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Thursday, Sept. 29, 2005 05:33 pm

Thank heaven for little girls

Gary Puckett and the Union Gap revisit success of the 60s


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 mind.”

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.

Also from Matthew Everett

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