David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 226: Small Faces (Itchycoo Park)

February 13, 2023

As more and more baby boomers die off, there will be less and less memories of just how bizarre the 1960s were, especially with pop music.

Take Small Faces' sole U.S. hit, "Itchycoo Park." Single-handedly, I'm sorry to say, it bears the least helpful title in the history of rock and roll. It's not the stupidest song about a park, not by a long shot, as that goes to 1968's "MacArthur Park" for its lament about the cake left out in the rain; nevertheless what we do have is the least likely title to reveal a sweetness within.

Given that it wasn't a huge hit in the U.S., there are probably millions of us who occasionally hear the chorus, "it's all too beautiful," and pause to think, "what was that beautiful song?" Few of us would remember the ugly title of "Itchycoo Park." Rock mythology has cast a number of narratives about the real "Itchychoo Park," including the Small Faces at one time claiming it was just a waste ground. The one constant among the narratives seems to be that the actual park led to a lot of itchiness, either because of nettles or wasps. In what world is any of this likely to lead us crooning, "it's all too beautiful"?

Well, the song comes from the 60s, so it's gotta be the drugs. Literally . . . it is the drugs: the song basically recounts a drug-induced experience in the park, where Steve Marriott sings of being "inclined to blow my mind." In the call and response sections of the chorus, Marriott promises that "we'll get high" there, invoking "what will we touch there?" from the crowd of respondents. "We'll touch the sky" there, Marriott exclaims. Those 60s stoners wanted to do a lot with the sky, didn't they? Touch it, kiss it, find Lucy there with her diamonds.

What was it with the park system and the hippies? I would have been anxious about walking my dog through any city park based just upon the songs I heard.

The accompanying music has that same kind of druggy mood to it, especially in something called Flanging, which I had never heard of until now. If we go by the examples set by Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club BandPet Sounds, and Surrealistic Pillow, drugs in the 1960s opened the door to a lot of studio experimentation. No complaints, mind you. The experimentation that seems to envelope the verses to "Itchycoo Park" actually serves as good contrast to the much cleaner chorus, especially that repeating "it's all too beautiful."

O.k., we can establish it's the drugs that open up the eyes to something "too beautiful," but let's go back to that dang title. Why the discomfort associated with itchiness? My drug usage in my youth was very limited (hey, I refuse to count alcohol) so maybe I am naïve, but I thought one took drugs to eliminate pain, to minimize anxiety. After all, much of the song exudes some pretty trippy ideas: "feed the ducks with a bun/they all come out to groove about/be nice and have fun in the sun." All of this to skip school, because "why go to learn the words of fools?" Why is Eden being called Itchychoo? Not only is it an allusion to irritation, but, and I hate to sound like a broken record (the puns never stop with this series), why use any cacophonous name for this park? 

Oh wait, that refrain is "it's all too beautiful." When I haven't heard the song in awhile and I conjure it up in my head, the lyric is usually "it's all so beautiful," which is much different from "too beautiful." Itchycoo's environment is excessively beautiful. Wow! The drugs and the discomfort do meet in an ultimate stoner refrain. I can hear Cheech's (or maybe Chong's, who remembers the difference?) voice in my head: "Wow, man, that purple sky is too beautiful, man, it hurts."

I think I prefer to fall back on my Mandela effect, singing "so beautiful" in my head. It's one more way to participate in revisionist history.

Small Faces. "Itchycoo Park." There Are But Four Small Faces. C.B.S., 1968. Link here.

Day 225: The B-52's "Deadbeat Club"

Day 227: Warren Zevon "Desperadoes Under The Eaves"

See complete list here.