Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane was born in Peoria, Illinois. Her band called itself Spanky and Our Gang because she had the same last name with Spanky of the Hal Roach's "Our Gang" comedies.
The group's first album, simply titled Spanky and Our Gang, was released by Mercury Records on August 1, 1967, and included three popular songs that were released as singles. The first was "Sunday Will Never Be the Same" which was their biggest hit, which reached number #9 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in Summer 1967. It was followed by "Making Every Minute Count" and "Lazy Day." Both made the Top 30 that year. Both "Sunday Will Never Be The Same" and "Lazy Day" sold over one million copies.
"Sunday Will Never Be the Same" was written by Terry Cashman and Gene Pistilli. The song was originally written as a ballad. However, Cashman said the group "changed it, and they added the vocal, 'Ba-da-da-da-da,' which was a great hook."
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-----Their second album, Like to Get to Know You, was released in April 1968. Two singles were released: "Sunday Mornin'" in the spring, which reached #30, and "Like to Get to Know You," which reached #17 in the Summer 1968. The single's B-side, "Three Ways From Tomorrow," also received considerable airplay. The album also included their rendition of the classic "Stardust" and a version of "Everybody's Talkin'," best known as a hit single for Harry Nilsson and the theme song for the movie Midnight Cowboy.
"Give a Damn" was released as a single in Summer 1968. In spite of being banned in several states because of the profanity in its title - and in some cases because it was a comment on racial equality that became the theme song for the New York Urban Coalition. The song became a regional hit where released and overall made #43.
It was also performed live on an episode of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, resulting in CBS' Standards and Practices division receiving numerous complaints about the song's title being used during "family viewing hours."
In October 1968, lead guitarist Malcolm Hale died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty heating system. The group disbanded shortly thereafter. Mercury released a third album, Anything You Choose b/w Without Rhythm or Reason, in January 1969. It contained two popular songs, the previous summer's hit "Give a Damn" and "Yesterday's Rain."
After the band's break-up, McFarlane enjoyed some success as a solo artist. She also toured for years with the Mamas & the Papas, singing primarily the parts previously performed by the late Cass Elliot. She later performed onstage in Ferndale Repertory Theatre's production of South Pacific, portraying Bloody Mary.
The group briefly reformed in 1975 and recorded an album, Change, for the Epic record label.