Well, this is disconcerting. I don't believe I knew that We Five had a girl lead singer until now. I think I'm the only one who didn't.
But there's so much about the great wound-licking song You Were On My Mind that I didn't know, like who wrote it and where the We Five were from (were they part of the British Invasion? No.) The songwriter was Sylvia Fricker Tyson, half of the Canadian folk duet Ian and Sylvia. We Five, fronted by Beverly Bivens, hailed from San Francisco - before the city became a hotbed of psychedelia.
And while I was oblivious to the fact that this wasn't an all-boy harmony combo, half the male teen universe lusted after the the ebullient Ms. Bivens (she is darling, isn't she, and check out Fred Astaire, of all people, introducing them!), or so says the YouTube commentosphere.
I often talk about constructing the definitive list of best song intros, but there's also a need for a compilation of best song outros, and this would definitely be one of them. Contralto Bivens' range was from low tenor to high soprano. Yes, that could explain it. So why did I think it was a guy? I cannot hear those last six crescendo-ing seconds without getting chills - and I love that I can match my voice to hers pretty darn well. What a feeling.
We Five was formed by Michael Stewart, brother of the Kingston Trio's John Stewart, while he and Bivens were college students. Herb Alpert, who founded A&M Records, heard the quintet performing and signed them. Bivens was thought to be a groundbreaker; her powerhouse voice anticipates the other West Coast female lead singers that followed her - Grace Slick, Cass Elliot, Spanky McFarlane. I found a Billboard cover online that pronounced their discovery as "the most important advance of vocal and instrumental talent in the last 20 years," and described them as the innovators of a sound called "thought and soul." What in the hell was that?
Whatever it was, it didn't last, and Bev Bivens left the group after only two albums, the second of which wasn't even released until she had already departed. Her much-lamented exodus seems to have coincided with her marriage to Fred Marshall, one of the Vince Guaraldi Trio that created those addictive soundtracks for the Peanuts specials.
For a period of time, Bivens and Marshall were part of an avant-garde musical collective called Light Sound Dimension that may have been the first purveyor of psychedelic light shows. The late music critic and Rolling Stone co-founder Ralph Gleason on LSD (yeah, that's right, LSD): "... the images are remarkable in their diversification ... accompanied by the improvised music which at times reaches the intensity of a cosmic upheaval ..." There have been persistent rumors that Bivens had died, but they appear to have no basis.
There is a vocal contingent that considers the original version of You Were On My Mind to be a classic; it appeared with nothing more than an autoharp and a Martin D-28 on Ian and Sylvia's Northern Journey LP. This much later performance of it after they had long since stopped performing together apparently was not a good representation of the original, and in any case is quite different from We Five's interpretation. But wait, there's more! Ian and Sylvia were part of a country-rock group called Great Speckled Bird which rocked out to yet another version of the song. A documentary called Festival Express features them with the Bird - and the Dead, the Band, Janis Joplin and a slew of other musicians - on a whistlestop tour across Canada. Ah, those were the days.