Friday, February 24, 2017

Harpers Bizarre – "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" (1967)

Slow down
You move too fast

The Queensboro Bridge – also known as the 59th Street Bridge – connects the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Queens.  It’s one of the 22 bridges and tunnels that carry vehicles from one side of the East River to the other.  

The Queensboro Bridge opened in 1909
When I was in high school, I was part of a team that competed in a local academic quiz show that was broadcast on a local radio station.  One of the questions we were asked in our first match was “What two boroughs does the Brooklyn Bridge connect?”  Obviously, one of the boroughs was Brooklyn.  But none of us had ever been to New York City, so we had no idea what the other borough was.  (The other team was so clueless that they guessed Manhattan and Queens.)

The bridge passes over Roosevelt Island
In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway use the Queensboro bridge to get from Long Island to Manhattan.  “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge,” Nick says, “is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.”

The view of Manhattan from the bridge
A famous scene from Woody Allen’s 1979 movie, Manhattan, features Allen and Diane Keaton sitting on a bench under the Queensboro Bridge:

Keaton and Allen chatting under the bridge

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“The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” was originally released on Simon and Garfunkel’s third album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.  (Like Vampire Weekend, Simon and Garfunkel don’t give a f*ck about an Oxford comma.)

The drummer on that recording was Joe Morello, the brilliant jazz drummer who was a member of the legendary Dave Brubeck Quartet.  (Morello judged a high-school jazz band competition that my high school’s jazz band entered, and then gave a clinic and performed.  I didn’t have a clue who Joe Morello and Dave Brubeck were at the time.) 

You may be more familiar with the Harpers Bizarre cover of the song, which entered the Billboard “Hot 100” fifty years ago this month, eventually climbing all the way to the #13 spot.  Leon Russell arranged their recording of the song, which featured a Beach Boys-esque a cappella section and a short bridge by a woodwind quartet.  The song is pretty thin gruel, and benefitted greatly from Russell's arrangement. 

Randy Newman was a member of the Tikis, which is what Harpers Bizarre called themselves before they recorded “Feelin’ Groovy.”  The group eventually recorded six Newman songs.

In 1969, Harpers Bizarre boarded a TWA flight in Los Angeles that was supposed to fly to San Francisco.  But an AWOL Marine hijacked the plane and ordered the crew to fly to New York City.  The 707 wasn’t carrying enough fuel to make it that far, and when it landed in Denver to fill up, the passengers were allowed to disembark.  After getting to JFK Airport, the hijacker decided he wanted to go to Rome.  TWA accommodated, stopping in Shannon, Ireland to refuel once more.  

When the hijacker, who was armed with a rifle, was asked by a newspaper reporter why he did it, he said, “I don’t know.”

Here’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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