I have a certain fascination with the hippie era. Not as in, I wish I had been there, but more as an entomological study. On the Midwestern prairie we had no Summer of Love. We had a summer of working, a summer of riding bicycles and pressing transistor radios to our ears; a summer of stretching the coiled cord of the kitchen wall phone all the way around the corner into the hall so we could have private conversations.
The war was, of course, on everyone's mind, but more urgently than college kids who had deferments and spent their lunch periods carrying signs. To my big brother the war wasn't abstract -- he had to worry if his number was going to be pulled out of the big bingo jar and if he was going to die in a rice paddy. Working class boys didn't have a lot of options. They could flee to Canada or they could join the National Guard, which is what my brother did. My brother was hardly the military type, but he ultimately did his civic duty...and he stayed alive. Meanwhile, boys with wispy goatees in San Francisco twirled around in tie-dyed tee shirts.
I was twelve that summer. On TV I saw mystified CBS News reporters chronicling the Haight-Ashbury scene. All the characters looked like dizzy dorks. I especially loved the dance of the scarves, which was a classic. One could not flip the television dial without glimpsing some barefoot bra-less chick whirling on a hillside with a multi-hued scarf. So profound!
Old hippies probably don't grasp this, but we didn't envy them. We thought they were imbeciles.
Fifty-odd years later, I wonder how many of them have managed to maneuver life with all their brain cells intact. They'd be -- well, past retirement age. Do they entertain their grandkids with tales of past acid trips? Did some get elected to congress? (yes) Did they at some point learn to appreciate the joy of bar soap and penicillin?
Sage Midwesterners always knew that life was life, and there was no escaping it. My brother didn't "drop out", and I didn't, either. We didn't have that luxury.
Marty Balin died this week. He was a founding member of Jefferson Airplane, a band that encapsulated the summer of love. Reading about him, I learned that he was a pretty good guy, but that band epitomized everything I hated about the times.
In my town we weren't listening to Jefferson Airplane. This is what we were tuning in to on our local radio station:
Maybe it's a facet of getting older. I'm generally a pretty even-keel person, or maybe I'm just in denial. I do know that I now get too upset by workplace irritations and I'm not necessarily handling them well. You know, the usual -- people who ignore emails, someone taking over a room I've had reserved for two weeks and expecting me to find other accommodations. People declining to shoulder their share of the burden and being pissy in their refusal.
No wonder I don't sleep.
I read: Sustained or chronic stress, in particular, leads to elevated hormones
such as cortisol, the "stress hormone," and reduced serotonin and other
neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine, which has been linked to depression. (link) I didn't think I was depressed, but maybe I am. Even if I am, what am I supposed to do with that? I have to continue to "deal", because that's how life goes.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be selfish, to not be beholden to anyone. I think it would be heaven for a while. I would settle for just a tiny bit of fun. To be honest, I think I've forgotten what fun is. I asked myself, what would I do that would be fun? The first thing that popped into my mind was...dance. Dance like an idiot. Wave my arms in the air and swivel my hips like a bad Elvis impersonator and clap my hands over my head. Stomp my feet to the beat. Get those pheromones whizzing.
Music rarely fails to lighten my mood. Tonight it kind of failed me. The first song I heard that even registered was this one (thank you, Brian Wilson):
If I was alone on a dance floor and nobody was watching, I wonder what I would dance to....
By 1968 my trauma had mostly passed. I was finishing the eighth grade, about to enter high school. I had a best friend. I began the year awkward and pimply, but began to metamorphose into kind of a cute girl, skinny with a dark red bob (and the ever-persistent bangs hiding my eyes). Staring into my bathroom mirror in the mornings, however, I was certain I was the most hideous creature on the face of the earth. I now had my own (private) room, away from judging eyes, so I sometimes carried my battery-powered record player into the bathroom with me as I applied dark eyeliner (with the upward swoop at the corners) and green eye shadow.
My new best friend was firmly ensconced in the bosom of country music and I was trying, really trying; but I wasn't yet ready to give up my lifelong rock 'n roll fix. I don't abandon old friends easily. However, what I'd always loved about rock/pop was that it was joyous. "Do You Believe In Magic?" Music wasn't joyous anymore. It was so, so serious. Granted, there was the odd novelty song, like "Yummy Yummy Yummy", but all the true artists were chronically depressed.
This was the number one song from 1968, and I'm not saying it went on too long, but well, yea, it did kind of go on too long. Catchy, though. Paul was known for writing catchy songs:
In 1968 instrumentals could still top the charts. That would soon end. What began with "Wipe Out" in the early sixties saw its zenith toward the end of the decade. There was Mason Williams with "Classical Gas" (an unfortunate title), and there was this one, that my dad really liked:
I preferred this, as it was more dramatic:
The Lemon Pipers is quite the hippie-ish name, isn't it? It doesn't mean anything. What's a lemon piper? Some kind of snake? In the sixties a lot of songs were written about tambourines. Honestly, though, how long would you stand around watching some guy beat a tambourine against his leg? I guess he could raise his arm in the air and shake it around theatrically, but still. Inexplicably, this was one of the top singles of 1968:
The 1910 Fruitgum Company is not a name one hears every day. I guess 1968 had to include some tunes for the pre-teens, too; not just songs for the angsty doom-and-gloom gluttons. I like this video because the band seems thoroughly embarrassed, as they should be, to be singing:
My dad's old juke box claimed a dusty corner of the garage. He'd since upgraded his bar to a rainbow-splashed Wurlitzer. We kids loved that juke box (or maybe it was just me). We (or I) played this record a lot:
My older brother attended National Guard camp for two weeks each summer. He'd enlisted in the Guard to avoid the draft. Viet Nam played on every boy's mind in 1968. Nobody wanted to go. They would do whatever it took to not get bundled onto that plane. My brother had gotten married in 1967, but that was no out. Nixon was taking anyone and everyone...to fight a war that killed thousands of American kids for no Godly reason. The war was something most of us didn't even think about, because it had droned on and on, on our TV screens for what seemed like forever. We became inured of the killing and maiming. Viet Nam was a fact of life. Of course, we were kids, so we didn't really understand.
My sister-in-law asked me to stay with her while my brother was at Guard camp, so we doubled up in her bed. I wasn't used to actually living in a town, so I made the most of my freedom during the day, strolling downtown to Dahmer's Music and making pilgrimages to St. Joe's Catholic Church (I was pseudo-religious at age thirteen). One night, my sister-in-law woke me up and said, "They're talking about Kennedy being shot. I thought at first they meant John Kennedy, but it's not...it's Robert!" In the middle of the night, I had no comprehensible words, but the two of us stayed awake for a couple of hours, listening to the news coverage.
This song kind of sums up that summer for me:
Tommy James was a writer of creepy pop songs. Not creepy as in, a slasher hiding around the corner, but creepy as in, who likes this stuff? "You put your arms around me and we tumble to the ground and then you say..." He did write one song, though, that will live forever at wedding dances and corner taverns across the USA. I can't put my finger on what it has, but it has something. A good beat? Repetition? The fact that the crowd can willy-nilly change the lyrics to something mildly obscene? You be the judge:
Another oddity of 1967-68 was the big balladeer. Gary Puckett had five Top 100 tracks in 1968. Five! Gary recorded smarmy songs that were all surreptitiously about sex, which at age thirteen I was a bit uncomfortable with. I guess it was music to have affairs by...or something. I was an innocent -- more kid than woman. So, while Gary was a great singer, his songs, to me, were a bit disturbing:
You and I both know that you haven't heard this next song enough; not enough on TV commercials; not enough on sixties documentaries. So as a public service, I give you Steppenwolf:
The Grass Roots don't get the credit they deserve. Theirs was the first rock concert I ever attended. "Let's Live For Today" is a classic. I bought the group's greatest hits LP. I guess it's not cool to like the band. If it wasn't for The Office and Creed, no one would've given the group a second thought. Music fans can be snobs. The Grass Roots had a top single in '68 (and yes, that's Creed on the left):
It may have been network TV -- the big three networks were kind of lost when it came to rock and roll -- but they had variety shows to produce and they did want the "youngsters" to watch. Well, what choice did we have? Cable? Is that the cord that connects the television to the outlet? Five minutes to midnight, after George Gobel's comedy routine and Johnny's visit with Joan Embery from the San Diego Zoo, HERE ARE THE YOUNG RASCALS! It was a struggle to stay awake that long! And Dean Martin didn't want anything too "out there" for his boozy variety show. Flip Wilson had to throw in the random musical act to attract "the kids". Voila! Tom Jones!
I had by this time dipped a toe in country music. I wasn't fully convinced, but I gave it my all. Unlike rock and roll, which my marrow had been steeped in for twelve-going-on-thirteen years, country music took some serious study to learn. I knew the basics -- "Heartaches By The Number" and "Tiger By The Tail", thanks to Mom and Dad; but honestly, I found a lot of country to be rather corny. It seems strange now that country music seemed so strange. Country long ago seeped into my bones and now it's wholly natural. Of course, I lived in the rock and roll realm for twelve years and the country world for about forty, so, yes, country is natural. Thanks, Alice.
Even if one wanted to avoid country all together, they could not escape the dreaded crossover hit. The crossover didn't do much to redeem the reputation of country music, because the singles that crossed over were an amalgam of pop and strings and a vocalist with a southern accent, a la Glen Campbell. "What the hell is this 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix' shit?" everybody would exclaim. My thought was, either be rock or be country. Make a decision.
Which leads me to Tom T. Hall. I was unaware at the time that Tom T. Hall was a revered songwriter in Nashville. He had something unique -- and that was, he wrote songs that had no choruses. Now, generally, a song should have verses, a chorus, and ideally a bridge. Tom was having none of that. And that's why his songs, to this day, are like dirges. A songwriter needs to change things up a bit, which is where a chorus comes in. Otherwise, they go like this:
Da da da da da
Da da da da
Da da da da da
Da da da da
...for the whole damn song!
Of course, the one country song that would cross over in 1968 was a Tom T. Hall creation, recorded by Jeannie C. Riley (there's something odd about all the middle initials, but I won't try to psycho-analyze). If it wasn't for the dobro, this recording would be even more banal than it already is.
Listen for the da da da da da's:
I remember this next single was a hit in the winter. I don't know why I remember that, but people's brains are wired to remember inconsequential things, like this one dessert I used to make all the time in the seventies, that had a Ritz Cracker crust and Cool Whip and chocolate pudding (it's better than it sounds).
John Fred and His Playboy Band apparently sat down one night, stoned, and wrote these immortal words:
Judy in disguise, well that's what you are Lemonade pies with a brand new car Cantaloupe eyes come to me tonight Judy in disguise, with glasses
It gets worse.
But the strangest recording to become a hit song in 1968 and possibly, ever, was done by an actor who, honestly, couldn't sing. The song was written by good old Jimmy Webb, who brought us "By The Time I Get To Phoenix", among other disasters. Jimmy Webb gets lots of acclaim for being the quintessential songwriter, and he even wrote a book about songwriting. Don't be fooled.
Actor Richard Harris:
Unlike Tom T. Hall's compositions, this next song actually had a chorus. And it's catchy. The Cowsills were the real-life version of The Partridge Family. Of course, one could never release a single called, "Indian Lake" today. But you'll find yourself singing along. That's what good pop songs do:
I've essentially exhausted the top hits from 1968. My memories of the year consist of snow, more snow, piles of snow. Being dropped off by the bus and slopping through the mounds of snow in my mini-dress and "fashionable" black rubber boots. Twisting the telephone cord as far into the hallway as it would reach, so as to conduct a private phone conversation after school about....nothing, really. Flicking through my homework; not giving a damn about things like math that made absolutely no sense. Chewing on my pencil, writing down answers to history questions in my blue spiral notebook. Drawing doodles in the margins. Wondering how any of this was of any importance to anyone at any time.
I wanted to go out with a bang and sum up the year. Scanning the Top 100, the year wasn't all that great, in hindsight.
I was going to make this post about the bad hits of 1966. Well, not "bad", per se, but let's say "quirky" hits. Hits that don't really jibe with the 1966 vibe. The trouble is, I'm not done with the best ones yet; there are just too many. Maybe 1966 was better than my cloudy mind remembered.
I had one birthday party in my whole life. Yes, that's right. Kids were deprived back then. I invited every kid in my class, plus my cousins and of course my best friend, who didn't go to the same school as I. This next song created a bit of a tiff between my best friend and another friend from school (I really only had one "true" friend, but this was, I guess a friend-in-waiting, in case the main friend was unable to fulfill her duties.) Anyway, I had asked for a couple of 45's and when I opened this one from friend-in-waiting, I exclaimed, "Just what I wanted!" Well, this did not go over well with best friend, who complained, "I thought you wanted....". Despite hard feelings, I still love this song:
(Yes, Bill Medley had a career even before "Dirty Dancing".)
Another major milestone in my life was the appearance (on NBC) of this phenomenon. By then my family had moved to a new town and I was lonely. So these four became my confidants, unbeknownst to them. My husband and I watched an episode of their show recently and let me tell, you, it was truly awful. In 1966 I didn't care, though. I really only watched it for the music:
I wasn't cool back then. Part of it was because I was a kid. Partially it was because I didn't have enough money to be cool. I had a paltry record collection -- and by "record collection", I mean 45's. My brother had LP's; I only had about two LP's and that was because he bought them for me as gifts. So I didn't have the opportunity to become a sophisticated music connoisuer. One of the LP's my brother bought me, though, had this song on it, and it was sophisticated...well, more so than the Monkees:
The Mamas & The Papas boasted two things that no other group of that time can claim: two of the best pop singers ever ~ Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot. (The third thing they probably wouldn't "boast" about is that -- I suspect -- Michelle Phillips' mic was always on the "off position.) Oh, and duh, John Phillips wrote the songs (hello!)
I always liked this next song when it came on our kitchen radio. I had absolutely no idea what it meant -- I didn't know why somebody had to stone somebody else. It seemed mean. But I guess that's what packed a punch for me; that and the sort of old-time raggedy piano.
My husband worships Bob Dylan like I worship Merle Haggard. But at least Merle had more than two hit songs. I know, intellectually, that Dylan is a great writer. We were watching a PBS special on the history of Duluth, Minnesota, and the narrator quoted some words about the city. I thought, wow, that says it so poetically. Then she said, "words written by Bob Dylan". So, yea, he can say things better than almost anybody. I give him that.
You know those groups that were always around but never got any respect? Well, here's one now. I think it's because their songs were so....rudimentary? But in 1966 - 1967 hardly anyone was bigger than Tommy James & The Shondells. Ever go to a bar with a juke box or to a wedding dance and not hear "Mony Mony"? I thought not. How about, "crimson and clover over and over"? Yea, so see? Tommy James was the master of repeating the same three or four words over and over and making them a hit. Thus:
Another artist my husband worships is another that I can take or leave. Sure, in 1965 this band had a huge hit song that was famous for its opening guitar riff. But I can count on one hand and have fingers left over, the number of Rolling Stones tracks I truly like. Sorry; that's just how it is. I like Ruby Tuesday and As Tears Go By. This one is...okay:
There's a reason I'm not including a live performance of this next song. There's just something about a seventy-year-old guy singing, "Devil With The Blue Dress". No offense to old dudes; I, too, am old. But you don't mess with my memories. Trust me on this: one could really do the jerk to this song, especially in front of the mirror. Here's Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels:
I defy anyone to say this is not a great song. I have no idea who comprised the Left Banke; I really should research that one day. This is probably the worst quality video I've ever featured, and it cuts off before the end, but I work with what I've got. "Walk Away Renee":
Some 45's had special sleeves -- not the ones with the cutout in the middle, but ones with real technicolor photographs. I had one of those. It was for "Back In My Arms Again" and it featured three women in elegant long gowns. Kind of like this:
The Supremes had a relatively short shelf-life, but they were huge in their time. This song certainly wasn't my favorite of theirs, but 1966 is what 1966 is. 1964 to 1966 was The Supremes' two-year reign. After that, it all looked kind of irrelevant, like they were trying too hard.
The Turtles hadn't quite hit their stride yet in 1966. That would come a year later with a song that will live forever in the minds of Ferris Bueller fans and in the minds of people like me. I could never quite get a handle on the Turtles. They were like the IT guys in your company; the guys you call when something isn't functioning right, and they pick up the phone if they're not too engrossed in their video game. Then, at the Christmas party, they blow you away with their previously undisclosed awesomeness. That, in essence, is the Turtles.
I think (think!) I have exhausted the best of the best of 1966.
Have you been following along? Are you sick of this topic yet? Are you wondering if I will ever stop?
Well, of course I will stop! There is an ending to the charts, naturally. Well, maybe there isn't. Maybe there's a chart somewhere of every record that sold at least one copy in 1967, but trust me, that won't be happening here. By the time I get to the record of some guy humming through a comb, I know it's time to stop.
But, in all seriousness, this does end. At number 50.
And believe me, there are some really good songs yet to relive.
Unfortunately, this isn't one of them. Oh sure. "I've Got Rhythm" ~ who doesn't know that song, right? Written by George Gershwin. A nice song that perhaps Fred and Ginger would dance to. This version? Hmmm....The group calls themselves "The Happenings", because apparently, the name "The Crew Cuts" was already taken. I'm as conservative as the next guy, but the Happenings just don't seem to fit with 1967. Kudos on the lemon yellow blazers, though.
Number 37 is by Petula Clark, and just let me say, I have absolutely no recollection of this song whatsoever. That doesn't mean it's bad, because I'm a sucker for French, even though I don't understand it. But I don't remember this song....at all. And it was #37? Well, here is This Is My Song:
Now, this is more my style. And one of my all-time favorite singers. As you know, this song was also recorded by the Four Tops. I love the Four Tops, but I love this version more.
As a side note, don't you find these "dancers" distracting? I bet Johnny wanted to do a couple of moves of his own, and reach out and just smack them. And trust me, we didn't dance like that in 1967. But I guess that's what you get when you try to do the Jerk to a slow song....morons.
Here is Johnny Rivers:
I'm really excited about number thirty-nine. This is one of my all-time favorite pop songs. Yes, everybody thinks "Happy Together" is the Turtles' best song. Maybe it is; maybe it isn't. I just happen to like this one better:
That was fun! People forget sometimes that music is supposed to be fun! And I love seeing a performer really enjoying himself. This was a really nice find!
Number forty is another one of my favorite songs from the era. Oh sure, you can have your Last Train To Clarksville and your Daydream Believer, but this was the Monkees getting all ironic and cynical (and that in itself is ironic, considering it was the Monkees).
I do also appreciate that, though Micky Dolenz is upfront about the guys not playing on their own records, he almost looks like a drummer in this video.
Here is Pleasant Valley Sunday:
No time-appropriate video of number forty-one, but Tommy James still sounds the same, doesn't he?
Oh yea, this song had a couple of lives. But we who were there will never forget our AM radios blaring this song...over and over and over...
I didn't even know that Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were still making hit records in 1967. Well, I was wrong, wasn't I?
Because here is "I Second That Emotion":
I had absolutely no idea what "Expressway To Your Heart" was; until I heard it.
So, yes, of course, I know this song. Kind of reminds me of the Rascals, and yet it is by the Soul Survivors. I don't know how or why the song rang no bells with me, but obviously I've heard this a million times, and here is one more time:
Number forty-four is by my favorite, and I'm sure yours (okay, that is irony, of course), Engelbert Humperdinck, doing that old country favorite, "Please Release Me".
There are so many things to say about this video, I'm not sure where to start.
First of all, why are there strobe lights flashing on his nether regions? Is this a natural phenomenon? Because I've never personally experienced that.
Number two ~ she's just trying to sleep, and here's Engelbert belting out a number in the bed, on his zebra-patterned sheets, and that's just insensitive. Let her sleep, Engelbert! Geez, I would take my zebra-striped pillow and smack him over the head a few times! Bastard.
And notice he wants her to release him "after the lovin'". Typical.
Yes, he's found a new love, dear. That's because she's got a steady supply of booze.
And he's singing this whole thing while admiring himself in the mirror.
Engelbert, you are just a pig! Seriously. You have no redeeming virtues.
And you sing it with such angst. There's no angst, Engelbert! You are a narcissistic creep. You and your new floozy deserve each other.
I hope you and Fabio are deliriously happy comparing hairdos.
I'm thinking the women of 1967 maybe outwardly put up with this crap, but inwardly, they cleaned out the guy's bank account and moved on to the Italian Rivera. And never again listened to another Engelbert Humperdinck song.
And thus we end tonight with number forty-four. Sorry to end this on a sour note. But seriously, Engelbert? That's just sorry and shallow and sad.
But more, better songs to come!
Stay tuned, as we round out the top fifty from the summer of love!