178) The Buckinghams – “Kind of a Drag”

There are still pockets of rock fans for whom The Monkees will never be able to transcend their prefab origins. A band assembled for a kids’ TV show, who rarely played their own instruments on their early records and relied on professional songwriters for their biggest hits, fails the test of authenticity that has largely defined, and plagued, rock since the ’60s. Yet the talent, creativity and resources allotted to this “fake” band resulted in a string of records more emotionally authentic than much of what their “real” counterparts produced.

Take The Buckinghams, whose first charting single and biggest hit, “Kind of a Drag,” succeeded “I’m a Believer” at the top of the Hot 100. Like The Monkees, they rode the coattails of the British Invasion, anglicizing their name from The Pulsations and decking themselves out in matching suits. They too subsisted on covers and songs loaned to them by outside writers. But while The Buckinghams, whose path to fame included triumphing in a Battle of the Bands and scoring a 13-episode residency on a Chicago TV variety show, had the advantage of being genuine garage rockers, they also stand as proof that organic roots and paying dues don’t automatically translate into credible rock and roll.

It isn’t just the loungey horns, roller rink organ and trying-too-hard slanginess of the title that give “Kind of a Drag” the feel of a Vegas revue of rock and roll – it’s the incessant smoothness of the thing, from lead singer Dennis Tufano’s slick croon to the jaunty not-quite-groove of the arrangement. While smoothness, when properly deployed, is an underrated tool in the rock set, here it undermines the song’s foundation. If “I’m a Believer” were a relatively straightforward narrative (I never believed in love, now I do) given a dramatic arc through its production and Micky Dolenz’s vocal nuances, then “Kind of a Drag” is its inverse: a song that has the potential for complexity (I can’t quit loving you even though you have treated me terribly, and all I can do is tell you I love you even though it’s against my better judgment and I know you don’t care), then confines itself to a single, inappropriate gear.

The contrast between the upbeat arrangement and melancholic lyrics could be a fascinating use of downplaying, as if the narrator were trying to convince himself that having his heart broken were (as per the title) no big deal. But the frictionless performance lends the record a false chipperness estranged from any recognizable human emotion. Likewise, the overlapping melody lines in the chorus – one sung by Tufano, the other by the rest of the band – presents a prime opportunity to illustrate the conflicting impulses running through the narrator’s mind. The Buckinghams waste the opportunity, however, by singing essentially the same thing with only slightly different words: you hurt me, but I still love you anyway. Arranged differently, the horns – unusual for a rock and roll band in the pre-Sgt Pepper’s era – could emphasize the narrator’s anguish (à la “When a Man Loves a Woman”), or at least breathe some fresh air into the production through sheer novelty value. Instead, they serve only to fuel the record’s empty bounce.

It’s this blown potential that makes “Kind of a Drag” more frustrating than simply mediocre: it approaches making clever, evocative choices, then swerves to avoid them. The Buckinghams, as an unknown garage band on an independent label, could get away with grit, intensity and creative left turns; they opted instead for an ill-fitting stab at Herb Alpert-esque easy listening. For group wanting to go pro and uncertain of rock’s longevity, perhaps that seemed like the right decision at the time – it certainly worked for The Buckinghams, for a year or so anyway. But if “Kind of a Drag” evinces the compromises and limited talent of an authentic garage band making it big, it’s hard not to prefer the Hollywood version, in which even a comically unsuccessful group can turn in memorable, deeply felt performances in weekly installments. 4

Hit #1 on February 18, 1967; total of 2 weeks at #1
178 of 1030 #1’s reviewed; 17.28% through the Hot 100

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5 Comments

Filed under 04, 1967

5 responses to “178) The Buckinghams – “Kind of a Drag”

  1. To add yet another layer to this great review, I seem to recall Tom Hanks saying the Buckinghams were one of the inspirations for That Thing You Do – a fake band copying a real band copying a fake band.

    After hearing this, if you know the movie, “Kind Of A Drag” always felt like the exact sort of thing the fake group’s conceited lead singer-songwriter would go on to do in order to achieve commercial success. But I digress.

    I actually first heard of this record (when I was a tween) on another, rather less relevant film, one of the Hot Shots movies – Charlie Sheen namechecks it before collapsing from a head injury. I assumed he’d ad-libbed it until I actually heard the song a year or so later.

    I have no idea what I’m talking about now. Anyway, 4 sounds about right.

  2. bob stanley

    “Estranged from any recognizable human emotion” is a good call. I’ve never got how this was such a big hit. It meant nothing in the UK – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a UK pressing of it (though it must exist).

    The flatness of the singing works a lot better, in a Gary Lewis weakling way, on the follow-up Don’t You Care, a more fully realised production and a stronger tune.

  3. GeorgeL

    Aw come on! i love this record! It was produced by James William Guercio who would later give us Chicago (for better or worse). This was kind of a warmup for the whole Chicago / horn dominated sound of the 70s. Horn arrangements were starting to show up on pop/rock records. The Grassroots are a good example of this trend as well. I think there was a bit of a Motown influence with the horn arrangements. One of my favorite Buckinghams’ songs is their last charting single “Back in Love Again” which has a fantastic arrangement. Also love “Hey Baby They’re Playing Our Song”. I’ve also heard some of the Buck’s album tracks & they aren’t bad. I saw a version of the Buckinghams in the mid 90s at the Maryland State Fair & they were pretty good. Hey the late 60s weren’t all Sgt Pepper & Hendrix.

  4. Guercio didn’t produce “Kind of a Drag”! He did all the follow up singles, though.

    Funny you mention The Grass Roots – I was actually listening to to “Midnight Confessions” a lot when writing this entry, I think because it does the brass thing so much better (and the internal conflict thing too!). There’s a definite Motown influence with the horns and the bass on that track, but “Kind of a Drag” is about as soulful as Lawrence Welk.

  5. GeorgeL

    Oops sorry for the misinformation about Mr. Guercio. Yeah the Grassroots R O C K ! And you’re talking to someone who loves soul music & Motown. GIve “Back In Love Again” by the Buckinghams a listen. I still think it is a solid production. There is a really cool piano part.
    Love your site! Good work.

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