Archive for the ‘First Friday’ Category

First Friday: December 1968

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 6, 2008

(Yesterday was the first Friday in December, and I blew it. I utterly forgot to post the last First Friday post in our yearlong look at 1968. So it’s running today, Saturday, and I’ll tag it First Friday, and in forty years, no one will care that it was a day late.)

It’s not like nothing happened in December of 1968.

Harsh new governing measures were adopted December 13 by the military government in Brazil, measures that were in place for ten years. California’s Zodiac Killer is said to have shot his first two of at least seven confirmed victims – David Arthur Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16 – on December 20 in the city of Benicia, California. In an event that still echoes for us every time we sit at our desks, inventor Douglas Engelbart publicly demonstrated on December 9 his pioneering computer hyperlink system. And most certainly, other events of the month damaged or influenced people’s lives around the world in ways that still reverberate today.

But December 1968, at least from where a current events-savvy Midwestern boy of fifteen watched, was a fairly uneventful month. Coming at the end of a year that saw an escalating war, two assassinations, riots and a bitter national election, the quiet month made it feel like the nation, having drawn so many anxious breaths in the eleven months just past, could finally release its breath in a sigh of relief. Not that there hadn’t been damage; there had been, much of it grievous. But all the madness seemed to be ending.

And maybe that’s why the most historically significant event of the month seemed to be almost like a benediction:

On December 24, Christmas Eve, the U.S. spacecraft Apollo 8 became the first vehicle to enter orbit around the moon. The three-man crew – Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders – became the first humans to see the far side of the moon. The crew also became the first humans to see the Earth rise above the moon and captured the moment in a remarkable photo. And in a memorable live broadcast from lunar orbit that evening, Borman read to the world the account of creation from the book of Genesis, the first book of the Christian Bible. Borman closed the broadcast – at the time, the most-watched television broadcast in history – with: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, and a Merry Christmas to all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

As appropriate as that Christmas Eve message was (if a good deal less than multi-cultural), and as historic as that first orbit of the moon was, I think the most important thing that Apollo 8 did was show us the Earth. As I wrote here more than a year ago:

“Such images have become so commonplace – in advertising and elsewhere – in the thirty-nine years since that it’s hard for those who did not experience it to understand just how electrifying and humbling it was to see for the first time all of the earth at one moment. That image – of the blue earth hanging alone in the black of space – underlined to me, and, I think, to many, how alone we are and how this small earth is all we have, a lesson that I think we need to relearn.”

Of course, it’s been forty years now, but the lesson, I think, remains.

Even in a month that provided us a new perspective on our dwelling place and, one hopes, ourselves, there were Earth-bound pursuits and pleasures. On December 3, Elvis Presley starred in Elvis, a special NBC television broadcast now frequently referred to as Elvis’ “Comeback Special.” The broadcast featured the performer sometimes with a large orchestra and sometimes in a more intimate setting with a small group, performing in a way that music fans hadn’t really seen in nearly ten years. In a music world that had changed immeasurably from the time Presley went into the U.S. Army in the late 1950s and emerged to – mostly – star in mediocre movies, Presley was, after his special, relevant again. As Wikipedia notes: “The live segments of the ’68 Comeback Special in particular gave the audience more than a glimpse of Presley’s charismatic and emotionally charged performing style that won him his first fans in the 1950s.”

So what was it we were listening to at the end of the week that Elvis took to the stage again? Here’s the top fifteen from the Billboard Hot 100 of December 7, 1968:

“Love Child” by Diana Ross & the Supremes
“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“For Once In My Life” by Stevie Wonder
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye
“Who’s Making Love” by Johnnie Taylor
“Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf
“Abraham, Martin & John” by Dion
“Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell
“Stormy” by the Classics IV featuring Dennis Yost
“Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin
“I Love How You Love Me” by Bobby Vinton
“Hold Me Tight” by Johnny Nash
“Both Sides Now” by Judy Collins
“White Room” by Cream
“Cloud Nine” by the Temptations

That’s an almost-perfect Top Fifteen: I could get along without the Bobby Vinton, and I still have never heard – that I know of – the Johnny Nash single. The Mary Hopkin single is a little frothy, but it works, and that’s probably a good description of Judy Collins’ take on “Both Sides Now.” But boy, with those caveats, that’s an hour of radio bliss.

What did the album chart look like? Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from December 7, 1968:

Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & the Holding Company
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Second by Steppenwolf
Time Peace/The Rascals’ Greatest Hits by the Rascals
Wheels of Fire by Cream
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
The Time Has Come by the Chambers Brothers
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Gentle On My Mind by Glen Campbell

That’s not a lot different than the chart had been a month earlier: albums by Jefferson Airplane and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown had dropped out of the top ten, replaced by the Steppenwolf album and Electric Ladyland. It’s once more a pretty good chart with a lot of different styles. As I may have said before, I don’t think the Iron Butterfly album has aged well (a fact that I think extends to the group’s entire catalog). All-Music Guide regards Steppenwolf’s The Second as a great album, but I’m a little skeptical. Other than those quibbles, this is a great chart.

The album I’m sharing today managed to climb almost halfway into the Billboard Top 40, peaking at No. 24 during an eleven-week period that began in October of 1968. Not bad for a soundtrack album made up of classical music, some of it very adventurous.

The album was the soundtrack to the MGM film 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film that still sits atop my personal list of the greatest films I’ve seen. It was not well regarded by critics at the time. (Nor did it have the respect of my contemporaries: During a bus trip to the Twin Cities by the St. Cloud Tech concert band in early 1969, we band members were asked to vote on which movie we wanted to see as the final portion of our excursion to the big city. I cast the only vote for 2001: A Space Odyssey. We went and saw Oliver! instead.) Most critics acknowledged the technical achievements demonstrated in the Stanley Kubrick-directed film, but the film’s content – or perceived lack thereof – was dismissed by many writers

Now, of course, Stanley Kubrick’s film is regarded by many critics and viewers as an eloquent allegory about the human race and its tentative steps toward greater accomplishments throughout history. And its technical achievements, amazing in 1968, remain just that.

One of Kubrick’s innovations was the use of classical music for the film’s soundtrack. A conventional soundtrack had been commissioned for the film, and I believe it was well-regarded composer Alex North who wrote that score. There are CD copies of it floating around the ’Net; I’ve heard bits of it, and it’s not bad, but it’s predictable.

Kubrick’s decision to use classical music for his film provided us with two unforgettable moments when music and image were blended into an icon: The pairing of Richard Strauss’ anthemic “Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra)” and its solo trumpet, swelling orchestra and solo typmpani with the image of the enigmatic monolith was the first iconic pairing, and the linking of the silent and subtle movements of space flight with Johann Strauss’ waltz, “The Blue Danube” was the other.

The soundtrack has its share of selections that were avant-garde in 1968 and remain less than easy to access forty years later. But it’s a fascinating collection, and if not all of the tracks remind one of the film, I think that’s the passing years. Having listened to the soundtrack a couple of times since I found it online, I plan to take a look at the film very soon, for the first time in years.

Music from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey
Overture: “Atmospheres” (excerpt) by György Ligeti

Main Title: “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss

“Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Two Mixed Choirs & Orchestra” by György Ligeti

“The Blue Danube” (excerpt) by Johann Strauss

“Lux Aeterna” (excerpt) by György Ligeti

“Gayane Ballet Suite (Adagio) by Aram Khachaturian

“Jupiter and Beyond” (“Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Two Mixed Choirs & Orchestra,” “Atmospheres,” and “Adventures [altered for film]”) by György Ligeti

“Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss

“The Blue Danube” (reprise) by Johann Strauss

Supplemental tracks:
“Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss (This version was included on the original MGM soundtrack album in 1968 but was not used in the film.)

“Lux Aeterna” by György Ligeti (This full-length version was included on the original MGM soundtrack album in 1968 in place of the excerpt used in the film.)

“Adventures” (unaltered, full-length version) by György Ligeti

HAL 9000 (A dialogue montage featuring the HAL 9000 computer, one of the film’s central characters.)

(The tags on the mp3s list the performing ensembles and conductors rather than the composers’ names as listed above. I apologize for any confusion that might cause.)

Soundtrack – 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968]

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First Friday: November 1968

September 26, 2011

Originally posted November 7, 2008

One of the television pundits in the past few days – I do not recall which one it was – told us that the revival of the presidential campaign of John McCain from its doldrums of the summer of 2007 was the most remarkable political resurrection in recent American history.

That depends on how you define “recent,” of course.

But to me, the most remarkable political resurrection in recent American history culminated with the election of Richard Nixon as president in 1968. Eight years earlier, as a sitting vice-president, Nixon had been defeated for the presidency by Massachusetts Senator John Kennedy. Two years after that, he’d lost a bid for the governorship of California. As Wikipedia notes, “in an impromptu concession speech the morning after the [California] election, Nixon famously blamed the media for favoring his opponent, saying, ‘You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.’”

Six years later, on November 5, 1968, Nixon was elected president of the United States in a three-way race. The election was not only the culmination of Nixon’s retreat, rehabilitation and resurrection (covered in detail by Wikipedia here), but the culmination of an arc of stunning and tragic events that have come to define the entire American year of 1968:

The Tet Offensive in Vietnam, which showed Americans at home that the path to victory in that Southeast Asian nation was not as smoothly laid as politicians and military officials had told them.

The near-defeat of a sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, by Senator Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, a result that spurred Johnson to withdraw from the Democratic presidential campaign, a decision that threw the race into chaos.

The assassinations – in April and June respectively – of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis and Senator Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles. The horror and sorrow of the two murders – coming two months and two days apart – increased the sense of a nation crumbling under the strain of blow after blow, grief after grief.

The upheaval during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August. As millions watched on television, the Democrats wrangled inside the convention hall, unable to unite, while outside, police and demonstrators fought in what was later judged to be “a police riot.” The sight of counter-cultural demonstrators battling police was certainly one of the factors that doomed the chances of Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey in November’s election.

In that election, Humphrey and his running mate, Edmund Muskie of Maine, were facing Republicans Nixon and Governor Spiro Agnew of Maryland. In addition, the campaign included one of the few viable third-party candidacies ever in United States’ history, with former Alabama Governor George Wallace and his running mate Gen. Curtis LeMay heading the American Independent Party, running on a generally anti-Washington platform, especially where it concerned civil rights and the federal government’s efforts toward desegregation.

According to Wikipedia (and this echoes what I recall hearing as a fifteen-year-old at the time), Wallace’s hope for the election was to win enough states and their electoral votes to deny both Nixon and Humphrey the presidency and move the presidential decision into the U.S. House of Representatives (where each state would cast one vote as determined by its delegation of representatives). Presumably, the delegations of the states Wallace had won in the election would follow his lead there and allow him the role of power broker as the House decided the election.

That was Wallace’s goal. The reality was that he won five states – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi – with a total of forty-five electoral votes. But those weren’t enough to forestall Nixon’s victory, as the Republican ticket accumulated 301 electoral votes to 191 for the Humphrey-Muskie ticket. Richard Nixon, six years after proclaiming that he was done with politics, won the presidency.

Folks who play the sometimes fascinating game of Couldabeen have long noted that according to the polls of the time – not nearly as many as there are today – the race between Nixon and Humphrey had tightened in the week before the election. That has prompted some to conclude that had the campaign been one week longer, Humphrey would have overtaken Nixon and won the election. Perhaps. Maybe the movement would have been just enough to throw the election into the House of Represenatives (something that has happened only twice before, from what I can tell, in 1800 and 1824).

In any event, the presidential election in November 1968 was when Richard Nixon’s revival peaked (it would move on a downward arc – a seeming inevitability, seen historically – soon enough) and the sad story of 1968 in the United States reached its climax. There was still a good chunk of time left in the year come November 6, the day after the election, but for most of those eight weeks, the nation, I think, was simply exhaling in exhaustion. The list of November events at Wikipedia includes a couple of things happening in Vietnam; one of them is the start of Operation Commando Hunt, a less-than-successful attempt to block the movement by guerillas of men and supplies along the Ho Chi Mihn trail in the supposedly neutral national of Laos.

But looking at the list of November’s events, once past the election, the month seems tranquil, which is not a word that could be used often during 1968. There was one other important event, in retrospect: On November 14, Yale University announced it would admit women. And there was one not-so-important event that nevertheless has an impact today: On November 17, NBC cut away from the last 1:05 of a football game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders to begin its special broadcast of a movie version of the tale Heidi. The Raiders scored two late touchdowns to win 43-32. Thousands of outraged fans protested, and NBC and other networks that air sports programming have since then stayed with sporting events to the very end regardless of the dislocation of the following schedule.

So what was it we were listening to as the votes were being counted on Election Day? Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen for November 2, 1968:

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin
“Little Green Apples” by O.C Smith
“Fire” by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
“Midnight Confessions” by the Grass Roots
“Elenore” by the Turtles
“Over You” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
“Hold Me Tight” by Johnny Nash
“Love Child” by Diana Ross & the Supremes
“White Room” by Cream
“Suzie Q.” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf
“Piece of My Heart” by Big Brother and the Holding Company
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley
“Girl Watcher” by the O’Kaysions

That’s a pretty good mix. I have to admit I’m not familiar with the Johnny Nash single. Maybe it didn’t get airplay here. I dunno. I know the rest well and like most of them. The Gary Puckett single is a little slight. On the other hand, “Fire” is about as powerful a song as you can find in the Top Fifteen, and “Love Child,” “White Room,” “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Piece of My Heart” are top-line singles. I also have a fond spot for “Midnight Confessions.” So when others had the radio on, I was beginning my slow modulation into pop/rock fandom and enjoying much of what I heard.

(I am a bit bothered by never having heard the Johnny Nash track, as far as I know.)

Here’s what Billboard listed as the Top Ten albums on Election Day:

Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Time Peace/The Rascal’s Greatest Hits by the Rascals
The Time Has Come by the Chambers Brothers
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
Crown of Creation by Jefferson Airplane
Wheels of Fire by Cream
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Gentle On My Mind by Glen Campbell
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

This was a pretty good week: It was the fourth week in a row that Big Brother and the Holding Company had held the top spot, buoyed by Janis Joplin’s vocals. The Chambers Brothers’ mix of funk and psychedelica had re-entered the album chart on the strength of a single edited from the album’s title track; the single had peaked at No. 11 in mid-October. And beyond those, there’s a little bit of something for everyone in this Top Ten: Some pop country, some Latin influence, some bluesy psychedelica, some blue-eyed soul, some folk-rock in the quieter moments of the Jefferson Airplane album, and a freakout or two.

The album I’m sharing today from 1968 is a fairly somber affair. David Ackles’ self-titled debut is one of those records that slowly insinuates itself. It’s subtle, and I’m not sure that consciously listening to it is the way to get into it. I’m probably wandering off into hippie stream of the universe territory here, but David Ackles is an album that – to the extent I know it (and I need to know it better) – I’ve begun to appreciate by having it play when I’m not aware of it.

The next time it plays, the increasing familiarity is pleasing, and even when only one track at a time pops up, a subtle learning of the album brings moments of unexpected recognition.

I dunno. Maybe that’s just the way I need to listen to it. Maybe focusing on 1968 for all these months has tipped me over the edge of perception. [That’s intended to be funny. You can chuckle.] I guess what I’m saying is that conscious listening – as in ‘Oh, what’s he doing with the guitar part and the parallel melody there?” – seems not to get me close to the center of whatever it is Ackles is aiming for. Osmosis seems to work better, and that may be because Ackles’ album is somber.

Here’s what All-Music Guide had to say about David Ackles:

“Ackles’ self-titled debut LP introduced a singer/songwriter quirky even by the standards of Elektra records, possibly the most adventurous independent label of the 1960s. Ackles was a pretty anomalous artist of his time, with a low, grumbling voice that was uncommercial but expressive, and similar to Randy Newman’s. As a composer, Ackles bore some similarities to Newman, as well in his downbeat eccentricity and mixture of elements from pop, folk, and theatrical music. All the same, this impressive maiden outing stands on its own, though comparisons to Brecht/Weill (in the songwriting and occasional circus-like tunes) and Tim Buckley (in the arrangements and phrasing) hold to some degree too. This is certainly his most rock-oriented record, courtesy of the typically tasteful, imaginative Elektra arrangements, particularly with Michael Fonfara’s celestial organ and the ethereal guitar riffs (which, again, recall those heard on Buckley’s early albums). As a songwriter, Ackles was among the darkest princes of his time, though the lyrics were delivered with a subdued resignation that kept them from crossing the line to hysterical gloom. ‘The Road to Cairo,’ covered by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, and the Trinity is probably the most famous song here. But the others are quality efforts as well, whether the epics tell of religious trial, as in ‘His Name Is Andrew,’ or the mini-horror tale of revisiting an old home in ‘Sonny Come Home.’”

Beyond the tracks mentioned there, I’d also recommend “Blue Ribbon,” “Laissez-Faire” and “Be My Friend.” And keep an ear out for the organ/piano interplay. Without having the same sonic results, the pairing of those instruments seems to have drawn on similar approaches by Procol Harum and The Band.

Tracks:
The Road to Cairo
When Love Is Gone
Sonny Come Home
Blue Ribbons
What A Happy Day
Down River
Laissez-Faire
Lotus Man
His Name Is Andrew
Be My Friend

David Ackles – David Ackles [1968]

First Friday: October 1968

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 3, 2008

In October of 1968, the world’s focus – or much of it, anyway – shifted to Latin America.

The main event of the month was the 1968 summer Olympic games, which took place in Mexico City, Mexico, from October 12 through October 27. The games provided, in my memory, two iconic moments: The first is U.S. long jumper Bob Beamon collapsing in disbelief after breaking the world record for the long jump by an astounding 21 inches (55 cm). The second, and likely more well known, is the human rights protest by African-American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their gloved hands during the awards ceremony for the 200-meter run.

But several other major events of the month took place in Latin American, the most important of which might have been the Tlatelolco Massacre, as it’s come to be called.

During the night of October 2, military personnel and other men with guns shot at five thousand students and workers who had gathered in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City. Wikipedia notes: “The death toll remains controversial: some estimates place the number of deaths in the thousands, but most sources report between 200 and 300 deaths. The exact number of people who were arrested is also controversial.”

Wikipedia further notes: “The massacre was preceded by months of political unrest in the Mexican capital, echoing student demonstrations and riots all over the world during 1968. The students wanted to harness the attention focused on Mexico City for the 1968 Summer Olympics.”

The students, says Wikipedia, were demanding several changes in policy and the country’s penal codes, including freedom for political prisoners; the dismissal of the chief of police and his deputy; the identification of officials responsible for the bloodshed from previous government repressions that had taken place in July and August of that year; the abolition of the the tactical police corps; and the repeal of those portions of the country’s penal code that “sanctioned imprisonment of anyone attending meetings of three or more people . . . deemed to threaten public order.”

(Wikipedia reports that a 1997 committee assigned to investigate the massacre heard testimony from Luis Echeverría Álvarez, a former Mexican president who was the Minister of the Interior at the time of the massacre. Echeverría admitted that the students had been unarmed and also suggested that the military action was planned in advance as a means to destroy the student movement. In June of 2006, Echeverría, then eighty-four, was charged with genocide in connection with the massacre and placed under house arrest pending trial. He was cleared of those charges the next month when a judge found that the statute of limitations for the crimes had expired.)

Elsewhere in Latin American that month, Juan Velasco Alverado took power via an October 3 revolution in Peru; in Panama, a military coup d’état led by Col. Boris Martinez and Col. Omar Torrijjos on October 11 overthrew the democratically elected government of President Arnulfo Arias.

There was also unrest in other portions of the world that month: On October 5, police in Derry, Northern Ireland, used batons to subdue civil rights demonstrators, an event often cited as the beginning of that country’s years of violence called The Troubles. In Jamaica, riots broke out on October 16 in response to the govenrment’s banning from the nation the Guyanese author and activist Walter Rodney.

In the U.S., the Defense Department announced on October 14 that the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marines planned to send 24,000 soldiers and marines back to Vietnam for involuntary second tours. Also relating to the war in Vietnam, by the end of the month, U.S. President Lynon B. Johnson announced that peace talks in Paris had progressed well enough that he was ordering a cessation of air, naval and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam, effective November 1.

(Cynics in the room might note that Johnson’s announcement and action came days before the U.S. presidential election, which was being contested by Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat; Richard Nixon, a Republican; and George Wallace of the American Independent Party. The announcement seemed to help Humphrey, as polls in the days before the November 5 election showed him gaining ground on Nixon. Political pundits and writers have theorized for forty years that Humphrey would have won the presidency had the election been a week later or had Johnson announced the bombing halt a week earlier.)

So, in the midst of politics and blood and war, what did we hear that month when we sought solace in music?

Here’s the top fifteen records in the Billboard Top 40 for October 5, 1968:

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C Riley
“Fire” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
“Little Green Apples” by O.C. Smith
“Girl Watcher” by the O’Kaysions
“Slip Away” by Clarence Carter
“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals
“I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” by the Bee Gees
“1, 2, 3, Red Light” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company
“I Say A Little Prayer” by Aretha Franklin
“Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers
“Revolution” by the Beatles
“The Fool On The Hill” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66
“Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud” by James Brown
“The House That Jack Built” by Aretha Franklin

Boy, that’s about as representative (and maybe as good) as a top fifteen can get, I’d guess. You’ve got the mainstream rock of the Beatles, the country cross-over from Riley (O.C. Smith’s record might have gotten some country play, too, I think), straight R&B from Aretha and Clarence Carter and some psychedelic R&B from the Chambers Brothers. There’s Arthur Brown’s powerful rock. You’ve got some blue-eyed soul from the Rascals, pop from the O’Kaysions and the Bee Gees, and a little bit of bubble-gum from the 1910 Fruitgum Company. And then there’s James Brown’s uncompromising and funky proto-rap. Wow!

For those who bought their music via albums, it was also an interesting month. Here’s the Billboard top ten albums for October 5, 1968:

Waiting For The Sun by the Doors
Time Peace/The Rascals’ Greatest Hits by the Rascals
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & The Holding Company
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Gentle On My Mind by Glen Campbell
Realization by Johnny Rivers
Wheels Of Fire by Cream
Steppenwolf by Steppenwolf
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly

There are a number of interesting records and names on that list. What might be most interesting, however, are titles and a name that aren’t there. In the previous week’s listing, the soundtrack to the film The Graduate had been in tenth place, featuring songs by Simon & Garfunkel as well as incidental music from the movie. When that album slipped out of tenth place, it marked the first time since March 16, 1968 – six-and-a-half months – that there was no mention of Simon & Garfunkel on the top ten albums list. Between the soundtrack to The Graduate and their own two albums, Bookends and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, Simon & Garfunkel had dominated the albums list as much as anybody during 1968.

The records that did make up the top ten list as October 1968 started are a pretty good bunch themselves. I would say that the only one that hasn’t aged very well at all is the Iron Butterfly, which to me is pretty much a dead end. (I should admit here that I purchased a copy of the group’s Live when it came out in 1970; the incessant noodling on the side-long live version of the group’s hit was even less accomplished than the side-long studio version, so I sold the album to a used record store within days.)

There might be a few quibbles about the quality of the rest of that albums list: Janis Joplin did far better on her own, with better backing musicians, than she did on the Big Brother album, but the record is still an interesting look at her development, as well as an acid-drenched product of its time. As I’ve noted here before, I always have some reservations about the Doors, but Waiting For The Sun has some good work on it, especially the single “Hello I Love You” and a few other tracks, including “The Unknown Soldier” and the pairing of the bluesy “Summer’s Almost Gone” and the awkward waltz of “Wintertime Love.”

With those caveats, that’s a pretty good list of albums. And the album I’m posting today comes from the list: José Feliciano’s Feliciano!

As October 1968 began, Feliciano’s version of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” had been in the Billboard Hot 100 for eleven weeks. It had peaked at No. 3, and the album from which it came, Feliciano!, was in its seventh week in the Billboard Top Ten, with seven weeks to come. (It would peak at No. 2 for two weeks in December 1968.) Feliciano, then twenty-three, was a big enough star in October 1968 that he was invited to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium before a World Series game. The performance – a Latin-tinged interpretation – was loved by some and criticized by many. (A single was issued and went to No. 50 during a five-week stay in the Billboard Hot 100.)

There’s no controversy in Feliciano! It’s a solid set of covers, in a style that All-Music Guide tabs as “soulful easy listening,” with Feliciano – who was blinded since birth by glaucoma – working his way through songs by the Beatles, the Mamas and the Papas, Bobby Hebb, Tom Paxton and others, including, of course, the Doors’ “Light My Fire.”

Even with a singer as distinctive as Feliciano, though, performing such well-known songs as “Light My Fire,” “California Dreamin’,” “In My Life,” and “Here, There and Everywhere” can be awkward, if not actually risky. It’s difficult to cover such well-known material and not remind listeners of the originals. Feliciano managed that with “Light My Fire,” I think, and he battles “California Dreamin’” to a draw, but other than those tracks, the best tracks on the album are the lesser-known songs, especially Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing On My Mind” and Fred Neill’s “Just A Little Bit Of Rain.” (The latter song is likely more familiar in the version recorded in the mid-1970s by the Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys.)

Still, Feliciano! is a good, if not great, album and it’s pleasant listening. It was Feliciano’s commercial peak, as only one other single and two of his succeeding albums – and he’s recorded prolifically – reached the Top 40. He continues to record, frequently in Spanish, and released his most recent album, Con Mexico en el Corazon, earlier this year.

The credits for Feliciano! at All-Music Guide are slender and, I think, are incomplete. They do list Ray Brown on bass, Milt Holland on percussion and Jim Horn on flute, alto flute and recorder.

Tracks:
California Dreamin’
Light My Fire
Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying
In My Life
And I Love Her
Nena Na Na
(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me
Just A Little Bit Of Rain
Sunny
Here, There and Everywhere
The Last Thing On My Mind

José Feliciano – Feliciano! [1968]

First Friday: September 1968

August 5, 2011

Originally posted September 5, 2008

The month of September was a fairly quiet one in 1968, an intermission of sorts. As one looks at the listings of the month’s events at Wikipedia (which is where I start as I examine 1968), only six events are listed, and five of them are:

The African nation of Swazliand became independent on September 6. A September 11 plane crash in the French Mediterranean killed a prominent French general and ninety-four others. A tour of South Africa by England’s Marylebone Cricket Club was canceled September 17 because South Africans “refused to accept the presence” of Basil D’Oliveira, who was of African descent, on the Marylebone team. Marcelo Caetano became prime minister of Portugal on September 27. And a September 29 referendum in Greece gave more power to the ruling military junta.

The sixth event listed, however, becomes a bit more significant with a second look. On September 7, 1968, Wikipedia says, “150 women protest against the Miss America Pageant, as exploitative of women. It is one of the first large demonstrations of Second Wave Feminism.” (First Wave Feminism, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, earned women in the U.S. and the U.K. the right to vote, Wikipedia reports in a different entry, adding that the term “First Wave” was coined retroactively during the 1970s.)

An interesting account of the 1968 protest in Atlantic City is posted at JoFreeman.com, the website of an American feminist, political scientist, writer and attorney. She writes:

“The 1968 protest originated with New York Radical Women, one of the earliest women’s liberation groups in the country. About 150 feminists from six cities joined them to show how all women were hurt by beauty competitions. They argued that the contest declared that the most important thing about a woman is how she looks by parading women around like cattle to show off their physical attributes. All women were made to believe they were inferior because they couldn’t measure up to Miss America beauty standards. Women’s liberation would ‘attack the male chauvinism, commercialization of beauty, racism and oppression of women symbolized by the Pageant.’

“The Atlanta City (sic) convention center opens onto a vast boardwalk between it and the beach. The large expanse of boards easily seen from the entrance makes it a great place for demonstrations. Women’s liberation took advantage of this to stage several guerilla theater actions. A live sheep was crowned Miss America. Objects of female oppression – high heeled shoes, girdles, bras, curlers, tweezers – were tossed into a Freedom Trash Can. A proposal to burn the can’s contents was scuttled when the police said that a fire would pose a risk to the wooden boardwalk. Women sang songs that parodied the contest and the idea of selling women’s bodies: ‘Ain’t she sweet; making profits off her meat.’ A tall, Miss America puppet was auctioned off.

“Sixteen feminists bought tickets to the evening’s entertainment. They smuggled in a banner reading WOMEN’S LIBERATION. Sitting in the front row of the balcony, they unfurled it as the outgoing Miss America made her farewell speech, while shouting ‘Freedom for Women,’ and ‘No More Miss America.’ The pageant continued as though nothing had happened. This action was quickly followed by the release of two stink bombs on the floor of the hall. All protestors were removed from the hall; five were arrested, but later released.

“The outrageousness of challenging the Miss America icon brought the press out in droves, putting women’s liberation on the front pages all over the country. From this, women learned that a new feminist movement was emerging and flocked to join.

“The 1968 demonstration also saddled women’s liberation with the myth of bra burning. Forevermore the press would repeat that women burned their bras. They never remembered where this was supposed to have occurred, let alone that it never happened.”

One could argue, I think, that of all the events of 1968, that cluster of demonstrations at Atlantic City had the greatest long-term impact, starting with American society and Western culture. Those demonstrations certainly caught folks’ attention. I recall the derision and bafflement my pals and I and our parents expressed toward the women who dared to interrupt an American institution like the Miss America pageant with their complaints and demands concerning things we’d never questioned.

But those complaints and demands triggered a slow process in much of the industrialized world. My friends and I and our parents watched in the coming years as our world was changed by feminist ideas, and most of us changed along with it. As a historian of sorts, I know how things have changed over the past forty years, but I’m of utterly the wrong gender to truly gauge the long-term impact of what those women began at Atlantic City in September of 1968.

So I turned to my wife, the Texas Gal, whose mother was a working mom in the 1960s, when there weren’t many such moms around. “She was a feminist by necessity,” the Texas Gal says of her mother. That functional feminism, the Texas Gal says, “made me always assume that I would work and that I would be able to fend for myself.”

Beyond her mom’s example, the Texas Gal adds: “The other thing that feminism did, long-term, was make it possible to be a career woman and still be a woman. For a long time, a career woman had to act like a man. Now a career woman can act like a woman: she can wear jewelry and dress femininely, she can like animals and quilting and cooking, and she can still be respected in the boardroom.”

With that in mind, it’s interesting to take my customary look at the Top Fifteen records of the time and see the Rascals’ “People Got To Be Free” riding at No. 1 for the fourth week in a row on September 7, 1968 (with one more week at No. 1 yet to come). While writers Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati and the rest of the Rascals had their hearts in the right places, it’s worth noting that after singing “People everywhere just wanna be free,” the Rascals later proclaim, “It’s a natural situation for a man to be free,” with no mention of women. One wonders if Cavaliere and Brigati would be so gender-specific were they writing today.

Exclusionary language aside, “People Got To Be Free” is a great single, and it sat atop a good set of singles. Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen from September 7, 1968:

“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals
“Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf
“Light My Fire” by José Feliciano
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley
“Hello, I Love You” by the Doors
“The House That Jack Built” by Aretha Franklin
“1, 2, 3, Red Light” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co.
“You’re All I Need To Get By” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
“I Can’t Stop Dancing” by Archie Bell & the Drells
“Stay In My Corner” by the Dells
“Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream
“You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by Vanilla Fudge
“Hush” by Deep Purple
“Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues
“Love Makes A Woman” by Barbara Acklin

Actually, that’s not just a good set of singles, that’s a great set. Feliciano’s Latin-inflected “Light My Fire” was an eye-opener, and there’s some solid soul/R&B with the sides by Aretha, Marvin & Tammi, Archie Bell and his boys, the Dells and Barbara Acklin.

And there’s some good rock, too, with Steppenwolf, the Doors, Cream, Vanilla Fudge (the pace of the group’s version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” is about as glacial as rock gets) and Deep Purple (covering a song written by countryish singer-songwriter Joe South).

The only bit of froth that might have made me push the button for another station is “1, 2, 3, Red Light.” The Vogues’ single is pretty light, yeah, but, as I’ve written before, it’s one of those songs that remind me how I felt about a certain young lady (and it doesn’t seem possible that it’s been forty years).

Let’s see if the Billboard top ten albums from the first week of September provided listening as good as the radio did that week:

Waiting For The Sun by the Doors
Time Peace/The Rascals’ Greatest Hits by the Rascals
Wheels of Fire by Cream
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Realization by Johnny Rivers
Steppenwolf by Steppenwolf
Aretha Now by Aretha Franklin
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel

That’s a list that holds up pretty well forty years later. The Johnny Rivers’ album is, as I’ve related here before, one of my favorites and a resident in my all-time Top Ten Albums list. Nothing else here quite approaches that level, but the two records by Cream are superb, as are the albums by Aretha, Feliciano, the Experience and Simon & Garfunkel.

Steppenwolf is pretty good, and the Rascals’ record is a solid collection of their hits (most of which came from the years when the group was called the Young Rascals). And I have fewer problems with Waiting For The Sun than I do with most other albums by the Doors. (It ranks second to Morrison Hotel for me.)

The album I’m sharing today never got to those heights when it came out in 1968, but to me – as I listen in 2008 – it provides an aural landscape that captures that strange, tumultuous, freaky and tragic year as well as anything can.

Sweetwater was an odd band, but that fit right in with the times. As All-Music Guide notes: “An unusual rock group in both the size of their lineup (which numbered eight), the instrumentation employed, and the eclectic scope of their material, Sweetwater didn’t quite get the first-class songs or breaks necessary to make them widely known. Lead singer Nansi Nevens was backed not just by conventional guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards, but also flute . . . conga . . . and cello.”

The group’s first release was all over the stylistic map as well. To cite AMG again: “Their self-titled debut album was the kind of release that could have only been the product of the late ’60s, with the music flying off in all directions, and a major label willing to put it out. Sweetwater blended Californian psychedelia with jazzy keyboards and a classical bent, especially in the flute and cello, but did not cohere into a readily identifiable aesthetic, or write exceptional songs, although they were okay. Perhaps Reprise was willing to give such a hard to market and classify band a shot, figuring that in the midst of psychedelic rock scaling the charts that would have seemed unimaginably weird just a couple of years before, who knew what would sell now?”

All of that is true, yet I find a charm in the album as it wanders all over the landscape. I particularly like the opener, an extended take on the traditional “Motherless Child.” Other highlights for me are “Here We Go Again,” with its swirling vocal and harpsichord-like keyboard; “Come Take A Walk” with its mellow flute (and its hippie-ish lyric, too); “My Crystal Spider,” with its odd shifts in style; and “Why, Oh Why” with its frenetic violin.

The only track that’s not particularly complelling, actually, is “What’s Wrong,” a classic 1960s litany of the ails of society, but then, overt preaching is never as fun to listen to as is subtle persuasion.

Overall, Sweetwater is a pretty good listen, if a bit derivative: listeners will notice a very clear sonic resemblance to Jeffeson Airplane. Sweetwater’s not as good as the Airplane, of course, but not many bands were. And Sweetwater was plagued by bad luck: In December 1969, four months after the band was the first group to take the stage at Woodstock, lead singer Nevins was in an auto accident. Her vocal cords were damaged and she had severe brain injuries; she was in a coma for weeks and needed therapy for years. The band’s second album – for which Nevins had recorded a couple of tracks before the accident – was completed without her and did not sell well. After a third album in 1971, the band broke up.

AMG notes: “The surviving trio of Nevins, keyboardist Alex Del Zoppo and bassist Fred Herrera reunited Sweetwater in 1997, and two years later – to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Woodstock – cable network VH1 produced and broadcast a film about the group, with Felicity co-star Amy Jo Johnson cast as Nansi Nevins; the picture sparked a considerable resurgence of interest in the group, and that same year Rhino released Cycles, a limited-edition retrospective of their work for Reprise.”

Tracks:
Motherless Child
Here We Go Again
For Pete’s Sake
Come Take A Walk
What’s Wrong
In A Rainbow
My Crystal Spider
Rondeau
Two Worlds
Through An Old Storybook
Why Oh Why

Sweetwater – Sweetwater [1968]

First Friday, August 1968

July 25, 2011

Originally posted August 1, 2008

For years, just to confound people, when bull session turned to politics and to the public upheaval that frequently accompanied politics in the 1960s and 1970s, I’d nod and say quietly, “I was in Chicago in ’68.”

They’d get quiet, look at me – I’ve always looked younger than I am, a genetic trait that I now cherish in my mid-fifties – and wonder. Some asked me if things had been as bad as they saw on TV, and I could honestly say they were worse. Some might ask if I had been in danger.

And I’d laugh and then ’fess up: I was fourteen and was actually in the suburb of Mortons Grove that week in August 1968, spending one night in the Chicago area with my parents as we headed east on vacation. Nevertheless, as my parents and I watched the events inside and outside the International Amphitheatre on the north end of Chicago that evening, we were less than fifteen miles from the absurd, troubling, heartbreaking and utterly unnecessary confusion and violence that surrounded the Democratic National Convention during its four-day run in the Windy City.

The confusion of the Democrats inside the amphitheatre and the continued confrontations between police and protestors outside made the convention another one of those touchpoints of 1968, a year that continued to lay trouble upon trouble, grief upon grief. By the time the convention ended on Friday, August 30, the angry confrontations between the authorities and the protestors – the Youth International Party (Yippies), the Black Panthers and numerous other protest groups, some serious and some less so – had degenerated into what an investigating commission later termed a “police riot.”

(Along that line, in one of the few moments of levity to come from the Chicago convention, Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley, frequently conversationally challenged, defined the role of law enforcement in his city thusly: “Gentlemen, get the thing straight once and for all – the policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”)

Watching the televised chaos that evening in a motel room so very close to the scenes we were seeing was – as was so much that year – confusing and dismaying. I stared at the scenes of bitter argument and confrontation inside the amphitheatre and I stared at the scenes we saw of confrontation and violence outside the amphitheatre. We saw on television, I am sure, less than what went on, but the news anchors and reporters for whatever network we were watching made frequent reference to the violence taking place in the streets of Chicago. And I do recall wondering, as I sat in our hotel room: Is this how grown-ups solve things?

But I also saw on television something that gave me hope. One of the heroes of the convention – and there were few of those in retrospect – was Georgia’s Julian Bond, who had led a civil-rights based challenge to the regular delegation sent by the Georgia Democratic Party. The challenge succeeded. As a token of respect (and I believe this took place during the evening my parents and I were in Mortons Grove, fifteen miles away), Bond’s name was placed in nomination for the office of vice-president of the United States. He was forced to withdraw as he was only twenty-eight, seven years shy of the constitutional age requirement of thirty-five, but that evening, forty years ago, Julian Bond became the first African American man to be nominated for a national office by a major party.

The Democratic National Convention in Chicago might have been the largest news event of the month, and, as it came at the end of the month, it tended to wash over those events that had come before. But there were at least two other events worth nothing:

The Republican National Convention took place in Miami, Florida, during the first week of August. The Republicans nominated former vice-president Richard Nixon for president and Spiro Agnew, governor of Maryland, for vice-president. Nixon’s nomination was one more step in one of the most remarkable political resurrections in American history, and Agnew’s nomination was an utter surprise and puzzle. “Spiro who?” was the reaction of many news producers and news consumers. (Both were elected twice, of course, and both resigned in disgrace, Agnew in October 1973 and Nixon in August 1974.)

The other event worth noting was the crushing of what was known as the Prague Spring in the now dismantled nation of Czechoslovakia. In his book In Europe, Geert Mak writes:

“In January, orthodox Communist Party leader Antonín Novotný was replaced by the amiable Alexander Dubček, who immediately loosened reins: press, radio and television were allowed to criticise the regime freely, persecuted writers and intellectuals were granted amnesty, and plans were made to reform the economy along Western lines. The impending thaw became visible in the streets of Prague, in the length of men’s hair, the cautious miniskirts, the screening of Western movies . . .” An opposition newspaper published an essay about true democracy by playwright Václav Havel: “Democracy is not a matter of faith but of guarantees” that allow “a public and legal competition for power.” Mak notes that all 250,000 copies of the magazine sold out in a few hours.

But the changes were short-lived. On the night of August 21, a half-million soldiers from the Soviet Union and four other members of the military Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia and ended the experiments. New leader Gustáv Husák reversed almost all of Dubček’s reforms.

(Dubček managed to survive, not a minor accomplishment, and after communist rule over the country ended, served in Czechoslovakia’s Federal Assembly as a member of the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia before dying in 1992 from injuries sustained in an auto accident. Havel, the writer quoted above, was imprisoned during the late 1970s for his work for human rights; after the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989, Havel was elected the last president of Czechoslovakia and – in 1992 – the first president of the Czech Republic.)

On a personal level, August 1968 brought one major first: I earned a substantial sum of money for the first time by working at the first of three annual state trapshoots at a nearby gun club. As I wrote some time back, I earned $40 that first summer and learned that the tarry powder from the trap targets did nasty things to my skin. My face turned brown and its skin turned leathery for a few days before peeling off in large hunks. But the $40 seemed worth it, and the drudgery of spending nine to ten hours a day in a little blockhouse halfway underground was tempered by the songs on the radio I brought with me. Looking at the songs in the Billboard Top 15 from August 3, 1968, I can remember hearing every one of them many times during the trapshoot:

“Hello, I Love You” by the Doors
“Classical Gas” by Mason Williams
“Stoned Soul Picnic” by the 5th Dimension
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela
“Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones
“Lady Willpower” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
“The Horse” by Cliff Nobles
“Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues
“Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream
“Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf
“Pictures of Matchstick Men” by the Status Quo
“People Got to Be Free” by the Rascals
“Sky Pilot (Part 1)” by Eric Burdon & the Animals
“This Guy’s in Love With You” by Herb Alpert

Generally, when I cite lists or portions of lists here, I have a quibble or two. But not this time. I imagine that some might find the Vogues’ entry a little slight, but for me it’s a cherished song, and that’s a great Top Fifteen.

So let’s take a look at the album chart from that week and see if we stay as lucky.

The Beat of the Brass by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
Wheels of Fire by Cream
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Graduate soundtrack by Simon & Garfunkel/Dave Grusin
Aretha Now by Aretha Franklin
Time Peace/The Rascal’s Greatest Hits by the Rascals
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
A Tramp Shining by Richard Harris
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Honey by Andy Williams

Well, I could live without the Andy Williams, but other than that, it’s pretty good. I do have two caveats: I think that the Jimmy Webb/ Richard Harris opus “MacArthur Park” is one of those records people either love or hate, so that would determine the fate of A Tramp Shining. For my part, I like the single and the album. And maybe the Herb Alpert/TJB album is a little soft once you get past the hit single. But in general, a good bunch of albums.

The album I’m sharing today actually came out in October 1968 and quickly became a classic of its type. Jackie DeShannon’s Laurel Canyon didn’t sell well enough to make the Top 40 albums chart, but as a snapshot of 1968 life in southern California, the record loomed larger than its sales, an assessment that All-Music Guide agreed with:

Laurel Canyon wonderfully captures the natural, idyllic vibe of its titular setting, the creative nexus of the late-’60s Los Angeles music scene. Swapping the polished pop approach of Jackie DeShannon’s past hits for an appealingly rough-edged country-soul sensibility, the record celebrates a place and time that transcended the physical world to signify a virtual Garden of Eden for the flower-power generation. Featuring extensive contributions from pianist Mac ‘Dr. John’ Rebennack and guitarist Russ Titleman, Laurel Canyon boasts a swampy, lived-in charm that perfectly complements DeShannon’s sexily gritty vocals. Her soulful reading of the Band’s ‘The Weight’ anticipates Aretha Franklin’s like-minded cover, but most impressive are originals like ‘Holly Would’ and the title cut, which eloquently articulate the rustic beauty of their creator’s environs.”

Beyond those three tracks mentioned there, which are stand-outs, I’d also recommend “She’s My Best Friend” (written by Don MacAllister), “Bitter Honey” (written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols) and the album’s closer, DeShannon’s own “L.A.”

Musicians on Laurel Canyon were: Mack Rebbenack on piano, Harold R. Batiste Jr. on electric piano, Russ Titleman on acoustic guitar, Craig Tarwater on electric guitar, Ray Trainer on bass and Paul Humphrey and Abe Mills on drums. Background vocals were by Barry White (yes, that Barry White), Brendetta Davis and Don MacAllister. The album was arranged by Battiste; Charles Greene & Brian Stone were the producers.

(In the years I’ve been collecting vinyl, I’ve only seen one copy of this album, the one in poor condition that I bought in September of 1999. The only available CD of the album is a British import [though these days, I’m not certain that’s a major distinction as far as availability is concerned]. This rip is from that CD; I found it online about two years ago. If you like the album, go find the CD if you can. Another note: The artist’s name is spelled both “De Shannon” and “DeShannon” on the record itself. I’ve gone with the latter spelling.)

Tracks and writers:
Laurel Canyon (Jackie DeShannon)
Sunshine of Your Love (Jack Bruce-Peter Brown-Eric Clapton)
Crystal Clear (Ray Trainer)
She’s My Best Friend (Don MacAllister)
I Got My Reason (Barry White)
Holly Would (Jackie DeShannon)
You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me (William Robinson)
The Weight (Jamie Robertson)
Bitter Honey (Paul Williams & Roger Nichols)
Come and Stay With Me (Jackie DeShannon)
L.A. (Jackie DeShannon)
Too Close (Jackie DeShannon, Charles Greene & Brian Stone)

Jackie DeShannon – Laurel Canyon [1968]

First Friday: July 1968

July 18, 2011

Originally posted July 4, 2008

It seems as if the world took a deep breath in July 1968.

The first six months of the year had brought blow after blow, especially for those who lived in the United States: The growing and bitter debate over the Vietnam War, the capitulation of a sitting president, the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. And even events that didn’t directly affect the U.S. – one of those being the general revolt in France in May – came into American homes through increasingly immediate news coverage, which brought with it images that made many, I’m sure, feel as if the entire world had gone mad.

The listing of events of July 1968 at Wikipedia is fairly slender, and nothing that is listed triggers gut-wrenching memories, as do so many of the events listed there for the first half of the year. Still, in the bright glare of hindsight, there is at least one event that intrigues:

On the first day of the month, the U.S.’ Central Intelligence Agency inaugurated its Phoenix program in Vietnam. Coordinated with the security apparatus of South Vietnam, the program was designed to “identify and ‘neutralize’ (via infiltration, capture, or assassination) the civilian infrastructure supporting the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam.” That organization – the National Liberation Front – was better known as the Viet Cong, the guerillas operating in South Vietnam in support of North Vietnam.

According to the entry at Wikipedia – which pulled information from the March/April 2006 edition of Military Review and from a paper written by a U.S. Army colonel at the U.S. Army War College – the Phoenix Program was half a success. Between 1968 and 1972, South Vietnamese militia and police forces, using data gathered by CIA operatives “neutralized 81,740 NLF members, of whom 26,369 were killed.”

The matter-of-fact language chills me. Some would say, I imagine, that war is war and one does what one has to. But the CIA was (and is) not military, and – as government investigations in the mid-1970s revealed – was essentially accountable to no one for many of its 1960s operations.

And the Phoenix program, notes Wikipedia, was not fully successful. First, the wrong people were sometimes “neutralized,” having been purposely mis-identified as Viet Cong by rivals. Second, by 1968, the Viet Cong were well established throughout South Vietnam; the organization had won, to use a phrase that became a cliché in later years, the “hearts and minds” of many South Vietnamese.

The words “Phoenix program” are for many, I imagine, a memory of the Seventies rather than the Sixties, for it was in the mid-1970s that Congress investigated years of intelligence activities. That was when Phoenix and all the other shadowy efforts – some tragic, some laughable – came to light. But that particular effort began on a Monday at the start of July 1968.

A few other things happened that month, some of which echo to this day:

Saddam Hussein becamee vice chairman of Iraq’s ruling Revolutionary Council on July 17 after a coup d’état.

Pope Paul VI published his encyclical Humana Vitae (On Human Life) on July 25. The encyclical bans birth control.

Mount Arenal, a volcano in Costa Rica that was presumed extinct, erupted July 29 for the first time in four hundred years, destroying the town of Arenal and killing eighty-seven people. The eruption caused three new and active craters to form, and the volcano has been active ever since, with minor eruptions taking place every five to ten minutes.

In Cleveland, Ohio, police surveillance of African-American militant Fred (Ahmed) Evans and his followers – they were suspected of purchasing illegal weapons – resulted in a July 23 shootout in the city’s Glenville neighborhood. Six or seven people were killed (Wikipedia says that newspaper accounts differ) and fifteen were wounded. In addition, the confrontation sparked arson and looting throughout the six square miles of the neighborhood that continued until police and the National Guard restored order July 28.

Even in those days, at the age of fourteen, I followed the news fairly closely, and I have no recollection at all of those events, which came to be known at the Glenville Shootout. I’m sure accounts were in the news and on television, and in hindsight, it seems like a fairly major event. But for some reason, it didn’t stick.

Then again, not a lot of things have stuck with me from that month. I guess I had a pretty standard American Midwest summer: a few chores in the mornings, orchestra practice (and occasional performances) on Monday evenings, lots of time spent knocking about the neighborhood with Rick.

The only thing that was really new that summer of ’68 was that I worked out at the trap shoot for the first time, maybe at the end of July but more likely a week or two later. As I wrote more than a year ago, there were a number of songs I heard so frequently on the radio in the trap pit that they immediately take me back to that dirty and loud place. And a look ahead at the Billboard lists shows some of those songs nearing the top of the chart as August approached.

But as July started, here’s what the Top 15 looked like:

“This Guy’s in Love With You” by Herb Alpert
“The Horse” by Cliff Nobles
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones
“The Look of Love” by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela
“Lady Willpower” by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap
“Angel of the Morning” by Merilee Rush and the Turnabouts
“Here Comes the Judge” by Shorty Long
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris
“Reach out of the Darkness” by Friend and Lover
“Yummy Yummy Yummy” by the Ohio Express
“Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells
“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Think” by Aretha Franklin
“Indian Lake” by the Cowsills

That’s an okay Top 15. It could rock a little more, yeah, as only the Stones’ single and “Think” have much bite. As I noted when I wrote about June 1968, I can definitely get along without “Yummy Yummy Yummy” and “Mony Mony,” and “Here Comes the Judge” is a novelty that’s funny on occasion but doesn’t wear especially well. (It was inspired by a running gag on the television show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.)

But even if it’s a pretty mellow top 15, there’s some nice stuff there. The Alpert and Mendes singles are sweet, and “Angel of the Morning” is one of the great one-hit wonders of all time. “Lady Willpower” is a nice – if a little bombastic – period piece. “Mrs. Robinson” was a great single, now heading down the charts after hitting No. 1 for three weeks. And – speaking of bombast – for some reason, I’ve always had a fondness for “MacArthur Park.”

Then there was “Indian Lake” with its unremarkable-for-its-time war whoops, which I would guess would be unthinkable today. I wonder if the record – which went as high as No. 10 in late June – is on any oldies playlists anywhere. I don’t recall hearing it on radio for years.

Over on the Billboard album chart during the first week of July 1968, the top spot was occupied for the fourteenth straight week by an album with Simon & Garfunkel on it. For five of those weeks – including this first week in July – that album had been Simon & Gafunkel’s Bookends. The top album for the other seven weeks had been the soundtrack to The Graduate, which featured four previously released songs by Simon & Garfunkel as well as snippets of an early version of “Mrs. Robinson.” (The full and final version was on Bookends.)

The two albums had switched places for a couple of weeks, but from May 11 through July 6, the top two spots on the chart belonged to Simon & Garfunkel. And on July 6, 1968, here’s how the Top 10 looked:

Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Graduate soundtrack
The Beat of the Brass by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
Disraeli Gears by Cream
A Tramp Shining by Richard Harris
Look Around by Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66
The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees by the Monkees
Honey by Bobby Goldsboro
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel

Movement on the album chart was close to glacial. Seven of those albums had been in the Top Ten during the first week in June. The three that hadn’t were the Richard Harris, Sergio Mendes and Jimi Hendrix albums, and Are You Experienced had been bouncing in and out of the Top Ten for months.

I would have no time for the Goldsboro, and there would be better Monkees albums to own if one wanted to go beyond the singles. (Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. and Headquarters come to mind.) With those exceptions, it’s not a bad Top 10: Some pretty robust rock, some folk rock, some Latin sounds and some instrumentals that aren’t utterly soporific.

The album I’m sharing today didn’t come near the Top 10, peaking at No. 30 during a five-week stay on the album chart in February and March of 1969. But it’s still an interesting album: I can’t be absolutely sure, but I think that Joan Baez’ Any Day Now was the first album made up entirely of covers of songs by Bob Dylan.*

And who better than Baez to do it? She was the reigning queen of folk when Dylan shambled onto the world’s stage in 1962 and 1963; her support and her recordings of some of his early work gave him exposure and legitimacy. Lovers for a few years, the two of them were linked inextricably and permanently by their pre-eminence in the folk movement of the early 1960s. So if anyone had a claim on covering Bob Dylan for an entire album, Baez did

And for the most part, Baez does well. The decision to record the album in Nashville was probably the crucial decision regarding the entire project. Using many of the same musicians that Dylan had used for Blonde on Blonde in 1966 (two of whom also played on Dylan’s John Wesley Harding in 1967), Baez puts Dylan’s songs into a country-ish context. The sessions for Any Day Now took place in September or October 1968 (sources I’ve seen differ), shortly after the release of the Byrds’ landmark album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and it seems pertinent to wonder how much influence the Byrds’ sound had on Baez.

Highlights? The most obvious is “Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word,” a song that Dylan has seemingly never recorded. In addition, her recording of “The Walls of Red Wing,” was, it seems, the first ever released: Dylan’s version was released in 1991. (The song, maybe not one of Dylan’s best, is of interest here because “The Walls of Red Wing” surrounded Minnesota’s penal institution for boys in the 1960s, a place of rumor and dread even for those generally well-behaved.)

Another highlight is “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” which surfaced for the first time on Sweetheart of the Rodeo but gets a warmer and more relaxed reading here.

One of the chief assets of Any Day Now is in Baez’ vocal approach. On many of her folk recordings of the early 1960s, there was little interpretation, with every folk song presented almost as a jewel to be admired and not to be tampered with. By the time she got to Any Day Now, Baez was becoming an interpreter, leaning on some words and phrases and sliding past others, telling tales with the songs rather than presenting them as museum pieces. That makes Any Day Now one of Baez’ most accessible albums. (The same holds true for Baez’ next release, 1969’s David’s Album, which was recorded at the same time as Any Day Now.)

Musicians listed for the Any Day Now sessions at All-Music Guide are: Harold Bradley, Jerry Kennedy, Grady Martin, Jerry Reed, Harold Rugg, Stephen Stills and Pete Wade on guitar; David Briggs on keyboards; Kenny Buttrey on drums; Fred Carter on mandolin; Pete Drake on steel guitar; Johnny Gimble, Tommy Jackson and Buddy Spicher on violin; Junior Husky and Norbert Putnam on bass; Bill Pursell on piano; and Hargus “Pig” Robbins on keyboards.

Tracks:
Love Minus Zero/No Limit
North Country Blues
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
Drifter’s Escape
I Pity The Poor Immigrant
Tears of Rage
Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
The Walls of Red Wing
Dear Landlord
One Too Many Mornings
I Shall Be Released
Boots of Spanish Leather
Walkin’ Down the Line
Restless Farewell

Joan Baez – Any Day Now [1968]

*Any Day Now was not the first album made up entirely of covers of Bob Dylan tunes. In a later post, I passed on information from readers citing an albums by Odetta and I noted an album by Linda Mason cited at All-Music Guide. Note added July 18 & 20, 2011.

First Friday: June 1968

July 7, 2011

Originally posted June 6, 2008

As 1968 entered June, nearing its halfway mark, the body blows kept coming.

June 5 was a Wednesday, one of the first days of summer vacation, so I slept in, as did my mom. We weren’t sluggards, but neither of us had risen with Dad as he left for the college before seven o’clock, which was his custom. Instead, we wandered downstairs about eight.

And there was a note on the kitchen table, in Dad’s distinctive hand, sharing the news he’d heard on the radio as he had his breakfast: Senator Robert F. Kennedy had been shot in Los Angeles after winning the previous day’s California primary. He was in critical condition. I’m not sure if it actually said so, but the note at least gave the impression that Kennedy’s survival was unlikely.

I was not necessarily a supporter of Bobby Kennedy; I had some parochial pride that two of the Democratic candidates for president – Eugene McCarthy and Hubert H. Humphrey – were Minnesotans. I was, however, beginning to pay some attention to Kennedy’s message, and so – I think – was my father. My mother’s political sympathies, I know, were on the other side of the aisle. But those preferences and differences were unimportant at that moment.

I remember standing there, next to my mom, looking at the note, reading it a second time. Its content was, as had been so much already that year, difficult to grasp, to process. To a boy of fourteen – even to a fairly bright boy who kept up pretty well with current events – it was one more piece of an adult-sized puzzle, a mystery that seemed further and further from solution as every bit of new information came to light. The import of the morning’s news and its insanity – there is no other word for it – tumbled through my mind as I ate breakfast and went out to take care of my only chore of the day.

And I remember clearly that as I pushed the lawn mower that morning, I was distracted. It struck me as strange, as somehow wrong and disrespectful, to be doing something so ordinary, so mundane, while in a distant hospital room a life, a family and – yes, I thought this – maybe even the country hung on the edge of tragedy. And sometime during that Wednesday, Robert Kennedy died.

The next days felt unhappily familiar and unreal: The ceremonies of grief and farewell, the slow train ride from Washington, D.C., to New York with crowds of mourners lining the tracks, the funeral in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. My attention wandered; I was tired of grief, conflict and anger, and that seemed to be all the adult world was offering. So I paid less attention to those ceremonies than I otherwise might have.

And when those events ended, the rest of the month went by with little notice. In an odd bit of cosmic timing, James Earl Ray, the suspected killer of Martin Luther King, Jr., was arrested in London on the day of Robert Kennedy’s funeral. And with that, the major news of June pretty much ended.

The days lengthened, at least for a couple more weeks, and turned warmer. For all the sorrow that 1968 had brought so far, there was a summer. And I think a lot of us moved toward that warm season numbly, wondering “What next?”

On the radio and stereo
During those moments we sought comfort from music, as many of us always have done, what did we hear that month? Here’s the Billboard Top Ten for June 1, 1968:

“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel
“The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro
“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells
“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Yummy Yummy Yummy” by the Ohio Express
“Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells
“Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
“Cowboys to Girls” by the Intruders
“Do You Know The Way To San Jose” by Dionne Warwick
“This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris
“Think” by Aretha Franklin
“Love Is All Around” by the Troggs
“She’s Lookin’ Good” by Wilson Pickett

Well, that’s about eighty percent okay. Of the top four, I can imagine a large number of people looking askance at the Hugo Montenegro single, but I’ve always loved it for some reason. So the first four on that list are just fine with me. The bottom eight are fine, too: “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” was one of best things Marvin and Tammi did during their too-brief time as partners; the Intruders’ track is pleasant, if a little slight; and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” might be the best thing among these fifteen, challenged only by the Marvin and Tammi duet, “Mrs. Robinson” or “Think.” And the Alpert single and “MacArthur Park” have always been favorites of mine.

But those other three, from No. 5 through No. 7! They look like a bad tongue twister. Of the three, the Goldsboro is the worst, but I’ve never cared much for the other two, either. Those three singles would create a ten-minute segment on the oldies countdown when I’d find a reason to leave the room, maybe change the furnace filter or take out the recycling.

You’ll note that even the good singles there are all pretty light. There’s some R&B grooves in “Tighten Up” and hints of that in “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” and “Cowboys to Girls,” but this is a pretty soft Top Ten. Maybe the album chart was a little tougher.

Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Graduate soundtrack
The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees by the Monkees
The Beat of the Brass by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
Honey by Bobby Goldsboro
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
The Good, The Band And The Ugly soundtrack by Ennio Morricone
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Music From “A Fistful of Dollars” & “For A Few Dollars More” & “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro

Again, those are pretty light, with only the Cream and the Aretha entries having much weight, although it should be noted that Simon & Garfunkel were always a good listen. The soundtrack to The Good, The Band And The Ugly had originally been released with the film in 1966 and popped back into the album charts after the success of Montenegro’s album of covers.

I’m not sure when the album I’m sharing today was released, beyond the fact that it was 1968. And it’s an odd album, even though there are portions of it that I enjoy very much.

Fever Tree came out of Houston, Texas, and recorded and released five albums between 1968 and 1970 without drawing much attention. In fact, I’d wager that the group is better known these days as a result of its music having been released on CD than it ever was back in the Sixties.

Still, there is some interesting music in Fever Tree’s catalog, especially on the first, self-titled album from 1968. The song that most folks know is “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native),” which has popped up on a number of anthologies over the years, including one of the highly regarded Nuggets collections in the 1980s. It’s a track that, if not great, is at least fun to listen to and worthy of some attention because of, All-Music Guide notes, its “dramatic melody, utopian lyrics, and searing fuzz guitar.”

The rest of the album? Well, it’s all over the musical map. The opening track – “Imitation Situation 1 (Toccata and Fugue)/Where Do You Go?” – begins with a Bach quote and a snippet of what sounds like a lift from an Ennio Morricone soundtrack before settling into a swirling song that alternates harsh vocals and lilting flute. On my first listening some time ago, that first track reminded me of a review of another musician I once read, noting that the performer in question “never threw away any idea.” That’s kind of the sense I got about Fever Tree and its producers, Scott and Vivian Holtzman (who wrote or co-wrote all of the original material on Fever Tree).

Elsewhere on the records, the Wilson Pickett cover “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do),” doesn’t work all that well as a psychedelic freakout, but a couple other covers connect: A medley of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work It Out” includes sly brass quotes from “Norwegian Wood” and “Eleanor Rigby,” and the cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” is simply beautiful.

Of the originals, beyond “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native),” the two closers come off best. The other originals are not bad, but “Unlock My Door” and “Come With Me (Rainsong)” are mellow, maybe sentimental, and close very nicely an album that seems to have wandered all over the map before coming home at last.

Tracks:
Imitation Situation 1 (Toccata and Fugue)/Where Do You Go?
San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)
Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)
Man Who Paints The Pictures
Filigree & Shadow
Sun Also Rises
Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out
Nowadays, Clancy Can’t Even Sing
Unlock My Door
Come With Me (Rainsong)

Fever Tree – Fever Tree [1968]

First Friday: May 1968

June 27, 2011

Originally posted May 2, 2008

When one looks back at the major events of 1968 – or of any year, for that matter – there is generally a kind of storybook quality about them: They happened, they got attention, but they didn’t really affect us or the people around us.

What I mean is: No matter how awful – or in rare cases, beneficial – an event might be that is large enough to attract the attention of the world, simply because of sheer numbers, it rarely affects us or someone we know. To put it in the perspective of an event I mentioned in my look at March 1968, very few of us in the U.S. knew someone involved with the massacre at My Lai. As horrible as it was, when the tale of the massacre became public, very few of us had our revulsion augmented by the fact that we knew someone who had pulled a trigger. And as powerful and terrible as the events of 1968 had so far been as we entered May, most of us were spectators, gaping at the display.

But in May, as obliquely as it might have been, a major news story touched down at our home in St. Cloud. It wasn’t tragic, it could have had a far greater impact than it did, but it was there.

What became known as mai 68 in France began, says Wikipedia, as a series of student strikes that broke out in May at universities and schools in Paris, “following confrontations with university administrators and the police.” The French government, led by President Charles de Gaulle, attempted to end the strikes with more police action, but that only made matters worse.

There were street battles with the police in the Latin Quarter of Paris, followed by “a general strike by students and strikes throughout France by ten million French workers, roughly two-thirds of the French workforce. The protests reached such a point that de Gaulle created a military operations headquarters to deal with the unrest, dissolved the National Assembly and called for new parliamentary elections for June 23.”

Wikipedia further notes: “May ’68 was a political failure for the protesters, but it had an enormous social impact. In France, it is considered to be the watershed moment that saw the replacement of conservative morality (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) with the liberal morality (equality, sexual liberation, human rights) that dominates French society today. Although this replacement did not take place solely in this one month, the term mai 68 is used to refer to the shift in values, especially when referring to its most idealistic aspects.”

In St. Cloud, at my home, we watched the events of about four thousand miles away with great interest. I remember seeing students at the barricades in the streets of Paris, both on television and in photos in newspapers and magazines. Why did it matter? Because my sister, three years older than I and about to graduate from high school, was scheduled to spend six weeks in France that summer – near Paris, I believe – studying French language and culture.

Her six weeks would begin in July, but as the events of May wore on, I seem to remember my sister and my parents being kept informed by the sponsoring agency. There was some concern that the program might have to be canceled. Now, a Midwestern girl not getting her chance to go to France pales, I know, when compared with many of the wounds that the year of 1968 was inflicting. But it would have saddened her greatly, and grief is grief. As it happened, the furor in France died down as the summer came, and the sponsoring agency found a place to host the program in the city of Narbonne, just off the Mediterranean Sea. My sister got her time in France.

The uncertainty, though, had a point, as I look back at it. It was a lesson, as if the universe were pointing out that large events are more than tales on a storyboard: They touch people’s lives.

Beyond the upheaval in France, May of 1968 was a relatively tranquil month, according to the list of events at Wikipedia, almost as if the world were catching its breath for what was to come. Still, relatively tranquil is not tranquil.

There were increasing protests in the United States against the war in Vietnam. In Catonsville, Maryland, a group that came to be called the Catonsville Nine went to the local draft board on May 17. Two brothers who were Catholic priests, Fr. Daniel Berrigan and Fr. Philip Berrigan, headed the group. At the draft board office, Wikipedia says, the nine protestors “took 378 draft files, brought them to the parking lot in wire baskets, dumped them out, poured homemade napalm over them, and set them on fire.” They were tried in federal court in October and found guilty of “destruction of U.S. property, destruction of Selective Service files, and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967.”

The breakaway Nigerian province of Biafra was surrounded by the Nigerian army. This contributed, Wikipedia notes, “to a humanitarian disaster as the surrounded population was already suffering with hunger and starvation.” Efforts to relive the privation were launched around the developed word. Wikipedia once more: “It has been argued that by prolonging the war the Biafran relief effort (characterized by Canadian development consultant Ian Smillie as ‘an act of unfortunate and profound folly’), contributed to the deaths of as many as 180,000 civilians.”

The images we saw from Biafra in the news were truly horrible. If the name of the province/nation is unfamiliar to you, Google it and click on the image search.

May 1968 in Music
There’s no way to write a paragraph of transition from starving Biafrans to the Top 40 without seeming utterly callous. So let’s just acknowledge, I guess, that some folks could play while some starved. It’s always been so, and – unhappily – it will likely always be so.

Here’s the Top Fifteen for the week of May 4, 1968:

“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Cry Like A Baby” by the Box Tops
“Young Girl” by the Union Gap Featuring Gary Puckett
“Lady Madonna” by the Beatles
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & the Drells
“I Got The Feelin’” by James Brown and the Famous Flames
“Cowboys to Girls” by the Intruders
“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro, His Orchetra and Chorus
“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals
“The Unicorn” by the Irish Rovers
“If You Can Wait” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
“Dance to the Music” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Take Time To Know Her” by Percy Sledge
“Summertime Blues” by Blue Cheer
“The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde” by Georgie Fame

Not a bad batch, with the exception of Bobby Goldsboro and the Irish Rovers. “Young Girl” might be a little creepy, given today’s point of view, but I’m not sure we thought about it like that back then. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the Intruders’ record. I might recognize it, but I’m not sure.

Here’s the Top 10 albums from that first week of May 1968:

The Graduate by Simon & Garfunkel/soundtrack
Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly soundtrack
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With by Bill Cosby
The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

A couple things jump out. First, it was a very good spring for Simon & Garfunkel. In its second week on the charts, Bookends had jumped from No. 71 to No. 4, and it would stay on the album chart for another thirty-eight weeks. The soundtrack to The Graduate was in its fifth week at No. 1 with four weeks to go during a forty-seven week stay on the chart. And Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme ,which came out in 1966, had re-entered the Top Ten in early April and would stay until late June, eventuall cataloging sixty weeks in the Top 40.

The other thing I noticed is that Are You Experienced had popped back into the Top Ten after falling out. The last week in April, the first album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience had been at No. 13. The first week in May, it was at No. 10, in its thirty-eighth week in the Top 40. The record had done the same thing in February, popped into the Top Ten and then out again, as well as twice in 1967, in October and December. (Its peak position had been No. 5, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums and it would be in the Top 40 for a total of seventy-seven weeks.)

The album I’m sharing today would enter the Top 40 during the second week of May. It would be a short stay – just six weeks – and the album would peak at No. 29, but in terms of quality and in terms of influence, Jerry Butler’s The Ice Man Cometh would shine as brightly as anything released in 1968.

Butler came out of Chicago and joined the Impressions in the late 1950s – hitting with, among others, “For Your Precious Love,” which went to No. 11 on two of the pertinent charts of the day in 1958 – before moving eventually to the Chicago-based Vee Jay label in 1960. Six Top 40 hits followed through 1963, the biggest of them being “He Will Break Your Heart,” which went to No. 7 in 1960.

In 1967, Butler signed with Mercury, and after one Top 40 hit – “Mr. Dream Merchant” went to No. 38 in a two-week stay on the chart – went into the studio with two producers being allowed to helm an album on their own for the first time: Leon Gamble and Kenneth Huff. The resulting record threw off four Top 40 hits and started Gamble and Huff along the way to their near-domination of the charts in the 1970s with their Philadelphia International label, which had a roster that included Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, the O’Jays, the Three Degrees, MFSB and more.

That’s not to say The Ice Man Cometh serves only as an appetizer, as a preview of coming attractions. It’s a great album on its own, as Butler’s combination of smooth and gritty is echoed by Gamble and Huff’s setting the blues-based rhythm section to work against pop-based strings and background vocals. The four singles that came from the record were “Never Give You Up” (which went to No. 20), “Hey, Western Union Man,” (No. 16), “Are You Happy” (No. 39) and the record’s single best track, “Only the Strong Survive,” which topped out at No. 4.

(Lovers of Elvis Presley will recall that the King covered “Only the Strong Survive” during his sessions in Memphis in early 1969. When they listen to Butler’s version, they’ll see where Elvis got his ideas. Don’t get me wrong: Elvis’ version of “Only the Strong Survive” is a great record. It’s just not as good as the original.)

Track list:
Hey Western Union Man
Can’t Forget About You, Baby
Only The Strong Survive
How Can I Get In Touch With You
Just Because I Really Love You
Lost
Never Give You Up
Are You Happy?
(Strange) I Still Love You
Go Away – Find Yourself
I Stop By Heaven

Jerry Butler – The Iceman Cometh [1968]

First Friday: April 1968

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 4, 2008

Forty years ago this evening, I went into the living room to watch something on television. It was just after dinner and dishes, so it was somewhere between six and half-past six. Or maybe it was nearly seven o’clock. I’m not sure, and I have no idea what it was I was planning to watch that Thursday evening.

The television schedule for that evening shows nothing I’d have been interested in: Batman, The Flying Nun, Cimmaron Strip and Daniel Boone occupied the hour between half-past six and half-past seven. I’m sure I was planning to watch as much as I could that evening of a Minnesota North Stars playoff game from Los Angeles, but that would be later. When I turned the television on that evening, it was still light outside.

But almost as soon I turned the television on, it was dark. One of the national newscasters – I do not recall which one – told me and millions more that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed that evening in Memphis, Tennessee. He had been shot while on the balcony of his motel room, preparing for another evening of supporting the sanitation workers’ strike that had brought him to the city.

I was fourteen but already had – as I’ve noted before – a sense of news and a sense of history. I imagine I went and told my parents the news, but I know I sat in front of the television for a couple hours as the white men employed by whatever network I was watching tried to make sense of the assassination of a black leader. Except they couldn’t make sense of it, of course. It was one more brick of insanity falling in place in the mad wall that 1968 was building.

Campaigning in inner city Indianapolis that evening, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy found himself relating the news of Dr. King’s assassination to a crowd of black supporters. “It fell to Kennedy,” writes Tom Brokaw in his book, Boom!, “to deliver the news, which was so shocking and unexpected that it took everyone a few moments to absorb the enormity of the fact.”

Brokaw goes on:

“As he stood in the darkness, illuminated only by the lights of news cameras, Kennedy talked gently but intensely about the need to resist ‘hatred and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction . . .’ he said, ‘or we can make an effort as Martin Luther King did to . . . remove that stain of bloodshed that spread across our land.”

In what Brokaw calls “one of the most powerful speeches of Kennedy’s career, delivered extemporaneously,” Kennedy told the crowd:

“Aeschylus once wrote: ‘Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’ What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country; whether they be white or whether they be black. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world.”

There was no violence in Indianapolis that night, but riots broke out starting that night and over the next few days in more than a hundred U.S. cities in response to Dr. King’s murder, including – according to Wikipedia – Baltimore, Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. In an event that may or may not have been related but that added to the tension in the country, two days after Dr. King was murdered, a shootout in California between Oakland police and members of the Black Panthers resulted in several deaths, including that of Panther Bobby Hutton, who was sixteen.

Racial tension continued to spark riots through the spring, as in Louisville, Kentucky, in late May, where rumors that white authorities were intentionally delaying a plane that was bringing black leader Stokely Carmichael to Louisville triggered two days of rioting in the city’s west end. A year already bad was getting worse.

Also that month:

In Germany, Rudi Dutschke, the head of APO, a left-wing student organization opposed to the sitting government, was attacked and injured April 11 (he would die eleven years later from his brain injuries). The same day, German left-wing students blockaded the Berlin headquarters of the Springer Press. Many of them were arrested, including Ulrike Meinhof, who in the next few years would organize the Red Army Faction, a German revolutionary organization.

From April 23 through April 30, protestors at Columbia University in New York took over adminstration buildings and shut down the university. Wikipedia says the “protests erupted . . . after students discovered links between the university and the institutional apparatus supporting the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, as well as their concern over an allegedly segregatory gymnasium to be constructed in a local park.”

From where I sat in the American Midwest, the world was falling apart. That wall of insane bricks the year was building, seemingly of its own accord, was getting larger. At the end of the month, there was an event that, looking back, provides a smile. At the time, though, it did nothing more for people of my parents’ generation than provide another bit of confirmation that the world was indeed going mad: On April 29, the musical Hair – with its songs about drugs and sex and its on-stage nudity – opened on New York City’s Broadway.

Within a year, despite its depravity, Hair would spin off four Top Ten singles for four different groups or performers: “Hair” by the Cowsills (No. 2), “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by the 5th Dimension (No. 1), “Good Morning Starshine” by Oliver (No. 3) and “Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night (No. 4).

But those hits came in 1969. What was it we were listening to during the first week of April 1968, when the bricks began to fall faster?

Here’s the Top 15 from Billboard for the first week of April 1968:

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
“Young Girl” by the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett
“Valleri” by the Monkees
“La-La Means I Love You” by the Delfonics
“(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” by Aretha Franklin
“Cry Like A Baby” by the Box Tops
“Lady Madonna” by the Beatles
“The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” by Georgie Fame
“Love is Blue” by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Might Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)” by Manfred Mann
“Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co.
“Scarborough Fair/Canticle” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Dance To The Music” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Kiss Me Goodbye” by Petula Clark

If nothing else, it was a great time to seek solace with a radio (with the probable exception of “Honey”; I can live with “Simon Says”). Some folks, of course, liked their music in long form. Here’s what the Top Ten album chart looked like during the first week of April 1968:

The Graduate by Simon & Garfunkel/Soundtrack
Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
Valley of the Dolls by Dionne Warwick
John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly soundtrack

If one were looking at that as a shopping list, there are only a couple of hitches. One could get by without The Graduate for the most part as long as he or she had three Simon & Garfunkel albums: Sounds of Silence; Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme; and the forthcoming Bookends. That would give the listener all the S&G songs from the movie except for one version of “Mrs. Robinson.” Completists, of course, would need The Graduate. Other than that, the only album that’s not essential to get a musical sense of 1968 would be the Dionne Warwick record. The album’s two hits – the title song and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” – don’t gain anything by being heard in the context of the album, which has otherwise always seem extraneous to me. The Paul Mauriat album, on the other hand, has always been enjoyable, from the hit title song on down, a remnant of the times – not all that far gone – when the album charts were dominated by pretty music and not by rock.

The album I’m sharing here today wouldn’t be released until September, so it doesn’t at all reflect the upheaval and anguish of April. (I thought about posting Hair here today, but I couldn’t get a good enough rip; maybe next month. I also thought about posting Otis Redding’s The Dock Of The Bay, but that Stax album is basically a collection of previously released singles and holds little interest to me as an album.) But today’s album does represent a trend in pop music of the merging and mingling of styles.

The 5th Dimension first hit the charts in February 1967 with the single “Go Where You Wanna Go,” a No. 16 cover of the Mamas & the Papas song. Four months later, “Up-Up And Away” went to No. 7 while the album from which the singles had been pulled, Up, Up and Away, went to No. 8. (And no, I have no idea why the song title and the album title are punctuated differently; it’s bothered me for years.) The album and the singles were all produced by Johnny Rivers and released on his Soul City label.

The sound of the 5th Dimension has been described as what would happen if the Mamas and the Papas sang in Motown. That’s a little harsh and not quite right. Yes, the sound is at least partly a blending of California pop and R&B, and it’s true that the 5th Dimension’s music is not as gritty as were the sounds coming out of Detroit. But rather than trying to create a Motown-Lite sound, I think what Rivers and the members of the 5th Dimension were trying to do was to bring several things – including Motown grit – into L.A.-based pop. The three male members of the 5th Dimension hailed from blues- and R&B-drenched St. Louis, while Marilyn McCoo came from Jersey City and Florence LaRue Gordon was from Pennsylvania. Add that Johnny Rivers was born John Ramistella in New York City, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to hear bits of Philly-Jersey-New York girl groups and echoes of street-corner crooning in the 5th Dimension’s music, combined with a pop-soul sensibility and all laid over a bed of L.A. session work by musicians who clearly had been listening to Motown and Stax.

The group’s third album, Stoned Soul Picnic, came out in August 1968. (The group’s second album, 1967’s The Magic Garden, spun off the minor singles “Paper Cup” and “Carpet Man” but otherwise failed to make much of an impact.) Three singles from the album charted: “Stoned Soul Picnic” (No. 3) and “Sweet Blindness” (No. 13) were both written by Laura Nyro, while the song-writing team of Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson created “California Soul,” which went to No. 25. The album itself went to No. 21 on the Billboard chart.

Those who pore over studio credits on the backs of album jackets found much to celebrate when they looked at the back of Stoned Soul Picnic. On guitars were Tommy Tedesco, Mike Deasy and Ray Pohlman. Joe Osborn and Pohlman handled bass. Larry Knechtel and Jimmy Rowles were on keyboards. Larry Bunker handled marimba, vibes and other percussion, and the drum work came from Hal Blaine. (Just listen to the fills and you’ll know that.) Also credited were the Sid Sharp Strings and the Bill Holman Brass. Marc Gordon, who was credited with Johnny Rivers as producer on Up, Up and Away a year earlier, was credited with “co-ordination,” while Rivers was called a “realizor” on Stoned Soul Picnic.

The album is a good one, falling into the genre that I call pop-soul rather than R&B: Lighter than a lot of things I listen to and certainly lighter than a lot of things that were being listened to in 1968. Heavy times need some lightness once in a while, though, and I think that’s what the 5th Dimension provided.

(This rip, which I found online a few months ago, is from the now out-of-print CD release and contains a bonus track, “East of Java,” which I can only assume came from the same sessions. My thanks to the original uploader, though I have forgotten who that was.)

Tracks:
Sweet Blindness
It’ll Never Be The Same Again
The Sailboat Song
It’s A Great Life
Stoned Soul Picnic
California Soul
Lovin’ Stew
Broken Wing Bird
Good News
Bobbie’s Blues (Who Do You Think Of?)
The Eleventh Song (What A Groovy Day!)
East of Java*
*bonus track

5th Dimension – Stoned Soul Picnic [1968]

First Friday: March 1968

June 15, 2011

Originally posted March 7, 2008

As had been the case for many of the months preceding it, and as would be the case for many of the following months, the month of March 1968 was dominated – in the U.S., at least – by news of the Vietnam War and of the presidential campaign just getting under way.

During the month’s first week, what is now called the First Battle of Saigon ended. The battle had started in January as part of the Tet, or New Year’s, offensive of the army of North Vietnam and the guerrilla Viet Cong. During the First Battle of Saigon, thirty-five battalions of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces attacked six specific targets in the capital of South Vietnam, then called Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City.

As I’ve mentioned before, the fighting – in Saigon and elsewhere in South Vietnam – ended in a clear military defeat for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces, but those forces won the war of perception, as U.S. military and civilian leaders had been telling us here in the U.S. for some time that the enemy no longer had the ability to mount major military operations. Oops.

Back in the U.S., the war was the major topic of conversation in the presidential election, then just getting underway. President Lyndon Johnson won the Democratic side of the March 12 primary election in New Hampshire, the first in the nation. But the president’s slender victory – 49 percent to 42 percent – over anti-war candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy was received by the president as a repudiation of his policies, especially in Vietnam. Consequently, on the last day of March, he announced to a nation-wide television audience that he would not seek re-election.

Between the end of the Tet Offensive and the end of President Johnson’s presidential campaign came one of the U.S.’s darkest days in Vietnam. On March 16, a battalion of American soldiers was told to enter the villages Sơn Mỹ and find the hamlets called My Lai 1, 2, 3 and 4, where Viet Cong and North Vietnamese sympathizers had been reported. Their orders, according to Wikipedia, were to “burn the houses, kill the livestock, destroy foodstuffs, and perhaps to close the wells.” The battalion’s Charlie Company was told by its commander, Captain Ernest Medina, that nearly all the civilian residents of the village would have left for the market that morning by seven o’clock, meaning that anyone in the village when the company arrived was almost certainly an enemy.

Wikipedia says that, in a later court martial, some of the soldiers in Charlie Company testified that they understood their orders as being “to kill all guerilla and North Vietnamese combatants and ‘suspects’ (including women and children, as well as all animals), to burn the village, and pollute the wells.”

And that’s what they did. The toll? Even today, forty years later, it’s unclear. Wikipedia says that the number of civilian deaths at My Lai was either 347 (according to the U.S. military) or 504 (according to a memorial at the site in Vietnam). The consequences? The U.S. military quickly initiated a coverup of the massacre a coverup that eventually unraveled, thanks largely to a whistle-blower in the U.S. Army and to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Eventually, the U.S. Army tried one general for the coverup and one soldier – Lt. William Calley – for the massacre. The general was acquited; Calley was convited and would up serving four and one-half months in a military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, during which time he was allowed routine and unrestricted visits by his girlfriend, according to a book by Aryeh Neier on war crimes and their effects.

By utter coincidence, on the same day as the massacre, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy entered the presidential race.

Also in March 1968, according to Wikipedia:

A demonstration against American policies in Vietnam took place March 17 in London’s Grosvenor Square, site of the U.S. Embassy, and turned violent. A total of ninety-one people were injured and 200 were arrested.

From March 19 through March 23, students at Howard University – a traditionally African-American university in Washington, D.C. – “staged rallies, protests and a five-day sit-in, laying siege to the administration building, shutting down the university in protest over its ROTC program, and demanding a more Afrocentric curriculum.”

In Nanterre, France, on March 22, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and seven other students occupied the city’s administrative offices, an action whose consequences eventually brought France into a state of revolution in the month of May.

It was a grim month in a grim year. Even so, there was always music for solace, though any kind of solace was becoming more difficult to find. Still, we listened, and in the first week of March, these were the top fifteen songs on WDGY in Minneapolis:

“Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company
“Valley of the Dolls” by Dionne Warwick
“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by the First Edition
“Nobody But Me” by the Human Beinz
“I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite” by Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart
“I Wish It Would Rain” by the Temptations
“Spooky” by the Classics IV
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
“Everything That Touches You” by the Association
“I Can Take Or Leave Your Loving” by Herman’s Hermits
“Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by the Lettermen
“Too Much Talk” by Paul Revere & the Raiders
“Baby, Now That I Found You” by the Foundations
“Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream
“We’re A Winner” by the Impressions

That same week, the top albums in the U.S. were:

Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles
Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Herb Alpert’s Ninth by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones
Greatest Hits by Diana Ross and the Supremes
Disraeli Gears by Cream

(The top fifteen singles are not bad, maybe a little gooey in spots, especially the top spot. The albums are a great set, except for one. And no, it’s not the Paul Mauriat I dismiss. That’s still a pretty good album, for what it is. It’s the Rolling Stones’ record that doesn’t fit. I have all of those ten albums except for the Supremes [although I have a later anthology that includes the same music], and the only one I never, ever listen to is Their Satanic Majesties Request. It’s a mostly inconsequential album, with only “She’s A Rainbow” and, maybe, “2000 Light Years From Home” having any weight.)

The album shared here today, Tom Rush’s The Circle Game, was not nearly that large a seller. I’m not sure where it ranked in sales when it was released in 1968; all I can safely say is that it did not reach the Top 40 album chart. Nor did its creator ever have a Top 40 hit.

Rush, a native of New Hampshire, came to public attention through the folk scene in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the early 1960s. His early work, according to the first edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, “placed him squarely in the folk-blues vein of contemporaries John Hammond and Koerner, Ray & Glover.”

A move to Elektra Records for 1965’s Tom Rush brought some experimentation with song choices and performing styles. The 1966 follow-up, Take A Little Walk With Me, which featured one side of rock-styled performances and one side of country/folk blues, was well-received, though sales of Rush’s albums have never been large.

It was in 1968, with The Circle Game, that Rush hit his high-water mark, according to the Rolling Stone guide. Rush’s choice of songs is impeccable: The record draws from the catalogs of the then-unknown trio of Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor, and Rush provides a couple of good originals, with one of them – “No Regrets” – being one of those songs a writer hears once and immediately wishes he had written.

Beyond “No Regrets,” the record’s highlights include two of the Mitchell compositions – the title song, which Mitchell released on Ladies of the Canyon in 1970, and “Urge for Going,” which the Rolling Stone guide says sums up the album’s atmosphere, saying that the song’s “low-key, spare arrangement characterizes the educated, wistful and warm style Rush had evolved.” Rush’s performance of Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves” is also effective.

If I have a quibble about the album, it’s that sometimes the arrangements behind the songs are a bit lush. It’s a mood that works for the most part, but sometimes I’d like something a little more spare. But that’s a minor quibble about a very good record.

Tracks:
Tin Angel
Something in the Way She Moves
Urge for Going
Sunshine, Sunshine
The Glory of Love
Shadow Dream Song
The Circle Game
So Long
Rockport Sunday
No Regrets

Tom Rush – The Circle Game [1968]