Category Archives: Neil Diamond

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: May 28, 1967

On this day in 1967, a Sunday, the Middle East was headed for the conflict known as the Six-Day War, which would begin on June 5th when Israel launched a preemptive strike against the Arab armies massing at its borders.

Closer to home, American society and culture was continuing to experience rapid (and, in some quarters, welcome) cultural changes, as evidenced by the Chicago Tribune introducing the “Working Woman” column by Carol Kleiman in its lifestyle section. It begins with its raison d’être:

Everyone talks about the working woman – but nobody knows her name. She’s been put under a microscope and dissected by the experts. She’s been told to stay home and do the dishes. And then she’s been told she can have any career she wants if she only lets herself have one.

Everyone talks to the working woman. Everyone has advice. But nobody lets her answer. Meanwhile, millions of young, single work. So do married women, with and without children. And thousands of mature women enter the labor market each year and start working for the first time in their lives or for the first time in years.

This is unique. It’s a revolution in the labor force and in equality for women, and all working women – you and I – are caught up in it. We have problems – and we have possibilities. We are not men, and the business world is still a man’s world.

In all the studies of feminine mystiques and feminine mistakes, no one has let the working woman speak for herself. What does the career girl say her problems are? Does she look at her job as a temporary career until marriage, or a lifetime profession?

Kleiman, as she notes in the column, was in the latter category.

Unless my eyes deceived me, however, this Sunday edition of the Tribune doesn’t mention anything related to youth culture. Oh, it includes a few teen guest columnists weighing in on such subjects as patriotism and volunteerism, articles about folks in the entertainment world and one on classical music, but not one mention of any of this week’s top pop releases or hits or even Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was due out in the U.S. on June 2nd.

Not surprising, of course, but annoying to me all the same.

Speaking of career gals and lonely hearts: 16-year-old young Wendy D. was eyeing a career in education; and, to that end, she belonged to the Future Teachers of America club at her high school. As for lonely hearts – well, she certainly wasn’t one.

Valerie S., a few years younger than Wendy, was less about the lovin’ and more about studying and playing games. Ping pong!

I share their experiences because, as I noted in the Top 5 for April 22, 1967, when we think of bygone ages – especially one as romanticized as the 1960s – we often imagine them as totally different from the present. The reality is often more mundane, however. Tectonic cultural shifts were underfoot, true, but the vast majority of kids, such as these two, still woke up, went to school, hung out with friends, dated and – as Wendy will in short order – dealt with strep throat. Some things change. Some things don’t.

Oh, and here’s one other thing that attracted my eye while browsing the Tribune’s Sunday edition – an advertisement for Sony’s latest, greatest 12-transistor portable radio. It and radios like it, for those too young to know, were the iPods of the day.

Anyway, enough of the rambling intro and onward to today’s Top 5: May 28, 1967, with songs pulled from the May 27th chart over at Weekly Top 40. (And, yes, I’ve featured a few of these songs before, but not these specific clips.)

1) The Young Rascals – “Groovin’.” The No. 1 song in the land, for the second week in a row, is this gloriously evocative song of summer.

2) Aretha Franklin – “Respect.” Jumping from No. 5 to No. 2 is this classic from the Queen of Soul. Here she is a year later in Amsterdam:

3) Neil Diamond – “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.” Entering the Top 10 is Neil Diamond’s fourth single for Bang Records. It possesses a dramatic, brooding melody and lyrics that…well, what can be said about “Girl, you’ll be a woman soon/Please come take my hand/Girl, you’ll be a woman soon/Soon you’ll need a man”? That they reflected a certain mindset of their time? Or that they were just…creepy? You be the judge.

4) Eric Burdon & the Animals – “When I Was Young.” Dropping from No. 15 to 22 is this classic counterculture ode inspired by Burdon’s father.

5) Dionne Warwick – “Alfie.” The week’s No. 37 song is what is now considered to be one of Dionne Warwick’s signature tunes. The Burt Bacharach-Hal David song, which was the theme to the 1966 movie of the same name, was originally sung by Cilia Black over the end credits for the U.K. release and earned her a Top 10 U.K. hit. For the U.S. release, however, Cher sang it, and her version stalled at No. 32 on the American charts. Warwick, who’s joked that she was the 43rd person to sing the song, recorded it only at the insistence of Bacharach, who’d wanted her to sing it all along. (That idea was nixed by the movie studio.) It would reach No. 15. Here she is, in 1972, singing it on Mike Douglas’ afternoon talk show:

And two bonuses…

6) Scott McKenzie – “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).” One of the theme songs to the Summer of Love, this hippie paean was penned by John Phillips (of the Mamas and the Papas) in order to promote the Monterey Pop Festival. This clip finds McKenzie lip-syncing the words on French TV…

7) And, finally: The times they were a-changin’. That’s for sure. On Thursday of the following week, aka June 1st, Jefferson Airplane flew onto the set of American Bandstand and sang the trippy “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love,” which had jumped from No. 22 to No. 17 and was about to rise even higher, No. 9, by week’s end.

Today’s Top 5: A 1970s Potpourri

Some things just take me back – the opening to Room 222, for instance. I’m immediately transported to one summer in the early 1970s when we visited my grandparents on my dad’s side. I remember sitting on the living-room floor in their one-bedroom apartment, eyes glued to their color TV, in awe of the big kids walking across their big campus. I couldn’t wait to grow up.

Those were the years, I should mention, that color TV was a big deal to me. As I wrote a few years ago, we moved to Saudi Arabia in August 1970, when I was 5, and lived there until late May 1975, a month and change before my 10th birthday. While we owned a portable black-and-white TV, and Jeddah’s lone TV station carried some English-language fare, there wasn’t much to watch – Mighty Mouse, The Brady Bunch, The Invaders and UFO are four shows that I recall seeing over there, but never on a regular basis. Often, you’d turn on the TV to find old men playing traditional Middle Eastern music on traditional Middle Eastern instruments – or a test pattern. There either wasn’t a set schedule or I was too young to decipher it; and, even if there was, there were so many other things to do that watching TV was a second- or third-tier activity.

In other respects, however, life – from my perspective, I hasten to add – wasn’t that different than if we’d remained in the States: We lived in a community with other American families, took a bus to an American school, and watched American movies – the compound had an outdoor movie theater, which is where I first saw one of my all-time favorite films, Billy Jack. (Oh, I know: It’s far from a five-star classic. Yet I enjoy it. Like Room 222, it takes me back.)

And, just like other families, we took summer vacations – not to the shore, but Beirut, Ethiopia and Disney World, plus back to Philadelphia to see the grand folks.

Music had yet to become an omnipresent force in my life at that stage, but Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits received a lot of play on my portable record player, especially the novelty historical songs. Another novelty song that my friends and I enjoyed – Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting.”

My parents, on the other hand, weren’t into novelties. They preferred Neil Diamond, including “Holly Holy” –

– and the second side of Tap Root Manuscript. Of course, if we’d remained in the States, we’d have been treated to more of everything – and when TV and music combined, it wouldn’t have (always) been old men playing old music. Check out this cool clip of Neil Diamond, Glen Campbell and Linda Ronstadt from 1971:

Returning to the top: TV themes. This is another one that takes me back – though not to the early ‘70s, but 1977 or ’78, or thereabouts, when I started watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show in reruns. Like Room 222, it made me want to grow up faster.