If I had to pick a song that epitomises the youthful exuberance of 60s teen garage in all its glory then it might well be the anthemic ‘Abba’, a-side of the only single from Charlotte, North Carolina’s The Paragons.
The 45 appeared on the Bobbi label in January 1967 and was a sizable local hit, receiving considerable airplay. At the suggestion of the group’s manager Bobbie Cashman, it had been recorded at Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte (whose owner Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith composed ‘Dueling Banjos’, the instrumental made famous by the 1972 film Deliverance).
‘Abba’ was selected as one of the songs for the single as it was the only original number in the band’s set. Its structure is ridiculously simple, a chorus-like opening followed by a verse ending in call and response shouts of “Yeah”, then repeat. There’s no instrumental break but the infectious melody backed by a classic garage chord progression from the jangling lead, fuzzy rhythm and keyboards is all that is needed.
The flip is the band’s take on ‘Mister You’re a Better Man Than I’, a number written by Manfred Mann’s Mike Hugg and his brother Brian and recorded by The Yardbirds on their 1965 Having a Rave Up album. Like so many garage bands, The Paragons were heavily influenced by the British Invasion groups and this was no doubt a staple of their live set and features plenty of fuzzy lead guitar.
‘Better Man Than I’
Though credited to Danny Huntley and Johnny Pace on the 45, ‘Abba’ was in fact written by high school student Jim Charles while he was living in Killeen, Texas. The inspirations for the song were a cartoon character on the television who sounded like he was saying “abba dabba” and Jim’s father, who was always telling Jim and his brother to turn off the lamp in their room (the so-called Abba lamp, complete with red light-bulb). Over the course of time the lyrics were adapted so that they were about a girl and the light going off became a lovelight going on. The brothers debuted the song live in their outfit the Lily Whyte Lyres, complete with the Abba lamp, which was turned on for the duration of its performance.
In Spring 1965 Jim’s family moved to Charlotte. He heard a band playing in Freedom Park and offered to sing for them, then later met members of the Paragons (then known as The Pagans) at Charlottestown mall and was invited to join them on guitar. For a while Jim was playing in both bands, The Abbadons and The Paragons, with each performing their own version of ‘Abba’, until a falling out with Johnny Pace over a girl led to Jim leaving The Paragons. He was replaced by Pat Walters, from another local band The Barons, to complete the line-up that appears on the single – Johnny Pace on drums and lead vocal, his brother Bobby on bass, Danny Huntley on rhythm guitar, Tim Moore on organ, and Pat on lead guitar.
The band rehearsed at the Pace family rec house and played the usual array of school dances and teen clubs, as well as shopping centre parking lots and opening slots for The Hollies and Herman’s Hermits, traveling to gigs in a hearse.
After The Paragons broke up, Johnny Pace moved on to The New Mix, who recorded a fine pop-psych album for United Artists in 1968. Pat Walters formed The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with Bobby Pace, was later in Jeremiah who made two pop-rock albums on Uni in the early 1970s, but is best known as a member of power-poppers The Spongetones who formed in 1979.
Reissues: You can find ‘Abba’ on Teenage Shutdown Volume 5, Le Beat Bespoke Volume 3, or Tobacco-a-Go-Go Volume 2. The flip is on Bury My Body and Yesterday’s Dawn. For more information on The Paragons and the music scene in Charlotte and North Carolina in the 1960s I thoroughly recommend Jacob Berger and Daniel Coston’s 2013 book There Was a Time.
Footage still exists of the band’s lip-synched appearance on The Village Square, a variety show that started out as a local North Carolina program but was later syndicated across the United States. The picture quality isn’t perfect but it is amazing to have any visual record of the group at all. So, enjoy!