Thursday, May 02, 2019

Rediscovering Peggy Lipton

The Mod Squad was syndicated in reruns when I was in first or second grade, which seems to match up with the end of the initial broadcast. It came on in the weekday afternoons right as I was getting home from school. I was probably hooked initially by the opening theme sequence, with the punchy theme song and scene of the cast running through the underground sewer system of LA (or whatever that was). I loved a lot of theme songs (Medical Center, Sanford & Son) but often lost interest once the show started. After awhile, though, the cast of The Mod Squad really grew on me. Linc Hayes (played by Clarence Williams III, whose real name was cool in and of itself) was my favorite. 

At some point, my mom told me she didn't want me watching the show because it was too violent. In retrospect, I'm not sure if that was the reason or if had to do with the subject matter. In high school, a teacher once told my class that abortion was mentioned on The Mod Squad. This teacher wasn't very good and a bit alarmist, so I don't know how accurate she was, but between any mention of abortion and maybe pot, I can see why a mother might not want her six-year old watching the show. 

In our house - probably since my uncle was frequently a guest star on tv shows (including two episodes of The Monkees) - it was not uncommon for us to become familiar with the names of actors on a show. Thanks in part to a commercial that the local station created for the show, I knew the names of Williams, Michael Cole and Peggy Lipton. So when my mom told me she saw an album by Peggy Lipton, I had to hear it. (In retrospect, I wonder if she came across it at the 5&10 where she found the Rugbys and the Hassles.) 

Once she bought it for me, I stared at the album, pictured above, a lot, until Lipton's eyes looked a little too intense. Then I'd open up the cover, because  of course it was a gatefold with a few more pictures, including one of her squatting down barefoot on a rock, looking coyly at the camera. The other two inside shots caught her looking away from the lens. 

When I first got discovered used record stores around middle school, I tried selling a stack of albums to a couple places thinking I'd get some good money for them. I couldn't understand why they didn't want Three Dog Night's Cyan and a few other questionable things. By that time, I was over Peggy Lipton and after trying to unload it locally, I shipped it off to a used mail order store in San Francisco who gave me about $1.00 in credit for it. 

Back to the current times. There's a beer we sell at work called Lager of the Lakes, which made me think of a song on the album called "Lady of the Lake." That was a gateway to a few other memories of the album. I recalled really liking Lipton's version of Laura Nyro's "Stoney End." Plus, her version of "Natural Woman" was the first one I ever heard. A few days ago, I decided to see if it was on Spotify and to check it out again. (We recently got a family deal for Spotify so after several years, I have taken the plunge. I still only use it for research, as you'll see here, rather than as a substitute for buying music.)

Sure enough, Peggy Lipton was there in all its "Expanded Version" glory. A few things are apparent from the opening bars. The kid could sing. She could also write a decent song too. "Let Me Pass By," one of the four that Peggy wrote, ain't a bad little tune. And that message of letting her do her thing and spread her wings? Right on, sister. 

There's something else that hits you immediately: strings. This is not some attempt to cash in on Peggy's counterculture cred, surrounding her with a rock band. This is an attempt to make her palatable to Middle America. The Wrecking Crew provides the rhythm section but without even checking the credits, I recognized the gentle voicings of arranger Marty Paich. That comes in part because they sound an awful lot like the charts that he wrote for Spirit's first album, which like Peggy Lipton was also on Ode. A lot of violins, some flutes, an oboe or two. With backing vocals by a group called the Blossoms, I'm sure this album appealed to me in the same with the 5th Dimension did. Those Laura Nyro songs didn't hurt either, though even as a kid, the title of "Hands Off the Man (Flim Flam Man)" was too silly for me enjoy. 

In the bonus department, there's a version of "Just a Little Lovin' (Early In the Morning)" which was also recorded by Stony Brook People, a band that was I knew around the same time. My childhood worlds are colliding! There was also a really slow version of Donovan's "Wear Your Love Like Heaven." (Upon checking Discogs, it seems like The Complete Ode Recordings also has versions of Pet Sounds' "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" and Bacharach's "Wanting Things.") 

After a while, it started to seem like all the songs were in the same key. That thought occurred to me while getting through the bonus tracks, which weren't meant initially to be heard in sequence, but it felt like Peggy had been in the same key for more than half the album. So maybe it fulfilled a curiosity and kept me from doing the mid-life crisis thing and plunking down some serious bucks for an original copy of the album - or the Complete set, which looks pretty expensive. 

But if the album ever turns up at a yard sale or flea market, I'll have to snatch it up.  

1 comment:

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