Archive for the ‘1960s’ Category

Last week, I watched Bob Dylan: Roads Rapidly Changing, a documentary that recounts Dylan’s rise in and eventual departure from the Greenwich Village folk scene. He arrived in the Big Apple from the Land of 10,000 Lakes in 1961 with no connections, but – due to his talent and drive – quickly made a name for himself. “Blowing in the Wind,” The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are a-Changing,” Another Side of Bob Dylan and Bringing It All Back Home, his 1965 farewell to the folkie world, date to this period in his life.  

The film, which I highly recommend, features a wealth of archival footage and performances alongside insights from an assortment of fellow Village folkies (Eric Andersen, Maria Muldaur and Tom Paxton) and rock journalists (Robert Christgau and Anthony DeCurtis).

Highway 61 Revisited, released a mere five months after Bringing It All Back Home, isn’t covered in the doc, which is understandable – it was his first full-fledged rock album, and the film focuses exclusively on his folkie days. Still, think about that for a second: In an era where it can take an artist years to release the next album, Dylan released two monumental sets within five months of each other. Paradigms shifted with each.

Of Bringing It All Back Home: The first side features Dylan backed by an electric band – a radical notion within the purist folk scene at the time. In the most simplistic description, the new sound marries the folk form to the rock beat.

The second half features an acoustic Dylan at his most electric.

There’s little more to say but this: The album, which expanded the concept of what popular music could and should be, is consistently rated as one of the greatest of all time. (This Rolling Stone article delves into its impact.) It sounds as fresh today as it must have sounded in 1965.

One last thought: Since the dawn of written history, there have always been purges of the past in order to placate the present. (You might say that we, as a people, have a long history of criticizing what we can’t understand.) Humans are flawed creatures, in other words, with our biggest flaw being that we tend to run with the pack. But in the mid-‘60s, Bob Dylan didn’t turn his back on what came before. Instead, he synthesized it into something new.

The track list:

Sunday July 20th, 1969, marked a momentous moment in the history of humankind: Neil Armstrong stepped from the lunar module Eagle and descended a ladder to the surface of the moon. After touching ground at 10:56pm ET, he paused to say, “that’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” (The “a” is in brackets because it wasn’t audible on the transmission beamed to the 600 million people watching on Earth.)

The U.S. president – the 37th in the country’s history – was Richard M. Nixon, who took the oath of office six months earlier. His time in office was accented by chicanery, cynicism and brilliance, though much of that was yet to come. At this point in time, though he was viewed with disdain by some, his approval ratings were routinely in the 60s.

On the economic front, the unemployment rate began the year at 3.4 percent and ended at 3.9 percent. Everyone who wanted one had a job, just about. Inflation, on the other hand, was a source of concern: When Nixon took office, it was already high at 4.4 percent, and it continued to inch higher each month. 

When it came to foreign affairs – specifically, the Vietnam War – this very month marked two significant events: the first U.S. troop withdrawals from Vietnam occurred on the 8th; and, on July 25th, the “Nixon Doctrine” – aka the Vietnamization of the war – was announced. The plan was for the U.S. to turn over the defense of South Vietnam to the South Vietnamese.

In the Philly region, it was an atypical summer’s day, topping out at a mere 78 degrees (Fahrenheit). The Phillies didn’t take advantage of the cool weather, however, as starting pitcher Bill Champion failed to live up to his surname in a 6-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Connie Mack Stadium.

Among the movies playing in the theaters: Hook, Line & Sinker, True Grit, The Wild Bunch, and Easy Rider, which was released on July 14th. As I’ve noted before, however, this was the era when it could take a movie six or more months to make it to your local cinema.

Aside from the moon transmission, TV was basically in yesteryear’s DVR mode – rerun season. It’s when folks caught up on episodes they had missed.

In the world of music, June and July 1969 saw the release of a few notable – and not-so-notable – albums, including Roberta Flack’s First Take, Elvis Presley’s From Elvis in Memphis, Fairport Convention’s Unhalfbricking, Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad, The Doors’ Soft Parade, and Yes’ eponymous debut. 

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: July 20, 1969 (via Weekly Top 40; the chart is for the 19th).

1) Zager and Evans – “In the Year 2525.” The next time a baby boomer laments the state of today’s music, point them to this song. And laugh. Because on July 20th, 1969 – less than a month before Woodstock – this “prophetic” song was the No. 1 song in the land.

And for you Gen-Xers feeling smug right now, here’s R.E.M. covering it:

2) Blood, Sweat & Tears – “Spinning Wheel.” Holding steady at No. 2 for a second week is this jaunty philosophical ode, which was penned by BS&T singer David Clayton-Thomas. 

To again leave the pop charts for a moment, earlier in the year Peggy Lee released an effervescent rendition of the song that reached No. 24 on the Easy Listening charts…

3) Three Dog Night – “One.” Dropping from No. 5 to No. 6 is this song, which I first heard in the mid-1970s on a commercial for a mail-order compilation. The song was written and originally recorded by Harry Nilsson, who released it in 1968.

And – yes, this is a trend – Aimee Mann recorded “One” for the For the Love of Nilsson tribute album in 1995. It also appeared on the soundtrack for Magnolia.

4) Elvis Presley – “In the Ghetto.” Elvis continued his comeback with this classic song written by Mac Davis that tackles poverty. (Sad to say, 50 years later, it remains as relevant as it was then.)

A few decades years later, on the 1998 Lilith Fair tour, Natalie Merchant – accompanied by Tracy Chapman – sang the song.

5) Jackie DeShannon – “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” One of the week’s “power plays” is this catchy plea for love, which jumps from No. 55 to 48. FYI: Jackie co-wrote it.

And, finally, Dolly Parton recorded a wonderful version of the song for her 1993 album Slow Dancing With the Moon. Here she is singing it a few months earlier on the CMA Awards… 

As I mentioned in Friday’s countdown, “This Guy’s in Love With You” may well have been lost to time if not for Herb Alpert reaching out to Burt Bacharach and asking if he had any old tunes lying around that had never been recorded. Bacharach offered him “This Guy.” Alpert liked the melody, that there was a break where he could insert a trumpet solo, and that it didn’t require vocal gymnastics on his part. He was a horn player, after all, not a singer.

That clip comes from Alpert’s TV special The Beat of the Brass, which aired on CBS on April 22, 1968. The 45 was released the same month, and flew up the charts, eventually spending four weeks at No. 1 and becoming the year’s seventh most popular single.

The song’s soothing, sweet melody can’t be denied; it lingers with you long after the song is over. Lyrically speaking, it’s the declaration of a head-over-heels guy (or gal) laying it on the line to his dream gal (or guy). It works equally well no matter the gender of the singer, or who they’re singing to. Love is love, after all.

Anyway, it quickly became one of those songs every vocalist of note wanted to sing, and I thought it might be fun to spotlight some of those other versions here. Dusty Springfield, for example, recorded it for her Dusty…Definitely LP, released on November 22, 1968 – not that folks in the U.S. heard it (except via import). Dusty was on different record labels in the U.S. and the U.K., and Atlantic – her American home – decided not to release the album. It wouldn’t become available in the States until 1972, when it was included on the A Tribute to Burt Bacharach compilation LP. (It’s since been included on a handful of best-of/rarities collections, including Dusty in London.)

Here’s the audio of her singing it on the All Kinds of Music TV special, which was broadcast in the UK on Christmas Day 1968:

That same November, the Temptations and the Supremes released their own version on Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations LP.

Before both of them, however, Petula Clark included her rendition of it on her 1968 Petula LP, which was released in the U.S. in September 1968.

Dionne Warwick, a frequent collaborator with Burt Bacharach and Hal David, also recorded it for her Promises, Promises album, which was also released in November 1968. It would become one of her greatest hits when it was released as a single the following year; it rose to No. 7 in the charts.

Also in 1969, Ella Fitzgerald covered it on her Sunshine of Your Love album. Here she is on TV performing it…

Sammy Davis Jr. also laid down a jazzy rendition of it on The Goin’s Great the same year. Here he is in Germany:

In early 1970, Aretha Franklin released her This Girl’s in Love With You album, though the song wasn’t issued as a single.

That same year, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles covered it on their whatlovehas… concept album.

Hundreds of others have covered it in the years since (and thousands more in karaoke bars). In 1982, the Reels – an Aussie pop-rock band – scored a No. 7 hit with it Down Under:

In 2009, jazz-pop singer Jane Moneheit included her dreamy take on the song on her The Lovers, the Dreamers and Me album:

Here’s She & Him (Zooey “One Day You’ll Be Cool” Deschanel & M. Ward) from their 2014 album Classics:

Finally, British singer-songwriter Rumer released her rendition of it on This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook in late 2016. (That’s Burt Bacharach himself at the song’s start.) It and Dusty’s are my favorite versions, though every rendition has something going for it.

Yesterday, WXPN featured a day-long “Throwback Thursday” devoted to 1968. Although I didn’t listen all day, what I heard was an interesting mix of the expected and unexpected, with Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” followed by the raw rock of Big Brother & the Holding Company, the soft psychedelic lather of Jefferson Airplane, and a five-track tour of some of Simon & Garfunkel’s classic tunes, as well as songs by the Temptations, Laura Nyro, Van Morrison and the Delfonics.

Today, their “Throwback Thursday” inspires my “Flashback Friday,” which looks back 50 years to Saturday June 8, 1968. The biggest story in the news: Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral.

But that wasn’t the only news of the day: James Earl Ray, the prime suspect in the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. two months earlier, was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Among the movies one could expect to see in the theaters this weekend: Planet of the Apes; Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows; Yours, Mine and Ours; The Odd Couple; Prudence and the Pill; The Detective; and Wild in the Streets. Due for release in just four days: Rosemary’s Baby. As I’ve mentioned before, however, in those days “wide” releases weren’t the way of the movie world. Films opened in select markets at select theaters, with new markets and theaters added each week and month.  

In the land of TV, the 1967-68 season was over. The Andy Griffith Show concluded its eight-year run atop the Neilsen charts at No. 1, and The Lucy Show ended its six years on the air at No. 2. Gomer Pyle, USMC was the third-ranked show; and three shows tied at No. 4: Gunsmoke, Family Affair and Bonanza. (I actually remember seeing an episode of Family Affair when my family visited Beirut in the early 1970s, but that’s grist for another post.) Variety shows were also in vogue: The Red Skelton Show, Dean Martin Show, and Jackie Gleason Show were No.s 7, 8 and 9; and NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies, which featured both made-for-TV and theatrical films, rounded out the top 10.

In my world: I was 2 years old, soon to be 3, and our family lived in a row home in northeast Philly. Not that I remember much beyond our pet cat, Missy, and the backyard – none of our immediate neighbors had installed fences, so it was a huge expanse to little me. And most of those neighbors also had young children. Everyone knew everyone, and everyone had fun.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: June 8th, 1968 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) Simon & Garfunkel – “Mrs. Robinson.” Enjoying its second (of three) weeks atop the pop charts is this memorable song featured in The Graduate, one of the era’s defining films. 

2) Archie Bell & the Drells – “Tighten Up.” Clocking in at No. 2 is this funk classic, which was perched atop the charts just a few weeks earlier. An interesting sidenote to this song: Bell was drafted shortly before recording it, and by the time it reached No. 1 he was in Germany, where he was assigned to the 53rd Transportation Unit – and in the hospital due to an accident. (He talks about it in an insightful interview with the Rebeat blog.)

3) Herb Alpert – “This Guy’s in Love With You.” Here’s an interesting piece of trivia about this classic song: It may never have been recorded if not for Albert asking Burt Bacharach (who wrote it with lyricist Hal David) if he had any old songs lying around. It’s since been sung hundreds of times by a who’s who of singers far more gifted than Alpert, often with “girl” substituted for “girl,” including Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick and Rumer.

4) Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra and Chorus – “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The title song of the movie of the same name hit its peak the week before, when it claimed the second slot. Here, it drops two spots to No. 4.

5) Tommy James & the Shondells – “Mony Mony.” So James had the music, but not the lyrics. While in New York, he and one of the song’s co-writers, Ritchie Cordell (who’d go onto produce Joan Jett and the Ramones, among others), were about to throw in the towel when, from the terrace of his Manhattan apartment, he saw the Mutual of New York building, which was illuminated with its initials. And, thus, a smash hit was born… 

And a few bonuses…

6) Merrillee Rush and the Turnabouts – “Angel of the Morning.” Jumping from No. 30 to 14 is this single, which was produced by Chip Moman and Tommy Cogbill at Moman’s American Studio in Memphis; and though Rush’s band received billing on the 45, the actual musicians were Moman’s usual crew. The song itself was written by Chip Taylor, and was first offered to Connie Francis – but she turned it down due to its “risqué” theme. (It’s about the morning after a one-night stand.) It was recorded by Evie Sands and a few other artists, but Merrillee’s was the first to chart. It garnered her a Grammy nomination for best Contemporary Pop Female Vocalist. 

7) The Rolling Stones – “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” After their ill-advised dalliance with psychedelia on Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Stones get back to the basics with this classic single, which would top out at No. 3 in July. It debuts on the charts this week at No. 62.

And, last, here’s a clip of Paul Simon discussing “Mrs. Robinson” and The Graduate with Dick Cavett in early 1970: