Cover by Victor Moscoso
Here’s my latest obsession: Sopwith Camel, a barely recalled—but amazing—group from the Summer of Love-era San Francisco, who were the second Bay Area band to be signed to a major label (after Jefferson Airplane) and the first to have a top 40 hit, 1967’s Lovin’ Spoonful-esque “Hello, Hello.”
If you look at a book of San Francisco rock posters, you’ll see their name show up a lot on bills often above the names of much more famous groups (like The Grateful Dead, who opened for them), but there’s precious little written about them online. I think they must’ve largely slipped past me because based on the evidence of “Hello, Hello” I probably mentally put them more into the bubblegum pop category, plus with their name, I think I conflated them with The Royal Guardsman, who had novelty songs like “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and “It’s Sopwith Camel Time.”
Here they are miming “Hello, Hello” on Dick Clark’s Where The Action Is:
That number was used on the soundtrack of Milk. Their first album was pretty much cobbled together right before they split up, but Sopwith Camel reformed again in 1971 and their music took on a more jazzy/hippie Steely Dan meets War meets John Sebastian kinda sound.
Sopwith Camel released one more album in 1972 before breaking up again, The Miraculous Hump Returns From the Moon and this is what I want to call your attention to. It’s one of the most amazing overlooked gems of the 70s, a decade positively teeming with great “lost” music. I highly recommend it.
I realize that I compare them to three different acts above, but really this album, or most of it, at least, doesn’t sound too much like anything else that was going on at that time. And how many bands can you name that were fronted by a guy wielding a soprano sax? They had a highly original sound.
If there was just ONE song you’d hope to see by these guys on YouTube, it’s The Miraculous Hump‘s opening number, the futuristic CATCHY AS HELL “Fazon” (although you can hear it much better here). I could listen to this on a loop for 24 hours and never get sick of it: