The Lovin' Spoonful
(Rhino 70944)

Everyone knows a Lovin' Spoonful song or two, even if they don't know the group by name: "Summer in the City," "Do You Believe in Magic," "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind," "Daydream"—big '60s singles with a good-time feel and a certain nostalgia factor built in. They crop up time and again on soundtracks and in commercials, but nowadays don't seem to be regarded as cool in any way. What a shame it would be if these songs were to be locked away in the '60s museum alongside the Lemon Pipers and Paul Revere and the Raiders.

The honesty of these songs and their unapologetic optimism was fresher than ever in the late '90s, when even bubblegum pop (Five, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears) had a certain degree of menace. I would love to see a current band cover a Lovin' Spoonful song unironically, harmonies and all. I think we all could use a great two-minute pop song. You know what, skip the cover version idea and just grab yourself the Lovin' Spoonful Anthology.

Jam-packed with 26 tracks, this disc more than doubles the music contained on an earlier Spoonful best-of that I had, one that contained all the biggest hits. This one adds a lot of album tracks that flesh out the picture and give a great depiction of the Lovin' Spoonful as one of the 60s best pop bands, and certainly way up there as one of the very best singles bands from that decade. Sure, CCR was also a great singles band from that decade, but this is different (for one thing, there's no singer that sounds like a braying horse). The band was basically John Sebastian (later of "Welcome Back" fame) and Zal Yanovsky, backed up by Steve Boone, Joe Butler, and Jerry Yester.

Sebastian's songs form the core of the band's great canon of smiley pop, and judging just from the songs I mentioned earlier, it goes without saying that the man was inspired at this point in time. His songwriting sounds so effortless, but when you start looking at the diversity of the songs, the more amazing and well-crafted it reveals itself to be. His music encompasses the best of folk, blues, jug band music, ragtime, and rock, highlighted by extremely strong, catchy melodies and quirky arrangements (how many bands can use an autoharp on a rock song? I mean, besides the Rockin' Autoharps?).

There might be a bit too much Spoonful for some people here, but just when you feel like you're about to gag on the sugary overload, some moment of brilliance occurs and you're forced to grin. Actually, I'd say "Summer in the City" is about my least favorite track on the disc (though I love that autoharp), and there's a bunch of totally neglected songs that are among the absolute best songs to come out of the 60's, period. "Darling Be Home Soon" (I think Sebastian did that one in his set at Woodstock as well) is a beautiful, tender ballad that is one of those where you wonder why no one has covered it. It'd be perfect for one of those sappy movies everyone goes to see while I sit at home and look at the Internet.

"She is Still a Mystery" and "Six O'Clock" are somewhere between the straightforward pop of the Beatles and the energetic orchestral bombast of Spiritualized, and are just great, great pop songs. "Rain on the Roof" and "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice," simple and positive, perhaps nerdy but genuine and wonderful. "Nashville Cats," "Good Time Music," "Lovin' You," and "Pow!" (the latter from Woody Allen's "What's Up, Tiger Lily?")—funny and fun, bouncy and toe-tappin'. And the big hits, "Daydream" and "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind"—now, I know that my "Winchester Cathedral" fetish isn't shared by everyone, but come on, bubblegum's making a comeback! Um, for me at least.

There are certainly a few ho-hum tracks here (I couldn't hum "You Baby," "Me About You," " or "Full Measure" if you waved a cattle prod at me and threatened to take away my "Law & Order" privileges), but overall the scope of this band's music is thoroughly amazing, and it's something I keep returning to again and again. Just when I think that hard-bop jazz or Brazilian pop has taken me over completely, I get a hankerin' for the sweet catchy pleasures of the Lovin' Spoonful. Wait, did it just sound like I said I wanted to swallow some semen? Damn those double-entendre band names! I'm outed once again!

Review by Jerry Butt