Written and produced by wunderkind songwriter Jimmy Webb in 1967 at the ludicrous age of 20, “Paper Cup,” to my mind, is one of the great lost singles of the 1960s — and it’s all the stranger that it would get lost amid a torrent of other hits by the 5th Dimension during the years 1967-72. But maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise; Webb also wrote the 5th Dimension’s first big smash, “Up, Up and Away,” which came out earlier that year, and while “Paper Cup” sounds like the same kind of bouncy, happy-happy “sunshine pop” that could be sung by Sesame Street Muppets, it really isn’t. Underneath the deceptively simple, nursery-rhyme-like structure and catchy la-las and tambourine slaps is a dark tale of alcoholism, anxiety, and alienation — basically, of drinking yourself out of society and putting a cheerfully defiant face on it as you slip away — that, to me, encapsulates all of Mad Men‘s past season. “I’m free and it’s so easy to get the things I’ve always wanted/’cause I don’t really want ’em anymore” — sounds like something Don would write if he could write songs, doesn’t it? Maybe Pete, too? Roger, even? But especially Don. In fact, I can just picture Megan hearing this song and saying, “Yep, that’s who I married, all right. Just install a shower at the bottom of his glass and he’ll have everything he needs.”
And how fitting that this group’s fizzy pop sound would epitomize the California dream as embodied by so many of this show’s character’s lately, too. (The group’s “California Soul,” from 1968, written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, no doubt enticed more than a few folks from colder climes to come on out to L.A.)
But here’s the real reason I wanted to call your attention to this video: MARILYN MCCOO’S TIGHTS, Y’ALL.
(In case you can’t see the video, Ms. McCoo is decked out in a vertically split outfit, half black with white pinstripes and half solid orange, and her tights have one black leg and one orange leg. Ladies and gentlemen, the late 1960s in musical variety form, brought to you in living, eye-bleeding color! Could Joe Namath be lurking backstage in a straw boater, waiting to belt out “Swanee”?)