The second half of 1967 is memorable for many landmarks in the annals of pop history, but one that’s sometimes a little underplayed is the remarkable arrival of a new British rock force called Traffic.
In the space of less than six months, the band racked up no fewer than three Top 10 hits in the UK with “Paper Sun,” “Hole In My Shoe” and “Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush.” Then on December 30, they rounded off the year in style by charting with their first album, Mr. Fantasy.
Beneath the surface of what appeared to be a new driving force in creative British pop, all was less than harmonious, because by the time the album appeared, Dave Mason was about to split with his colleagues Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood. He returned to the fold in time for their self-titled follow-up of 1968.
“Dave Quits, But Traffic Keeps Moving” was the Melody Maker’s headline in its December 16 issue. “It’s because there are things I want to do and for me to do them while still in the group would hang the others up,” he told the paper’s Chris Welch. “The best thing to do is leave. I decided ages ago.” Almost immediately, he started producing the debut album by Family, Music In A Doll’s House, which came out the following July.
Nevertheless, Mason still had three solo compositions on Mr. Fantasy, in the form of “House For Everyone,” “Utterly Simple” and “Hope I Never Find Me There.” He also had a co-write on the closing “Giving To You,” with all six remaining tracks credited to the Winwood/Capaldi/Wood triumvirate. As a notable example of the way that the singles and album markets were now splitting in two, the album didn’t contain any of Traffic’s hit singles.
Mr. Fantasy opened on the chart at No.38, as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band continued at No.1, in what turned out to be the penultimate week at the summit for that particular classic. The Traffic album then faltered at No.40 before rallying in the new year to spend two weeks at No.17, and then hitting a No.16 peak in early February. In the US, a different version of the album, with alternative sequencing and the notable addition of “Smiling Phases,” hit No.88. Bigger achievements were in store for Traffic on both sides of the Atlantic.
Buy or stream the deluxe reissue of Mr. Fantasy.