(Pictured: Gale Garnett.)
I have written many times about songs I knew before I knew that I knew them, and another one popped up on shuffle the other day: “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” by Gale Garnett. It’s an easy-rockin’ singalong from 1964 that featured just enough harmonica to qualify it as a folk record back then, plus an orchestra, acoustic guitars, and a small chorus of what sounds like overdubbed Gale Garnetts:
We’ll sing in the sunshine
We’ll laugh every day
We’ll sing in the sunshine
Then I’ll be on my way
I must have heard it on Mother and Dad’s radio; it’s a song our hometown station would have been quite likely to play, and for years thereafter.
“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” is the slow-cookin’est single I’ve seen at ARSA lately. It first appears on several northern California radio stations in June and July 1964 and gradually creeps east. It hits the Top 10 at a couple of stations in San Francisco in mid-July, and while it rides high at a lot of stations for the next several weeks, it doesn’t hit #1 anywhere in the west until the last full week in August. It continues to cook across the country into September, going #1 at KLIF in Dallas in early September, at KIMN in Denver a week after that, and at both WKNR and WXYZ in Detroit at the end of the month. By the time October begins, most every city that’s listing it has it in the Top 10.
During the week of October 17, 1964, “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” reaches its peak of #4 on the Hot 100, part of a killer Top 10 that also includes “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” “Dancing in the Street,” “Oh Pretty Woman,” “Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, “Remember (Walking in the Sand),” Chad and Jeremy’s “A Summer Song,” and the Beach Boys’ “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man).” It hits #1 in Cash Box during the first week of November. In Bluefield, West Virginia, it’s still in the Top 10 come December.
“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” ran the Billboard Hot 100 and Cash Box Top 100 for 17 weeks each. In Billboard, only the Louis Armstrong “Hello Dolly” and Barbra Streisand’s “People” charted longer. It did seven weeks at #1 on the Billboard Pop-Standard Singles chart (later Easy Listening, still later Adult Contemporary), from late September through mid-November. Billboard ranked it at #8 for all of 1964. The song would win Best Folk Performance at the 1965 Grammys. Garnett’s followup single, “Lovin’ Place,” would reach #54 on the Hot 10 early in 1965, but it would be her last visit to the American charts.
Music had interrupted Gale Garnett’s acting career. She had started working on television while she was still a teenager before a 1963 singing gig in a New York City club led to a record deal. After “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine,” a handful of busy years followed. She frequently played Greenwich Village clubs and college campuses, and she opened for stars including Bill Cosby, but after all that, she returned to Hollywood. In the late 60s, she fronted a psychedelic rock band called Gale Garnett and the Gentle Reign. They made two albums whose titles could not have been more pop-psych perfect: An Audience With the King of Wands and Sausalito Heliport. Still later, she wrote novels, reviews and other journalism pieces, and she appeared on the stage, usually under her full given name, Gale Zoë Garnett. She’s still with us, at age 78.
Unusual for a female singer in 1964, Gale Garnett wrote “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.” She said it was about “settle-down fear,” but also “a happy approach to personal independence.” It’s also pretty bold for its time. We’ll do everything that lovers do, she says, and while “everything” isn’t explicitly defined, it’s reasonably clear that it includes acts that in 1964 were not yet considered respectable without the benefit of clergy. And nothing about it is permanent. “Although I’ll never love you, I’ll stay with you one year,” she says. And then:
And when our year has ended
And I have gone away
You’ll often speak about me
And this is what you’ll say
We sang in the sunshine . . . .
Translation: “I’m gonna ruin every woman who comes to you after me, son. But I mean that in the most benign way possible.”