1967 was a terrible year for the Lovin’ Spoonful. As it began they were USA’s pop poppets. 7 consecutive Top 10 hits, a run of success rarely emulated. by the end of the year the 2 dominant personalities had left the group & they were a spent force in terms of commercial success. While this tumult went on they produced 3 singles that year the equal of the big selling 45s that preceded them. It is the third of these, “She’s Still A Mystery”, a song which bewitched me on first hearing & continues to enthrall today, which has inspired this post.
This has it all. John Sebastian, looking Lennonesque. His lovely ballad, from Coppola’s film “You’re A Big Boy Now”, given gravitas by the addition of brass & string sections. Building to the wonderful pay-off “for the great relief of having you to talk to”. Pop was growing up & the Spoonful were on the bus. So, what the fuck was Zal Yanowsky up to at the front of the band? His incongruous mugging is totally at odds with the feel of the song. Did he think he was selling the song ? Was he stoned ? Well yeah, he was.
“Darlin” did not reach the Top10 in the US. A band on the pop conveyor, which Spoonful were, was judged on the success of their last single. New product was needed and quick. As the next single “Six O’ Clock” was being pressed Yanowsky was busted for possession of marijuana,. A Canadian, he faced trouble on re-entering the country. He ratted out his supplier in return for leniency. Is this what they call a cleft stick ? The pop fans of the band’s clean cut image would not accept a drug user . The new hipper audience rejected such finkish behaviour. Yanowsky, the zany personality of the group, the guitarist on “Nashville Cats”, left sharpish.
There are no clips of the band promoting the single. a new member,Jerry Yester, came in but they were
not yet ready for prime time. “Six O’ Clock” is a good radio friendly hit in the vein of their only No 1 , “Summer In The City”. Again it did not make the Top 10. A more interesting audio here is Zal’s single from his first solo album. The song got to the lower reaches of the Top 100.
So to “She’s Still A Mystery”. Here’s the glorious 3.05 minute track. Crap stills but a glorious sound. The lazy intro to John’s verse about the mystery & innocence of young girls kicking into the rolling chorus. I was growing up. The music was growing up. I thought that here was the Spoonful’s masterpiece. A move away from the brilliant but simpler early singles.
Now here’s the shorter TV promo. Leaving out the play- out harmonies, defeating the balance of the song. Sebastian is in buckskin. The rest of the band are hippified, bassist Steve Boone reluctant to ditch the turtle neck. It’s the Summer of Love and these pop stars are trying not to be left behind.
Despite my thoughts that here was the future for a more expansive Spoonful sound the 45 made No 27 in the charts. Too sophisticated for pop fans & too tainted by pop success for the hippies to accept. Sebastian left the band in early 1968. He had written many hit songs & had been worked far too hard to keep the band at the top. There was no Crosby, Stills Nash & Sebastian. He appeared at Woodstock as a tie-dyed, happy hippie burn out. The talent for innocent, good time songs seemed to desert him. His 4 year old hits already nostalgia for 20 year olds.
Everybody’s got a “Best Of” by the band haven’t they ? There on the end of side 2 with the pleasant post-Sebastian 45s sung by Joe Butler is a classic of American harmony pop. To stand with the Beach Boys, the Association & the Mamas & Papas. It was the wrong time & and wrong place for the band. It stands as a brilliant swansong for a band that, along with the Byrds, came up with the best answer to the British Invasion.