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Going Back To the ’60’s, For Just a Bit

When I wrote out the lyrics to the Doors song “Waiting For the Sun” the other day, I started thinking about how amazing, so much of the music of the 1960’s was, both melodically and lyrically.

The mid-’60’s was when I first really started listening on the radio to what we can call pop/rock. Before that, I listened to musical comedy records at home, and then my parents’ favorite pop music on the radio: Sinatra, my mother’s favorite, and Tony Bennett, Lena Horne; Doris Day, my favorite; Peggy Lee, Andy Williams, Bobby Darin, all from the era of the singing star, which took over from the era of the big bands.

I did not listen to radio in the rather infamous “payola days” of the Frankie Avalons, and Paul Ankas and Fabians, not that I am saying that any of those benefited from “pay to play,’ though the music was pretty insipid, with a few exceptions. My parents did not know anything about the early Rock’n’Roll, except a little about Elvis, so I never knew about those stars. I did like the surf music I occasionally heard. But then came the “Folk Music Era” on the radio, with the Kingston Trio, Limeliters,, Joan Baez, and many more; and we listened to an hour folk show when we were in the car on weekends.

And that era is part of what turned into the “Folk-Rock Era,” where many of the young singer-songwriters who started playing folk music, “went electric,” perhaps inspired by Bob Dylan’s taking out an electric guitar and playing a rock set, after his folk song set, at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, and of course getting booed by the devoted folk music fans.

There were Simon and Garfunkel, who did a song called “The Sound of Silence” on an essentially folk album, and no one noticing it; and then redoing it with a rock guitar backing, which turned into a #1 hit, and legendary song. And the Mamas and Papas, all with folk backgrounds, who joined to form one of the greatest groups in music history. The Lovin’ Spoonful, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, all had folk music backgrounds. I thought that folk-rock music was incredible, combining melody, singability, lovely chords, and yet the drive of rock music.

That era essentially lasted from 1965-1967. In the meantime, there was the British Invasion coming to America, which began about 1963, with the Beatles of course leading that; and with the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Kinks, and many others evolving skiffle music and the “Mersey Beat” sound, into wonderful rock music.

There was this magic period where the radio was filled with one great song after another. There was also the R&B of the Four Tops, Temptations, and many others. And there was Bob Dylan, in his amazing period of 1964-1966; and Donovan, who some like to think of as a lesser Dylan, but who actually was a musical poet in his own right, and who bridged the folk era into pop, and even the psychedelic.

Then there was the “San Francisco Sound,” very distinctive, with The Jefferson Airplane being the most famous architects of that music. Also the Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, Country Joe and the Fish; and one might count the Beau Brummels, from that area as well, though I think they were rather more like one of the British Beat sounding groups. And the Grateful Dead, whom I never followed much, but who obviously created a very large following.

Then there was a somewhat brief “psychedelic era,” which I liked, though not as much as folk-rock. Most of the best psychedelic music came from England, I think. I wouldn’t necessarily call the Doors “psychedelic,” but there was some of that in their music. And then a group which I liked a lot, and which many people have not heard of: Love, with the incredible Arthur Lee,, and Bryan MacLean. They made what I think was one of the top five rock albums ever created, “Forever Changes,” in 1967. If you have never heard it, or heard of it, and you like ’60’s rock, I very strongly recommend that you just buy the album, and you will not be disappointed. It still sounds fresh, and brilliant, and haunting.

Well, that was a very brief and perhaps somewhat facile review, as there are whole books about ’60’s music, with a great deal more research. But this is about my memories of it, and I remember the songs and the groups very well.

And I should mention the Monkees, whom I was never a fan of, but my brother was. And in retrospect now, their music, most of it of course written by Neil DIamond, Carole King and Gary Goffin, and Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, seems rather good. And with the recent death of Mike Nesmith, it seems that another aspect of that era has ended. He and Mickey Dolenz had just finished a “farewell tour” in Los Angeles, and I had thought about seeing them, but I did not, which I regret.

On the more positive side, I actually got to see Petula Clark, in her 80’s, looking and sounding just about the same, and as charming, as in the days of her many pop hits, mostly written by Tony Hatch, and sung wonderfully by her.

As to what happened to “60’s music,” well, of course the decade ended. But the numerals were not the story. Folk-rock was over, psychedelia was short-lived. The great groups had mostly disbanded, some because of untimely deaths. There seemed to develop a dichotomy, where what had earlier been pretty folk and melodic rock , turned into “easy listening” artists; while the harder-edged rock turned into straight blues, or loud hard-rock. And then , in my opinion, and which I know may be an unpopular view,, came the most damaging force in rock music history, Led Zeppelin; bombastic, pretentious, and relentless; the devolution of the Beatles’ sound, I would say.

And that ushered in what was for me an awful period in music, from about 1972-1977, with all the anthem rock, the two L.A. stations which pounded out music by Grand Funk Railroad, Foghat, AC/DC, and of course the mandatory “Zep” in almost every set. I was rescued from that by the “new wave” coming out of New York, with Blondie and Talking Heads, and even the B-52’s who were from Georgia but played in New York; and then the “L.A. Underground,” including the Motels, the Go-Go’s, Berlin, and two of my favorite unknown groups, Vivabeat, and B-People. with Alex Gibson.

Those latter two artists were really part of what in England was “postpunk,” following the punk movement. and much more melodic than punk, and sometimes dreamy and haunting. But that is another genre, so I will get back to the 60’s music which I loved; and just for fun, list what I think was the best song or two of those artists. which of course is only my opinion, but fun to consider, and compare to your own mental list, if you have one.

The Beatles “A Day in the Life.” With so many great songs, how can one choose? I’ll go with the unforgettable last track on the “Sergeant Pepper” album. Part by John, part by Paul; and accessible and mysterious at the same time.

The Mamas and Papas “Look Through My Window.” I loved this group. Of course ‘California Dreaming” is the masterpiece, but this song is absolutely beautiful, even if melancholy. So I’ll choose both.

Simon and Garfunkel “The Sound of Silence.” It might even be seen as the song which evoked the era. “A Hazy Shade of Winter.”

The Byrds “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.” It has always been the song of theirs which I most like, one of the quintessential folk-rock songs. And it was not written by Bob Dylan, as so many of their hits were, it was written by band member Gene Clark.

The Lovin’ Spoonful “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice, ” and “Cocoanut Grove.”

Donovan “Season of of the Witch,” and “Epistle To Derroll.”

Love “You Set the Scene,” an anthem for the age. And “Que Vida!”

Bob Dylan “Desolation Row,” the greatest lyric in rock music history. And “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Is that about a woman, or about America?

The Doors “The Crystal Ship.” And I never took a drug, but the song is elegant and dreamy. Also “When the Music’s Over.”

The Jefferson Airplane “Today.” A friend of mine who agreed with me that “The Big Chill” did not have a soundtrack which really evoked the ’60’s, suggested that this song would have fit, and it would have, but it would have elevated what I thought was an insipid movie.

Quicksilver Messenger Service “Pride of Man.” I don’t know many of their songs, but this one, by Hamilton Camp, is brilliant. Who writes songs like this anymore?

The Rolling Stones “Paint it Black.” Sort of punk music before its time. Also, “As Tears Go By.”

The Animals “House of the Rising Sun.” Such a great song, one never tires of it. Of course it was not written by them, but the version, and Eric Burdon’s singing and Alan Price’s organ, certainly were unique to them.

The Kinks “Waterloo Sunset.” It is about Julie Christie and Terence Stamp filming “Far From the Madding Crowd.”

The Monkees “Door Into Summer.” MIchael Nesmith wrote it “The Girl That I Knew Somewhere,” which he also wrote.

The Association “Cherish.” I don’t imagine that I was the only boy to have connected this song with an unrequited crush.

Sonny and Cher “The Beat Goes On.”

Johnny Rivers “Summer Rain.”

The Buffalo Springfield “Mr. Soul.” “Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It?”

The Moody Blues “Tuesday Afternoon.” My favorite song of theirs, “Driftwood,” was written in the ’70’s.

Cream “Deserted Cities of the Heart” “White Room”

Jimi Hendrix “The Wind Cries Mary”

The Seekers “I”ll Never Find Another You.” “Lady Mary.”

Well, I know that it was somewhat indulgent of me to list all of my favorite songs, but it was fun to do; and I hope it jogged your memories a bit. I have had a very brief idea for a movie which would start with a man from this current time, waking up one morning, hearing the radio turn on with “Light My Fire,” and assuming it was an oldie they were playing, but then hearing the DJ say, “A great new song by the Doors,” and finally figuring out that that he was in 1967. And what would he do with the knowledge of fifty years later, to try to change any of it?

That’s about as far as I have gotten with the movie, but if done well, it could be very good! That was certainly an era with better music and better songwriters than today, in my view. At least we can still hear it now, even though much of the era, and the songs, seem like a dream, in various ways.


8 Responses

  1. Well, you certainly brought back a lot of musical memories. There was always music in my house. My father, born in small-town Alabama, loved classical music and opera. I guess I was a Daddy’s girl. I remember sitting with him, listening to his records while Ed Sullivan presented the Beatles to my siblings in the living room. Mother favored Chopin and popular tunes and Episcopal hymns. One older sister loved Elvis and even met him twice. Another older sister, a rebel of sorts, introduced me to Howlin’ Wolf and Hank Williams and Jimmy Reed. The day she bought “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas, she played that record over and over. It was great! I’ve always said I grew up in the best time for music. I loved Motown, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Redding; and, of course, I even grew to love The Beatles. At fifteen I decided I would marry a musician. My shy self felt empowered listening to Led Zeppelin. This is where we differ. I still love AC/DC too. Sorry. I’m a sucker for a power chord. What can I say? I still love Bowie and Leonard Cohen. At 24, I fell in love at first sight with a music man. He was debuting his band that night in a small Atlanta venue, opening for the B-52s. We were married for 37 years, and it was all a magical, musical adventure. We lost him this past October. I ache with loss but how lucky I am to hear his voice in recorded music. He was self-taught and taught me a lot about music. He studied more artists than I can list, but they included Ellington, Count Basie, Satie, Jerry Byrd, Sol Hoopii, Django Reinhardt, and yes, he was inspired by Love and Arthur Lee. Thanks for the memories.

  2. William, I share your hatred for Led Zeppelin. I remember turning on the radio when I was a kid and hearing “Stairway to Heaven” being played over and over until I thought I would scream. Apparently, it was the go-to song for live DJs to play when they wanted to take a long break which they seemed to want to do at least once an hour. Excruciating.

    Other 70’s and 80’s bands I hated with a vengeance included Aerosmith (please don’t walk this way ever again), REO Speedwagon, Styx, Kansas, Air Supply, Foreigner and Journey. I think Journey had a pretty good lead singer but maybe that was Foreigner. I can’t remember. I could never tell any of these bands apart. They all sounded the same to me. Like crap. I still can’t tell them apart. I heard one old song on the radio this morning. It was a good thing the DJ (recorded, not live anymore) told us it was REO Speedwagon because I couldn’t have identified the name of the band if my life depended on it and it’s not just because I’m getting old. It’s because those were lousy years for music and are better forgotten. IMHO, of course.

    • I do recognize Aerosmith whenever I hear them on the radio. Rolling Stones wannabes.

      Dream on…

    • i completely agree. i was going to law school, and it was over an hour drive home, and of course one wanted to have some music to keep one company,. and there was nothing listenable for me. It did all sound the same. I tried to like some of it, but it was the same songs, it seemed. And then once in a while, they would play some ”progressive rock.’ Genesis or ELO, and I didn’t like that much, either. Most of what they played though, was as you describe it. it seemed to me that this was going to be rock music forever. So then i would drive home in silence, not wanting to hear George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers pound away with ”One scotch, one bourbon, one beer.’ or the like.

      One day, about 1977 or so, i did have the radio on, and I heard a song I actually liked! I didn’t know who it was, but it was Al Stewart, with “Carol,’ what a great song, with a story and a melody. And that did prove to be a harbinger of better music times. ‘I later remember driving west on Sunset Boulevard, with the wind picking up the leaves, and listening to ‘Year of the Cat,’ such an evocative song. And then KROQ, when it was good, playing “Both Ends Burning'” by Roxy Music, and “Hiroshima Mon Amour’ by Ultravox, back to back; two surprisingly similar melodies, but both brilliant songs.

      And that was part of a renaissance in music for me, at least. For a while, until KROQ went to ‘”dance new wave,” with Duran Duran and the like. But from about 1977-1981, there was a lot of great music to hear. Interestingly, those FM stations i did not like, still play much the same hard rock and anthem rock, as if it were still 1975. Tastes will vary, of course, but i just wanted diversity, where one could escape “Stairway’ and “Free Bird,’ which always were the top two songs on the listeners’ vote for top 100 songs, played at the end of the year. i would always turn it off after the highest ranked Beatles song, because i knew what was coming next. Every single year.

      So I appreciate your making my minority opinion a bit less so!

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