Give a Damn presents a thorough overview of Spanky & Our Gang's LPs Spanky and Our Gang (1967), Like to Get to Know You (1968), Without Rhyme or Reason (Anything You Choose) (1969), and Spanky and Our Gang Live (1970). It bests all previous anthologies, such as the Greatest Hits package that was issued the very same year. Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane (vocals) initially linked up with Malcolm Hale (guitar, trombone, vocals), Nigel Pickering (guitar, vocals), and Oz Bach (vocals) in the early '60s, with the up-and-coming folk music craze influencing their direction as the New Wine Singers, combining traditional pop standards with protest songs and Dixieland-style jazz. The discernibly edgier fusion with rock created a niche for the band, whose lineup expanded with the arrival of John Seiter (drums), Kenny Hodges (bass, vocals), and Lefty Baker (aka Eustace Britchforth) (banjo, vocals). Prior to the trio's arrival, Spanky & Our Gang had already recorded and released the first of three studio efforts for Mercury Records. The disc spawned several charting hits, led by the cheery Top Ten "Sunday Will Never Be the Same," the suitably freewheelin' "Lazy Day," and "Makin' Every Minute Count." Of equal consideration is the opulent waltz "It Ain't Necessarily Byrd Avenue," with intricate Four Freshmen-esque harmonies, the midtempo and Baroque-tinged "If You Could Only Be Me," and the excellent noir "Distance." Like to Get to Know You not only yielded the refined samba of the title track but also their seminal interpretation of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" -- which alternately goes by the name "Echoes" and actually precedes the familiar Nilsson version by a year or so. "Three Ways from Tomorrow" is another deep cut highlight thanks to the dark, mysterious arrangement and sublime vocal blend, especially during the trippy introduction. Sadly, Without Rhyme or Reason was the last release with co-founder Hale, who tragically passed in late 1968. The portentous "Give a Damn" was banned by some less open-minded radio stations while conversely used in an unforgettable series of public service announcements for the New York Urban Coalition. "Yesterday Rain" and the superior update of Hoagy Carmichael's "Hong Kong Blues" are nothing short of essential, and demonstrate Spanky & Our Gang's versatility. The concluding entries are from the posthumous Spanky and Our Gang Live, documented circa 1966 before Seiter, Hodges, and Baker joined. Gordon Lightfoot's "That's What You Get for Lovin' Me" is adeptly executed, while Carole King and Gerry Goffin's unabashed folk-rocker "Wasn't It You" is the perfect stylistic complement to the ragtime blues "Oh Daddy." Unless you want to spring for 2005's four-CD Complete Mercury Recordings box set (the final word on Spanky & Our Gang), Give a Damn is as good a compilation as exists on the band.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer