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Driving, Deja Vu And The Lovin’ Spoonful

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It's been unseasonably warm the last couple of days, and as I was driving through congested traffic yesterday I found a old song going through my head… and suddenly I realized that I'd been there before. Not just once but probably every time I'm stuck in heavy traffic in hot weather. It all started on a hot summer day about forty years ago, as I was driving my tired Oldsmobile through heavy traffic. The jam of cars was nearly intractable and I was late for an important meeting. I was sweating and sticking to the seat, and as time crawled, I kept nervously eyeing the rising temperature gauge because the Olds was prone to overheating. In the midst of all that, I strangely found myself obsessively and repeatedly singing, "Hot town. Summer in the city…" as the dial climbed higher and higher.

It would probably be a better story if I'd had a breakdown, but I made it through the traffic that day. However, the experience was unsettling enough the memory has stayed with me all these years, and that song — "Summer In The City", by the Lovin' Spoonful — became a sort of old, familiar friend. To this day, it still seems to magically appear in my head whenever I'm in heavy traffic on a hot day. I don't know if that's part of the usual definition of "a song for the ages," but it certainly seems to be that for me.

The Lovin' Spoonful was another of those genre-bending groups from the sixties, with some similarities to the Mamas and Papas, the subject of one of my earlier posts. In fact, members from both groups were originally part of the Mugwumps, an earlier folk-rock combo.

In the early sixties, John Sebastian formed the Lovin' Spoonful with Zal Yanovsky, Joe Butler, and Steve Boone, and for a few years they flourished with a number of top ten hits. These included their biggest, "Summer In The City," which was probably also the hardest-edged — especially for the era, when the pop charts were dominated by mostly softer sounds.

However, they played to that audience too with hits like "Do You Believe In Magic" and "Daydream," and occasionally ventured into other areas too. A lot of their music had a country flavor — more later about that — and they even had an acquaintance with blues. (In fact, the name of the group was taken from an old Mississippi John Hurt song.)

As was the case with a lot of sixties groups, they had their share of ups and downs and didn't stay together long, and Sebastian went on to an uneven solo career. But for a time in the sixties, everything was rosy for the Lovin' Spoonful.

I'm including a couple of sample songs I hope will illustrate the wide variance in their music. First is the one that just keeps hammering through my head whenever I'm in traffic on a hot day, "Summer In The City." Following that is a tune that for a long time I didn't even realize was performed by the same group. Not only does it have a country sound, but it even takes you to country music's capital in its title. It's called "Nashville Cats."

Both songs, along with the group's other hits, can be found on a number of their albums. I'm including a link to All The Best Of The Lovin' Spoonful. Support the artists (or their heirs) and buy the album, and don't forget – keep your cool in traffic!

About Big Geez

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks for the reminder of a truly great group. I even get some of the lesser known hits or non-hits stuck in my head quite a bit, such as “Rain On the Roof,” “Full Measure,” “Jug Band Music,” “Six O’ Clock,” “Darlin’ Be Home Soon.” I could go on…

  • Big Geez

    Thanks, Gordon. And remember another of their hits, the oddly-named “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind”?

  • Bob MacKenzie

    Cool review. Cool comments on a seminal group in Sixties Folk-Rock music.

    Just reporting in from the final hometown of Zal Yanovsky, where he’s still remembered fondly.

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    BG–oh yes: “when in comes her father and takes you aside / and says ‘you better go home son and make up your mind.’”

  • Big Geez

    Gordon, unless you tell us what the kid decided I’m going to have to pull out that CD and play it again, because I can’t remember!

    Bob, I guess Zal was quite a character – I found one quote from him saying that he once lived for 7 months in a laundromat.

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    You should pull out the CD and play it again anyway, but the kid makes no decision–the song leaves things open-ended (but I’m thinking it was probably the “older sister”). Here’s the ending lyrics:

    Sometimes you really dig a girl the moment you
    kiss her
    And then you get distracted by her older sister
    When in walks her father and takes you in line
    And says “Better go home, son, and make up your
    Then you bet you’d better finally decide!
    And say yes to one and let the other one ride
    There’s so many changes, and tears you must hide
    Did you ever have to finally decide?