TRANSCRIPT, EPISODE 3: The Buckinghams’ Greatest Hits
First released 9/2/2017
NOTE: THIS IS A PRE-RECORDING SCRIPT AND MAY NOT REFLECT THE SCRIPT FOR THE FINAL PRODUCT.
Hello, and welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, a weekly podcast that takes a look at popular songs of the past and dives into their history, their meaning, or any other things that might be of interest surrounding those songs.
My name is Claude Call and I’m just some guy who’s interested in this sort of thing. If you are too, and you have any suggestions or questions of your own, or it there’s a song you’d like me to look into, please feel free to email me at HowGoodPodcast@gmail.com. You can also find me on Twitter @HowGoodItIsPod, and you can check out the website How Good It Is Dot Com for some additional tidbits about this show.
Y’know, Billboard Magazine once referred to the band The Buckinghams as the most-listened to band of the year 1967, and they weren’t kidding. The Buckinghams had five—count ‘em, five—songs to reach the charts, and they all charted during that year:
[BG: Buckinghams Montage]
- “Kind of a Drag” was released in December 1966 and hit #1 in February of 1967;
- “Don’t You Care” entered the Hot 100 in early March and went to #6;
- “Mercy Mercy Mercy” went to #5 in August of that year;
- “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song) was released in September and peaked at #12 on the Billboard Chart;
- And finally, “Susan” capped out the year with a December release and a climb to #11 in the US.
[BG: End Montage]
[BG: Begin Adderley Mercy Mercy Mercy]
Now, of those five songs, only one of them was a cover. That would be “Mercy Mercy Mercy,” which was a surprise hit for Cannonball Adderley a year earlier, in 1966.
[BG: Cross-fade Cannonball to Buckinghams “Mercy”]
The Buckinghams liked the song, and they added lyrics to it. I’ve seen a report that the lyrics were added by Johnny “Guitar” Watson and Larry Williams, but these names don’t appear anywhere on the album or the 45 with respect to the song.
But Mercy Mercy Mercy is not why we’re here today. We’re here to take a look at the other four hits.
[slow fade on Mercy]
For many, many years, I had a running theory that most of the Buckinghams’ hits were all about the same person. They all appeared to be sad-sack post-breakup songs about a guy who got dumped. And it was kind of a running gag for me, especially because I also noticed that they were all written by the same person, a fellow named Jim Holvay, with Gary Biesber pairing up with him for three of those tunes. So I finally decided to dive into the mystery. And, as it often happens, the answer practically fell into my lap. And that answer is Yes. But let’s go back a little bit.
[Mercy should be gone by now]
The Buckinghams, despite their British-sounding name, was a band out of Chicago. They adopted that name because it sounded reflective of the British Invasion, but also because it was a callback to a landmark in the city called Buckingham Fountain. They were the house band for a TV show on WGN called All-Time Hits, during which they, and several other singing groups, would sing and play hits of the past in their own style. The show was a lot like “Your Hit Parade” in that hit songs were re-interpreted by house-based artists. They got a contract with USA Records, but everything they released didn’t go anywhere.
[BG: “Mystery Man]
In the meantime, Jim Holvay was writing songs and playing with a seven-member band called The MOB, which was an R & B group also out of Chicago.
To my ear they sound a little like the Dave Clark Five, with horns added.
[beat, then F/O]
Holvay had written a song that he knew he wasn’t going to use for The Mob, so he gave it away to a local promoter named Carl Bonafede (BON A FED DEE) and didn’t really think anything of it. That song turned out to be “Kind of a Drag.” The Buckinghams recorded it, and later on the horns were added to the mix by Bonafede and Dan Belloc, who co-produced the record. In fact, it’s the only track on the Buckinghams’ first album that has horns—everything else sounds like they’re a garage band. USA Records released the single in November of 1965 and at the same time they cut the Buckinghams loose, choosing not to renew their contract.
That turned out to be a huge mistake on their part because the record was a Number One hit by February, and now the band had a #1 hit and no label. Fortunately when you’re in that kind of situation, you’re also a little bit in the driver’s seat, so they got a deal with Columbia Records and started recording their second album right away, which included hits #2 and #3, “Don’t You Care” and “Mercy Mercy Mercy”.
So as I mentioned, all of their charting hits from 1967 turned out to be about the same woman, after all. Who was this mysterious woman?
As it happens, former lead singer Dennis Tufano tells the story in his live shows nowadays. He doesn’t perform with his former band members, but it’s not out of a sense of animosity. They’d done some reunion shows in 1980 and talked about putting the band back together, but by that time Dennis was performing on the West Coast and he just wasn’t up to all the traveling that would be involved. So he wished the other guys luck, and now they tour as The Buckinghams. He says that legally he can’t tour under that name as a result of that agreement, but he’s OK with it since he still gets to sing the hits.
Dennis explains that back in the day, Jim Holvay had a huge crush on a go-go dancer at the Whiskey a Go-Go, on the corner of Rush and Chestnut streets named Susie, and she and Holvay had this on-again, off-again relationship. So they’d hook up, then they’d break up, he’d get depressed and write a song about her, and the cycle would start again. The first few were generic songs of love lost, and in the last one he actually addressed her by name.
One of the most controversial tidbits of the Buckinghams’ career came with an odd little break near the end of the song “Susan”, before it goes into its final section:
[BG: Psychedelic Susan (begins at 1:30)]
According to lead guitarist Carl Giammarese, the band recorded the track, the vocals and some overdubs, but producer James Guercio had left in several bars of nothing but click track. They kept asking him “What’s going on, there’s nothing there?” and he’d say “Don’t worry about it, I have this idea, you guys will hear it and it’s going to be great.” So they went back out on tour and while they were in upstate New York they got a copy of the acetate. When they first played it, they thought there was a problem with the test pressing, but nope: that psychedelic break was in there on purpose.
What you’re actually listening to there is an excerpt from a classical piece called Central Park in the Dark, overlaid with someone saying “acid” repeatedly. The radio stations hated it, the listeners hated it, the BAND hated it, and usually it just got edited from the record, which was just as well.
And that’s it for this edition of How Good It Is. If you want to get in touch with me, you can email me at HowGoodPodcast@gmail.com,
Or you can follow me on Twitter at HowGoodItIsPod.
Or, you can check out the show’s website, How Good It Is Dot Com, where I throw in a few extra bits for you.
Next time, we’re going to discover how good it is when people can Get Together.
See you then.
http://www.rebeatmag.com/dennis-tufano-the-buckinghams-and-rocks-greatest-disappearing-act-part-1/ and http://www.rebeatmag.com/dennis-tufano-the-buckinghams-and-rocks-greatest-disappearing-act-part-2/, retrieved 8/6/17
Rock ‘n’ Roll Stories: James Holvay (KLCS-TV interview) https://vimeo.com/88115020, retrieved 8/6/17
McLane & Wong Entertainment Law, “The Buckinghams” (1996) http://www.benmclane.com/bucking.htm , retrieved 8/6/17
of a Pop Culture Addict; Hey Baby, They’re Playing Our Song: A Conversation
with Carl Giammarese (2010?)
http://popcultureaddict.com/interviews/buckinghams-htm-2/ , retrieved 8/6/17
“Dennis Tufano Talks About and Sings ‘Susan’”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6TaZdGFudQ posted by Dennis Tufano Fans, retrieved 8/6/17
Buckinghams’ official website: www.thebuckinghams.com
All Time Hits, WGN 1965, Several concatenated clips of the Buckinghams singing Beatles hits. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RId6u8fNsng posted by Dennis Miccolis and retrieved 8/6/17
All Time Hits, WGN 1965, “Unchained Melody” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I90MXbMA-Xs posted by Museum of Broadcast Communications, Chicago and retrieved 8/6/17
Mystery Man, The MOB https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiSHKm4LFJU
Mercy Buckinghams https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkslGrRExcQ
Susan Buckinghams https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfjoQ4fUw78