Archive for the ‘1970’ Category

1970 is likely remembered, at least within the U.S., for what came to be called the Kent State massacre. On May 4th, Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on college students protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War to Cambodia, killing four and wounding nine. It spurred an in-progress student strike at some 450 college campuses – which had begun on May 1st, the day after President Nixon announced the expansion – to explode. What had been a primarily peaceful movement flirted with violence, especially when 100,000 anti-war activists descended upon Washington, D.C., the following weekend. The anger was real and can be heard in the ardent strains of CSNY’s “Ohio.”

A month and change later, on June 19th, Diana Ross released her eponymous solo debut, which sports a soulful pop sheen that may seem miles removed from the revolution brewing on college campuses. But, at least from where I sit, it was – in its own way – revolutionary all the same: “Reach out and touch/Somebody’s hand/Make this world a better place/If you can…”

Working with writer-producers Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson for all but one of the 11 tracks, she crafts a set that both reflects and transcends its time. Some songs, such as “You’re All I Need to Get By” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” were recycled from other Motown artists; others are original to the album. No matter. By the time the tracks were set to wax, they were hers. It’s not a statement of purpose, but a declaration.

Of course, most everyone knows the basic outline of Diana’s story: Born in Detroit, her name was and is Diane everywhere but her birth certificate, where it was listed as “Diana” by mistake. At age 7, her father relocated the family to Alabama after her mother was felled by illness, but they returned to the Motor City in 1958, when she was 14. At that point, her dream was to become a fashion designer – but she was also flirting with music and soon joined the Primettes, whose other members included Florence Ballard and, in time, Mary Wilson.

In 1960, Ross convinced childhood neighbor Smokey Robinson to arrange an audition for the group with Motown; Berry Gordy liked what he heard but, after learning their ages, told them to finish school first. They signed with another label instead, released a single that went nowhere, and then began to hang out at Hitsville, doing this ’n’ that (aka backing vocals and handclaps) before, in 1961, officially joining the fold. Rechristened the Supremes, they languished at the bottom of Motown’s hierarchy until late 1964, when “Where Did Our Love Go” topped the pop charts – the first of 11 singles to do so. Intra-group (and intra-label, for that matter) tensions soon surfaced due to Berry Gordy’s infatuation with Ross, however, especially once he decided to do what it took to make her a star.

As I noted a while back, the final No. 1 single by Ross and the Supremes, the Johnny Bristol-produced “Someday We’ll Be Together,” was originally slated to be Diana’s debut single – and was actually recorded without the other Supremes. Its success, along with the ad-hoc Cream of the Crop album, pushed plans for her solo debut to the following year (plus gave Gordy more opportunities to milk money from her exit, including the live Farewell double-LP set that was released in January 1970.)

By the time of her solo debut, she was 26 – and, yet, still deemed a “girl” by legendary Hollywood hack writer Leo Guild in a 1970 newspaper series that spotlighted (I’m not making this up) “black beauties.” (One excerpt from the article about her: “She has a peculiar ambition in that she wants the general public not to think that she’s a symbol for the blacks. She wants them to accept her as just a groovy girl.” She’s also quoted as saying, “I don’t think anybody needs a sex symbol. That’s out of date. I’d rather be thought of as someone with brains and maybe have a little sex appeal in back of them.”) It wasn’t just the mainstream press that could be so callous, either; Rolling Stone wasn’t exactly a bastion of feminist thought and pretty much ignored artists of color. Part of that was the era, of course, but – to my ears, at least – it’s the casual affront to those attitudes that gives her debut its revolutionary zeal.

Although it’s probably best known as the original album home of two of her classic singles – “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – it’s not a stereotypical singles-and-filler Motown album. Over the course of the 11 tracks, she’s independent, affectionate, confident and aware. Something’s on her mind, in other words, that’s been troubling her a long, long time…

Did I mention that, vocally speaking, she’s at the top of her game? Although I dispute the assessment, it’s sometimes said of her work with the Supremes that her vocals are light and frothy, essentially the frosting atop a layered cake. There’s none of that here. Her vocals are full and developed, driving the lyrics instead of riding them. You hear her smile, hear her frown. She pulls you into her world.

If you haven’t heard the album, definitely check it out. It sounds as fresh today as it must have in 1970 and is a true essential album – alongside her 1976 eponymous and 1980 Diana albums. (The 2002 “deluxe version,” I should mention, adds a bunch of bonus tracks, including two Laura Nyro songs that stem from unreleased sessions with 5th Dimension producer Bones Howe, and is available on all the usual streaming services.)

The track listing:

And for those curious: Here’s the newspaper article referenced above… if nothing else, it shows how far we have come in the past 50+ years. (Each section can be clicked on to enlarge; it was too lengthy to fit into one, unfortunately, so you’ll have to hop between the two images.)

Earlier today, I watched (for the umpteenth time) one of my favorite films: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which was released in 1962. It’s a whimsical love letter to eccentricity, escape and the human-feline bond, and Holly Golightly may well be Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic role. The movie is also notable, of course, for introducing the Henry Mancini-Johnny Mercer song “Moon River” to the world.

Here’s some food for thought, though: In 1962, Holly’s opportunities were extremely limited because of her gender. She would have been disqualified from many jobs; and, even if an employer made an exception and hired her, she could expect to be paid much less than a guy doing the same work. She also wouldn’t be able to get a prescription for the birth-control pill, as it was only given to married women (and only in some states); and, regardless of her marriage status, she could be fired if she became pregnant. And if a male colleague or superior grabbed her ass? She had no recourse. Sexual harassment, as a concept, didn’t exist. Oh, and even if she had graduated as the valedictorian of her high school, she couldn’t apply to Harvard, Yale or Princeton, as women weren’t accepted as students. She’d also have difficulty getting a credit card.

fullsizeoutput_10a5Which is why Good Girls Revolt, a fictionalized account of the experiences of women at Newsweek during late 1969 and early 1970, is such an important series. On the surface, of course, it’s about women fighting for the right to pursue their dreams – in this case, reporting and writing. But it’s more than that. It’s about an era when change was spreading through society writ large. And while the America of 1969-70 was different than it was in 1962, it was not as different as, at first blush, it may seem – within the counterculture? Yes. Within the wider culture? Not so much. In 1970, for instance, CBS nixed the idea that Mary Tyler Moore would portray a divorcée in her eponymous sitcom because executives feared it would offend viewers. Instead, her character (Mary Richards) moved to Minneapolis after breaking off a long engagement.

Good Girls Revolt, for those who’ve yet to see it, opens after the concert fiasco at Altamont Speedway near San Francisco in December 1969. As I said here, the dialogue’s occasionally clunky in the first few episodes and the characters sometimes teeter near stereotypical – but it’s well-acted. Let me add an adverb: It’s extremely well-acted. (Genevieve Angelson, who plays lead character Patti, deserves an Emmy Award.) While glimpses of greatness are seen in the early going, it’s not until midway through the 10-episode run – the New Year’s Eve episode, to be specific – that the series hits its stride. (That’s not a criticism; most new shows take a while to find their groove.) By the last episode, when the employees take a public stand, you’ll be left wanting more. Much more.

However, last week, Amazon nixed a second season despite the show doing well in every available metric. According to Hollywood Reporter, Sony Pictures Television, which produces the show, is currently shopping it to other networks – ABC, Freeform, USA Network, Bravo and Hulu are all said to be interested – but they won’t take it on if they don’t think there’s an audience. So head over to Care2 and sign the petition.

The women themselves let their voices be heard on March 16, 1970, the same day that Newsweek published a cover story on the nascent women’s movement. The issue is actually dated March 23rd; like most magazines, then and now, Newsweek pre-dated its issues so that it retained newsstand appeal. For the purposes of today’s Top 5, I’m sticking to the 23rd – well, actually the 21st. The charts over at Weekly Top 40 are two days off.

Anyway, here’s today’s Top 5: Good Girls Revolt, Take 2 – March 23, 1970. These are the songs by female artists that, according to Weekly Top 40, were in the Top 40 that week.

1) Aretha Franklin – “Call Me.” The top 18 hits this week are by men; the highest-charting 45 by a woman is this, at No. 19. It was the lead single from Aretha’s 1970 This Girl’s in Love With You album.

2) The Supremes – “Up the Ladder to the Roof.” The next female act, the Supremes, comes in at No. 25. It’s notable as the first post-Diana Ross single by the Motown stalwarts; Jean Terrell handles lead vocals.

3) Lulu – “Oh Me, Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby).” This gem from Lulu (one of my favorites by her) ranks at No. 31.

4) Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell – “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” Of this week’s Top 40, exactly three and a half songs are by women. (Let that sink in for a moment.) This, a cover of the Everly Brothers’ classic, ranks No. 34.

5) The Five Stairsteps – “O-o-h Child.” This was a newly ranked single within the Top 100; along with its flipside, “Dear Prudence,” it was No. 85. (The Stairsteps were five siblings – four brothers and one sister – and they all take a turn singing lead here.)

And one bonus…

6) Gladys Knight & the Pips – “You Need Love Like I Do (Don’t You).” Another new entry this week, coming in at No. 87.

And that, believe it or not, is the extent of women in the chart, which covers Numbers 1 through 50 and adds 14 additional “new this week” entries for the Top 100 as a whole.

Thanksgiving night, after a wonderful get-together with family, Diane and I continued our trek through Good Girls Revolt. One episode centered on New Year’s Eve of 1969: As the ‘60s came to an end, Patti (Genevieve Angelson) and editor Finn (Chris Diamantopoulos) concluded that the decade had been about suppression and repression; the ‘70s, they predicted, would be about expansion. Then, at about 10:50pm, I received a message from iTunes: Rumer’s This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach and David Songbook was available for download.

It’s a lilting and lush set; the music possesses the grace of Audrey Hepburn, soul of Dusty Springfield and vocal finesse of the 5th Dimension, if that makes sense, and evokes the era in which the songs were born while remaining firmly rooted in the present. While one can imagine Rumer singing, say, “One Less Bell to Answer” on The Tonight Show in 1969, one can also imagine her swaying to the same music on The Tonight Show next month. At its best, music transcends time and space; and this set does just that.

Anyway, the juxtaposition of Good Girls Revolt and This Girl’s in Love (and, perhaps, too much turkey) led me to reflection – and to the realization that Patti and Finn, in their rush to pass judgment on the ’60s, were wrong. The decade was not a time of suppression or repression. To the contrary. It was a time when the collective American mindset pushed past a centuries-old prejudice (race) and began to do the same with another (gender). That’s not to say prejudice was eliminated; far from it. But the majority of folks realized it was wrong.

Consider this clip from Petula, a TV special starring British pop singer Petula Clark that aired on NBC on April 2, 1968:

The moment near the end, when Petula puts her arm on Harry Belafonte’s? Believe it or not, it spurred a controversy. A vice president of Chrysler, which was sponsoring the show, demanded that another take be used due to the “interracial touching.” Petula Clark and her husband, the special’s producer, said no; NBC sided with them; and the special, when it aired, was a hit. But if that touch had occurred a decade earlier? NBC likely would’ve cut the song or, if not, many TV stations, primarily in the South, would’ve refused to air the show.

That said, despite the decade’s advances, life wasn’t great. Two days after that special aired, for example, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated; two months later, Robert Kennedy was killed; four months later, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago turned violent; six months later, Richard Nixon was elected president; and, all the while, the Vietnam War raged – more than 16,592 American soldiers died and 87,388 were wounded that year.

When we strip the gauzy nostalgia from the reality of any time, we’re left with this: What often made the time wonderful was less day-to-day life and more the promise of what had yet to come. It’s why succeeding generations continue to embrace the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, I think – despite the tumult of the ‘60s and woes of the ‘70s, the messages that powered much of the music were hopeful. And, by and large, we’re a hopeful lot.

Which leads to today’s Top 5: The Promise of Tomorrow, circa 1970 and Billboard. These are the year’s top singles

1) Simon & Garfunkel – “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

2) The Carpenters – “(They Long to Be) Close to You”

3) The Guess Who – “American Woman”

4) B.J. Thomas – “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”

5) Edwin Starr – “War”

6) Diana Ross – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

And a few singles that didn’t make the year’s top 100:

7) The 5th Dimension – “One Less Bell to Answer”

8) Elton John – “Your Song”

9) Dusty Springfield – “A Brand New Me”

 

saudi_jetty

Most days, by mid-afternoon, stepping outside of our air-conditioned villa on the Raytheon compound in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, felt like stepping into a furnace. Sweat seeped from the pores even before one did anything. The sand, cement homes and asphalt roads acted like a magnet for the rays of the sun, which blazed overhead in a near-cloudless sky, and even a gentle breeze wasn’t so gentle – the lilting wind lifted grains of hot sand from the ground and pelted your skin with them.

That’s my memory of what the weather was like during our initial days and weeks in Saudi, at any rate, but I was very young – all of 5 years of age – so I’m sure that what I recall is more impressionistic than not. That said, we arrived in August 1970; Wikipedia states that the average (daytime) high in Jeddah for that month is 99 degrees and the average (nighttime) low is 80.8, with the following months easing up a tad. But, back then, all I knew was one thing: It was hot.

(For a view of what the compound looked like, click here to watch a five-minute excerpt from a home movie that I uploaded to YouTube.)

As I inferred above, because of my age, a fair chunk of what I remember is a jumble. Some of what I recall is crystal clear, however, though many memories are missing three things: the day, month and year. That’s par for the course, I’ve read, for how the brain develops – time is an abstraction when one is young, and outside of birthdays and holidays, the days themselves matter less than the events contained therein.

And, yes, that’s a roundabout introduction to a specific incident. Whether it occurred in 1970 or ’71, I can’t say. I just remember heading to the beach with my brother Ken, who’s a few years older than me. Perhaps our mother shooed us outside – we got rather rambunctious on occasion – or maybe we were simply being adventurous. Whatever the reason, we set out on what wasn’t a particularly hot day – though that part may be wrong. The sun shone overhead.

If you read Part 1, you’ll remember that the compound was a walled community that sat on the Red Sea. (To borrow a line from The Wonder Years pilot, kids could wander the streets without fear of winding up on a milk carton.) Our home, House 14, was mere blocks from the beach, so it didn’t take long to get there. We strode with purpose across the coarse sand toward the jetty that jutted into the sea, or maybe our destination was simply the water’s edge to collect shells. Whichever, a dog barked, followed by another, and then another. In the distance, a cloud of sand kicked up and cleared, revealing a pack of barking dogs charging toward us.

“Run!” Ken shouted, and we took off, the distance between the two of us expanding while the gap between me and the dogs shrunk. He made it to one of the beachfront villas, and climbed its patio wall to safety. Me? I glanced over my shoulder; there was no chance I was going to make it. I faced the thundering horde, raised my hand above my head and prepared for the worst.

Within seconds, the lead dog slid to a stop at my feet, spraying my legs with sand – and raced away. The others chased after him, barking and yelping all the while.

Salukis, greyhounds, other assorted breeds and mutts, a mix of wild and castoff canines – that was the makeup of the pack. Some were likely raised to race by well-off Saudis, then tossed aside, others may have been left behind by departing Raytheon personnel. And more than a few, like our future pet poodle Jacques would in a few years, simply left their people for a spell to be with their own. The call of the wild has pull.

In retrospect, I doubt those dogs meant us harm. (I can’t imagine that I scared them.) Maybe they were out for a run, saw two kids alone on the beach and decided to have some fun. Perhaps they only wanted to play tag.

At least, that’s what I’d like to think.