They say it’s your birthday, John

John Lennon would have been 70 today.

I wonder whether time would have mellowed his opinion of this song, which he did in the studio with Paul McCartney in September 1968.

“Birthday,” Underground Sunshine, Intrepid 75002 7-inch, 1969. It’s out of print. (Please forgive the fuzz and the noise on the vinyl rip.)

Lennon thought the song, as done by the Beatles on “The Beatles” — the white album — “was a piece of garbage.”

Lennon and McCartney share the writing credits. Paul insists “‘Birthday’ was 50-50 me and John.” But given that McCartney came up with the music, and given Lennon’s disdain for it, you have to wonder whether it wasn’t more Paul’s than John’s.

Underground Sunshine was a group from Montello, Wisconsin, a small town in the south-central part of the state.

Their cover of “Birthday” was a big hit in the late summer of 1969. It reached No. 2 on the Hit Parade at WLS in Chicago in mid-August, but couldn’t displace the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman.”

It was the only hit for Underground Sunshine, which also cut an LP and released three other singles but got nowhere in the charts and broke up in 1970. That year, they covered “Jesus Is Just Alright,” which charted for the Doobie Brothers just two years later.

Here, for the curious, is the flip side to “Birthday.”

“All I Want Is You,” Underground Sunshine, Intrepid 75002 7-inch, 1969. It’s out of print. (Please forgive the fuzz and the noise here, too.)

It’s an original by band members Bert Koelbl and Frank Koelbl, along with high school classmate Rex Rhode, who wasn’t in the band. It seems clearly influenced by “Time Won’t Let Me” by the Outsiders. There’s also a pleasant enough pop-psych jam in the middle.

Underground Sunshine was a four-piece group. The Koelbl brothers went as Bert and Frank Kohl, playing bass and drums, respectively. Chris Connors, whose real name was John Dahlberg, played lead guitar. Jane Little, whose real name was Jane Whirry, played keyboards.


Filed under October 2010, Sounds

7 responses to “They say it’s your birthday, John

  1. Terry Anderson

    I’m betting John would have liked this song better if he had heard this: The Rockafire Explosion’s version at Showbiz Pizza

  2. The Underground Sunshine’s version of “Birthday” was on the charts when I first began to listen to Top 40, and thus, it was the first version of the song that I knew. Sometime later, I heard the Beatles’ version, and my reaction – which I’m glad I never expressed to my friends – was surprise that the Beatles would record another group’s song. Despite that, I still have some affection for the US’s version.

  3. I love the covers! What a tribute, and a sweet lips to their alter, to have someone take up precious studio time to give a bit of a twist to your original. The tracks you highlight surely add to the tribute.

  4. paul hampton

    I remember the cover, though I probably heard it on KXOK in St. Louis. The AM gods had to be aligned to pick up WLS in Southern Illinois. I love Lennon, but he always was his worst critic.

  5. gale barchus

    Wasn’t Steve Swadley playing guitar when “Birthday” came out?

  6. Dave L.

    Underground Sunshine performed “Birthday” on Dick Clarks Bandstand.

  7. Kean JD

    I knew the DiCianni brothers who were the musicians behind Underground Sunshine. They were natives of Oshkosh WI. The band was three musicians, not four. Their father was “manager”. The others mentioned are not known to me.

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