In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
A rare and fortuitous case where the title of a song also works just fine as a review for that same song. There’s nothing wrong with the Buckinghams’ “Kind Of A Drag.” It’s a slick and sprightly piece of entertainment with a nice little horn riff and some thoroughly professional backing vocals. It’s barely two minutes long, which is nice. But there’s nothing even remotely special about it. It’s assembly-line pop music, made in a time when pop’s assembly line was continually dissembling and reconceiving itself. It’s just… kind of a drag.
The Buckinghams were a Chicago band, a bunch of local musicians from other bands who got together and made the push toward making it big. They chose a conspicuously fake-British name, partly because it was 1965 and partly because it reminded them of Chicago’s Buckingham Fountain, the one from the Married With Children opening credits. They’d recorded a few songs before “Kind Of A Drag,” but that was the one that broke them out. The band’s fellow Chicago musician Jim Holvay, leader of a band called the Mob, wrote it for them, though he forgot to write a bridge for the thing.
“Kind Of A Drag” is a case of classic Midwestern understatement: “Kind of a drag when your baby don’t love you / Kind of a drag when you know she’s been untrue.” Throughout the song, frontman Dennis Tufano pleads, again and again, for his girl to stay with him. But Tufano sells none of the song’s heartache. Instead, he delivers it with bristling lounge-singer brio, like he’s trying to impress his untrue baby with just how much he doesn’t care.
The song is fast and peppy, and the music and lyrics basically have nothing to do with one another. This isn’t the classic Motown case of a fast song driven by sad feelings. Tufano’s not Diana Ross, trying to maintain his poise in the face of romantic apocalypse. Instead, he just sounds like someone who hasn’t thought that much about the actual words that he’s singing.
The Buckinghams would stick around a few more years and make a few more hits, though they’d never hit #1 again. They got into continuous fights with producer James William Guercio, who wanted them to be more psychedelic. They parted ways with Guercio in 1968 and then broke up in 1970. Guercio went on to have huge success with jazzy and horn-infused Chicago rock bands Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears. The Buckinghams, meanwhile, went on to reunite and play the oldies circuit, which is where they still are.
BONUS BEATS: The Buckinghams’ first charting single was a deeply awkward 1966 cover of James Brown And The Famous Flames’ 1960 soul classic “I’ll Go Crazy,” a song that no white person should ever even think about singing. Here’s the Buckinghams’ version: