Saturday, 14 June 2014

Scott McKenzie 'San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)'

Chart Peak: 1
Took over at the top of the charts from 'All You Need Is Love' in August 1967 and stayed there for four weeks. Most people think 'San Francisco' was Scott's only hit but 'Like An Old Time Movie' did race to No. 50 for one week in November of the same year.
Do I detect a tongue placed in cheek with that "raced to Number 50", sleevenote? A week at 50 was of course the smallest hit it was possible to have, and even then it was only on the relatively low-profile Record Retailer chart: the more widely-read charts of the time cut off at 30 so The Golden Voice Of Scott McKenzie (as he's billed on that follow-up single) didn't get a look in. My mother used to refer to a notional The Golden Hits Of Scott McKenzie Volume 2 as a kind of running joke, and when we got phone calls from a supplier at work whose name was Scott McKenzie, I always used to pass the call on to the relevant person by saying "The golden voice of Scott McKenzie has called..." Not many people got the joke, which I suppose is a sign that this Scott McKenzie (whose real name was Phillip Blondheim) was less famous than his song.

Oddly, the note doesn't mention that this song was written by John Phillips of the Mamas & Papas, a former bandmate of McKenzie. At least this song is actually set in California, although it's about people from elsewhere in the country (and the world) going there which I guess is a bit of a thematic link to the previous track. I still always found it odd that he seems to be warning us to wear flowers in our hair because we're going to meet some "gentle people" there. Surely if they're really gentle people they'll let us wear whatever we like? Aren't flowers available in California anyway? In fact the whole song has always felt more like an advert than anything else to me, and it's almost a surprise that the record was actually made by genuine hippies and not by somebody thousands of miles away as a cash-in. Mind you, the best parts are arguably the shimmering percussion parts and the bassline, which are of course both the work of professional session men. I guess what they're selling is a sort of easy rebellion - buy this song and you can identify yourself with the "whole generation" feeling "such a strange vibration", even if you're actually in Hull or somewhere. No disrespect to Hull, of course, but I can imagine that if you were a teenager there in 1967 it must have seemed like all the excitement was a long way away. I can understand the pull from that circumstance but from here in the 21st century, when we've seen the world actually being run by that generation, it just comes over as pompous and silly.

Available on: San Francisco

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