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.
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.