John Sebastian as the lead singer and main songwriter for the group, The Lovin’ Spoonful, who a handful of Top 10 hits in the mid 60s, including the #1, Summer In The City. But by 1967, the group had their final Top 40 hit and John left the band the following year for a solo career. For much of the late 60s and early 70s John kept his popularity alive on the folk circuit, but the hits were hard to come by.
Then, owing to the adage, it’s know what you know, but who you know, John’s agent set up a meeting with another client of his, Alan Sacks, who was producing a new TV show called Kotter. It was about a guy who was returning to the same high school he went to, to teach a class full of remedial students, the same gang, but a younger generation, that he used to hang out with…the Sweathogs. John was given the task to write to the theme song basically because Sacks wanted a Lovin’ Spoonful type of song. Who better than John to write it. Problem was, he couldn’t find anything good to rhyme with Kotter. So he took another angle at it, coming from the place of the school, the kids, the neighborhood as if they were saying to Mr. Kotter, “Welcome Back“. The producer liked it so much that he retitled the sitcom, Welcome Back, Kotter and the rest was history with the show becoming a hit and the theme, released 7 months after the show’s debut climbed all the way up to #1.
It’s not hard to think of the show or that Welcome to Brooklyn, 4th Largest City in America sign whenever you hear that piano & guitar da da da da daaaaah chord strums. And I guess in retrospect it worked out well. Part of the reason you watched the show was to hear theme song. But seriously what the hell were thinking? This was a comedy about Brooklyn juvenile delinquents and someone thought to ask the guy who wrote Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind? to write the theme? How does a mellow country folk song make up think of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn let alone New York. Maybe Poughkeepsie but not one of the 5 then-decaying crime-ridden boroughs.
Needless to say I still dug it like a ditchdigger and still think of that kid his bike down the streets with a bat in his hand during the closing credits every time I hear this song.
Side note: in 1979 I was with my family attending a special event at Disneyland for New Year’s Eve and Robert Hegyes who played Epstein walked by us as we waited on line. He was trying to get into the park but they turned him & his girlfriend down at the gate. From there I guess he went to find out where Hollywood Squares was taping…who knows?