Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – The Jukebox Series #41 – Gary Puckett & The Union Gap: “Woman Woman” b/w “Young Girl” – Columbia Hall Of Fame 45 RPM Single 13-33133 (A5/B5)
“The Jukebox Series” focuses on the 80 records that inhabit my 1963 Seeburg LPC1 jukebox. I’ve had my jukebox (or as I like to call it “the prehistoric iPod”) for a little over twelve years and in that time I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the mix of 45s within.
Today’s jukebox single features two songs with perfect trebly production that sound great coming out of the jukebox speakers, and if memory serves me right, even better pouring out of the mono speaker of the GE transistor radio I had as a kid. Gary Puckett and the Union Gap scored numerous hits during a short period in the late sixties including “Woman Woman,” “Lady Willpower,” and “Young Girl,” featuring horn-soaked arrangements and plaintive soulful vocals.
Gary Puckett was born in Hibbing, Minnesota, the same town that gave us Bob Dylan. He cut his teeth in a band called The Outcasts with band mates Kerry Chater on bass, Gary “Mutha” Withem on keyboards, Dwight Bement on saxophone and Paul Wheatbread on drums. They released two singles that went absolutely nowhere.
In 1967, the band renamed themselves The Union Gap, from the town Puckett grew up in, Union Gap, Washington which was also the site of the famous Battle of Fulbright Park during the Civil War. As a result they began to wear Civil War uniforms at performances. They also furthered the gimmick by taking on ranks. (Puckett was a general, while Whitbread and Withem were privates, etc.).
After hearing their demo, the band was signed by A&R man Jerry Fuller at Columbia Records on the strength of Puckett’s earthy voice. Their debut single was “Woman Woman,” which sold over a million copies and climbed to the #4 position on the pop charts in 1967. The song was written by Jimmy Payne and Jim Glaser (of 70s country artists Tompall and The Glaser Brothers) and covered by the likes of Glen Campbell, Engelbert Humperdinck, The Lettermen and big band legend Ted Heath.
Their follow-up hit was the song featured on the flip of today’s double A-sided single “Young Girl” which climbed to #2 on the charts in 1968. “Young Girl” was written by Jerry Fuller (who also wrote their hits “Lady Willpower” and “Over You,” as well as Ricky Nelson’s “Traveling Man”).
The song came off innocently enough back in 1968, but today sounds somewhat creepy. Fuller: “I was on the road a lot as an artist, fronting various groups for many years. I guess every entertainer goes through a time when 14-year-olds look like 20-year-olds. That’s somewhat of an inspiration not from my own experience, just knowing that it happens.” (1000 UK #1 Hits) “Young Girl” was also covered by Gary Lewis and the Playboys and Frida (aka Anni-Frid Lyndgstad) of ABBA.
The group’s other hits included “Lady Willpower” (#2/1968), “Over You,” (#7/1968), “Don’t Give In To Him” (#15/1969) and “This Girl’s A Woman Now” (#9/1969), and in 1968 they sold more singles in the U.S. than The Beatles.
Fuller was responsible for their magically crafted sound that fit in perfectly on radio playlists along with then current hits by Blood Sweat and Tears and The Chicago Transit Authority. In 1969, they were nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy, but lost out to Jose Feliciano. The group soon grew restless with the middle-of-the-road pop power ballads that Fuller was providing for them to record and Puckett wanted to take the group in a different direction.
Things came to a head when they were to participate in a session Fuller booked for them with a full blown studio orchestra. Puckett and the group refused to record the song and the session was canceled, ending their relationship with Fuller…and their run of big hits at Columbia Records. Puckett then embarked on a largely unsuccessful solo career and by 1972 he found himself without a recording contract.
In 1981, Puckett resurrected The Union Gap and ever since they have been regulars on the oldies circuit. His most recent album is a holiday collection in 2001 called The Gary Puckett Christmas Album. The current Union Gap lineup consists of Woody Lingle on bass, Jamie Hilboldt on keyboards and Mike Candito on drums.