Tag Archives: Chicago Rock

The Buckinghams: Chicago’s answer to the British Invasion.

The Buckinghams were by far one of the biggest pop-rock hit makers to come out of our city. Named for The Buckingham Fountain in Chicago (of course), the group was originally known as the Pulsations. They changed their names to a British-sounding name in hopes of benefitting from the British Invasion, the trend in the mid-60s during which British Rock Groups trounced their American counterparts in terms of record sales. But their sound was pure Chicago: witness their Horn-driven oh-so-hip brass-rock sound (and some fly suits) circa 1967, below.

When they had their first hit, “Kind of a Drag,” they were signed to local USA Records (a small local label best known for its blues, soul, and garage rock releases). Based on strong record sales, they were signed to Columbia Records (at the time, the biggest label in the industry). In 1967 Cash Box Magazine named them “The Most Promising Vocal Group in America”. Billboard Magazine called them “The Most Listened to Band in America” that same year. But meteoric success wasn’t to last.

They followed up with huge hits like “Don’t You Care”, “Susan”, and a cover of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” (all of which were Top 20 Chart toppers). But, their second album was produced by James William Guercio, who had stylistic clashes with the group. The group started out with a more rock and blues-based sound, but their Guercio-produced album was much slicker (yet much more off-kilter, too) featuring long edits and sometimes psychedelic horns and strings by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that countered what the group wanted to sound like: more homegrown. For comparison purposes, here’s an early rare performance on a local TV show showcasing their homegrown bluesy-rock sound (note their notably less outrageous suits):

Fast Forward to about 1969. The group gained artistic control and parted ways with Guercio; but, consequently, their hits dried up. After a couple of additional albums, the group split: but for a moment in time, they were Chicago’s answer to the British Invasion. Below, “And Our Love”, a piece of Baroque brass-rock from their 1967 album “Time and Charges” (which I highly recommend).

Spanky & Our Gang, Harmony in the Breezy City

Chicago has a vast musical heritage.  It is known for electrifying Delta Blues, known for creating House Music, renowned for its particular brands of Chicago Soul and Gospel, and also known as contributing its own twang to 60’s garage proto-punk, jazz, and just about every other genre out there.  Why not loungy folk-pop goodness?

Spanky and Our Gang formed in Chicago in 1966 when Elaine McFarlane was working as a singing waitress at a local club called Mother Blues.  Club owner Curly Tait offered her a chance to form a group to open for his featured acts. She quickly recruited Nigel Pickering and Oz Bach.

With McFarlane playing washboard and kazoo, Pickering on guitar and Bach on bass, the trio jokingly began calling themselves Spanky and Our Gang, playing on their singer’s nickname. Eventually guitarist Malcolm Hale was added to the roster.  A club favorite, the group caught the ear of Chicago’s Mercury Records, and their first single, “Sunday Will Never Be The Same” was a Top 10 Pop hit.  Four more successful singles followed.  The Windy City begat something breezier.

Above, a 1967 live vocal performance by the group of “Sunday”. Even with a bit of a cough, Ellen’s voice was in great form. Below, their groovy cut, “Suzanne”. I love the rhythm changes in this.

Sadly, the group hit an insurmountable loss when on October 31st, 1968, forty years ago (almost to the day), 37 year old Malcolm Hale died suddenly of pneumonia (the cause of death is sometimes listed as Carbon Monoxide poisoning).  The group broke up shortly after, but they left us with some Breezy City goodness.