Petticoat Junction belonged to a television world so vastly different than that of today, it is almost unimaginable. The series ran from 1963 to 1970 on the CBS Network. With the huge success of The Andy Griffith Show (which debuted in 1960), the network began programming all sorts of “rural” sitcoms. These included The Beverly Hillibillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, and TAGS’s replacement, Mayberry R.F.D. Then occurred what has become known as the Rural Purge. CBS cancelled all of those whimsical series in 1970, to embrace a new, more socially-relevant type of television.
Petticoat Junction’s slot on Saturday nights at 9:30 was filled by The Mary Tyler Moore Show, beginning in September 1970. I bring all of this history up as background to one of the more curious releases to come along in the waning days of 2011. The Real Gone Music label has just issued The Girls from Petticoat Junction: Sixties Sounds on CD, and it is as much a blast from the past as the TV show itself.
The connection between television and music has been a long and fruitful one. We need look no further than The Beatles’ appearances on Ed Sullivan to confirm this. But prior to that, there was plenty of what we now call synergy between the two. Besides the other variety shows, and American Bandstand, Ricky Nelson’s career had been launched on The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet back in 1957.
The Girls from Petticoat Junction were Linda Kay Henning (Betty Jo Bradley), Meredith MacRae (Billie Jo Bradley) and Lori Saunders (Bobbie Jo Bradley). These attractive young women were definitely the “eye-candy” of the show, and they all acquit themselves quite well as vocalists. The 30-minute disc contains 11 tracks, including the “bonus” Petticoat Junction theme. Surprisingly enough, this is the first appearance of much of the material. Initially, I had assumed that this was a re-release of a long deleted LP. Not so, however; after the poor chart showing of the first couple of singles, Imperial Records shelved the project and all of the recordings have sat in the vaults until now.
The first single was “I’m So Glad That You Found Me” b/w “If You Could Only Be Me,” released in 1968. It was a flop, although both songs are an effervescent breath of late Sixties AM radio pop. Undaunted, Imperial and The Girls tried again, with something a little closer to the spirit of the show, “Wheeling, West Virginia” b/w “Thirty Days Hath September” is from 1969. The 45 came and went quickly as well, although “Wheeling, West Virginia” itself is quite good, and was written by the team of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield.
Unsurprisingly, Imperial Records cut their losses at this point, and those four tracks represent the entire recorded legacy of the trio. Since the project was initially conceived as an album, though, there were also a few solo recordings made, which have remained unreleased until now. The oddest of these has to be Lori Saunders’ take on The Beatles’ “Rain.” She also turns in a credible version of The Youngbloods’ “Get Together.“ Linda Kay Henning took a shot at another established hit with her version of the 5th Dimension’s “Up, Up & Away.” Linda also recorded a song titled “There’s Got To Be A Word,” written by Don Ciccone.
Prior to all of this, Meredith MacRae had recorded some material for Capitol Records – most likely based on the fact that she had appeared in the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach movies. Her big single “Who Needs Memories Of Him” b/w “Goodbye Love” came out in 1967, and was even promoted on Petticoat Junction. Curt Massey’s full 2:13 single “Petticoat Junction” wraps up this collection nicely.
Although The Girls from Petticoat Junction is obviously a curio item, it holds together quite well. Phil Spector’s famous Wrecking Crew group of studio musicians provided the background for many of the tunes, and the songs sound much better than their poor chart performances might suggest. Like the TV show itself, this album is an enjoyable reminder of a very different time in our world.