For dinner during the last week in December 2016, my bride made tacos. We hadn’t had them, either at home or in a restaurant, in months. And I – as is my wont – started singing The Taco Man, actually The Candy Man, but with a word change. You may know the 1972 hit by Sammy Davis Jr. That made her think of I’d Like To Teach the World to Sing by the New Seekers from that same year.
She also recalled a song called Mill Valley. I know LOTS of songs from the late 1960s and early 1970s, but I didn’t know this one. She even knew the lyrics!
I’m gonna talk about a place
That’s got a hold on me,
A little place where life
Feels very fine and free,
Where people aren’t afraid to smile
And stop and talk with you awhile,
And you can be as friendly
As you want to be.
As it turns out, a teacher named Rita Abrams wrote the song and recorded with children at the school where she was teaching, released under the name Miss Abrams and the Strawberry Point Third Grade Class. The song spent only a couple weeks on the lower rungs of the Billboard pop charts, peaking at #90 in 1970.
But it must have done better with those easy-listening stations that weren’t playing Mama Told Me Not To Come by Three Dog Night or Ball of Confusion by the Temptations, because it’s been referred to as a radio staple.
There were stories in Newsweek, Life Magazine and Rolling Stone. “Annie Liebovitz stood on top of the piano to take our picture,” the educator recalled. An album, which referred to the students as 4th graders, which they were by then, was released.
Ironically, there were 2014 stories suggesting the teacher-turned-songwriter could no longer afford to live in her Mill Valley condo because of rising real estate costs.
Rita Abrams and her class had a 45th reunion in 2015.
And the director who made the video? An obscure young director named Francis Ford Coppola, who, two years later, would be directing the film that would win the Oscar for Best Movie, The Godfather.