"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
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...