Category Archives: Peter Paul & Mary

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:

 

Advertisements

Of Rallies Past: B.B. King, Stephen Stills & … Walter Mondale?!

The presidential election of 1984 was the electoral version of a squash match. Think Hulk Hogan battling the “unpredictable” Johnny Rodz or Rowdy Roddy Piper “interviewing” Frankie Williams on Piper’s Pit – that was, to be blunt, President Ronald Reagan v. Walter Mondale. Everyone but the world’s biggest Democratic mark knew who would win the minute Mondale nabbed his party’s nomination.

Oh, sure, there was a mid-match flurry when the challenger seemed like he might pull off an upset – the first debate, when Reagan came across as even more clueless than usual. But, just as with any squash match, the flurry petered out as quickly as it began. Reagan took his vitamins, said his prayers, and…

It doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter much to me then, either. I was (and remain) a political creature, but establishment candidates simply didn’t and don’t engender much in the way of passion. At that point in time, Gary Hart was more my speed. (This was pre-Monkey Business, mind you.) He preached a pragmatic approach that many on the left decried as “centrist” while many on the right (predictably) called “liberal.” He recognized, he said, the need to rein in government spending, reform the military, reduce unnecessary regulations and maintain a social-safety net for those in need. He was prepared to piss off both ends of the political spectrum, in other words.

mondale_rally003Whether that was true, I don’t know. Politicians of all persuasions make promises they won’t or can’t keep. But this I do know: I was 19 that fall, and knee-deep into the music of Crosby, Stills & Nash. And, lo and behold, Stephen Stills was slated to appear at a Walter Mondale rally at JFK Plaza in Philadelphia on Oct. 22, 1984, the day after the second Reagan-Mondale debate. Also on the bill: B.B. King; Peter, Paul & Mary; and, for some odd reason, Tony Randall.

I took the train into Philly, wandered around until I found JFK Plaza and managed to park myself in front of the stage – as the photos show.

Ibb_king_mondale don’t remember much of the event beyond this: B.B. King came out first and blazed an electric set of songs that I’d never before heard, including – I think – “The Thrill Is Gone.” Stills was up next, acoustic guitar in hand, and his set consisted of “Change Partners,” “Teach Your Children” and – possibly – “Daylight Again” and “Word Game.” I’m uncertain about those last two. Peter, Paul & Mary completed the warm-up with some of their greatest hits – which hits, however, I can’t say. They’ve been lost to time.

mondale_rally001

Also lost: pictures. I dropped my camera at some point, the back popped open and the film spilled out. Some photos were not exposed, but many were.

mondale_rally006Anyway, Tony Randall then introduced Mondale. I have no doubt that the former vice president was a good man, but he was not a charismatic speaker. I’m fairly certain folks applauded at the end of his speech not for anything he said but because it was over. The event concluded with Stills and Randall joining PPM for “This Land Is Your Land.”

stills_mary_and_paul

mondale_rally001 (2)Most of the audience scattered afterwards, but it soon became apparent that quite a few of us descended on JFK Plaza not to hear Mondale, but to see (and hopefully meet) the performers. Stills, for instance, came out, signed autographs – including one for me – and basically held court with about 20 or 30 fans. I said he should have done “For What It’s Worth”; he shook his head and said, “I’d need a piano for that.” He seemed like a nice guy.

One of the other fans there, a college kid like me, turned out to be more than a fan. He was a music geek. We talked for close to an hour about Stills, Paul Simon and other common favorites – he was positive that Stills’ 1975 album, titled Stills, was on a par with Simon’s best work; I wasn’t so sure. (Don’t get me wrong: It’s a good album, but not Stills’ best and definitely no There Goes Rhymin’ Simon.)

Anyway, come election day, the expected happened; and life, to no one’s surprise, went on. Well, for everyone but Opus…

mondale_rally004 (1)