While the tragic collapse of the 1969 Chicago Cubs remains a deeply painful Windy City memory, the ’69 Cubs’ equally ill-fated attempt to scale the pop charts has been all but forgotten …
Sixteen years before the Chicago Bears rapped their way through “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” Cubs regulars Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Don Kessinger and Randy Hundley — along with part-time outfielder Willie Smith, backup infielder Nate Oliver, and bullpen catcher Gene Oliver, all of whom were presumably included for their clutch vocal abilities — waxed an updated version of Little Willie John’s classic “Fever,” complete with lyrics rewritten to reflect their lofty aspirations in the first year of the divisional playoffs.
First we win the East Division Then we beat the Western stars Nex’ we sweep the ol’ World Series An’ the championship is ours!
Yeah … no.
Though “Pennant Fever” was released on Chicago’s legendary Chess label, the credits actually point to a heavy Philadelphia connection. Producer Fred DiSipio and arranger Richard Rome were prominent figures in the Philly music scene of the 1960s — DiSipio would later be implicated in a massive mid-’80s payola scandal — while songwriter Kal Mann (who reworked “Fever”’s lyrics to include references to Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins and the immortal Al Spangler) had previously penned big hits for such Philly-based artists as Chubby Checker (“Let’s Twist Again”), the Dovells (“Bristol Stomp”) and the Orlons (“South Street”).
If the Cubs did wax this record in Philadelphia, it would have to have been recorded during a late-April or mid-July visit to the City of Brotherly Love. Their choice of recording locales would have been most ironic, since Philadelphia was also where the Cubs eventually blew the last vestiges of their NL East lead over the Mets, losing two straight to the Phillies on September 10 and 11.
Additionally ironic: This slab of musical memorabilia is more highly sought after by DJs than Cubs fans these days. Not because of the players’ workmanlike unison singing on the A-side, but because of the groovy organ instrumental on the flip. Credited to the fictional Chicago Cubs Clark Street Band, “Slide” is most likely the work of Philadelphia studio musicians… and it delivers the championship goods in a way that Leo’s boys never could.