Is there no other song that says summertime than that of “In The Summertime?” Though its creators, Mungo Jerry, have oft unfairly been pegged as a one-hit wonder, but the truth was that they had more than one hit in their day, and their blend of goodtime New Orleans-style boogie-woogie blues and ragtime would become briefly known as “Mungomania.” The Dawn Albums Collection collects the band’s first five albums, recorded quickly and released at a breakneck pace, released as they were between 1970 and 1974. Fronted by rock and roll wildman Ray Dorset, fame and success would come almost instantly.
When the band released its self-titled debut album in 1970, it was recognized for being something unique—ragtime-minded rock and roll. This was roots-rock in its purest form; banjo, boogie-woogie piano, kazoos, jaw harps, jugs, a crazed, bushy-haired frontman with large sideburns—this was something else. The general consensus from hearing tracks such as “Maggie,” “My Friend,” “See Me” and “Baby Let’s Play House” was that this wild and wooly band would be one hell of a live act—and that’s exactly what they were. Proving their meddle live, they soon discovered that a song they’d recorded at the session but left off the album, “In The Summertime,” had become an audience favorite. Upon realizing this, Dawn Records rush-released it as the band’s debut single, only to discover that they’d just released an internationally successful hit.
Before the band recorded its first album, they had written several dozen songs, and to cash in on the band’s sudden success, they would release two albums in 1971; the second, Electronically Tested, would be their most successful album, thanks to the inclusion of “In The Summertime” and their #1 follow-up single, “Baby Jump” and #5 single, “Lady Rose,” while its follow-up album, You Don’t Have To Be In The Army, would also perform quite well. The music on both albums is very much of a piece with the debut, and while there are highlights such as “You Better Leave That Whiskey Alone,” “Take Me Back,” and “Simple Things,” there’s a certain sonic monotony that’s inescapable.
By 1972, Dorset also started to recognize that Mungo Jerry was dancing perilously close to pigeonholing themselves. But things were not right in the band; at one point his band mates attempted to fire Dorset; in the interim he released a solo album, and would shake up the band by firing its members and forming another Mungo Jerry. It was a wise decision. Their fourth album, Boot Power, finds the band completely breaking away from the ragtime roots rock that had been their specialty, favoring a grittier, darker, blues-rock edge that hadn’t really been heard on a Mungo Jerry record. The new iteration mostly eschewed the boogie-woogie fun of their first three records, and songs such as “See You Again,” “46 And On,” “She’s Gone” found the band moving toward a straightforward rock sound that’s not unlike Dr. John or Randy Newman. Unfortunately, as good as Boot Power is, this more mature sound wasn’t as well received as their previous work; the album didn’t resonate with the listening public.
But 1974’s Long Legged Woman wasn’t so much a regression as it was a melding of Boot Power’s more mature side with the band’s earlier, funkier sound. Perhaps it was a recognition that people loved that good-ol’ Mungo Jerry sound. It’s evident where the intentions lie with “Summer’s Gone,” a sequel to their beloved hit that rewrites the catchy, fun lyrics with one that recognizes the coming seasonal change and the joys that come with cooler weather and spending time with loved ones. Though musically it’s the same as “In The Summertime,” it shows a wistfulness and maturity that makes it quite pleasing. Considering one of the musical trends of the era was a revival of 50s nostalgia, it’s not surprising that the band tuned into that vibe, and it isn’t surprising that single “Alright, Alright, Alright,” and the title track “Long Legged Woman In Black” would return the band to the upper reaches of the charts. Musically speaking, Long Legged Woman found the common ground between the Mungo Jerry of the past and the musical vision of Ray Dorset.
Shortly after the release of Long Legged Woman, the band would move on to Polydor Records, would continue to release albums and singles and Dorset would transform his band into one of Europe’s premiere live acts, one that still tours and records to this day–but it’s here that the legend started and that reputation was sealed.
Mungo Jerry: The Dawn Albums Collection is available now from 7T’s Records.
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