I've long held that the music of an era reflects the mood of the people. Why was seventies music so awful? Because the times were awful. Jimmy Carter may think he was the greatest president ever, but all her ever did for me was make me poor. Even the colors in vogue at the time reeked of desperation -- orange shag carpet to match the lime green papered walls. Who but someone severely depressed would consciously choose that decorating scheme? Consequently, we were subjected to Helen Reddy singing, "I Am Woman" and to bad recordings by Ringo Starr. Sure, there were sporadic great artists -- Elton John and Jim Croce and the Eagles -- but that's not who we heard on our radios. (We only remember the good; not the godawful). Essentially, if it wasn't for ABBA, everyone would have undertaken psychotherapy (if the could actually afford it). Even the late seventies, and disco, weren't happy, really. Disco was a means for people to pretend to be happy. The reason disco lyrics were indecipherable was its the artists didn't want anyone to know they were singing, "My life sucks; really sucks".
Conversely, the eighties were supremely optimistic. We were walking on sunshine all over the place (1983). Scoff if you will about eighties music, but I loved it, and I loved it mostly because it was happy. Yea, the musicians might have been pounding out their melodies on Casios, but the tunes had a certain something that made one happy. Why was that? Because we were happy. We were optimistic. The most we can hope for in the leader of our country is to not F things up. We're okay if they essentially do nothing. It's when they try to "fix" things that we get in trouble. It takes an extraordinary president to actually make things better. In the eighties, we were better.
Which leads me to the sixties. I slice the sixties right down the middle. In the first half of the sixties, music was lilting; bright; buoyant. That lasted until about 1967. Then the country and everything along with it went to hell. It was our first taste of hell, really. Before 1967, we'd trotted along with the same sameness every day. Nothing much ever happened. It may have been boring, but everybody was okay with boring. We didn't know anything else -- except for the Beatles, who definitely were not boring. Maybe that's why their appearance on the scene was so jarring. What? There's actual breathing life out there? Who knew?
In 1967, we realized that our boys, good boys; innocent kids, were dying for no earthly reason, and we were pissed about that. My brother escaped the draft by joining the National Guard. All the boys were desperate to find a way to save their own lives and not end up dead in a rice paddy. For no reason. And so the music became angry, just like we were.
Which is why I like the first half of the sixties.
I was ten years old in 1965. Girls, being more precocious, absorb life sooner than boys. Granted, I was a music geek from about age one, but every woman can remember the music of her ten-year-old life. And 1965 was ripe with music.
Let's start here:
"Help!" was from the album titled, "Help!". Let me tell you about that album: It rocked! If someone was to ask me what my favorite Beatles album is, I would say, "Rubber Soul". That's because that would be the politically correct answer. Sure, some would say, "Sergeant Pepper" or "The White Album" or maybe "Revolver". In reality, my favorite Beatles album is "Help!". "Help!" was when I first heard an album as a cohesive whole. I think I even wrote (most likely only in my mind) a whole musical based on the songs on that album. They flowed -- they created a story. I doubt even Paul would cite "Help!" as the group's best album. But Paul would be wrong. No offense. Maybe he's just too close to the whole experience to see it for what it was. Or maybe I was ten. It matters not. It doesn't hurt that "Help!" featured John heavily. John is the best Beatle. I think my favorite Beatles song of all time is from that album -- "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" -- another John song. I would include it here, but it was hard enough to find a semi-decent video of "Help!" I guess it's one of those Prince things -- being stingy with videos. I see no reason for it, but I can only do what I can do.
The Beatles also did a weird thing -- they didn't put their best songs on an album. I'm sure there was a reason for that, but I don't know what. "Penny Lane" was never on an album. Neither was this one. I guess you had to plunk down your dollar for the single, which I did -- luckily, it turns out.
The Beatles, of course, weren't the only artists to have sublime hit songs in 1965. '65 was ripe with eternal songs. They didn't just resonate in that particular year; they echo still. I fell in love with this song and I don't know why. I saw a lot of Holland-Dozier-Holland beneath the titles of my Motown singles, and I don't know who these guys were; but they knew how to write. And the Four Tops knew how to sing:
Bill Medley isn't just the guy who coaxed Baby up to dance with Patrick Swayze. He had a whole career long before that. And Phil Spector, before he was a murderer, became famous for his Wall of Sound, which was cool and all that, but it was the output, stupid. We didn't need to know the nuts and bolts of the process. Neat that he had three drum kits going at one time and he had someone plinking the timpanis. And lucky that he had Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann write such a good song. Cool that he had a bass singer and a tenor who got together and formed a duo. Immeasurable that they created this recording:
At ten, I didn't know what the word, "sham" meant. I liked that it rhymed with "Sam". I've since learned that Sam was a sham; a fake. The Arabic robes totally sucked me in. I was high on believin', as BJ Thomas would say. This track was the number one song of 1965, and I remember the lyrics as:
Hattie told Hattie
About a thing she saw
Had two big arms
And a woolly paw
It didn't matter. One could sing their own lyrics along with the song, because the song had no meaning, and that was okay. It summed up 1965 just fine:
The Temptations will, possibly to their regret, always be remembered for their choreography. Regrettably, that takes away from what is an awesome song. Another song from 1965 that is eternal:
I had a friend in third grade named Debbie Lealos, who had an older sister named Rhonda. I'm guessing Rhonda Lealos either loves or hates this song, depending upon the number of times strangers have assaulted her with its chorus. "Rhonda" was not an everyday name in 1965, but Rhonda will be eternally enshrined by this song by the Beach Boys (the only song Al Jardine sang lead on?):
I will say that the other Boys were kind of mean to not let Al sing lead on more songs. He's a good singer! (Actually, I think Al also sang lead on Sloop John B, but that about wraps up his BB career.)
The most striking feature to me of this next duo was the fur vest and the straight bangs (and I'm not talking about the female half). The Flintstones was big in 1965 -- I think the show actually aired in prime time -- so I figured the guy half of the duo was emulating Fred Flintstone. Bear in mind I was ten. In hindsight, Sonny most likely didn't drive a car that was foot-powered.
The original Bono:
This guy was different. He was like a lounge singer, except one with Elvis-swiveling hips and long sideburns. He was the antithesis of Sonny Bono. How did he make the rock charts? I guess you had to be there. Top 40 radio in 1965 had the attitude, "Eh". "If people like it, we play it. That's our motto."
Now I'm regretting my previous choice of "Help Me Rhonda" as representative of the Beach Boys, because this next song is one of my favorites of all time. I try to only feature one song by a group in my retrospectives, generally, but this one can't be denied. Here's the genius of Brian Wilson -- that intro. If you're not sucked in by that intro, then, well, there is really no hope for you:
Gary Lewis and his Playboys -- it must have been difficult growing up as the son of an a**hole. In 1965. when this song hit the charts, I'd heard that Gary was the son of Jerry, the buffoon. I gave Gary props for branching out. I suppose I was waiting for him to use funny voices and do pratfalls, but I was glad he didn't. He played it straight. This was a huge hit in 1965:
The McCoys (otherwise known as Rick Derringer and some other guys) had a big hit about a girl with an unfortunately unappetizing name. But if she knew what was good for her, she'd hang on:
"Minuet in G Major" doesn't exactly scream rock and roll. But slap on the name "A Lover's Concerto" and you've got a hit. The Toys was another unfortunate name for a singing group. Not to mention sexist, but we didn't know of sexism in 1965. Still, I wouldn't have gone with "The Toys", because that made me think of a rocking horse and one of those wind-up jack-in-the boxes. (We were severely deficient in toys back then.) Not surprisingly, The Toys now live on the same block as Little Millie Small and Terry ("Creepy") Stafford. In June they all get together for the neighborhood block party and the other suburb-dwellers swoon over their Pabst Blue Ribbon amidst the microphone feedback:
I believe Rolling Stone Magazine named this next song the best rock and roll song of all time. But you know Rolling Stone -- they're rather self-obsessed. Let me tell you about how I viewed Bob Dylan in 1965: He had a weird voice. Not a bad voice, per se, but odd. I honestly thought he was faking it. I wasn't on the Bob Dylan bandwagon in '65, but I'll grant him this: He's a hell of a poet. He should write a novel. Bob Dylan has a bunch of stuff crackling in his brain, and there's not enough years in one's life to explore all the tumbling thoughts that bleed from the cerebellum of a genius. One tiny quibble, though: this song was absurdly long:
I liked two-and-a-half minute songs. Those matched my attention span then (and now?) Being a Mindbender carried with it heavy responsibilities. Apparently Wayne Fontana couldn't handle the pressure, because this was their one and only number one song. I personally think he should have applied himself more, but that's the age-old dilemma, isn't it?
If there ever was an earworm, this next song is a prime example. Burt Bacharach and Hal David were really on a roll in the sixties. I used to sing this song to myself -- in the woods -- alone. I bet I was a really great singer. The thing about this song is, everyone can be a great singer singing it. That's the Bacharach-David genius. Jackie de Shannon had a really cool name. And this is a really cool song:
Frankie Valli didn't really play a part in the Sopranos. Granted, someone made a reference in the show about pressuring his agent to get him to sing at a casino (or something). But that's fiction. The Four Seasons were still hot in '65. Who could resist that falsetto?
We were enthralled with any group from England. We even liked Freddie and the Dreamers. Herman's Hermits had a good run. And since Peter Noone was only sixteen when the group first hit the charts, we can still, today, enjoy his presence on PBS rock and roll retrospectives.
"Boondocks" is an unusual word. I didn't know, at ten, what it meant. I got the gist, from this next song, that it wasn't necessarily a good thing. Turns out, I was essentially living in the boondocks and didn't even know it. This song, however, makes it clear that boondocks is not a place one wants to claim:
I will close out 1965 with a song that has a special resonance for me, by the underrated group The Dave Clark Five. Kids do stuff that seems mundane in retrospect, but at the time means the world. My best friend, Cathy, and I would attend Saturday afternoon dances at the local YWCA. Sock hops, I guess you would call them. A record player and a group of giddy pre-teens doing their best Watusi's and Jerks. Cathy asked me, while this record spun, is he saying:
I went to a dance just the other night
Everybody there was there
So, to this day, those are the lyrics, even though I now know better:
1965 was the end of innocence. It all went downhill from there. Everything got complicated. So, ask me what my favorite years in rock music were, and I'll tell you 1964 and 1965.
That's me in a nutshell.