The Brady Bunch premiered on September 26th, 1969, just a little over a month after the Manson murders sent shockwaves of terror across Los Angeles. It went off the air on March 8th, 1974, right as the Watergate scandal was cresting. The run of the show happened to coincide with five of the most tumultuous years in 20th-century America, marked by the Vietnam War, the Weather Underground, Kent State, and the entire presidency of Richard Nixon.
Needless to say, none of this was happening in the world of the Bradys. If you take out the haircuts, clothing, and occasional “groovy,” the show might as well have taken place in the 1950s. The first episode after Altamont, for example, dealt with Bobby learning to overcome his fear of heights when he’s forced to rescue his pet parakeet from the top of a swing set. That’s the sort of problem the Bradys dealt with, not the fact that Greg was on the verge of being old enough to be drafted and shipped out to Vietnam.
All of this makes their cover of Don McLean’s “American Pie” from the 1972 LP Meet the Brady Bunch one of the oddest artifacts from the show’s history. (For some context here, the success of The Partridge Family led to an ill-fated attempt to turn the Brady kids into a pop group.) They cut the song in half by chopping out every reference to Buddy Holly and all of the early verses. They begin with the “Helter Skelter in a summer swelter” verse.
In a period of just 24 seconds, they cheerfully reference the Manson murders, the Beatles, the Byrds and their song “Eight Miles High,” marijuana, and Bob Dylan’s motorcycle accident. That’s more actual history than The Brady Bunch touched on during five years of the show. They go on to sing about Altamont, Sgt. Pepper, Lost in Space, and “Satan laughing with delight.”
Imagine the actual Brady kids trying to decipher these lyrics. “Gee, Marcia, what does ‘Jack Flash sat on a candlestick’ mean?” “Well, Cindy, the Hells Angels recently beat a fan to death with pool cues at a free Rolling Stones concert up at the Altamont speedway near San Francisco.” “Jeepers!”
“Hey, Greg, what does ‘Helter skelter in a summer swelter’ mean?” “This one is a little complicated, Bobby, but the Manson Family wrote ‘Helter Skelter’ in the blood of the LaBianca family on their refrigerator after brutally murdering them just a few miles away from where we live. This caused Vincent Bugliosi to theorize that the murders were part of Charles Manson’s attempt to start a race war, but people will be debating this for decades to comes.”
Not a lot of people heard the Brady Bunch’s version of “American Pie.” Meet the Brady Bunch peaked at Number 108 on the charts and none of their other albums even charted. Five decades later, however, there’s still a lot of interest in The Brady Bunch. Their recent HDTV show A Very Brady Renovation was a surprise hit late last year. That could easily lead to yet another Brady Bunch revival show. No matter what crazy project they try to launch going forward, nothing can be quite as weird as their take on “American Pie.”