Friday, May 7, 2010

The House on Album 1700

Today another guest blog by Matt, a writer from NY.  Thanks, Matt!

Peter Paul and Mary’s “Album 1700” was released in 1967, the same year Warren Beatty produced and starred in “Bonnie and Clyde,” and the album cover was an obvious reference to the film.  At first glance, it might seem odd for folk-poets of the anti-war movement to strike a pose similar to a film that glorifies violence and anti-social behavior. 

But if you examine the photo more closely, the trio is telling a very different story.

The most obvious difference is that Peter Paul and Mary are not holding guns, but instruments.  Their weapons are words, poetry, music, and memorable harmonies, which they use to persuade people to work together to achieve a more just society.  Unlike the itinerant outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, for whom the car is a potent symbol of escape and rootlessness, Peter Paul and Mary have chosen to give a house equal weight in the picture.  And it’s not just any house, it’s 70 Bedford Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village.   The Federal style townhouse was built in 1807.  Notice the bronze plaque to the left of the front door.  It says the house was built by John Roome, a sailmaker and court crier.  So Peter Paul and Mary chose as their backdrop the home of an adventurer and representative of justice, two things to which they aspired. 

What the trio is looking at is also appropriate for their musical and political ambitions.  Across the street is the Isaacs-Hendricks House, the oldest surviving home in Greenwich Village.  While Peter Paul and Mary might not look kindly on its first owner, Harmon Hendricks, who cornered the copper market with Paul Revere, the trio can appreciate that the house is connected to the birth of our nation and its promise of freedom and justice for all.  Also across the street is the house of Edna St. Vincent Millay, the first female to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  Millay’s home was later owned, at different times, by actors John Barrymore and Cary Grant, which adds a subtle touch and brings us full circle to the Hollywood-inspired cover.

While the album is titled in accord with its Warner Brothers’ catalog number, it may well have been chosen to add a sense of historical depth to the group’s clarion call for social justice.

“Album 1700” marked the initial release of what later became Peter Paul and Mary’s biggest selling single, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” which was written by the then-unknown Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., who rose to fame in the 1970s as “John Denver.”  Denver was later named Poet Laureate of Colorado, which may not be as prestigious as the Pulitzer Prize, but his poetry earned him a fortune great enough to afford his own jet plane, in which he sadly met his tragic end.

What’s your favorite Peter Paul and Mary song?


  1. What was REALLY inside those instrument cases? According to popular lore gangsters used to carry their tommy guns in violin cases. But I read somewhere they were probably just carrying the cases the tommy guns came in which closely RESEMBLED violin cases. That doesn't carry quite the same panache, does it?
    Great post, Matt.

  2. Brenda, What was REALLY inside those instrument cases? Despite popular lore, get real--this is Peter, Paul, and Mary--those were MUSICAL instruments inside those INSTRUMENT cases!

    One of my favorite Peter, Paul, and Mary songs was another John Denver (a real poet, indeed) song, "For Baby". And morning bells will chime.