It Was Fifty Years Ago Today…

When you’re 70 it’s hard to imagine what life was like when you were 20. As David Crosby said famously – if you remember the 60s you probably weren’t there.

In 1967 I was in my 2nd/3rd years of my university undergraduate degree. For the summer I worked on a construction gang poring concrete for bridges on Highway 401 east of Kingston. And I listened to music. Lots of it.

The Summer of Love marked the convergence of a lot of trends in music – rock became mainstream, the stereo LP took over from the 45 (at least for me it did.) AM top 40 ruled the airways but FM underground broadcasting was a growing trend. And over it all was Psychedelia – pot, LSD and rock n roll.

Let’s go back and look at some seminal LPs from 1967. I owned some of them (they are in bad shape today.) I repurchased a few as digital remasters on CD. And they are available in all their streaming glory on Spotify right now.

Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles

If there is one LP everybody who was young in 1967 would remember – well, this is it. Sergeant Pepper marked the evolution of the world’s most famous rock band from popsters to serious musicians. We often hear of other groups who made their “Sgt. Pepper” LP – like Beach Boys (Pet Sounds), the Stones (Beggars Banquet) or even U2 (Joshua Tree) – but the Beatles did it first.

SP was also one of the first “concept albums” – it introduced the fictional Lonely Hearts Club Band, Billy Shears, and Ringo as front and center vocalist. It was designed to be played start to finish. It featured the Mellotron and all sorts of novel recording effects. It’s a masterpiece.

My personal favorite cut – “A Day in the Life.” This one isn’t for beginners though. You need to warm up by listening to “A Little Help from My Friends” and “Lovely Rita.”

Buffalo Springfield – Again

Buffalo Springfield are arguably more popular now then they were in 1967. At the time they had made a couple of LPs and they were in the process of self-destruction – you know the story. These days BS are more famous as the starting point for Stills and Young, plus Richie Furay who went on to Poco and the country rock scene.

Buffalo Springfield as a group didn’t do much on this album – it’s largely individual solo efforts by Steven Stills and Neil Young, backed up by a bevy of their musical friends and the great LA studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. What’s notable is how psychedelia was creeping into the Buffalo Springfield straight ahead folk-rock. It’s well worth a listen for history’s sake.

My favorite cut – Young’s “Mr. Soul” – a minor hit in the summer of ’67. Neil still plays it in concert. Dark and powerful.

Disraeli Gears – Cream

Now we’re talking. This LP was playing everywhere I went on campus back in ’67. Every one of my artsy friends had it, and a few of my more serious science buddies.

Named after a mispronunciation of the gears on a 10- speed bike, Disraeli Gears was the ultimate underground LP. It got limited airplay on prime time AM but it was a staple of late night underground shows and FM rock.

Baker, Clapton and Bruce feuded all the time but they really had their musical act together here. Pure psychedelia – it sounds as great today as when it was recorded. Clapton’s guitar licks sound rather mainstream today but they were a revolution in 1967.

My favorite cut – I bet you thought I would say “Sunshine of your Love,” but no. “Tales of Brave Ulysses” is the one I always liked best. Still do. Listen to Bruce’s powerful bass and vocals, Clapton’s wah wah artistry, and Baker’s drumming that ties it all together.

Insight Out – The Association

Gotta put one in here for the progressive rock/ easy listening fans – and in 1967 nobody personified that any better than The Association. This six man group was ostensibly a standalone band, but on their studio albums they did the vocals and most of the background music was provided by the fabulous Wrecking Crew. Hal Blaine of the Crew played drums on something like 40 #1 pop hits – amazing!

Anyway this album is a great listen – wonderful harmonies, great arrangements and flawless instrumentation. And some great radio hits. Get the remastered version if you can. It never sounded as good as it does today.

My favorite cut – “Windy” without a doubt. Heard it so many times in the Summer of Love.

Surrealistic Pillow – Jefferson Airplane

Gracie Slick is 77 now – but she was something else in 1967. When Gracie joined Mary Balin on lead vocals the Airplane really took off.

In fact when they did concerts, the guys in the band would warm up the audience without Gracie. Then she’s make a grand entrance right through the crowd, and get up there and sing “White Rabbit.” Left the audience breathless.

As the Beatles were to UK Psychedelia, the Airplane was to the West Coast pop scene. Surrealistic Pillow is the best of the best. Maybe it hasn’t aged as well as Sgt. Pepper but that is because a lot of the Airplane sound has become a ’60s cliche – so identified with the boomers as to lose its power. But try it again in the remastered CD or on Spotify. It’s still where it’s at when it comes to Psychedelic Rock American Style.

My favorite cut – there are a couple of dynamite hits here, but I personally like “She has Funny Cars” – with its Bo Diddley beat and Balin/Slick duet.

The Doors – Debut Album

I wasn’t a big Beatles fan back in ’67 – they grew on me. But The Doors blew me away from the first time I heard them on the radio. Maybe it was because each of them was a great performer in his own right:

  • John Densmore – steady as she goes with the sticks.
  • Robbie Krieger – classically trained, slow hands, master of the blues riff or the power chord.
  • Ray Manzarek – in my view the best keyboard player in rock.
  • And what can you say about The Lizard King – artist, poet, anarchist and primal scream.

The Doors never had a bass player – Manzarek did the honors on stage with key bass – but a number of pros filled in the studio. Larry Knechtel helped out on this album.

They were such a tight ensemble, probably because they had spent so much time as a bar band before they hit the big time. Only Densmore and Krieger are still with us now. But The Doors were everything I loved about 60s rock. Still love them and they live on today on every classic rock station I know.

My favorite cuts – got two here – the rollicking, upbeat “20th Century Fox” and Morrison’s Oedipal masterwork “The End.” Ridiculous and sublime.

So there you go. Maybe you remember the 60s, and you were there. I certainly was, even if it was Fifty Years Ago.

 

 

 

 

 

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