Once Upon a Time in the Top Spot: John Sebastian, “Welcome Back”

Friday, May 8, 2015
Once Upon a Time in the Top Spot: John Sebastian, “Welcome Back”

39 years ago today, the former frontman for The Lovin’ Spoonful earned not only his first and only #1 single but, indeed, his first and only top-40 hit, period, and it never would’ve happened if it hadn’t been for American falling in love with a bunch of hooligans known as the Sweathogs.

Sebastian’s solo career kicked off in 1968, when he departed the ranks of The Lovin’ Spoonful and began moving in a folkier direction with his music. Although he wasn’t exactly setting the charts on fire, he nonetheless built a strong fanbase with his solo work, and it’s fair to say that his profile jumped even higher after his performance at the original Woodstock festival, and his street cred did the same via his harmonica contributions to songs by The Doors ( “Roadhouse Blues”) and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (“Déjà Vu”).

The sudden burst of commercial success in 1976 came as a result of a gentleman named Alan Sachs, one of the producers behind a new ABC series then known simply as Kotter. Sachs reportedly was looking for a song that sounded like The Lovin’ Spoonful to serve as the theme for the show, and when it turned out that Sachs and Sebastian shared an agent in Dave Bendet, Bendet set the two of them up, and the end result was a song which was so loved by the show’s producers that they decided to change the name of the series to incorporate its title.

“Welcome Back” originally only had just the one verse that’s heard at the beginning of every episode of Welcome Back, Kotter, but when the series took off in a big way, Sebastian composed a second verse and threw in a harmonica solo, and Reprise Records released it as a single, and in short order the song was sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100.

It’s catchy as all get out, of course, so it’s no wonder that so many generations have continued to enjoy “Welcome Back,” but the song earned appreciation anew in 2004, when the rapper named Mase sampled it for his own track entitled “Welcome Back,” resulting in a gold single for Mase and a whole lot of younger listeners being told by their parents – or maybe even their grandparents – that what they really need to hear is the original.