Connect with Isthmus:         Newsletters 

Sunday, March 1, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Fog/Mist
Share on Google+
Vinyl Cave: Wadsworth Mansion by Wadsworth Mansion

In our current environment of hyper-connectivity, crazed paparazzi and reality TV, it seems impossible to imagine that a band could immediately fade away into the ether after having a Top 10 pop hit. But four decades on, that seems to be the case for early '70s rockers Wadsworth Mansion. While the name may not be familiar, most anyone who's spent some time listening to oldies radio has probably heard their shining moment, 1971's "Sweet Mary." It's the sort of earworm you can hear a million times and not necessarily ever remember the lyrics of the laid-back verses -- at least, beyond "wop, wa doo ba doo wop wop wop" -- which melt in the ear like auditory cotton candy and alternate with yell-along choruses. The song hit No. 7 on the Billboard charts in early 1971... and then, nada.

Short biographies of the band turn up in various online music databases and, of course, Wikipedia. Most consist only of the players' names, also on the album jacket -- brothers Steve and Mike Jablecki, John Poole and lead guitarist Wayne Gagnon, late of Tangerine Zoo -- and "apparently they broke up" conclusions. The ever-intriguing BadCat Records does contribute that the group was from Providence, Rhode Island. Even more info is found at another reliable source for info on obscure psych-era records, the blog Red Telephone 66: A different lineup of the group did tour the U.S. in the wake of their hit, but collapsed following the loss of all their equipment due to a flood at a Pennsylvania gig (!) and a subsequent loitering bust in Louisiana (!?). Primary songwriter/lead singer Steve Jablecki and touring member Forrest McDonald called it a day, moved to the West Coast and formed a band called Slingshot. Well, okay then. Most online sources also note that the group is named after a Wadsworth Mansion at Long Hill Estate, a Connecticut landmark.

(An aside, because this is too good not to share: Sometimes diligent searching for info on an obscure group will turn up unexpected sights... such as this picture of Wadsworth Mansion with "Buddah Records promotion man Freddy Cannon" from the April 17, 1971, Billboard.)

Whether a full-length disc was planned initially or not, when the single took off Sussex Records (also the original home of Rodriguez' now legendary Cold Fact album) ponied up for an LP. Judging by notices in Billboard, it must have emerged in March or April 1971, about the time the hit was falling off the charts. That quick turnaround is occasionally reflected in the resulting disc, which does have a couple songs that sound as if they weren't fully finished/arranged. Quickly assembled or not, this is a really solid album, a collection of unpretentious pop groovers in the mode of "Sweet Mary" -- i.e., somewhere in the forbidden land between bubblegum and the concisely stoned twanginess of early '70s Grateful Dead. And because it sounds like neither of those extremes, I think this disc has largely been ignored and even unfairly slammed by listeners expecting something it's not. Anyone who likes "Sweet Mary" will find more to like here. One negative point to the LP is the fact that a completely different, less rocking, version of "Sweet Mary" is included. The original single has a great trashy B-side, so you need it anyway, but still... axing the hit version from the album was not a good idea.

Another confounding choice was the pick for the follow-up single, "Michigan Harry Slaughter," perhaps the album's weakest track. It somewhat apes the template of "Sweet Mary" (laid back verses, driving chorus, nonsense syllables) but without any of the hit's catchiness. Heck, that single's B-side, "Havin' Such a Good Time," would have been a better choice, so it's too bad DJs didn't flip it. When the single went nowhere, the lack of chart momentum left the album stalled out as well, see Bubbling Under at No. 216 in the May 8, 1971, Billboard.

And that would be it for the recorded history of Wadsworth Mansion. Their last stand on the LP charts was in good company that week: The Bubbling Under chart also included albums by Baby Huey, Swamp Dogg, Emitt Rhodes, William Bell and Mott the Hoople. Take that, Top 10! The album and singles sides were reissued on CD by Varese Sarabande a couple years back, but that release must have already been deleted by the label since it doesn't show up on its website. (Sussex SXBS-7008, 1971)

Share on Google+

Log in or register to comment

Select a Movie
Select a Theater

Promotions Contact us Privacy Policy Jobs Newsletters RSS
Collapse Photo Bar