Happy 50th: Peter, Paul and Mary, “Hurry Sundown”
50 years ago today, Peter, Paul and Mary released the second single from their sixth studio album, earning eking out another top-40 hit on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart, but their return to the top 40 on the Hot 100 would have to wait 'til the following year.
The 1960s were a turbulent time for everyone, and it's an adjective that's an apt description for Peter, Paul & Mary's success with singles as well. Although Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers were folk superstars straight out of the gate, earning a top-40 hit for their debut single, “Lemon Tree,” a top-10 hit for their second single, “If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song),” and a top five hit for their third single, “Puff the Magic Dragon,” the trio soon began experience the ups and downs that all acts have to deal with at some point in their careers. By 1966, critics and naysayers said…well, you know, they said the sorts of things that critics and naysayers usually say, effectively writing off Peter, Paul and Mary.
With The Peter, Paul and Mary Album, however, the threesome kicked things up a notch, relatively speaking. They brought in Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, and Charlie McCoy to play on the album. They led off the proceedings with a Laura Nyro song (“And When I Die”), tackled compositions by Richard Farina (“Pack Up Your Sorrows”), John Denver (“For Baby [For Bobbie]”), and Fred Neil (“The Other Side of This Life”). And for the first single, they went with a song co-written by Yip Harburg (“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”) and Earl Robinson (“Joe Hill”).
“Hurry Sundown” was originally written for Otto Preminger, who'd been looking for a theme song for his film called - don't think too hard about this one - Hurry Sundown. In the end, Preminger opted out of utilizing the track, but Milt Okun, who'd been serving as Peter, Paul and Mary's arranger, heard the song and pitched them on taking a crack at it.
As noted, “Hurry Sundown” didn't get Peter, Paul & Mary back into the top 40 (it would take their 1967 song “I Dig Rock and Roll Music” to accomplish that feat), but even beyond its success on the Adult Contemporary chart, it achieved something else of note: it was nominated for Best Folk Recording at the 1967 Grammy Awards.