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Scott McKenzie, who sang the Summer of Love anthem “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” has died. He was 73.
The singer died Aug. 18 at his home in Los Angeles. He had been fighting the nervous system disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome for years and died after a two-week hospital stay.
McKenzie struck a chord with the hippie generation with “San Francisco,” which became a rallying cry for young people making the Haight-Ashbury scene in 1967. The song reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the charts in such countries as the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Norway and New Zealand.
It is reported to be among the 50 best-selling singles of all time worldwide, moving more than 7 million units.
Born Philip Blondheim on Jan. 10, 1939, in Jacksonville, Fla., McKenzie grew up in North Carolina and Virginia. He and John Phillips were teenage friends and sang together in a 1950s doo-wop group that released a couple of singles. By 1961, the pair had formed folk group The Journeymen, which made three albums for Capitol but failed to find national success.
Phillips quit the group in the mid-’60s and moved to California after co-founding The Mamas and The Papas, which whom he enjoyed a string of hit LPs and singles. McKenzie was said to have turned down an invitation to join the band, focusing instead on a solo career.
“San Francisco,” written by Phillips, who produced it with Lou Adler, was an out-of-the-box smash, and McKenzie – with his psychedelic robes and wavy hair — became something of a poster boy for the flower-power set. The song was released just weeks before the famed Monterey Pop Festival, serving as an audio travelogue for the event. McKenzie performed it during the Mamas and Papas’ closing set.
With its lilting, comfortable melody, the song has been covered by myriad acts including Petula Clark, Tanya Tucker and, in concert, Led Zeppelin and U2 and been featured in such movies as Forrest Gump and San Francisco-set The Rock.
McKenzie followed it up with “Like an Old Time Movie,” which peaked at No. 24 on the Hot 100 in November 1967. The album that spawned both singles, The Voice of Scott McKenzie, stalled at No. 127 on the Billboard 200. A second album, 1970’s Stained Glass Morning, failed to chart, and his recording career never recovered.
He moved to the California desert in 1970 then Virginia Beach, Va., where he lived for a decade. After years away from show business, McKenzie in 1986 replaced Denny Doherty in a new touring iteration of The Mamas and The Papas. In 1988, he joined Phillips, Mike Love and Terry Melcher in writing “Kokomo,” which became The Beach Boys’ first No. 1 single in 22 years.
McKenzie continued to tour with The Mamas and The Papas until the late ’90s. Since then, he had performed only sporadically. In 2005, PBS aired a concert called My Generation: The 60’s Experience, which featured McKenzie singing “San Francisco.” According to his website, at the end of the program — unannounced — he performed “We’ve Been Asking Questions,”one of the last songs written by Phillips before his death in 2001.
Watch McKenzie perform “San Francisco” at Monterey Pop below. Look for cameos by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and other stars of the era.
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