A Baker’s Dozen From 1967, Vol. 2

Originally posted January 23, 2008

Some quotations from 1967:

“There [in Haight-Ashbury], in a daily street-fair atmosphere, upwards of 15,000 unbonded girls and boys interact in a tribal love-seeking, free-winging, acid-based society, where if you are a hippie and you have a dime, you can put it in a parking meter and lie down in the street for an hour’s sunshine.” – Warren Hinckle, Social History of the Hippies

“‘An investigation into Sex’ is now offered at Dartmouth. ‘Analogues to the LSD Experience’ can now be studied at Penn. ‘Guerilla Warfare’ is being examined by DePauw students. Stanford undergraduates are studying ‘American Youth in Revolt,’ and ‘The Origins and Meaning of Black Power’ is a course at Brooklyn College. Has higher education finally caught up with the times?” – Ralph Keyes, “The Free Universities”

“Victory is just around the corner [in Vietnam].” – National Security Adviser Walt Rostow

“I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs” – Muhammad Ali

“I have tried to show that contemporary society is a repressive society in all its aspects, that even the comfort and the prosperity, the alleged political and moral freedom, are utilized for repressive ends.” – Herbert Marcuse

I turned fourteen that year. I wasn’t reading Marcuse nor was I worrying one way or another about the current courses in college catalogs. I was aware of the war in Vietnam, but only as something far away that was on the news more nights than not and in the papers almost every day. I knew that the war was out there, like thunder beyond the horizon, and I thought that maybe it was wrong, but it hadn’t touched me yet.

I did think about the hippies, having seen some coverage on the television news and having read about them in the daily papers and in Time magazine. It looked like they were having fun, I thought. I would not have minded running through the grass with some sweet flower child. Small chance of that, though: I was horribly awkward in my dealings with that strange tribe called girls.

Let’s see . . . I went to band camp that summer at Bemidji State College, in the northern part of the state. My dad let my hair grow out a little, and I grew a few inches and slimmed down some, changing enough that at least a couple people didn’t recognize me when ninth grade started in the fall. The most painful episode of the year was having my tonsils out after a long series of sore throats, the last of which came in late January.

When I stayed home ill, I would take the brown radio from the kitchen and put it on my bedside table. I’d listen to news and such on WCCO and occasionally tune the radio to KDWB and listen to that for a while, even though Top 40 radio was not yet the place where my soul lived. So what did I hear that January during that final bout of tonsilitis?

Here are a few listings pulled from the KDWB “Big 6 Plus 30” for the week of January 21, 1967. The top five was:

“I’m A Believer” by the Monkees
“Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen
“Words of Love” by the Mamas & the Papas
“Coming Home Soldier” by Bobby Vinton
“Tell It Like It Is” by Aaron Neville

A few other stops along the way were:

No. 10: “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet” by the Blues Magoos
No. 15: “Sugar Town” by Nancy Sinatra
No. 20: “Tell It To The Rain” by the Four Seasons
No. 25: “Whispers” by Jackie Wilson
No. 30: “Standing in the Shadows of Love” by the Four Tops
No. 36: “Ballad of Water Wart” by Thorndike Pickledish Choir

I’d never seen this list before, and my jaw remains agape as I write this, looking at that No. 36 song. I’d never heard of it before. Whatever it is, it was in its fifth week on the KDWB survey, having gone as high as No. 21. It might have been a regional hit, as it’s not listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits.

A quick Googling finds that KDWB’s list has the title misspelled; it should be “The Ballad of Walter Wart,” although a 2006 posting on the website of WFMU, the free-form station in New Jersey, notes that the label on its copy of the 45 is misspelled, too. From what I can tell it was a novelty record that didn’t quite make the Top 100 nationally. I wonder why it did so well on KDWB? It never showed up on the weekly surveys at WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other Top 40 station.

Well, let’s Google on: It turns out that the creator of the record, whose real name is Robert O. Smith, has a blog of his own: All Hail Thorndike Pickledish !! There’s an mp3 of the two sides of the single there. Odd, indeed.*

Anyway, that’s what radio sounded like, for the most part, as I sat in bed with a sore throat forty-one years ago. And here’s what 1967 sounds like when I start the RealPlayer these days:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1967, Vol. 2
“Eight Men, Four Women” by O. V. Wright, Backbeat single 580

“Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles from Magical Mystery Tour

“Ups & Downs” by Paul Revere & the Raiders, Columbia single 44018

“Landslide” by Tony Clark, Chess single 1979

“Everybody’s Wrong” by Buffalo Springfield from Buffalo Springfield

“Ye Old Toffee Shop” by the Hollies from Evolution

“I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Tamla single 54159

“Bessie Smith” by The Band from The Basement Tapes

“Blue Condition” by Cream from Disraeli Gears

“Hip Hug-Her” by Booker T & the MG’s, Stax single 211

“Twentieth Century Fox” by the Doors from The Doors

“San Francisco Bay Blues” by Richie Havens from Mixed Bag

“Break It Up” by Julie Driscoll & Brian Auger from Open

A few notes:

O.V. Wright came out of the gospel music circuit before going secular in the mid-1960s, eventually ending up in the 1970s with Willie Mitchell at Hi Records in Memphis. That’s probably where Wright did his best work, but his mid-1960s singles for Backbeat – “Eight Men, Four Women” is the most atmospheric – are worth seeking out.

I’ve seen numerous comments from historians and critics and others of similar background who state that the Beatles’ single “Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane” is the best double-sided single in the history of rock. It’s a good one, no doubt, but the best? The record was a harbinger of what was to come that summer when Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, and it sounded unlike anything we’d ever heard before. With the passage of time, however, the two singles suffer at least a little from the “throw in everything including the kitchen sink” production style that seemed so novel and revolutionary in 1967. And I can think of four other double-sided singles the Beatles themselves released that have more staying power than “Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane.” Those would be “Come Together”/“Something,” “Hey Jude”/“Revolution,” “Paperback Writer”/“Rain” and – way back near the start – “I Want To Hold Your Hand”/“I Saw Her Standing There.”

The Hollies track is the most frothy and least consequential song from the Evolution album, which I think was the Hollies’ attempt to make something significant out of their version of psychedelic folk-pop. It’s not an awful album, and it has one good single (“Carrie-Anne”), but it’s not nearly as important as it is odd. The Hollies, in one critical way, remind me of the Grass Roots and Neil Diamond, among many others, in that they recorded good singles – sometimes even verging on great – but got lost when they tried to be significant. The middle section of “Ye Old Toffee Shop” reminds me of the single from the year before: “Pied Piper” by Crispian St. Peters.

On the other hand, great singles were Smokey Robinson’s business, and he knew it and stayed with it. “I Second That Emotion” might be his masterpiece – “Maybe you wanna give me kisses sweet, but only for one night with no repeat,” indeed! – but even if it’s not (I do lean toward “Tears of a Clown”), it’s a great single from the writing all the way through the production and the performance.

Most performers, when taking on Jesse Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues” keep it up-tempo, an approach that likely started with Fuller himself (based on a listen to his performance of the song at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964). But Havens – as he often does – goes against type here, making the song more contemplative and measured, allowing the listener to take in the tale.

*Sadly, a check on the first page of All Hail Thorndike Pickledish !! reveals that Robert O. Smith, creator of Walter Wart, crossed over in 2010. The blog is still there, but the link to the Walter Wart mp3s no longer works. Note added June 6, 2011.

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