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Monday, July 20, 2009

FLASHBACK: JULY-AUGUST, 1966

"Tax the very wealthy to make everyone healthy."
- Vigilante, Sozadee, CA -












TOP ROW L to R: The Supremes, L.A. Civil Rights march
NEXT ROW: Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan
NEXT ROW: Yardbirds, The Association
Vietnam
NEXT ROW: The Mamas & Papas, LBJ
BOTTOM: Lovin' Spoonful

I had the chance to delightfully revisit much of my past this last weekend, when a cousin came back to town and I was able to get together with a number of other cousins. We spoke of the usual family stuff, but also of current events and past history and music. When I got home, I started to again reflect on those days of yesteryear, and I began to appreciate what a fabulous and historic era I grew up in, living as I did in my lower middle class beginnings during the 1950s and 1960s in the Minneapolis, MN area.

The summer of 1966 was a particularly pleasant time for me. The world was abuzz with activity, creativity, and change. Things seemed to be picking up momentum on all fronts. Incomes and buying power for nearly all were rising, and the youth culture was starting to come into its own. Civil rights marches were happening and rights were justifiably being obtained, fashions were flipping like pages of a magazine, a cultural renaissance was occuring in art and music, antiwar protests over Vietnam were just starting to bud at college campuses, America had searched its soul and found injustice, thereby engaging itself in a noble War on Poverty (funny how the far right, who love to condemn war protesters as being cowards who want to "cut and run" from a fight did themselves unhesitatingly cut and ran from one of our most important wars ever, that War on Poverty, isn't it?). Gas was plentiful and cheap, and a popular ad slogan was "see the USA in a Chevrolet." Economical "Fizzies" made it possible for you to make your own cherry, orange, grape, lemon lime, or root beer carbonated soda pop at home using tap water. They came 8 Alka Seltzer-sized tablets per 19 cent package, and all you did was drop a tablet into an 8 ounce cup of water and wait for the fizzing to stop. They were staples in every supermarket. iPods and CDs had not yet even been conceived, stereo was only 8 years old (and most of us didn't own one, instead having the "high fidelity" monaural phonographs). Two song 45 rpm vinyl records and transistor radios were the rage, AM radio was king, the Beatles were the undisputed masters of pop rock music, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and Frank Sinatra were immensely popular. People were optimistic, trusted their neighbors and government, and everything seemed to be on an upswing except for that nagging Vietnam War and civil rights marches and riots.

I came of age in this era. I began to take notice of the world around me and began thinking independently, as my own person. I started watching the news on our black and white TV (remember, we were lower middle class and couldn't afford a color set), and actually began reading more than the comics in the newspaper. I thought it was wrong for minorities to be discriminated against. I found it funny that we weren't winning hands down in Vietnam, with the body counts being as lopsided as the Pentagon was reporting. I was swept up in all the color, change, and heady excitement of that era, but especially in its music.

As I look at some of the songs and music groups who were popular just in this two month period of July and August, 1966, it looks like a murderers row of all-time classic rock and R & B. With so many fabulous new songs coming out each and every week, I never dreamed back then they would still be played on radio stations even today, some 43 years later! More classic songs were released in this 2 month period than have appeared in entire months or even years since then! See if you don't recognize or remember some of these artists' names: Beatles, Supremes, Four Seasons, Sam and Dave, Lovin' Spoonful, Hollies, the Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Rolling Stones, Temptations, Grass Roots, Yardbirds, the Association. Some of the classic hits first appearing in that golden summer were "Summer In The City" by Lovin' Spoonful, "Hold On! I'm A-Comin'" by Sam and Dave, "Yellow Submarine/Elkeanor Rigby", a two-sided hit from the Beatles, "Hungry" by Paul Revere and the Raiders, "Along Comes Mary" from The Association, the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love", "Bus Stop" from The Hollies, "I Want You" by Bob Dylan, Donovan's "Sunshine Superman", a very uptempo and brassy "Respectable" from the Outsiders, the punchy and unique interpretation of "Summertime" by Billy Stewart (OUTSTANDING vocal!), and the smooth and jazzy "Sunny" by Bobby Hebb. 2 1/2 to 3 minute pop songs sold millions of copies by having a predominant rock beat, catchy tune, and a serious, relevant lyric, like The Yardbirds' classic "Over Under Sideways Down" with its expressions of nonconformity ("when I was young, people spoke of immorality / all the things they said were wrong are what I want to be"), The Rolling Stones' commontary on the stresses of life back then as described in "Mother's Little Helper" ("...mother needs something today to calm her down / and though she's not really ill, there's a little yellow pill / she goes running for the shelter of a mother's little helper."). B. J. Thomas scored with his ballad "Billy and Sue", the tragic tale of a soldier in far-off combat getting a "Dear John" letter from his girl back home, causing him to jump up in battle and get fatally shot. Folk/easy listening masters The Sandpipers released their melodic gem "Guantanamera" based in part on a poem by Cuban freedom-fighter Jose Marti ( "...with the poor people of this earth I want to share my fate..."). Folk artist Verdelle Smith even had a modest hit with her rendition of "Tar And Cement", a milestone which I believe was the first-ever environmental protest song. In it, she describes leaving a small country village to find wealth and success in the big city, only to return to find things back home had changed immensely ("...and every night I'd sit alone and learn what loneliness meant / up in my vented room above a world of tar and cement. / Many years later, tired at last, I headed for home to look for my past / I looked for the meadows - there wasn't a trace / six lanes of highway had taken their place / where were the lilacs and all that they meant? / Nothing but acres of tar and cement..."). Pretty heady stuff back then for the targeted audience of pre-teen through young adult! But it was indicative of a flawed, but much better time. A time where most people really cared about others and were less preoccupied with their own material lust. A time where liberals and conservatives and Democrats and Republicans could disagree without spitting insults at one another or hating each other.

Thank you for letting me indulge in the past for this post, friendly readers. I am glad that I grew up and came to awareness in such a time. We have made great progress in many areas since then, but we have lost a great deal of what was simple and wonderful and good along the way. There are many unrealized goals from that era, and it reminds me that we Americans still have a long, long, long way to go, and that we must continue to strive for a better world for all...

15 comments:

Max's Dad said...

Hey Jack. That's some incredible music there. Most of what you wrote about really hit home. I remember my Dad letting me off at school and every Monday hearing the body counts of 2500 Viet Cong dead and 500 Americans dead and thinking how much longer can they last? We were so young and naive. Also in July-August 1966 I was waiting with baited breath for the Twins to make their move and win the pennant again. Of course it didn't happen but we hoped.Just like now, huh?

Mycue23 said...

Jack,
I'm just happy to know that the year I was born was also marked the birth of such fantastic music. My personal favorites, "When a man loves a woman" by Percy Sledge, "You're my soul and inspiration" by the Righteous Brothers, "Good Vibrations" and of course the unforgettable "Wild thing". Great year (especially for me) and great music.

Jack Jodell said...

Max's Dad,
You and I had the same thoughts at the same time on Vietnam AND the Twins. We came within an eyelash of winning it all in '65, but '66 turned out to be a disappointment, although Jim Kaat DID set a club record by winning 25 games that year! But our pitching sucks this year, so we'll be lucky to finish at.500. Last night, we led stinky Oakland 12-2 at one point, and then went on to lose 14-13. Unbelievable! GRRRRRRR!!!!!
----------------------
MyCue23,
Those first two tunes you mentioned are also my personal all-time faves. I remember listening to them and loving them from the time I first heard them, and they were both popular at the very same time, the spring of 1966! In fact, 1966 might be arguably the very best year for pop music ever! Other great tunes that year included "B-A-B-Y" by Carla Thomas, "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys, "Pretty Flamingo" by Manfred Mann, "Just like A Woman" and "Rainy Day Women Nos. 12 And 35" by Bob Dylan, "Lady Godiva" by Peter and Gordon, "Reach Out, I'll Be There" by the Four Tops, "I've Got You Under My Skin" by the Four Seasons, "Knock On Wood" by Eddie Floyd, "Mellow Yellow" by Donovan, "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" by the Temptations, "Red Rubber Ball" and "Turn Down Day" by the Cyrkle, "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love" by Petula Clark, "Sunny Afternoon" by the Kinks, and "Green Grass" by Gary Lewis and the Playboys, plus, many, many others. It was definitely a great year. You were born; I had my first real girl friend; and liberals were in solid control of the country. Aaaahhhhh! Nothing like the good ol' days!

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

jack! A wonderful read! I was a bit younger, but I remember. I'd love to have a cable '60's - 70's channel. Really enjoyed this, it just felt good to read it. Ta.

Jack Jodell said...

Thanks, Gwendolyn---it felt good to write it. That '60s-'70s cable channel is a good idea!

SJ said...

@Jack,
You've got lots of my favorite music in there. Maybe I'm idealizing the time, but it looks like a clearer period philosophically in hindsight, although not without its violence and turmoil. Thanks for sharing those memories.
-SJ

Jack Jodell said...

You're very welcome, SJ, and I do believe, in spite of all the tumult back then, people had a clearer and fairer vision, and were certainly more intellectually oriented than the average Fox "News" viewer of today! Despite its flaws, in many ways it was a golden age I will always treasure.

Vigilante said...

Jack, you're being read by a musically-illiterate. My progressive (everything's progressive about me) hearing deficit caused me to lose touch as I lost the ability to hear lyrics. I still recognize names you dropped though. As I read this, this morning, I'm feeling a little nostalgic and very socialist. And, (have to add) that's the first time I have used the S-word to describe myself. Who was it that said (I'm sure your readers recall)

"We live in interesting times."

Jack Jodell said...

Vig, I'm sorry to learn of your hearing loss. If it's any consolation, today's lyrics have nowhere near the relevance (for the most part) of those from the '60s and '70s. Nostalgia is a good thing, provided we don't live in the past (I wonder how long it will take before the Republicans roll out the Victrola and start dancing the Charleston again)? As far as being socialist goes, it only means you have a heart AND a brain, instead of lacking both. After the last 30 years of Reaganomics, and with the conservative-dominated legal system we now have, this country could well use a bit of socialism. Power to the people!

Marc McDonald said...

As far as I'm concerned, the 1960s were the last great decade of the American empire. It's been all downhill since then.
In the 1950s and 1960s, America really was the No. 1 nation on earth. In many ways, we were the shining beacon for the world. Now, we just think we are (a delusion fueled by the fact that we're too ignorant about the rest of the world to know otherwise).
In the 1960s, America could still dream big and get things accomplished. Put a man on the moon? Yes, we could do it. (True, the crucial contribution made by German rocket scientists has been carefully airbrushed out of the official history of this "great American success story," but it was still a notable feat, regardless).
By contrast, when is the last time America as a nation really accomplished anything positive?
I visited Tokyo recently. I was dazzled by a city that is so technologically advanced that it looks like something from a sci-fi movie.
Returning to the U.S., I can recall sitting in the L.A. airport and thinking that, by contast, the U.S. looked like a Third World nation.

Jack Jodell said...

Marc, you took the words right out of my mouth. What JFK feared most has come to pass. We have become a soft and wholly self-indulgent nation. We are ignorant about the rest of the world and are resting on our past accomplishments and expecting them to carry us forward. But they can't anymore and they won't any longer. We are falling behind in education, infrastructure, health care, and manufacturing. And we are too blind to effectively see or do anything about it. As John Lennon so frankly put it in "Working Class Hero", we have become "doped with religion and sex and TV." The 1960s were indeed our pinnacle. We still have a capacity for renewed and extended greatness, but our conservative reliance on military might and preservation of the corrupt status quo keep us from utilizing our capacity. This is undeniably an empire in decline, and that is a horrible waste and tragedy.

MadMike said...

I was there! Every step of the way while navigating the glorious, scary sixties. Sighhhhhh....

Manifesto Joe said...

Hi, Jack: I am a little younger, born in '56 (I'm 53 today!), and you are apparently about the same age my late older sister would have been. I was younger, but your descriptions of this era are vivid and evoke memories.

I remember my parents arguing about the Vietnam War. My mother was against it and thought the U.S. should pull out. My dad, a multidecorated WWII combat hero, looked at it in old-fashioned warrior terms, and hence thought the problem was that "we" simply needed to bomb the Vietcong into the Stone Age. I remember those arguments.

In Texas, that was the summer that Charles Whitman, an ex-Marine with an early-stage brain tumor, climbed to the top of the University of Texas tower with an arsenal and started sniping people downtown in broad afternoon. I don't remember the toll of dead and wounded before an Austin policeman killed Whitman, but it was considerable, and it was one of the first gun crimes of that type in the U.S. Down here, that summer seemed like The Mean Season to many people.

I turned 10 that summer. I had a transistor AM radio on which I could hear Top 40 hits. We had a black-and-white TV. We were not even lower middle-class -- my dad had lost a small business, was ill and about to go on VA disability -- and I remember that time as very close to the end of my innocence. By 1967, things had turned grim, and I found out what it was like to eat beans and cornbread and have schoolmates make fun of my old clothes.

A decade later, many people my age couldn't relate to either punk rock or disco. We became a generation of pot-smoking fuddy-duddies before our time. Where did we go for cultural nourishment?

For many of us, it was always back to the '60s. There was a strange magic to that time that lingers to this day.

Jack Jodell said...

Mad Mike, what a perplexing but marvelously exhilarating time too. Ahhhhh----
-------------------
Manifesto Joe, thank you for sharing your memories so eloquently. Many households were becoming split over Vietnam at that time, and it added fuel to the fire of the generation gap back then. I too remember the Charles Whitman shooting incident that August---his mass murder made national news. By the way, a Texas gil by the name of Sandy Posey scored two AM top 20 hits in 1966: "Born A Woman" and "Single Girl."

Vigilante said...

Manifesto Joe, On divisions wihin families:

Thoreau wrote sometime in the years preceding our Civil War,

"Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations... it divides families; aye, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine."