Category Archives: 1960s

Today’s Top 5: December 27th, 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:

 

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Today’s Top 5: September 17, 1968

In some ways, life is akin to a flag unfurled on a windy day – though you pretty much know what to expect, you’re still surprised by the never-ending eruptions of ripples from the fabric. First one appears, then another, and then two more, each of a different size and in a different spot before they’re replaced, one by one or sometimes en masse, by a new series of ripples. The changes occur not just second to second, but millisecond to millisecond. No two ripples, it seems, ever appear twice.

The future has yet to be written. That’s what we tell ourselves. Fate and destiny are things of fantasy novels, movies and TV, not real life. “Into every generation a slayer is born…,” indeed.

Except that flag rippling in the breeze is not as unpredictable as it appears. Over the course of a day, no, the same two ripples may not appear. But over the course of a week, month or year? A decade? If x equals wind strength and y equals wind direction, and z is the location of the first ripple, then the where and when of every ripple that follows can be calculated. Patterns can be discerned and actions predicted.

It’s not rocket science, just math.

And though my metaphor may not be spot on, this cannot be disputed: the outrages of the present are not as new as we sometimes think. They’re ripples on a flag fluttering in the wind, yes, but at times they overlay on the ripples of yore.

1968, by any and all calculations, was a bad year. The Summer of Love in 1967 gave way to a Winter of Discontent, and was followed by a spring, summer and fall filled with racial strife and political animus. On March 31st, President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek, nor would he accept, the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. On April 4th, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. On June 5th, Bobby Kennedy was killed. And more than a thousand American men died every month that year in the Vietnam War.

The tumult was on full display at that year’s Democratic National Convention in late August. The whole world watched while the Party nominated the establishment’s pick – Vice President Hubert Humphrey – and the Chicago police bashed anti-war protestors.

That fall, Humphrey – a good man, though flawed candidate – squared off against Republican Richard Nixon, who was tied not to any particular philosophy, save one: winning. He claimed to have a “secret” plan to end the war; promised a new emphasis on “law and order”; and, fearful of an October surprise, engaged in treasonous trickery by dispatching an emissary to convince the South Vietnamese to walk away from the Paris Peace Talks. He promised that, if he won, they’d get a better deal. (That “better deal,” it should be noted, failed to materialize after Nixon’s inauguration in January 1969.) Meanwhile, the current commander in chief – who was aware of the chicanery due to the emissary popping up on intelligence intercepts, considered going public with the information, but feared his lack of “absolute” proof would cause more harm than good.

Some will say that the proof still isn’t there, of course, despite H.R. Haldeman’s contemporaneous notes, Tom Charles Huston’s oral history and other well-sourced accounts. (The speculation that it eventually led to the Watergate break-in, however, remains just that.)

Nixon’s first year in office, of course, was accented by protests, paranoia and breaks with orthodoxy; he cared less about details and more about his image, and with getting even with those he believed had wronged him.

Sound familiar?

Anyway, enough of my deep-dive into the parallels between the politics of yesteryear and today, and onward to today’s Top 5: September 17, 1968 (courtesy of the charts over at Weekly Top 40, though the chart in question is actually for the week of Sept. 14th.)

1) The Rascals – “People Got to Be Free.” Clocking in at No. 1 for the fifth week in a row, this upbeat call for peace and lovin’ didn’t sit well with Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler, at least initially. According to The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, he feared its topical message would harm the group’s career. Felix Cavaliere fought him on it and, obviously, won. (And the four million copies the single sold, I’m sure, soothed Wexler’s fears.)

2) Jeannie C. Riley – “Harper Valley P.T.A.” Written by Tom T. Hall, this unlikely hit about narrow-minded hypocrites is the week’s No. 2 song; and it would reach the top spot the following week. It sold more than six million copies and set history, becoming the first song by a female artist to top both the pop and country charts; and earned Riley Grammy and CMA awards.

3) Jose Feliciano – “Light My Fire.” Who would have imagined that a flamenco-easy listening rendition of the Doors song could be a hit? Feliciano and producer Rick Jarrard, that’s who! Although his breakthrough hit in the U.S., by this point Feliciano had established himself in Latin America and Great Britain, where he guested on Dusty Springfield’s TV variety series, and had already earned a reputation as a great guitarist. Or so I’ve read. This week marks its third – and last – week in the No. 3 slot.

4) Steppenwolf – “Born to Be Wild.” Yes, there was a time when this song didn’t sound like a well-worn cliche (and I say that as someone who bought Steppenwolf’s Greatest Hits as a kid and saw Easy Rider – on cable, granted – more times than I can count.) It falls from No. 2 to 4 this week.

5) 1910 Fruitgum Company – “1, 2, 3, Red Light.” This bubblegum concoction, which I’d never heard before just now, clocks in at No. 5, its highest position on the charts.

And two bonuses…

6) Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – “You’re All I Need to Get By.” The classic love song from Marvin and Tammi rises a spot, from 8 to 7.

7) The Beatles – “Hey Jude.” Making its chart debut at No. 10 is this pop classic from the Fab Four.

Glen Campbell (1936-2017)

My first memory of Glen Campbell is of sometime during the summer of 1975, not long after my family returned to the States after near-five years overseas. We stayed with my grandparents for a week or two, camping out in their living room, and enjoyed their big color TV – well, it was probably all of 21 inches, but it seemed big to little ol’ me, who was a few weeks shy of turning 10 and accustomed to a 10- or 12-inch black-and-white TV.

Or did it occur during a summertime visit in 1976, when my brother and I sometimes stayed the night? Either/or, I was a pre-music fanatic, far more a pro wrestling fan than anything else. And yet I distinctly remember being transfixed as the virtual optimism that is “Rhinestone Cowboy” rolled from the TV and filled the room.

Years later, of course, I discovered his other classic singles, including “Gentle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston,” and learned about his stint in the now-legendary Wrecking Crew.

The first thing I think of when I hear him, however, is that performance of “Rhinestone Cowboy,” which – sad to say – I’ve never been able to track down.

The second thing I think of: In late 2000, I interviewed him for a TV GUIDE Close-Up on a Ralph Emery-hosted Country Homecoming TNN special. The show consisted of him and a half dozen (or so) other country greats singing and reminiscing with Emery. Like just about every celeb I interviewed during those years, he was nothing but kind – and funny. I mentioned that one thing I liked about the special was the stripped-down performances of the songs. He agreed, his wide smile beaming through the phone line. “Oh, I like it raw,” he said. And with that, he launched into an impromptu (albeit chorus-only) renditions of Bob Dylan’s “Lay, Lady, Lay” and two or three other songs.

Glen Campbell was a good guy. He’ll be missed.