Recalling Early 1968

Originally posted July 23, 2007

As I prepared today’s album, I found myself wondering: What was going on around me, and what was on my mind, in the early days of 1968?

Well, I recall one of my main interests quite clearly, although I won’t identify her. She was slender and blonde, and she was in my social studies class. She was pleasant toward me – she was honestly too nice a person not to be – but it was clear by springtime, if not before, that her interests and mine were, alas, not congruent.

As well as continuing the dip my toe in the waters of attraction, I was also beginning to delve seriously into sports as a fan and observer. Sometime during the winter, in that same social studies class, we took a career aptitude test. The results informed me that I might be good at some form of mass communication, perhaps in radio or television. That winter was the first season in the National Hockey League of the Minnesota North Stars, and I found myself spending many evening hours listening WCCO Radio’s Al Shaver as he described the action from Montreal or Boston or St. Louis or any of the other places where my heroes in green and gold played. What a fine life – to travel from city to city, to see hockey games three or so nights a week, and to get paid for talking about it!

I decided right then, as I looked at the results of the aptitude test, that I was going to do play-by-play for a NHL team someday. And for eight or so years, I looked ahead to a sportscasting career in radio and television. (I never spent a day in broadcasting after college, as it turned out. My ability to write, along with an inability to project myself through a television camera, led me to newspapers.) But for a while, starting in the early part of 1968, I could see myself entertaining distant listeners from a press box high above the ice in some far-away city.

It wasn’t just hockey that interested me. The autumn before, I’d subscribed for the first time to Sports Illustrated, and I read each edition voraciously. So the first of the two major passions of my life was in place as I was heading toward fifteen: spectator sports.

Popular music, the other major diversion, would have to wait a little bit. It wasn’t that I didn’t hear it. After all, even without trying, a teenager would hear Top 40 songs all around. There was no escape at the time from “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses),” the No. 1 hit by John Fed & His Playboy Band, or from hit songs by the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, the Lemon Pipers, the American Breed and more. But I heard them without truly listening.

Neither was I listening to the albums that topped the charts: The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Monkees (yes, they topped the album charts!), the Doors, the Supremes, Jimi Hendrix, Big Brother & the Holding Company – all of their albums passed by unnoticed. The most recent album I was listening to was Herb Alpert’s Ninth, which had come out the previous September, a good album, but not one that was going to increase my hipness quotient, if in fact I had been worried about it. I wasn’t.

Also among the albums that I missed that January of 1968 – although I was not at all alone in missing it – was Richie Havens’ Something Else Again. In many ways, it was similar to his 1967 release, Mixed Bag, with its combination of originals and cover songs, many presented with the muscular strum of Havens’ open-tuned guitar (the approach that would help him become famous in the summer of 1969 when he opened the Woodstock festival). What makes Something Else Again both fascinating and a perfect product of its time is the seven-minute-plus title track, an excursion into sitar, flute and Indian percussion, as Havens, like many other musicians at the time, followed Beatle George Harrison in exploring Indian music.

There are other things to recommend Something Else Again, to be sure. Havens’ take on Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” is worth more than a few listens, as is “The Klan,” a bit of social commentary written by a duo identified only as D. Grey and A. Grey. My favorite is “New City,” which has some of the feel, if not the epic scope, of “Follow,” the magnificent closer to 1967’s Mixed Bag.

Track listing:
No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed
Inside Of Him
The Klan
Sugarplums
Don’t Listen To Me
From The Prison
Maggie’s Farm
Somethin’ Else AgainNew City
Run, Shaker Life

Richie Havens – Something Else Again [1968]

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