Music Rewind: The Magnificent Soundscapes Of Spanky And Our Gang
There are many times when I listen to the gawdawful eardrum shattering screeching cat mating noise which passes for hit radio these days that my mind wanders back to an age where not only did pop music really matter, but it was actually exciting, fun, and pleasant to listen to. All of this happened during the times when I was much younger, much skinnier and had a lot more hair. And, yes, we rode dinosaurs.
In those long gone halcyon days, I had the profound honour of living through what has to be called the golden age of American pop music: the late 60's and early 70's. So much of that era has now been categorized as classic rock and encased in a couple of Sirius XM channels, but so much of the popular music of that age did not really fit the rock nomenclature. The sweet pop folk rock sounds of groups such as The Mamas and the Papas truly cannot be defined as rock and roll but yet their style was not strictly folk music either.
Since everyone is familiar with the Mamas and the Papas and their great hit songs like California Dreaming; Monday, Monday; Go Where You Wanna Go; I Saw Her Again; Dream A Little Dream Of Me; and Look Through My Window, a remarkable number of people may not be aware that there was another famous group at about the same time which took its lead from essentially cloning the Mamas and the Papas signature sound. Not only did they achieve considerable success on the billboard charts but in my humble opinion some of their best work exceeded the quality of the Mamas and the Papas.
This group was called Spanky and our Gang. It was lead by a folk rock singer by the name of Elaine McFarlane who apparently resembled in appearance as well as surname the star of the old Our Gang serials, George Spanky McFarland (with a D). The group was made up of Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane and Nigel Pickering on rhythm guitar; Paul "Oz" Bach on bass guitar; John "The Chief" Seiter on drums; Kenny Hodges on bass; Lefty Baker on lead guitar and banjo; and Malcolm Hale on lead guitar and trombone. Although everyone in the group contributed vocals to the songs, it was the vocal quality of Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane that lead Spanky and Our Gang to hit record success, as she became the signature sound of the group. Not only was her vocal timbre and power quite comparable to that of unforgettable Mama Cass singer from the Mamas and Papas, but after the death of Mama Cass she actually ended up touring with the Mamas and the Papas, singing the Mama Cass parts.
However, most musical historians will mention Spanky and Our Gang as nothing more than a footnote to the history of the Mamas and the Papas and I am personally of the opinion that it should be the other way around. Spanky and Our Gang produced songs that although they may not have reached the stellar sales levels of the Mamas and the Papas' greatest hits, stand head and shoulders above most of the pop 40 tunes of that age.