June 27, 1967
“Groovin'” by The Young Rascals
#1 on the Billboard Hot 100, May 20 – June 2 & June 17-30, 1967
As REBEAT readers may have noticed, IW50YAT is fresh from a month-long vacation — the first break in its nearly three-year history. Like the end of many summer vacations, the transition back to the daily grind is a bit rough. After days or weeks off, returning to work — even work you like and enjoy! — can be a bit of a struggle, especially when everyone else seems to be taking time off or going on their own vacations. Add in the energy-zapping summer heat and all motivation melts like ice in a glass of lemonade.
Even the subject of this week’s column seems geared to invoke leisure envy. The Young Rascals’ “Groovin’” details a perfect weekend afternoon with nowhere you have to be and no cares in the world. All you have to do is relax, hang out with the person you love, and enjoy a few hours of freedom. This decompressed, peaceful feeling is highlighted by the lazy harmonica, gentle congas (replacing a full drum kit), and scattered birdcalls. Even the vocal harmonies between lead singer Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati are laid back, with only soft “la-las” in the bridge and just the occasional shared word in the verse.
Although the birdcall sound effects in “Groovin’” were the group’s attempt to follow the Beatles’ sonic explorations, the Rascals are not generally considered among the decade’s most innovative bands. Nevertheless, they carved out a distinctive sound, blending rock with blue-eyed soul. While rock ‘n’ roll had originated a decade earlier as an outgrowth from R&B, rock bands of the mid-’60s were beginning to stray from these roots in pursuit of more experimental sounds. The Rascals were one of the few that not only continued to stick with the sound (their first #1 hit, 1966’s “Good Lovin’,” had originally been done by R&B group the Olympics) but follow contemporary black music as it evolved into soul.
Not surprisingly, such a soul-influenced group was a good match for Atlantic Records, one the labels that had defined R&B and made it mainstream in the late ‘40s and ‘50s. Even Atlantic, however, was hesitant to release “Groovin’” as a single, as it sounded so unlike anything previous in the Rascals’ discography, as well as anything else on rock or soul radio. After the band convinced the label to release the song, they were rewarded with not only a pop chart-topper but also a #3 R&B hit, making the Rascals one of the few white acts of the era to cross over to black audiences.
Rather than impeding its success, the hit’s atypical arrangement allowed it to appeal to a wide array of listeners without being crammed into any preconceived genre boxes. “Groovin’” also stood out from the increasingly baroque, elaborate productions taking over pop radio. As seemingly every band competed to implement the next trendy bit of studio trickery, make their singles more symphonic or operatic, or pen lyrics that would blow their listeners’ minds and fling wide the doors of perception, the Rascals’ chilled-out ode to simple pleasures was a breath of fresh air. There are no hidden messages to decipher (once you figure out there’s no Leslie in the line “you and me endlessly”); just the universal appeal of a little time off to relax.
It Was 50 Years Ago Today examines a song, album, movie, or book that was #1 on the charts exactly half a century ago.