Category Archives: The Rascals

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.

Advertisements

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.

Top 5 for Sunday, 5/17/2015

Today’s Top 5 – mesmerizing moments from concerts I’ve attended, drawn from clips I’ve uploaded to YouTube.

5) The Rascals – “How Can I Be Sure,” from the Academy of Music in 2013. An absolute delight of a concert. (I wrote a little bit about it here.)

4) Diane Birch – “Tell Me Tomorrow” & “Superstars,” from the World Cafe Live Upstairs in 2013. This is a double-shot from that night, featuring songs from her five-star 2013 Speak a Little Louder album.

3) Jackson Browne – “Running on Empty,” from the Academy of Music in 2014. This song never gets old. (I reviewed the show here, for anyone interested.)

2) The Bangles – “Eternal Flame,” from the World Cafe Live, 2014. This was a perfect end to a perfect show (which I wrote about here).

1)  First Aid Kit – “Heaven Knows,” from the Union Transfer, 2014. This song makes me smile wide every time I listen to it. We’re seeing them again in July, hopefully it’s still in their set. And, yes, I wrote about the night – you can read it here.