Posts Tagged ‘1969’

It was a chilly December day in 1969 when my father, then 38, arrived home from Vietnam, where he’d worked the previous 15 months as an electronics field engineer attached to the 5th U.S. Marine Base at Da Nang. He maintained the Marine Corps’ communication system called TRC-97 at fire bases and outposts between Da Nang and the DMZ, and sometimes took sniper fire while riding a motorcycle from one site to the next. He wasn’t a G.I., having left the Army after serving in the Korean War the decade before, but an RCA employee.

According to the thorough family history written by my grandfather the following year, my dad left for Vietnam on Sept. 16th, 1968, and returned stateside on Dec. 15th, though I imagine he first touched ground in Hawaii or San Diego and, even if he flew straight through, made it home a day later. What I recall: my mom crouching beside me, who was all of 4 1/2, and pointing to a tall man dressed in fatigues walking toward us. “Daddy,” she whispered in my ear. I ran to him, arms outstretched, and bellowed the same.

Young children welcoming a parent home from war: It’s a scene played out many thousands of times every decade, it seems. And, as with me, I’m sure it’s the first memory many have of that parent.

I was reminded of the day by Herc’s thoughtful write-up of The Vietnam War, the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary series that recently aired on PBS. I haven’t watched it yet, though at some point I likely will, but it got me to thinking of December 1969 and the winter that followed – it’s the last time, I think, that I enjoyed snow. By the next Christmas we were in Saudi, and snow and frigid weather were non-factors for the next five years.

Anyway, Christmas of 1969, as I remember it, was great; the family was together and, in addition to my dad, I received one of the greatest gifts ever: Billy Blastoff. (It was an action toy, not a doll!)

To pull the magnifying glass away from me, major events of this month included, on the 1st, the initial draft lottery; on the 2nd, the 747 making its official debut; and, on the 6th, “Woodstock West,” aka the Altamont Free Concert, erupting into violence. Unemployment for the month was just 3.90 percent, but was about to begin a gradual climb to 6 percent by the end of 1970; and inflation was relatively high, at 5.5 percent.

(For more on 1969, see here and here, though each now features a clip that’s gone AWOL from YouTube.)

Movies released this month included A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Hello, Dolly!, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Topaz and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. Top television shows included Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Mayberry R.F.D. and Family Affair. Brady Bunch aficionados will know that the kitsch classic’s lone Christmas episode, when Carol came down with a bad case of laryngitis, aired on the 17th; another historic Christmas-tinged TV moment came 10 days earlier with the first airing of Frosty the Snowman.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: December 27th, 1969 (via Weekly Top 40):

1) Diana Ross & the Supremes – “Someday We’ll Be Together.” This, Diana’s final single with the Supremes, closed out the 1960s in spectacular fashion. (Producer Johnny Bristol can be heard harmonizing along, and giving Diana encouragement.)

2) Peter, Paul & Mary – “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I never knew this was written by John Denver until the mid-2000s, when I watched an excellent PPM biography on PBS. There’s this, too: PPM recorded it in 1967 for Album 1700, but didn’t release it as a single until October 1969. It promptly ascended the charts and, on Dec. 20th, became their only single to hit No. 1. This week, it dropped a notch to No. 2.

3) B.J. Thomas – “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” Written for the Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid film, this classic Burt Bacharach-Hal David song, which won an Oscar, has been covered more times than than ASCAP/BMI can count. (Just a joke.) Here’s B.J. Thomas singing it on Top of the Pops in February 1970:

4) Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Down on the Corner”/“Fortunate Son.” The double A-sided hit  – one of the best – dropped to No. 4 from No. 3 (its peak) this week.

5) Steam – “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” Who knew, as 1969 came to a close, that the chorus to this ditty – which topped the charts for two weeks in early December – would become one of the de facto sing-alongs at sporting events within a decade’s time?

And two bonuses:

6) Neil Diamond – “Holly Holy.” The No. 6 this week is this gospel-tinged classic, which may well be Neil Diamond’s greatest song. (And even if it isn’t, it certainly feels that way when he’s singing it.) Here he is performing on the BBC in 1971:

7) Gladys Knight & the Pips – “Friendship Train.” Topping out at No, 17 is this under-appreciated Norman Whitfield-penned call for peace, love and understanding. Here’s Gladys & the Pips performing it in 1972:

 

Life unfurls like a flag on a windy day. Though it may seem that the cloth never ripples the same way twice, over time certain patterns can be discerned. For example, just like last year about this time, one of my first self-appointed chores of 2017 consisted of digging through the dusty virtual bins of Amazon in search of the perfect CDs to send my niece for her birthday. “Perfect” takes on a double meaning in this context – perfect for her and perfect, overall.

As last year, I used Amazon’s free gift tags to include short notes about each album.

dusty_memphis1) Dusty Springfield – “I Can’t Make It Alone” (from Dusty in Memphis, 1969). I wrote: “Although it didn’t sell well in 1969, this album is now considered a classic. It blends pop and soul in a way that no one had before; and Dusty’s vocals are wondrous.” I’d add: Make that a stone-cold classic; and luscious in addition to wondrous. Rolling Stone ranked it No. 89 on its 2012 list of the Top 500 Albums of All Time; I rank it higher – possibly Top 10. It smolders, yearns and burns, and sounds as fresh to my ears now as it did when I first heard it in the early 1980s.

emmylou_pieces2) Emmylou Harris – “For No One” (from Pieces of the Sky, 1975). I wrote: “Although she’s rarely topped the charts, Emmylou is an integral artist within the modern history of country music. This, her second try at a debut, explains why.” I’d add: Emmylou embraced and made her own the expansive “Cosmic American Music” vision of Gram Parsons, her musical mentor, who passed away in September 1973, on this classic from 1975. In essence, she helped forge the foundation that generations of female country and folk performers, including Taylor Swift and First Aid Kit, have built upon since.

harriet3) Harriet – “Broken for You” (from her eponymous debut, 2016). I wrote: “I discovered this gem on Christmas. Although the songs conjure the Carpenters and pop music of the 1970s, Harriet is a relatively new 20-something singer from London. It should make you smile.” I’d add: This set certainly makes me smile, at least. If I’d been aware of it when I created my Albums of the Year list in early December, I would have ranked it No. 3. It’s everything that’s good about pop music.

rumer_soms4) Rumer – “Aretha.” (from Seasons of My Soul, 2010). I wrote: “This is an atmospheric song cycle that’s teeming with soulful, knowing lyrics & melodies that wrap themselves around the heart. Among its themes: love, longing, loss & acceptance. It’s magic.” I’d add: I borrowed part of that from my first blog post on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch, since moved here; I’ve also written about it here and here. I rank it among my Top Albums of All Time, which I plan to share at some point later in the year.

rumer_vinyl5) Rumer – “This Girl’s in Love With You” (from This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook, 2016). I wrote: “Burt Bacharach is a legendary songwriter who, with collaborators such as Hal David, crafted some of the world’s greatest songs. This set from Rumer was my Album of the Year for 2016.” For more, see my Album(s) of the Year, 2016 and Today’s Top 5: The Promise of Tomorrow posts. (By the way, that’s Bacharach singing at the start.)

 

fullsizeoutput_11c8According to Newsweek, America’s white majority was a troubled lot as the world’s clock prepared to flip from 1969 to 1970: “Fewer than one in three of the working-class group say they are better off now than five years ago; by contrast, 44 percent of the white-collar workers polled feel more prosperous. And the blue-collar group is even less confident about the future. Only 28 percent expect to be better off five years from now.”

They had reason to be apprehensive. While unemployment was low, inflation was on the rise and, as a result, wages – even with decent raises – were stagnant or, worse, slipping. What cost $100 at the end of 1968 cost $105.46 at the end of 1969. That $5.46 difference may not sound like much in and of itself, but when you add together lots of $100 outlays…well, it adds up. Fast. There was also the matter of the never-ending war in Vietnam, where more than 11,000 Americans died this year alone. (As the people were beginning to realize, Richard Nixon had lied when he claimed during the ’68 campaign to have a “secret plan” to end it.)

That said, have no fear: I’m not launching a broadside about how people were directing their wrath at the wrong targets. (That’s an age-old American tradition, after all.) Instead, here are some of the pictures used to illustrate the era’s “forgotten” Americans:

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And, with that, today’s Top 5: October 6, 1969. Here are five songs from the Weekly Top 40 chart ending October 4th that have stood the test of time…

1) The Archies – “Sugar, Sugar.” This sweet confection, co-written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, was in its third week at No. 1 and was on its way to become the year’s biggest hit.

2) The Youngbloods – “Get Together.” The No. 13 single this week was this Dino Valenti-written song. First recorded by the Kingston Trio in 1964, it was also recorded by (among others) Judy Collins, We Five, Jefferson Airplane and the Staple Singers. As detailed in its Wikipedia entry, the Youngbloods originally released this version as a single in 1967, but failed to make the Top 50 with it. In 1969, however, it was resurrected by the National Conference of Christians and Jews for a radio commercial, re-released as a single and, eventually, made it to No. 5 in the charts.

3) 5th Dimension – “Wedding Bell Blues.” The No. 37 song for the week is this Laura Nyro-penned classic by the 5th Dimension. According to Wikipedia, one reason the group decided to record it was because Marilyn McCoo was due to marry fellow member Billy Davis Jr., which gave the lyrics an added (comic) weight.

4) Peggy Lee – “Is That All There Is?” One of the power-plays for the week is this classic Peggy Lee song, which jumped from No. 76 to 50. It would eventually make it to No. 11, her first Top 20 hit since “Fever” in 1958. (Peggy released a string of very good albums in the late ’60s that are well worth seeking out.)

5) Crosby, Stills & Nash – “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” New this week, at No. 86, is Stephen Stills’ sublime song suite for Judy Collins.

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.