Kenny Hodges (bass/vocals) and Lefty Baker [aka Eustace Britchforth] (banjo/vocals). As the latter were appreciably seasoned, their contributions to Like to Get to Know You and Anything You Choose take the unit's musicality to a whole new level. Spanky & Our Gang gained a deserved reputation as consummate harmonizers with a penchant for light and slightly psychedelic pop fare. All told, they turned in five respective Top 40 entries and their earliest, "Sunday Will Never Be the Same," was also their highest charting side, landing at a lofty number nine. However their eclecticism, coupled with a comparatively off-the-wall sense of humor is exposed on the lesser-known cuts from Spanky and Our Gang. The tricky pro-pot "Commercial," the enchanting "5 Definitions of Love" — containing lyrics lifted verbatim from a dictionary — as well as the indescribably tasteful takes of John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg's popular early 20th century standard "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" are but a few recommendations, while "Distance" and "Come and Open Your Eyes (Take a Look)" shouldn't be dismissed either. Like to Get to Know You adopts a motif of Americana, as each track provides a distinct slice of life — ranging from the cocktail party atmosphere and ambience incorporated into "I'd Like to Get to Know You," the lazy "Sunday Morning" and low-down "Prescription for the Blues." The final studio title Anything You Choose b/w Without Rhyme or Reason is arguably the sextet's best. The pieces are linked together, resulting in an intricate yet cohesive multi-movement suite. Perhaps no song depicted the dichotomy of America in the late '60s like "Give a Damn," which was used as part of a memorable public service advertising campaign for the New York Urban Coalition and in politically and socially disparate regions of the United States, banned for explicit content. Other standouts include the pop-ish "And She's Mine," the stunning and insightful "Yesterday's Rain" and the coupling of the spoken introduction "But Back Then" to "Mecca Flat Blues," both with Little Brother Montgomery. Spanky & Our Gang disbanded in late 1968 after the death of co-founder Malcolm Hale. Greatest Hit(s) (1969) is notable for the extended rendering of "Sunday Morning," while "Like to Get to Know You" and "Give a Damn" are offered without the sound effects that are heard on the original LPs. Spanky and Our Gang Live was recorded prior to the addition of Seiter, Hodges and Baker, which accounts for the lack of any later era charting selections. What listeners are treated to, though, is an excellent batch of tunes, reflecting the musicians' unique tastes. The set boasts the sublime bluegrass-inspired "Nagasaki," "Amelia Earhart's Last Flight," plus the Gordon Lightfoot compositions "Steel Rail Blues" and "That's What You Get for Lovin' Me." The audio quality is unrivalled thanks to thorough digital remastering, while the oversized 24-page booklet contains an historical essay from Richard Barton Campbell, rare pictures, reproductions of memorabilia and a discography.

Biography

Formed: 1966 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '60s, '70s

Spanky & Our Gang is one of those odd groups that, despite having had a string of Top 40 chart hits in a two-year period from 1967 through 1969, somehow falls between the cracks of 1960s pop music history. Their hits, particularly "Sunday Will Never Be the Same," "Lazy Day," "Like to Get to Know You," and "Give a Damn," were as much a part of the ambience of the middle to late '60s as any of the best known songs of the Mamas & the Papas with whom they're frequently compared. Yet they fell...
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