For one brief shining moment, the Buckinghams sat near the top of the music world. Make that a few moments, actually, as all seven of the group’s chart hits came within a two year period, 1967-1968.
The band formed in Chicago in 1966 and, after a couple of personnel changes, its most consistent line-up consisted of guitarist Carl Giammarese, vocalist Dennis Tufano, bassist Nick Fortuna, keyboardist Marty Grebb, and drummer Jon-Jon. The band split in 1970, reunited a decade later, and continue to tour down to the present day with original members Giammarese and Fortuna leading the way.
Released on the small USA label, the Buckinghams’ first and biggest hit, “Kind Of A Drag,” topped the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart in 1967. A Number One hit allowed them to then sign with Columbia Records, for whom they would enjoy continued success. They also acquired producer James William Guercio, who would go on to work with other brass/rock fusion groups Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears.
The band’s material has been reissued many times over the years, but the best remains their first Greatest Hits album. Originally released in 1969, it has since been reissued on CD and contains all their chart hits plus several B-sides and album tracks.
“Kind Of A Drag” was a bit raw but set the tone for the group’s career. Its catchy melody, solid rhythm section, and brass moving in and out and filling in the spaces added up to a million-seller. Their second-biggest hit was “Mercy Mercy Mercy,” originally an instrumental hit for jazzman Cannonball Adderley and still a jazz standard. The Buckinghams added lyrics and, with its featured tempo changes and one of the best brass introductions of late ’60s pop, their interpretation of this jazz classic remains their finest performance.
More in a traditional pop vein, other hits like “Don’t You Care,” “Hey Baby They’re Playing Our Song,” and “Susan” boasted mid-to-uptempo arrangements that benefited from Guercio’s smooth production.
A nice addition to the album is a cover of “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” which the group had scored an early minor hit with for the USA label. Originally a 1952 chart-topping R&B hit by Lloyd Price, the Buckinghams smoothed out the vocal to move the song over to a rock ‘n’ roll sound.
The Buckinghams did not change the face of rock music. What they did accomplish, though, was producing some pleasant and very listenable music; and sometimes that is enough. Their Greatest Hits album remains a nice look at the better side of late 1960s AM radio.