Tag Archives: Underground Sunshine

Soundtrack to the ride of a lifetime

One of the girls was still in high school, the other not long out, listening to the radio as they cruised what they called “The Circuit” in the late 1960s.

They sat up front in that Mercury Cougar, vaguely a muscle car. With all the windows down on an early August night, the air rushed in and the sounds of the Top 40 blasted from the AM radio.

The kids sat in the back, savoring every moment of that late-summer adventure. It seemed oh, so sophisticated.

Those memories have come rushing back, for reasons all too bittersweet.


Seeing this 1970 Cougar at our local car show on Sunday reminded me of the Cougar those girls drove. One of those girls — my cousin — may not be with us for much longer. Cancer.

My cousin’s given name is Maureen, but we have called her “Pete” forever.

Pete 1966

She was 17 and her sister Debbie was 19 when we made the rounds of Janesville, Wisconsin, in the summer of 1969. I sat in the back along with my brother John. We were 12 and 10. (The photo above is me and Pete and John from 1966, three years before we cruised The Circuit.)

Janesville, then the home of a huge GM assembly plant, had a strong car culture. On weekends, the kids cruised The Circuit, a long, rectangular loop of one-way streets that went over the Rock River and back again.

WLS, the Big 89 out of Chicago, provided the soundtrack to those thrilling rides. We could have been riding The Circuit on the week of Aug. 4, 1969. The top five songs in the WLS chart that week have been seared into my head all these years.


1. “Honky Tonk Women,” the Rolling Stones. This is the live version from “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!” from 1970.

2. “In The Year 2525,” Zager and Evans.

3. “Put A Little Love In Your Heart,” Jackie DeShannon.

4. “Birthday,” Underground Sunshine.

5. “Polk Salad Annie,” Tony Joe White.

Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Imagine hearing those every three hours.

Some of the other songs in the WLS Top 40 that memorable week, also long blown deep into my head by the wind off The Circuit:

8. “Sweet Caroline,” Neil Diamond.
9. “A Boy Named Sue,” Johnny Cash.
11. “Soul Deep,” the Box Tops.
14. “Laughing,” the Guess Who.
16. “Marrakesh Express,” Crosby, Stills and Nash.
17. “Give Peace A Chance,” Plastic Ono Band.
20. “Green River,” Creedence Clearwater Revival.
24. “Spinning Wheel,” Blood, Sweat and Tears.
25. “Good Morning Starshine,” Oliver.
30. “Get Together,” the Youngbloods.
31. “Nitty Gritty,” Gladys Knight and the Pips.
33. “I’d Wait A Million Years,” the Grass Roots.
36. “Pledge Of Love,” the Joe Jeffrey Group.
40. “Sugar,  Sugar,” the Archies.

What a ride that was, Pete.



Filed under June 2013, Sounds

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