Grazing In the Grass by The Friends Of Distinction
The original composition of this song, as an instrumental, is credited to Philemon Hou. Little information is available about Hou, besides the fact he was both a musician and actor and associated with Hugh Masekela (1939-2018) at the time of writing Grazing in the Grass. In fact, Philemon penned this piece specifically so that it could be featured on Hugh’s album The Promise of a Future (1968). As such, the first release of this song was rendered by Masekela, an internationally-renowned jazz musician from South Africa. And that particular song marks the only time that he managed to top the Billboard Hot 100 or even came close to doing so.
Meanwhile, The Friends of Distinction were an R&B act from L.A. who were briefly around circa the early 1970s. Their debut single was a cover of Grazing in the Grass, though with lyrics written by Harry Elston, who was one of the founding members of the group. And this song likewise proved to be The Friends of Distinction’s biggest hit, as it peaked at number 3 on the Hot 100 and was eventually certified gold by the RIAA in June of 1969, which back then meant that it sold at least a million copies stateside. And to note, according to Genius this track was released in May of 1969. So by the looks of things, it sold that many copies in only about a month.
Facts about this Track
The release of The Friends of Distinction’s Grazing in the Grass was backed by RCA Victor (the label that later went on to become RCA Records).
The project this song is derived from, i.e. The Friends of Distinction’s debut album was itself titled Grazin’. And this is also the opening track on its playlist.
Besides Harry Elston, the other Friends of Distinction at the time were Barbara Jean Love, Floyd Butler (1937-1990) and Jessica Cleaves (1948-2014), all of whom acted as vocalist. As such, the instrumental on this track was actually rendered by a full orchestra. And just as a side note, Jessica Cleaves, who eventually passed away at the age of 65, went on to have the most-notably career amongst her former bandmates, as later down the line she also ran with Earth, Wind & Fire and Parliament Funkadelic.
This track was produced by one John Florez.
As an interesting side note, The Friends of Distinction were discovered and managed by NFL legend Jim Brown (1936-2023).
A few artists have covered this song in more recent times, most notable in that regard being Raven-Symoné, who did so in conjunction with a 2004 Disney outing titled The Lion King 1½.
Besides being credited as the co-writer (alongside Philemon Hou) of his group’s version of Grazing in the Grass, Harry Elston also acted as the song’s lead vocalist.
It’s easy to presume, with our 21st century sensibilities, that the way the vocalist goes about describing the practice of “grazing in the grass” may be a metaphor pointing to a marijuana high, as even prior to the 1960s, cannabis was known (in musical circles) as “grass”. Furthermore, as far as the release of this track goes, this is the late-1960s we’re talking about. But as the lyrics progress, it becomes increasingly obvious that Harry is indeed singing about feeling uplifted due to being in what reads like a naturally-beautiful field.
Whether or not the vocalist is on any substances at the time isn’t something that we as listeners can ascertain. But Elston and his distinct friends appear to be genuinely biggin’ up by the act of grazing, i.e. chillin’, “in the grass”.
As presented, doing so affords one the opportunity to enjoy some of the simple pleasures and sights that nature has to offer. And with that in mind, remember that The Friends of Distinction were in fact from Los Angeles, one of the biggest urban centers in the world. So Harry – who grew up in San Diego, which is another major city – probably had a greater appreciation for nature than, say, someone who was raised in a rural environment.