Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Mungo Jerry 'In The Summertime'

Chart Peak: 1
One of the few groups to have 2 No. 1 singles with their first 2 Hits, Mungo Jerry were at the top of the UK charts for 7 weeks form Mid-June to the beginning of August 1970 with 'In The Summertime'.
As of Summer 1986, it was still pretty unusual to have topped the chart with your first two chart singles; George Michael had recently achieved this with his first two solo singles, though of course there were Wham! releases before and between them, and of course Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Gerry And The Pacemakers could also make this claim. You could make a case for Gary Numan if you count his hit with Tubeway Army too, but it's happened many more times since: just off the top of my heard there's the Spice Girls, Westlife, Jive Bunny, Arctic Monkeys, Leona Lewis... What's particularly remarkable about Mungo Jerry is that they might be the act fewest people remember doing this; when I was a kid in the 80s, they'd become a running joke of a one-hit wonder like Carl Douglas, and 'Baby Jump' must rank among the most forgotten chart-toppers of the 1970s if not of all time. Just as well, really, it's rubbish.

Whatever you might say about 'In The Summertime', it's not rubbish, but it certainly feels dated now. Admittedly it was aiming at a sort of retro sound even at the time, with its jug-band arrangement (it must be one of the very few Number One singles that actually features somebody blowing into a bottle) and mouth percussion. The lyric also seems to equate its subjects with an earlier generation of wandering minstrels. And yet the production is very redolent of its time, with Ray Dorset's haphazardly double-tracked vocal something that would only have been technically possible a few years earlier, whilst the stereo mix which features here (and which I presume was on the original 45) pans the vocal across the stereo spectrum. Of course the engine sound effects also anchor the song pretty firmly in the 20th century, and the lyric openly advocates drink-driving (at 125 miles per hour!) which is not something you'd expect to hear nowadays; the song has of course been licensed to some road safety adverts since. The song has now become such a familiar part of summer it seems almost irrelevant to try and form an opinion on it, and indeed its sheer ubiquity has spoilt it a bit. It no longer feels as easy-going and light-hearted as I think it's meant to.

Available on: Magic Summertime

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