Gary Puckett and the Union Gap were almost
unfathomably popular in the late 1960s. Wearing Civil War regalia (complete
with fake military ranks) and pounding out lush, almost bizarrely
orchestrated pop, they had a series of enormous hits, beginning with the
No. 1 single “Woman, Woman” in 1967. They reportedly sold more
records than any single act in 1968 — the year of such landmark
records as the Beatles’ White Album and the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet.
It was a fantastic run. The Union Gap was more than just a one-hit wonder, reaching the top 10 over and over again in 1968 and ’69 with “Lady Willpower,” “Over You,” “Don’t Give In to Him,” “This Girl Is a Woman Now,” and “Young Girl” — but then it all suddenly stopped.
“At the end of the ’60s, music was coming
along that you may remember — glitter rock, then disco,”
Puckett says. “The youth of the ’70s, they wanted to forget
about the ’60s. . . . It was just a time when everybody wanted to
forget, and we were automatically forgotten. Most artists do have a short
run, but my run was better than most. There was a two-year period where we
sold millions and millions of records.”
After the Union Gap (named for a small town near Puckett’s childhood home in Yakima, Wash., and the reason for the Civil War uniforms) disbanded, Puckett recorded a solo album but soon abandoned music for a small-scale acting career in Los Angeles. Since 1984 he’s been performing the Union Gap’s hits and ’60s pop standards.
“I’m out there playing the music,”
he says. “There’s a lot of good music from that era. I still
love that music.”
Puckett is somewhat defensive about the Union
Gap’s defining moment, the 1968 No. 1 single “Young
Girl.” Written by Dee Clark and Jerry Fuller, it’s a
first-person account of inappropriate desire couched in pseudosophisticated
lounge pop. It starts with a bang, Puckett’s aching voice, echoed by
a string section, gently crooning the song title, before the band and a
full orchestra kick in with a stern warning: “Get out of my
Puckett bristles at the suggestion that the
narrator’s attitude (“My love for you is way out of line/Better
run, girl/You’re much too young, girl”) might be just a little
creepy. “No, it can’t be creepy,” he says.
“It’s a guy saying, ‘I’m afraid we’ll go too
far.’ The guy’s saying, ‘Go away.’ It’s
really about morality, not ‘Hey, baby, come over here.’
It’s about an older guy and a younger girl. He’s saying,
‘I really want you, but I can’t have you.’ He
doesn’t say, ‘Come back when you’re older,’ but
that’s what he means.”
Gary Puckett performs at 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, on the Farlane Stage during the Route 66 Mother Road Festival. The concert is free. In case of bad weather, the show go on, 7-9 p.m. at the Prairie Capital Convention Center.