You Were on My Mind

There are three versions of "You Were on My Mind" that, over a three year period, established the song as one of the most memorable of the mid-1960s. Written by Sylvia Fricker, who married singing partner Ian Tyson shortly before their original version was recorded, it became the single release from Ian and Sylvia's album Northern Journey, which met with some success on the charts in the fall of 1964 and raised the profile of the already established Canadian folk act. Listeners connected with the lyrics: 'Got up this morning, you were on my mind...I got some aches and....I got some pains and...I got some wounds to bind,' somber and to the point while avoiding specificity. A year later, the lyrics were reworked into something even more ambiguous and the song became a major hit for a four-man, one-woman folk-rock group.

They were based in San Francisco but the group's members came from outside the area. Mike Stewart (from Riverside, California, brother of The Kingston Trio's John Stewart) and Jerry Burgan (who'd moved out from Kansas City) started singing folk songs together during high school in Claremont, California, around 1961. Mike played several string instruments (acoustic and electric guitars, bass and banjo) while Jerry stuck with his trusty acoustic guitar. While attending the University of San Francisco in 1963, they met the electric axe-obsessed Bob Jones of Honolulu, Hawaii. Two more Claremont compadres joined up, bassist Pete Fullerton and singer Sue Davies (whom Mike and Jerry had known from high school). In those days they called themselves The Ridgerunners, though for a short time the name was changed to The Michael Stewart Quintet. Frank Werber, the Kingston Trio's manager, also took on managing duties for the younger Stewart's group. Werber's connections got them an audition with Capitol Records, but nothing came of it.

Davies left after a year or so and was replaced by Santa Ana, California native Beverly Bivens. Her arrival in the spring of '64 coincided with an engagement at San Francisco's Hungry i nightclub and a name change to We Five (Werber's idea). Frank, in fact, produced their first sessions for his own company, Trident Productions. Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, expanding their A&M label beyond the Tijuana Brass/Baja Marimba realm to include rock releases, leased the masters of the band's first album from Trident. It wasn't completely a rock, or folk, effort; the group's fondness for show tunes was evident with the inclusion of "Tonight" from West Side Story, "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music and others. We Five altered the lyrics of "You Were on My Mind," blurring its message further, relying instead on Bev's strong vocal style (deeper than most female vocalists of the time) and a deftly subtle guitar- and drum-based arrangement. Arguably an improvement over the Ian and Sylvia original, it became one of the biggest hits of late 1965, spending several weeks in the top ten in September and October.

We Five

The ears couldn't avoid We Five in the fall of 1965. The song burst out of radio speakers throughout the nation and it seemed they were making appearances on every music show on TV. The quintet recorded spots for Coca Cola, following the commercial tie-in trail blazed by The Limeliters a couple of years earlier. A follow-up single, "Let's Get Together," written by Chet Powers (a.k.a. Dino Valenti of Quicksilver Messenger Service), brought them back to the top 40 in December (The Youngbloods' 1967 version of the song, retitled "Get Together," was a million-selling hit on its rerelease in '69, becoming perhaps the era's most famous anthem for love and peace).

In early 1966, We Five received a Grammy nomination in the category of Best Performance by a Vocal Group...but by the time the March ceremony rolled around, they had all but dropped off the charts for good. The next two singles, "You Let a Love Burn Out" and "There Stands the Door," slipped quietly past the programming powers that be. Several months later, Beverly decided to leave the group for the simple reason that she wanted to get married, have a family and lead a domestic, far less hectic, life. One can't help but wonder what heights she might have achieved had she stayed in the game. She was replaced by Jerry's wife Debbie Burgan and the band briefly changed its name to Tricycle, but A&M convinced them to stick with We Five. In the early 1970s, all but Jerry and Debbie departed, leaving Jerry Burgan the only original member to stick with the group through its entire incarnation. The two kept the band going for many years, occasionally joined by Mike Stewart (who had moved into producing, notably Billy Joel's "Piano Man" among many others) for various "reunion" performances.

The third significant recording of "You Were on My Mind" was one of England's hottest sellers in the winter of 1966. Robin Peter Smith, using the stage name Crispian St. Peters, took the song to number two in the U.K., following it with "The Pied Piper," a top ten hit in both England (in the spring) and America (in the summer). St. Peters' U.S. label, Jamie, waited a year and a half after its U.K. release to promote "You Were on My Mind" in the States, giving time for the impact of We Five's definitive hit version to fade from people's minds (it hadn't, necessarily...still hasn't). Regardless, the strategy worked; Crispian crashed the top 40 in July 1967.

- Michael Jack Kirby


You Were on My Mind