It's No Daydream -- Lovin' Spoonful's Success Continues
originally published in Goldmine Magazine #579, October 4, 2002

The catalog of the Lovin' Spoonful is finally receiving the treatment befitting one of the most loved and successful acts of the 1960s. The remastering of their output has begun with their first two albums "Do You Believe In Magic" and "Daydream" (see reviews below).

Spoonful bassist Steve Boone explained to Goldmine the tangled tale that led to the band's albums being generally unavailable on CD up to now.

"In the '70s when the group went their separate ways, their master recordings were owned by MGM and Kama Sutra. In the very end of the 1960s, [Kama Sutra] went bankrupt. One of their assets was The Lovin' Spoonful masters and The Lovin' Spoonful publishing, so in the fire sale that followed the bankruptcy, the masters got sold to one entity, the publishing got sold to another entity and for the most part it was small potatoes record people that owned them."

Unfortunately, the laws of good taste preclude repeating Boone's misgivings about the behavior of Casablanca, the label that bought the Spoonful masters before it too went bankrupt.

"The assets were transferred to a small distribution company in New Jersey. They meant well, but they were too small to do the job," he added.

"We didn't get paid any royalties at all from the early 1970s until 1991. Finally, when we got a law firm that was big and powerful enough to bring these people to heel, the assets had been so diminished that everybody had lost focus on who was The Lovin' Spoonful."

To the group's relief, the Spoonful catalog was picked up by RCA Victor - owners of the giant BMG - in 1995, and the first tentative steps were made to remaster Spoonful classics such as "Summer In The City" and "Do You Believe In Magic."

"Their first attempts were not done well at all, but then they brought in this new guy, Rob Santos and he really seems to know what he's doing," said Boone. "Plus with the size and muscle that BMG has, they can get product sold."

Boone performs up to 30 gigs a year with a Spoonful comprised of him, ex-members Joe Butler and Jerry Yester and two others, but so far Spoonful songwriter and frontman John Sebastian has been a reunion holdout, although he continues to tour as a solo act.

"I'd say it's very, very unlikely, but never say never," Boone said of a proper reunion. "John and I remain on relatively good terms and we speak quite often. He's never expressed any interest in it, but if somebody came along and said, 'Here's this to do that,' I think everybody would consider it."

Boone is surprised at the enduring interest in the Lovin' Spoonful nearly four decades after they first stormed the charts.

"I am [surprised] but when I examine the nature of the business and how culture evolves, I'm not surprised any more at all. I think we'll continue for at least another 10 years to have relatively good airplay. The baby boomers are just now starting to retire, and so the market for us to perform in performing art centers and oldies radio, it's pretty wide open. I'm very pleased. I would have never guessed that I'd make more money out of "Summer In The City" in the last year than I ever did when it was #1," he concluded.

--Sean Egan

Lovin' Spoonful Reissue Reviews

Do You Believe in Magic
BMG Heritage (74465 99730 2)

BMG Heritage (74465 99731 2)

The Lovin' Spoonful racked up 12 U.S. Top 20 chart placings in a mere three years with a concoction famously known as Good Time Music: a mix of folk, pop and blues-- with just a pinch of vaudeville for quasicomic flavoring. Though they were great singles merchants, they also made good albums. However, the band¸s long-playing catalog has been in virtually uninterrupted limbo for so long that the fact has been generally forgotten. Finally, the remastered release of the band¸s first two albums gives us a chance to remind ourselves that they were more than a mere Ed Sullivan Show regular.

That said, if there had never been a follow-up album to Do You Believe in Magic, it would be easy to interpret the success of the Spoonful's debut Album's title track as that of a decent bar band stumbling temporarily into brilliance: Not only is there nothing here as giddily majestic as that smash, but also the vast bulk of the track listing is comprised of covers, of which only Mann/Weil/Spector's "You Baby" and Fred Neil's "Other Side Of This Life" don't have a "Traditional" song credit attribution.

This of course is deliberate: The Spoonful are proudly showing their folk and blues roots, ones that their singles underplayed. The Spoonful being the Spoonful, this stuff is vastly better rendered than the efforts of the average bar band (or even British Invasion group), not least in John Sebastian's virtuoso harmonica work. However, despite it being a solid enough album, only their breezey take on "Wild About My Lovin'" approaches the realm of the classic that their entree single undeniably occupied.

There are five bonus tracks, the highlights of which are a gentle early demo of "Younger Girl" and the hitherto completely unreleased "Alley Oop," a powerful recording with some snarling guitar work by Zal Yanovsky that deserved to replace some of the material that did make the cut; displacing "On the Road Again" for this would have helped prove wrong those who said the Spoonful were unconvincing when they tried to rock out.

On Daydream, Sebastian really came into his own as a composer, and the quality of the band's output went through the roof accordingly. The smash title track-- Jimmy Durante meets fold rock -- is just the start of it. "It's Not Time Now" is an unusually mature song about the complexities of relationships, with music that is a precursor of The Byrds country-rock period; "Let The Boy Rock and Roll" is a quite uncannily accurate Chuck Berry pastiche. "Butchie's Tune" is a beautiful, melancholy love song. Possibly best of all is "Jug Band Music", a Sebastian tour de force that displays his twisting, turning, surprise-packed, outrageously crammed lyric-writing genius to full effect. Not even the fact that the five CD bonus tracks are pretty uninteresting stuff -- alternative takes, some without vocals -- can deflect recognition of this as a wonderful album.

It's great to have the Spoonful back. The second batch of remasters are to be released before too long. Roll on the Good Times.

--Sean Egan

{Editor's note: the above albums are also available on 180-gram vinyl with bonus tracks from Sundazed Records}


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