Woodstock 50: The “Woodstock” Song

So as it turns out, there is no “Woodstock 50” concert. The fact that its last gasp involved moving it to Maryland from upstate New York should have been the last nail in the coffin, but it kept on for a little while before the plug was pulled.

As I’m writing this, though, I’m listening to Bert Sommer’s set from Woodstock — As It Happened — 50 Years On, a streaming presentation from Philadelphia radio station WXPN. It’s running all of the archived music and announcements available, mostly from the 38-CD box set from Rhino Records.

But my Musical Cheese article is about a song that wasn’t performed at Woodstock, by an act that wasn’t there.

Here comes a story from my youth:

My first exposure to the song “Woodstock,” as far as I can remember, was from the Matthews Southern Comfort version. Perhaps the pop station I got to hear at the time skipped the Crosby, Still, Nash & Young version, and the original by Joni Mitchell. Or Matthews’ version was just more “pop friendly,” and in later years, “oldies friendly.” So I peeked at the Wikipedia entry on the song, which you can also see for yourself, of course, so a quick summary:

  • Iain Matthews chose the song to fill out a set on the BBC “Live in Concert” program on June 28, 1970.
  • The BBC was impressed enough with the performance to suggest to Matthews’ label, Uni, that they record it. Matthews’ band had just finished an LP and didn’t want to add to it, so they agreed to record it as a single.
  • Uni’s parent, MCA Records, agreed to release the single only if the CSN&Y version didn’t chart, which it didn’t. BBC DJ Tony Blackburn made it a pick of the week, and it went to #1 on the UK charts.
  • The record was released on Decca in the US in November, 1970. It failed to crack the Billboard Hot 100 charts, but lingered on the Record World “100-150” chart.
  • However, the record saw more airplay on Canadian radio, since being authored by Joni Mitchell qualified it for the new “30% Canadian Content.”
  • After going into heavy airplay on CKLW in the Detroit market, “Woodstock” gained steam again in the US, hitting Billboard’s Hot 100 chart on March 6, 1971, eventually peaking at #23.
  • Matthews was reportedly nervous about meeting Joni Mitchell, since the band had totally redone the song, mainly because he couldn’t hit her high notes. But Mitchell, reportedly, said she quite enjoyed it.

As it turned out, Matthews split from his band, finding he did not enjoy the press of touring and interviews. Southern Comfort put out a few more albums before disbanding in 1972. Matthews continued to make records, scoring a hit in 1978 with “Shake It.

For now, here’s a YouTube of the record. Enjoy.

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