Today is the birthday of Gary Puckett (b. 1942). A native of the Pacific Northwest, his band was originally known as the Outcasts when he formed it in 1966. By the following year under the management of Dick Badger, they donned the familiar Civil War army outfits and called themselves the Union Gap (a play on the name of a town in Washington State and the Union Army). Their window of success was short but intense: a half dozen top 15 singles in less than two years, three of them in the top five: “Woman, Woman” (Nov. 67, #4), “Young Girl” (March 68, #2) “Lady Willpower” (June 68, #2), “Over You” (Sept 68, #7), “Don’t Give In To Him” (March, 69, #15) and “This Girl is a Woman Now” (Aug 69, #9).
There were two keys to their success. One was Puckett’s powerful, legit type voice — he was a much better singer than most rock or pop groups at the time could boast of. In fact, when I was a kid, listening to the songs as oldies on am radio without hearing an attribution, I generally assumed I was listening to someone like Tom Jones or Engelbert Humperdinck. The other element was was the epic, lush production given to the numbers by CBS records producer Jerry Fuller (except for their last hit “This Girl is a Woman Now”). Then, the same old story — hubris. They broke with Fuller in ’69, lost the sound that made them popular, and immediately began falling off the charts. The various members continued to make music, but very rapidly became — much like their outfits — exponents of nostalgia.
Worth talking about is their most lasting and notorious hit, “Young Girl”, a pedophilia power ballad whose content is so unmistakable that even unreflective people will stop and say, “Hey, isn’t this song kinda weird?” But it’s so damn catchy. Here they are performing it on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1968.
To find out more about show business past and present (including television variety), consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc