On Dec. 16, 1967, the highest debuting single on the Billboard Hot 100 was “Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers. It entered the charts at #68 and in seven weeks would become the first #1 single for Buddah Records.
Lyricist Shelley Pinz, a poet from NYC, got the idea for the song from a newspaper article about an elderly British man who played music outside a bank for donations. He was a one-man band, playing a variety of instruments and collecting money in his tambourine. Pinz imagined of a tambourine filled with cash – a green tambourine.
The Lemon Pipers were college friends from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, who had formed their group in March of ’67. Buddah Record executives were planning to drop the Lemon Pipers from the label, but would keep them under contract if they recorded the song. The band preferred psychedelia and hated the song, but when presented with the ultimatum, decided to record “Green Tambourine.”
Paul Leka wrote the song’s music (which has a slight cadence in the rhythm section akin to Ravel’s “Bolero” — Leka would also write Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”). Leka booked the band at a studio in Cleveland and produced their recording session. Not satisfied with the results, Leka returned to NYC and added a new drum track and cellos.
Buddah Records would become known for bubblegum pop music in 1968 with “Green Tambourine” and other songs like “Yummy,Yummy, Yummy” by the Ohio Express and “Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company.
My friend Tom sent what may be the worst lip-synch performance by a band in the history of television: The Lemon Pipers on Channel 9, WCPO, in Cincinnati,Ohio. (The follow-up interview is horrible, too.)