You Could Have Been A Little Less Nice

From a popular nursery rhyme in the early 19th century we know that little boys are made of frogs and snails and puppy-dog’s tails, while little girls are made of sugar and spice and all that’s nice.  I always felt that boys and girls were made out of the same stuff, but since boys will be boys in general boys will get into trouble more often.  The Mother Goose rhyme goes on to say that young women are made of ribbons and laces and sweet pretty faces, which is quite flattering to women and I think that little boys actually enjoy being compared to frogs and snails.

One of the first American groups to challenge the domination of the British Invasion bands in the mid-’60s was the Lovin’ Spoonful.  Between mid-1965 and the end of 1967, the group was astonishingly successful, issuing one classic hit single after another, including ‘Summer in the City’ which reached number 1 on the charts, ‘Daydream’ got to number 2, ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?’ also went to number 2, ‘Nashville Cats’ peaked at number 8, ‘Do You Believe in Magic?’ got to number 9, ‘Rain on the Roof’ reached number 10, ‘You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice’ also got to number 10, ‘Darling Be Home Soon’ reached number 15 and ‘Six O’Clock’ peaked at number 18.  The Lovin’ Spoonful was able to tackle jug-band music with their song ‘Good Time Music’, ragtime ‘Daydream’, country ‘Nashville Cats’, hard rock ‘Summer in the City’, orchestrated pop ‘She Is Still a Mystery’ and folk-pop with the song that I am writing about today ‘You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice’.

This song came out on the Lovin’ Spoonful’s second album titled Daydream which was released in 1966.  It was written by Steve Boone the bass player and John Sebastian a singer-songwriter, guitarist, harmonica player, autoharp player which is a musical instrument in the chorded zither family, but he is probably best known as a founder of the Lovin’ Spoonful.  Steve Boone said that ‘You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice’ happened pretty quickly.  He was visiting with Joe Butler (The Lovin’ Spoonful’s drummer) at his girlfriend’s apartment in Greenwich Village and they had a Baby Grand there, so he started fooling around with a piano riff that that he had created in a recording studio.  Boone was playing it and Joe Butler said, “That’s a great sounding melody.  Do you have any lyrics for it?”  Steve came up with this, “You didn’t have to be so nice, I would have liked you anyway.”  Steve said that he was thinking about this girl he just met that other guys in the band tried to set him up with.  He said that she was a great girl and that they actually became great friends, but they never hit it off romantically.  Steve went to John Sebastian with the beginnings of that song, the melody, the rhythm and the first line and a couple of other lines and then they finished the song pretty quickly.  Joe Butler being at his girlfriend’s apartment sort of fits that old joke, “what do you call a drummer without a girlfriend?  Homeless.”

John Sebastian was a member of the Even Dozen Jug Band who released their debut and only studio album in 1964.  In 1963, they were co-founded by guitarist and singer Stefan Grossman who later went on to get involved in an acoustic band venture on the West Coast with Janis Joplin, Taj Mahal, and Steve Mann and he also played electric guitar with the legendary shock-rock band, the Fugs.  The other founding member of the Even Dozen Jug Band was Peter Siegel, a virtuoso solo country blues and ragtime guitarist who brought a sizeable group of his musician friends to perform with a number of Stefan Grossman’s blues singers.  The group found that the two forms of music complemented each other perfectly, and the Even Dozen Jug Band was born.  Other members of the Even Dozen Jug Band were David Grisman (a noted mandolinist) who later on played in the bluegrass group Old & In the Way which was composed of Peter Rowan, Vassar Clements (fiddle), Jerry Garcia, and John Kahn.  Steve Katz a singer and guitarist who later played with the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat and Tears, Maria Muldaur (then Maria D’Amato) a folk and blues singer who also played fiddle and guitar recorded the hit song ‘Midnight at the Oasis’ in 1973, Jim Kweskin the founder of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and keyboard player Joshua Rifkin were also in the group.  The group had a nucleus of about seven players and five to seven other friends frequently joined in. The band’s unwieldy size made them an expensive booking on the club and coffeehouse circuit and they soon disbanded.

Zalman Yanovsky often called Zally arrived in the US with a Nova Scotia folk group called the Halifax Three in 1964.  The following year, Yanovsky joined Cass Elliott and Denny Doherty, in the Mugwumps, who would later become the Mamas and the Papas.  Within months he settled into New York’s thriving Greenwich Village folk scene, where he met Sebastian, and they found that they each shared an avid interest in folk and blues music.  Inspired by the Beatles’ example, the two plotted to create an electric band that would combine their traditional roots with the energy of rock & roll.  They got together with Boone and the drummer Joe Butler to form the Lovin’ Spoonful, taking their name from a line in Mississippi John Hurt’s Coffee Blues.

The Lovin’ Spoonful produced quirky but lovable songs which have a tendency to stay in your heart.  The opening drums of ‘You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice’ are easy for any music lover to name this tune as soon as it starts.  I think that this song is quaint and comparable with the Turtles’ song ‘Happy Together’ and the Beach Boys song ‘God Only Knows’.  Sebastian married a waitress Loretta ‘Lorey’ Kaye, who was Yanovsky’s former girlfriend in 1966 and this created personal tensions in the group.  Also in 1966, two band members Zal Yanovsky and Steve Boone were both arrested for marijuana possession and this led to the band’s gradual dissolution.  Zally and Steve were pressured into a deal where they agreed to introduce an undercover cop to partygoers in the city, one of whom got busted.  Yanovsky left in 1967 and Sebastian quit in 1968. Sebastian started a solo career and had a big hit with his first single ‘She’s A Lady’ that was released in December 1968 and later he sang at Woodstock.

You didn’t have to be so nice
I would have liked you anyway
If you had just looked once or twice
And gone upon your quiet way

Today I said the time was right for me to follow you
I knew I’d find you in a day or two
And it’s true

You came upon a quiet day
You simply seemed to take your place
I knew that it would be that way
The minute that I saw your face

And when we’ve had a few more days (when we’ve had a few more days)
I wonder if I’ll get to say (wonder if I’ll get to say)
You didn’t have to be so nice (be so nice)
I would have liked you anyway (would have liked)

Today I said the time was right for me to follow you (today said that the time was right to follow you)
I knew I’d find you in a day or two (I knew that I would find you in a day or two)
And it’s true

You didn’t have to be so nice (didn’t have to be so nice)
I would have liked you anyway (would have liked you anyway)
If you had just looked once or twice (once or twice)
And gone upon your quiet way (quiet way)

Written for Daily Addictions prompt – Solo, for FOWC with Fandango – Personal, for Ragtag Community – Quaint and for Scotts Daily Prompt – Stay.

10 thoughts on “You Could Have Been A Little Less Nice

  1. I like that joke about drummers, although if I ever heard of it before I don’t remember — and I haven’t known any drummers. It’s an interesting joke. Not entirely sure how that works, as drum sets aren’t easily portable.

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  2. I’ve always been a fan of The Lovin’ Spoonful and have written three posts since I started this blog featuring two of their songs “Summer in the City” and “Do You Believe in Magic.” Another great post, Jim.

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