31 Days of Faves: Small Faces – Itchycoo Park

#19 Small Faces – Itchycoo Park

There is beauty in simplicity. When you peel back all the conflicting stories about what the lyrics in “Itchycoo Park” mean, that’s the message.

I was among the millions of listeners who first heard the Small FacesFlanged drum licks and was captivated by the simplicity and beauty of the song in the Summer of 1967.

We needed the distraction. Race riots were spreading across the land. The Vietnam War was starting to come to the forefront of our consciousness. And we hung on until the final moments of the final episode of “The Fugitive ” to see if Dr. Richard Kimball would be exonerated. Any innocence we may have felt in the early part of the decade was long gone.

Of course, the lyrics ignited controversy.

When Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane wrote it  the line, “What did you do there? We got high!” immediately got the song banned by the BBC. It was the same year that John Lennon’s “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” got similar treatment for what the Beeb clearly saw as drug references. According to SongFacts, the band’s manager, Tony Calder, “.. told the BBC Itchycoo Park was waste ground in the East End which the band had played on as kids. We put the story out at ten and by lunchtime we were told the ban was off.”

Marriott told Creem in 1975 that the “high” they got there was from not going to school.

There were many interpretations of where the park was located. It’s now commonly believed that it’s the nickname of Little Ilford Park in London. Songfacts says, “An ‘Itchycoo’ is slang for a flower found in the park called a ‘Stinging Nettle,’ which can burn the skin if touched.”

Keyboardist Ian McLagan told Uncut Magazine, “I never liked ‘Itchycoo Park’ because me and Ronnie had to sing, ‘It’s all too beautiful,’ and you sing that a few times, and you think… It’s not. But years after that I’d finally, properly, checked out the words, and realized it was about education and privilege,” he added. “The ‘bridge of sighs’ is the one in Cambridge. The ‘dreaming spires’ are a reference to Oxford. Then ‘to Itchycoo Park… That’s where I’ve been,’ Ronnie was saying, ‘I didn’t need privilege or education. Found beauty in a nettle patch in the East End of London.”

It was a great summer song, climbing to #6 on the Billboard charts in August of 1967. While the Small Faces continued to have singles success in the UK, it was their only significant hit in the US.