The Buckinghams' 'Greatest Hits' (1969)

Album: The Buckinghams' Greatest Hits

Place: AMVETS (4105 Holston Drive)

Price: 55 cents

Collecting thrift-store musical jetsam has allowed me to learn a great deal about life in the 1960s. For example, reading liner notes taught me that Wink Martindale was a DJ before he hosted that game show in the 1980s on which players rolled gargantuan dice. I've also learned that lots of young people took drugs in the late 1960s, that guys with hairy chests used to be at least somewhat attractive to women, and that even before rap music, women often were treated with disrespect by the musically creative class. (Here's John Lennon: "You better run for your life if you can, little girl/Hide your head in the sand, little girl/Catch you with another man/That's the end, little girl." So much for "give peace a chance.")

I've also learned that there was a time when groups of young men wore suits (often matching suits) when they performed rock 'n' roll music. The Beatles did it, the Rolling Stones did it, and scores of their imitators did it. The besuited Buckinghams embraced this trend, and can found sporting odd-looking '60s foppery on several of their album covers. (While I'm at it, I should note that, like many bands of the time, the Buckinghams inexplicably also posed for several photos in matching Civil War regalia).

The suits and haircuts alone beckoned me to give The Buckinghams' Greatest Hits a serious listen. I had heard their most famous song, "Kind of a Drag" before, but little else. "Kind of a Drag" is catchy pop, but it doesn't hold up particularly well after almost 50 years. Like most of the other songs here, it sits too far on the wrong side of a continuum anchored by early Beatles love songs on one end and Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 fare on the other. The horns and the strings are too prominent, and the guitars are too quiet for the Buckinghams to compare favorably to the Standells or the Knickerbockers. If those bands performed in spartan, oil-stained, acoustically unpredictable garages, the Buckinghams cut their teeth in grandma's slightly moldy but still tidy and comfortable and predictable basement. In short, this stuff is quite limp. The songs are solid, seemingly all written by non-band members, but they are so thoroughly sanitized and devoid of rock 'n' roll energy and dynamism and danger (and even fun, for that matter) that nothing leaves much of an impression.

Of course, it's hard to blame the Buckinghams for their mistakes. It's impossible to tell from this album if the fellas are good musicians, or if they played the instruments at all. But it's not impossible to tell where things went wrong—in the production and mixing. The influence of Chicago's Jim Guercio is obvious. The man has crafted some beautiful soft-rock records, but his formula seems emasculating in the Buckinghams' case.

The best of the rest after the catchy "Kind of a Drag" are "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," "Don't You Care," and "Lawdy Miss Clawdy"—all top 50 hits in 1967. But alas, the horns and the dearth of edginess make the songs less interesting than they could have been. Finally, it's worth noting that the Buckinghams, like so many other bands ill-equipped to do so, dabbled in politically conscious songwriting. This package includes the song "Foreign Policy," which is long, experimental (read: bad), jazzy (read: bad), and facile. The late JFK makes an appearance in the middle of the song, blathering on about peace (probably after his saber-rattling mendacity during the Cuban Missile Crisis). It's terrible. But I admire the boys' bold stroke. Not all '60s music is good, but much of it is interesting.