For a while, weirdly, it looked like Mungo Jerry may be the heirs to The Beatles’ throne. This rock/pop/skiffle/jug band scored 1970’s biggest-selling number 1, and one of the most memorable summer anthems of all time with their debut single In the Summertime. ‘Mungomania’ was a very real thing.
Mungo Jerry formed from the ashes of 60s rock’n’roll and blues band The Good Earth, featuring, among others, singer-songwriter and guitarist Ray Dorset and keyboardist Colin Earl. The other half of the band were gone by the end of 1968, and with one remaining commitment – the Oxford University Christmas Ball of 1968 – left to go, Dorset hired Joe Rush to play double bass. The Good Earth played again when the night was over, performing folk, skiffle and jug band originals and covers.
This more low-key, acoustic version of the band went down well, and they built a following thanks to regular gigs. Banjoist, guitarist, and blues harp player Paul King made them a quartet. Rush left, to be replaced by Mike Cole, and they changed their name to Mungo Jerry, taking the name from TS Elliot’s poem ‘Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer’, as featured in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
Mungo Jerry signed with Pye Records, who placed them on their progressive imprint Dawn Records. They set to work recording their eponymous debut album, and the tracks that would make up their first single. This was to be one of, if not the first maxi-single in the UK. Vinyl maxi-singles were played at 33⅓rpm, rather than 45, and featured more than two tracks.
Dorset was still working his day job in a lab for watchmakers Timex when he came up with lead track In the Summertime, which he knocked off in 10 minutes. Clearly he could tell this ditty could make for a great debut for Mungo Jerry, but it’s unlikely he knew the impact this tale of youthful freewheeling would have for the next half a century.
Much like Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, In the Summertime will be the one track associated with Mungo Jerry (despite a second, long-since-forgotten, number 1), has been used countless times in the media, and is a tune neither I or millions more will ever tire of. It’s all about that loveable, rickety old backing track, really, with a distinctive rhythm created by Dorset stomping and playing an African percussive instrument called the cabasa. I assume it’s also him doing the breathy interjections. Dorset’s an interesting character. His voice has an unusual bleating quality, like a friendly sheep. Footage of him from back in the day though, such as in the video they filmed for the single, above, used to scare me when I was younger. I used to think, with all the teeth and sideburns, he was some kind of hairy villain. Special mention must go to Earl’s piano riff, too.
50 years on, its the lyrics that prove problematic. In the Summertime is a song about being young, about the generational divide of 1970. You could even call it a somewhat passive-aggressive statement of intent:
‘We’re no threat, people,
We’re not dirty, we’re not mean,
We love everybody but we do as we please’
Dorset and his gang are happy-go-lucky, but in the end, they’ll do what they want, so don’t stop them. And that involves womanising and driving recklessly, possibly while under the influence. The lyric ‘If her daddy’s rich take her out for a meal/If her daddy’s poor just do what you feel’ may have just sounded cheeky back then, but it’s unpleasant to hear these days.
And of course, thanks to a memorable public information film from 1992, it’s ‘Have a drink, have a drive/Go out and see what you can find’ that stands out the most. Anyone that saw this at the time will likely never get the graphic image of the drink-driving accident out of their head whenever they hear this song. But because my mind has unlimited storage for 80s adverts, I also can’t hear it without picturing the curly-haired juggler of oranges in the rewritten version for Outspan. Pretty sure that’s Dorset himself singing ‘Grab an Outspan, the small ones are more juicy naturally’.
Despite the bad vibes of some of Dorset’s lyrics in the 21st century, it’s such an addictive song, it seems it’s never going to go away, and I’m glad about that. In the Summertime stayed at number 1 for seven weeks that summer – the lengthiest run of the 70s until Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody managed nine weeks in 1975/76. The UK’s brief flirtation with Mungomania had begun.
Jamaican-American rapper Shaggy released a version of In the Summertime in 1995, which reached number five that summer. Featuring his mate Rayvon, it eschewed the drink-drive references, but kept the rest of the dodgy bits intact.
Written by: Ray Dorset
Producer: Barry Murray
Weeks at number 1: 7 (13 June-31 July) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*
Singer-songwriter MJ Hibbett – 19 June
Field hockey player Russell Garcia – 20 June
Field hockey player Christine Cook – 22 June
Footballer David May – 24 June
Actress Lucy Benjamin – 25 June
Footballer Steve Morrow – 2 July
Singer-songwriter Martin Smith – 6 July
Boxer Wayne McCullough – 7 July
Take That singer Jason Orange – 10 July
Actor John Simm – 10 July
Conservative MP Saj Karim –11 July
Children’s TV presenter Andi Peters – 9 July
Director Christopher Nolan – 30 July
Actor Ben Chaplin – 31 July
Scottish sociologist Robert Morrison MacIver – 15 June
Artist Edwin La Dell – 27 June
Dramatist Githa Sowerby – 30 June
Publisher Allen Lane – 7 July
Conservative MP Iain Macleod – 20 July
13 June: Actor Laurence Olivier was made a life peer in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Olivier was the first actor to be made a lord.
14 June: England’s defence of the FIFA World Cup came to an end when they lost 3-2 to West Germany at the quarter final in Mexico (see here).
17 June: The bodies of two children were discovered in shallow graves in woodland at Waltham Abbey, Essex. The bodies were believed to be those of Susan Blatchford (11) and Gary Hanlon (12). The tow children had last been seen alive near their homes in North London on 31 March. This became known as the “Babes in the wood” case.
Also on this day, British Leyland launched its luxury Range Rover.
18 June: The first general election in which 18-year-olds were entitled to vote. Opinion polls pointed towards a record third consecutive victory for the Labour government, led by Harold Wilson.
19 June: Edward Heath’s Conservative Party defied expectations, to win the election with a majority of 30 seats. Notable new MPs included future Labour leaders Neil Kinnock and John Smith for Labour, and Kenneth Clarke, Kenneth Baker, Norman Fowler and Geoffrey Howe, who would all serve in Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Cabinet in the 80s.
21 June: British golfer Tony Jacklin won the U.S. Open.
22 June: The Methodist Church allowed women to become full ministers for the first time.
26 June: Riots broke out in Derry over the arrest of Mid-Ulster MP Bernadette Devlin.
29 June: 32-year-old Caroline Thorpe, wife of Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, died in a car crash.
3 July: British Army soldiers battled with IRA troops in Belfast, leading to the deaths of three civilians.
Also on that day, 112 were killed when Dan-Air Flight 1903 from Manchester to Barcelona crashed in the mountains of Northern Spain. There were no survivors.
8 July: Roy Jenkins became Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.
14 July: 5 speedway riders were killed in Lokeren, Belgium when a minibus carrying members of the West Ham speedway team crashed into a petrol tanker after a brief tour. One of the casualties was Phil Bishop, a founding member of the West Ham speedway team from before World War Two.
15 July: Dockers voted to strike, leading to a state of emergency the following day.
16–25 July: The British Commonwealth Games were held in Edinburgh. Australia came first, England second, Scotland fourth and Northern Ireland were 10th on the medal table.
17 July: Lord Pearson proposed a settlement of dockers’ strike.
30 July: The dockers’ strike was settled.
31 July – The last issue of grog in the Royal Navy was distributed.