2005 saw the release of The Complete Mercury Recordings by Spanky McFarlane and her gang, a 5,000 only press run of 4 CDs on Universal Music’s Hip-0 Select.com. Seven years later the lot of them have sold out. The run time is 261 minutes and in January of 2012 you can buy a copy for 249.97 (that’s almost a dollar a minute), or one collectible edition (probably used) for $148.98. The boxed set, as a marketing tool, is as valuable for certain artists as the Franklin Mint is for specialty numismatists or Genesis Publications for those who love a free CD in rare book form. As Willie “Loco” Alexander said to me years ago “Let’s make it nice ‘n rare!”. But when the everyday fan can purchase all the music on the box as a download on Amazon for a mere 45.15 does it take some of the fun…and the magic…away? To those of us who like tangibles, collectibles, the download is a bit of a blasphemy.
In 2003 The Doors released an instant rarity, the Boot Yer Butt, a 4 CD boxed set on the groups own Bright Midnight label, part of the Rhino Records branch of Warner Brothers Records, the imprint that absorbed the Doors home, Elektra Records. It does get pretty confusing all these years later…keeping track – not only of the label pedigree – but of how the music is preserved and made available to the public. In 2006 Warners actually created a “download single” – 2 sided – from the Boot Yer Butt collection…and, as with Spanky & Our Gang, 57 tracks are available for download directly on Amazon, again, devaluing the original legitimate “boot” boxed set.
The granddaddy of all these is Frank Zappa’s Beat The Boots on the Rhino label, 10 vinyl LPs released June 4, 1991. Good luck finding it… June 16, 1992 being the release date of Beat The Boots 2, which now goes for $699.00 on Amazon, no downloads. Zappa’s legacy is enhanced with these documents circulating amongst the fans, and (as we now get back to Spanky’s box) further information can be found in Clinton Heylin’s BOOTLEG: the rise & fall of the other recording industry.
Spanky’s first 45 for Mercury, “And Your Bird Can Sing”, was produced by Jerry Ross, the genius behind Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny”, Keith’s 98.6 and Jay & The Technique’s “Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie”. Ross had co-written the exquisite “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” recorded by Dee Dee Warwick in 1966 along with Otis Williams and Kenny Gamble, his credentials for creating pure pop undeniable…and immortal.
Everything recorded by Spanky & Our Gang for Mercury is here…From the Jerry Ross album that spawned her legend – featuring “Sunday Will Never Be The Same”, “Lazy Day” (written Tony Powers and George Fischoff – the latter composing Jerry Ross artist “Keith” who hit with “98.6”), “Makin’ Every Minute Count” as well as the pre-Peter Paul & Mary rendition of John Denver’s 1966 composition “Leaving On A Jet Plane”. The three Top 40 hits were arranged by Tommy James’ arranger Jimmy Wisner, “Jet Plane” getting the arrangement from Joe Renzetti of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” fame, future Spanky producers Bob Dorough and Stu Scharf working on (It Ain’t Necessarily) Byrd Avenue along with the quirky “Definitions Of Love”. That work was in August of 1967 and when the April 1968 follow-up emerged producers Dorough and Scharf came up with a sequel of sorts for “Sunday Will Never Be The Same”, this from songwriter/singer Margo Guryan with “Sunday Mornin’” (the second sequel, Paul Leka’s “Will You Be Stayin’ After Sunday” by Peppermint Rainbow is, sadly, not on this set! Too bad Spanky didn’t create her own rendition of it for Mercury…it’s quite a tribute to the genius in these grooves!). Rather than track Lou Reed & The Velvet Underground’s 1967 classic “Sunday Morning” (maybe because Lou didn’t enter the room as Spanky was taking a bath as Fred Neil is said to have done to play her the song), Fred Neil’s “Echoes (Everybody’s Talkin’) found a place here a year before the 1969 hit movie “Midnight Cowboy” and Harry Nilsson’s timeless rendition.
My only wish with the 2004 liner notes from Richard Barton Campbell is that I would have liked a little more correspondence with the tracking in the back of the booklet. Guess only so many words can fit on a page and these booklets also need room to breathe, but for those of us who love the mono 45s as well as the glorious expansive stereo tracks this is a Sunshine Pop delight with the ultra-long “Sunday Morning” found on the Greatest Hits disc (included on the same disc as the Like To Get To Know You album, Disc 2), there’s the exquisitely delicious title track.
Stu Scharf’s “Like To Get To Know You” is so irresistibly a nod to the genius of Jerry Ross as Paul Leka’s Peppermint Rainbow was a tip of the cap to the Spanky & Our Gang ensemble. It’s an adult contemporary masterpiece. Spanky’s take on “Stardust” is wonderful and the political “Give A Damn” gives the group an edge beyond the pretty sounds.
Spanky McFarlane is a major league entertainer still bringing the house down when she performs live. There’s great power in these tracks – and in this compilation/boxed set, and exploring the recorded history of this artist while on Mercury is a joy that keeps repeating.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He was a film critic for Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com and produces and hosts Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a fifteen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed John Lennon’s Uncle Charlie, Margaret Cho, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere, Marty Balin, Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.