Six O’Clock (1967)

Lovin' Spoonful

Written by John Sebastian
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Six O'clock MainWhen they weren’t busy cranking out mega-hits like “Summer In The City,” “Darling Be Home Soon,” and “(What A Day For A) Daydream,” The Lovin’ Spoonful crafted a handful of songs centered around the mysteries of love, slipped connections and post-adolescent yearning.

Many of them have undeservedly receded into obscurity. “She’s Still A Mystery” and “Lovin’ You” are in the mold. “Six O’clock” stands out among such work and should be counted among the greatest Rock-N-Roll songs of all time. In fact it is one of the tiny number of songs in which The Spoonful departed from their successful Folk Rock formula.

An entertaining, endearing first night of love

The song begins at dawn after a night of falling in love in a more innocent time when people really enjoyed getting to know each other. The setting is New York City. A raspy guitar croaks in time like a public clock ticking, expressing the jingle-jangle feeling you get after having been up all night. The lyric kicks in:

There’s something special ’bout six o’clock 
In the morning when it’s still too early to knock 
And the dusky light shines down on the block 
And reflects up and down on the hands of the clock 
Six o’clock, six o’clock 

Six oclock record jacketThe instrumentation stays spare underneath this first lyric section: we hear but one little high hat tap and a set of quiet organ cords supporting the plaintive, puzzled vocals. However, as the main body of the song leaves the runway, “Six O’clock” is rocking – hard. Chugging, rattling, thrashing drum work holds up the bottom with exceptional help from a bouncing, dancing bass line. The screeching guitar underscores the singer’s anxiety.

A few hours ago she was standing here 
Just watching the stars in our eyes
and the lights as the tights* disappeared   (*being uptight) 

A slight tempo change in which the drums slide to a back beat ushers in this reflection as the sun rises:

And I could feel I could say what I want 
That I could nudge her and call her my confidante 
But now I’m all alone with just my shadow in front 
At six o’clock, six o’clock

The singer goes home but can’t sleep. On his mind is how those first moments of love always seem to fade so fast.

I got up and got scufflin’ around 
But somehow it just wasn’t the same happy town 
And the bells didn’t ring with the same happy sound 
At six o’clock, six o’clock  

A truly magical change comes in the bridge. The tempo changes to something new altogether. Close harmonies and a small brass section, buoyant and prayerful, simultaneously release the floodgates of missed chances:

If I go back where we parted 
Could I ever feel like that again 
Guess I’ll just have to wait ’til tomorrow 
But what can I do ’til then?

Six oclock Greenwich Village 1967

Greenwich Village circa 1967

John Sebastian’s ingenuousness, the trademark that earned him the nickname “Mr. Good Vibes” in the ‘60s, floats “Six O’clock” along like a short rockin’ miracle. His voice is tentative but not without optimism. Even though he knows that the bewitching scene he saw slip away will not ever come back in exactly the same way – still there is a chance. A beautiful chance. As the song sprints to its end, time gets a little jumbled, as it always does
after an emotion-packed all-nighter:

Guess I’ll go back home and just wait until dawn 
Yes, I had to learn going back
where we were wouldn’t help at all
And I wish my head had been working right
We’d have gone for coffee and talked all night
And now I’m back alone, bein’ twisted up tight
Six o’clock, six o’clock  

The tune ends on a pick-me-up tempo change. It accelerates ever so slightly. Sebastian keeps moaning, “Now I’m back alone,” but when he stops and the music takes over we get light-hearted self-mockery out of the piece. His cause is not lost at all. He’s a goofball who couldn’t quite close the sale when the girl of his dreams wanted to buy what he was selling.

He – and we, the listeners – are hoping he gets another shot.

 

mangoids
  • Brilliant guitarist Zal Yanovsky (following John Sebastian) came over to the Spoonful from The Mugwumps, a New York folk group that sent Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty to The Mamas And The Papas.
  • The story of the Greenwich Village Folk Rock scene in the early and mid-1960s is told engagingly in The Mamas And The Papas’ song “Creeque Alley.”

 

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