If you were an adolescent would-be hippie stuck in Pittsburgh or Peoria during the 1967 Summer of Love, you probably remember the siren call of “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).” You probably have a harder time remembering who sang it.
The iconic ode was recorded by singer Scott McKenzie, and amazingly, it was the only hit he ever had. McKenzie, who passed away in Los Angeles on Aug. 18 at age 73, remains one of the more mysterious and intriguing enigmas in pop music history. He found his sudden fame overwhelming, and abruptly dropped out of the music business — only to resurface decades later, as a replacement singer in the Mamas and the Papas’ nostalgia tours.
Here are five little-known facts about the singer who chose not to become a superstar, and the song for which he is remembered.
- John Phillips, who wrote “San Francisco” for his high school buddy McKenzie, invited him to join the Mamas and the Papas back in the 1960s, but McKenzie declined (probably costing himself millions). “I was trying to see if I could do something by myself,” McKenzie told the Washington Post in 1977. “And I didn’t think I could take that much pressure.”
- McKenzie performed “San Francisco” for the first time at the Monterey Pop Festival, on June 18, 1967. He was introduced to the audience by Cass Elliott, who cooed, “This guy has the most beautiful voice.”
- McKenzie was dismayed that would-be hippies and “people in motion” actually heeded the song’s advice and flocked to San Francisco. “It was kind of frightening in a way,” he told the Post a decade later. “. . . It was a collective, frenetic desire, looking for some thing, and they didn’t know what.”
- McKenzie once turned down an offer to do a TV commercial for an airline, which wanted to shoot him, with flowers in his hair, getting off a plane in San Francisco.
- In the 1970s, McKenzie, apparently contemplating a comeback, spent a couple of years writing what he hoped would be another great song to match “San Francisco.” He abandoned the effort when he heard Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” and realized that his composition was too similar. “That’s the story of my life,” he told the Post. He eventually collaborated with Phillips and others on “Kokomo,” a No. 1 hit for the Beach Boys in 1988.