Monday, July 1, 2013

The Mill Valley of the Mind

Although the charming 1970 single credited to Miss Abrams and the Strawberry Point School Third Grade Class only peaked at #90, it seemed to stir up a "craving among American radio listeners for the voices of children," as I put it in my book. It led an early '70s hit parade of songs featuring kid vocals, childhood images, or topics related to family living. Songs like these were all over Top 40 and MOR formats, functioning like a "mass media dialogue between adults and children."

Richie Unterberger's liner notes for the CD reissue of Rita Abrams' only album, billed to Miss Abrams and Strawberry Point 4th Grade Class, report that she had written the song for the kindergarteners she taught. A record producer acquaintance of hers named Erik Jacobsen then hatched the idea of making a studio recording with a musically tighter 3rd grade class (they were 4th graders by the time the album came out - hence the disparity between the 45 and LP), resulting in a track that prompted the suits at a Warner Bros. sales meeting to deliver a standing ovation.

Radio airplay and appearances by Abrams on the Steve Allen Show and Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour helped turn the single into a national hit. The song and promo clip - filmed by Francis Ford Coppola - still have the power to transport listeners to an idyllic Mill Valley of the mind. For a fascinating "where are they now," see this 2010 San Francisco Chronicle article by Joel Selvin.

Miss Abrams and the Strawberry Point School Third Grade Class - "Mill Valley" (Billboard #90, entered 8/1/70). Written by Rita Abrams. Produced by Erik Jacobsen and Rita Abrams. 45: "Mill Valley"/"The Happiest Day of My Life" (Reprise 1970). LP: Miss Abrams and the Strawberry Point 4th Grade Class (Reprise 1972).

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