Spanky & Our Gang


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by Joe Viglione

Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane released an extraordinary album on Epic in the 1970s, prior to her joining the Mamas & the Papas with McKenzie Phillips, the new Mamas playing with the old Papas. Although the pop elements Spanky was known for are here, the opening track "I Won't Brand You" could certainly be considered the logical sequel to her minor hit "Give a Damn," the album is more country than pop or rock. "Standing Room Only" opens with a great line, "you must think my bed's a bus stop/the way you come and go," and has Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson arranging the strings with the San Francisco Symphony String Ensemble and the Lovin' Spoonful's Jerry Yester on vocal harmony. While Olivia Newton John was delivering country-pop hits to the chagrin of many in Nashville, this American artist goes to the roots of American music on "When I Wanna"; the hardcore country is uplifting when the trademark Spanky & Our Gang vocal harmonies glide in. You want to talk about artistic risk, this album is chock full of it. John "Juke" Logan adds harmonica to "Since You've Gone," bringing tough country-blues to this mix. The band self-produced except for Chip Young's work on the first track, "I Won't Brand You," and the sound quality is first-rate. It's hard to see what Epic was thinking, though, with such stylistic change. "San Diego Serenade" is lovely, and this album is a work of art, but wouldn't the fans have appreciated maybe a country-pop version of the Peppermint Rainbow's 1969 hit "Will You Be Staying After Sunday," producer Paul Leka's tribute to Spanky's "Sunday Will Never Be the Same" and "Sunday Mornin'"? It would have made for a nice Sunday trilogy. Gene Clark's "L.A. Freeway" has a freewheeling, up-tempo sound, but this is all such a Change from the musical statements McFarlane made with her Mercury albums that one can see radio programmers being confused in 1975. "Space Cowboys Forever," featuring Gail Laughton on harp, is one of the standout tracks on this excellent album, along with "Dues," which has Jackson Browne/Fleetwood Mac guitarist Rick Vito's sounds coloring the solid number. In 2001, Spanky hooked up with producer/engineer Stuart "Dinky" Dawson, who recorded the lost Mamas & the Papas album with her. The final track on this album, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready," with Richard Thompson on piano and Jerry Yester on arrangements with Thompson, is the closest to her original sound.

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