The Lovin’ Spoonful is an American rock band, inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and well known for a number of hit songs in the 1960s including “Summer in the City”, “Do You Believe In Magic”, “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?”, and “Daydream”.
Formation and early years (1964–1965)
The band had its roots in the folk music scene based in the Greenwich Village section of lower Manhattan during the early 1960s. John Sebastian grew up in contact with music and musicians, the son of a much-recorded and technically accomplished classical harmonica player (also named John Sebastian). He had reached maturity toward the end of the American folk music revival that spanned from the 1950s to the early 1960s. Sebastian was joined in the Spoonful by guitarist Zal Yanovsky from a bohemian folk group called The Mugwumps (two other members, Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty, would later form half of the Mamas & the Papas), playing local coffee houses and small clubs. The formation of the Lovin’ Spoonful during this period was later described in the lyrics of the Mamas & the Papas’ 1967 top ten hit, “Creeque Alley”.
Drummer Jan Carl and bassist Steve Boone rounded out the group, but Carl was replaced by drummer-vocalist Joe Butler after the group’s first gig at The Night Owl in Greenwich Village. Butler had previously played with Boone in a group called The Kingsmen (not the hit group of “Louie Louie” fame). The group’s first Night Owl performances were reportedly so bad that the club owner told them to go away and practice, so they practiced in the basement of the nearby Hotel Albert until they had improved enough to draw audience attention.
The group made its first recordings for Elektra Records in early 1965, and agreed in principle to sign a long-term deal with Elektra in exchange for a $10,000 advance. However, Kama Sutra Records had an option to sign the Lovin’ Spoonful as recording artists as part of a previously signed production deal, and Kama Sutra exercised the option upon learning of Elektra’s intent to sign the band. The four tracks recorded for Elektra were released on the 1966 various artists compilation LP What’s Shakin’ after the band’s success on Kama Sutra.
Pop success (1965–1966)
The band worked with producer Erik Jacobsen to release their first single on July 20, 1965, “Do You Believe in Magic”, written by Sebastian. Additionally, they wrote all their own material (aside from a few covers, mostly on their first album), including “Younger Girl” (which missed the Hot 100), which was a hit for The Critters in mid-1966.
“Do You Believe in Magic” reached #9 on the Hot 100, and the band followed it up with a series of hit singles and albums throughout 1965 and 1966, all produced by Jacobsen. The Lovin’ Spoonful became known for such folk-flavored pop hits as “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice”, which reached #10, and “Daydream”, which went to #2. Other hits included “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” (another #2 hit) and their only song to reach #1 on the Hot 100, “Summer in the City” (13–27 August 1966). Later that year, the #10 hit “Rain on the Roof” and the #8 hit “Nashville Cats” completed the group’s first seven consecutive Hot 100 hits to reach that chart’s top 10. The only other 1960s act to achieve that feat is Gary Lewis & The Playboys.
The Lovin’ Spoonful was one of the most successful pop/rock groups to have jug band and folk roots, and nearly half the songs on their first album were modernized versions of blues standards. Their popularity revived interest in the form, and many subsequent jug bands cite them as an inspiration. The rest of their albums featured mostly original songs, but their jug band roots showed up again and again, particularly in “Daydream” and the lesser-known “Money” (which only reached #48, in 1968), featuring a typewriter as percussion.