Archive for the ‘Album’ Category

First Wednesday: November 1968

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

One of the television pundits in the past few days – I do not recall which one it was – told us that the revival of the presidential campaign of John McCain from its doldrums of the summer of 2007 was the most remarkable political resurrection in recent American history.

That depends on how you define “recent,” of course.

But to me, the most remarkable political resurrection in recent American history culminated with the election of Richard Nixon as president in 1968. Eight years earlier, as a sitting vice-president, Nixon had been defeated for the presidency by Massachusetts Senator John Kennedy. Two years after that, he’d lost a bid for the governorship of California. As Wikipedia notes, “in an impromptu concession speech the morning after the [California] election, Nixon famously blamed the media for favoring his opponent, saying, ‘You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.’”

Six years later, on November 5, 1968, Nixon was elected president of the United States in a three-way race. The election was not only the culmination of Nixon’s retreat, rehabilitation and resurrection (covered in detail by Wikipedia here), but the culmination of an arc of stunning and tragic events that have come to define the entire American year of 1968:

The Tet Offensive in Vietnam, which showed Americans at home that the path to victory in that Southeast Asian nation was not as smoothly laid as politicians and military officials had told them.

The near-defeat of a sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, by Senator Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, a result that spurred Johnson to withdraw from the Democratic presidential campaign, a decision that threw the race into chaos.

The assassinations – in April and June respectively – of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis and Senator Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles. The horror and sorrow of the two murders – coming two months and two days apart – increased the sense of a nation crumbling under the strain of blow after blow, grief after grief.

The upheaval during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August. As millions watched on television, the Democrats wrangled inside the convention hall, unable to unite, while outside, police and demonstrators fought in what was later judged to be “a police riot.” The sight of counter-cultural demonstrators battling police was certainly one of the factors that doomed the chances of Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey in November’s election.

In that election, Humphrey and his running mate, Edmund Muskie of Maine, were facing Republicans Nixon and Governor Spiro Agnew of Maryland. In addition, the campaign included one of the few viable third-party candidacies ever in United States’ history, with former Alabama Governor George Wallace and his running mate Gen. Curtis LeMay heading the American Independent Party, running on a generally anti-Washington platform, especially where it concerned civil rights and the federal government’s efforts toward desegregation.

According to Wikipedia (and this echoes what I recall hearing as a fifteen-year-old at the time), Wallace’s hope for the election was to win enough states and their electoral votes to deny both Nixon and Humphrey the presidency and move the presidential decision into the U.S. House of Representatives (where each state would cast one vote as determined by its delegation of representatives). Presumably, the delegations of the states Wallace had won in the election would follow his lead there and allow him the role of power broker as the House decided the election.

That was Wallace’s goal. The reality was that he won five states – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi – with a total of forty-five electoral votes. But those weren’t enough to forestall Nixon’s victory, as the Republican ticket accumulated 301 electoral votes to 191 for the Humphrey-Muskie ticket. Richard Nixon, six years after proclaiming that he was done with politics, won the presidency.

Folks who play the sometimes fascinating game of Couldabeen have long noted that according to the polls of the time – not nearly as many as there are today – the race between Nixon and Humphrey had tightened in the week before the election. That has prompted some to conclude that had the campaign been one week longer, Humphrey would have overtaken Nixon and won the election. Perhaps. Maybe the movement would have been just enough to throw the election into the House of Representatives (something that has happened only twice before, from what I can tell, in 1800 and 1824).

[Note from 2018: In late October, a plan negotiated in Paris to bring the war in Vietnam to an end was sabotaged by the Nixon campaign, which, through intermediaries, told the government of South Vietnam that a Nixon administration could get South Vietnam a better deal than the one that the U.S. had negotiated for it with North Vietnam. (According to Wikipedia, the South Vietnamese government refused to negotiate directly with the revolutionary guerilla movement known as the Viet Cong, and the government of North Vietnam refused to recognize the legitimacy of the government of South Vietnam. Thus, the U.S. and North Vietnam negotiated for themselves and for their partners.) Whether a peace agreement in late October would have lifted the Humphrey-Muskie ticket to victory is another game of Couldabeen, but revelations over the past fifty years – as reported here in this 2017 piece at the website of the Smithsonian Institution – have confirmed the interference by the Nixon campaign and seem to imply strongly that the candidate directed the interference.]

In any event, the presidential election in November 1968 was when Richard Nixon’s revival peaked (it would move on a downward arc – a seeming inevitability, seen historically – soon enough) and the sad story of 1968 in the United States reached its climax. There was still a good chunk of time left in the year come November 6, the day after the election, but for most of those eight weeks, the nation, I think, was simply exhaling in exhaustion. The list of November events at Wikipedia includes a couple of things happening in Vietnam; one of them is the start of Operation Commando Hunt, a less-than-successful attempt to block the movement by guerillas of men and supplies along the Ho Chi Mihn trail in the supposedly neutral national of Laos.

But looking at the list of November’s events, once past the election, the month seems tranquil, which is not a word that could be used often during 1968. There was one other important event, in retrospect: On November 14, Yale University announced it would admit women. And there was one not-so-important event that nevertheless has an impact today: On November 17, NBC cut away from the last 1:05 of a football game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders to begin its special broadcast of a movie version of the tale Heidi. The Raiders scored two late touchdowns to win 43-32. Thousands of outraged fans protested, and NBC and other networks that air sports programming have since then stayed with sporting events to the very end regardless of the dislocation of the following schedule.

So what was it we were listening to as the votes were being counted on Election Day? Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen for November 2, 1968:

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin
“Little Green Apples” by O.C Smith
“Fire” by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
“Midnight Confessions” by the Grass Roots
“Elenore” by the Turtles
“Over You” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
“Hold Me Tight” by Johnny Nash
“Love Child” by Diana Ross & the Supremes
“White Room” by Cream
“Suzie Q.” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf
“Piece of My Heart” by Big Brother and the Holding Company
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley
“Girl Watcher” by the O’Kaysions

That’s a pretty good mix. I have to admit I’m not familiar with the Johnny Nash single. Maybe it didn’t get airplay here. I dunno. I know the rest well and like most of them. The Gary Puckett single is a little slight. On the other hand, “Fire” is about as powerful a song as you can find in the Top Fifteen, and “Love Child,” “White Room,” “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Piece of My Heart” are top-line singles. I also have a fond spot for “Midnight Confessions.” So when others had the radio on, I was beginning my slow modulation into pop/rock fandom and enjoying much of what I heard.

(I am a bit bothered by never having heard the Johnny Nash track, as far as I know.)

[Note from 2018: I now know the single, and it’s just okay.]

Here’s what Billboard listed as the Top Ten albums on Election Day:

Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Time Peace/The Rascal’s Greatest Hits by the Rascals
The Time Has Come by the Chambers Brothers
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
Crown of Creation by Jefferson Airplane
Wheels of Fire by Cream
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Gentle On My Mind by Glen Campbell
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

This was a pretty good week: It was the fourth week in a row that Big Brother and the Holding Company had held the top spot, buoyed by Janis Joplin’s vocals. The Chambers Brothers’ mix of funk and psychedelia had re-entered the album chart on the strength of a single edited from the album’s title track; the single had peaked at No. 11 in mid-October. And beyond those, there’s a little bit of something for everyone in this Top Ten: Some pop country, some Latin influence, some bluesy psychedelia, some blue-eyed soul, some folk-rock in the quieter moments of the Jefferson Airplane album, and a freak-out or two.

The album I’m sharing today from 1968 is a fairly somber affair. David Ackles’ self-titled debut is one of those records that slowly insinuates itself. It’s subtle, and I’m not sure that consciously listening to it is the way to get into it. I’m probably wandering off into hippie stream of the universe territory here, but David Ackles is an album that – to the extent I know it (and I need to know it better) – I’ve begun to appreciate by having it play when I’m not aware of it.

The next time it plays, the increasing familiarity is pleasing, and even when only one track at a time pops up, a subtle learning of the album brings moments of unexpected recognition.

I dunno. Maybe that’s just the way I need to listen to it. Maybe focusing on 1968 for all these months has tipped me over the edge of perception. [That’s intended to be funny. You can chuckle.] I guess what I’m saying is that conscious listening – as in ‘Oh, what’s he doing with the guitar part and the parallel melody there?” – seems not to get me close to the center of whatever it is Ackles is aiming for. Osmosis seems to work better, and that may be because Ackles’ album is somber.

Here’s what Richie Unterberger of All-Music Guide had to say about David Ackles:

Ackles’ self-titled debut LP introduced a singer/songwriter quirky even by the standards of Elektra records, possibly the most adventurous independent label of the 1960s. Ackles was a pretty anomalous artist of his time, with a low, grumbling voice that was uncommercial but expressive, and similar to Randy Newman’s. As a composer, Ackles bore some similarities to Newman, as well in his downbeat eccentricity and mixture of elements from pop, folk, and theatrical music. All the same, this impressive maiden outing stands on its own, though comparisons to Brecht/Weill (in the songwriting and occasional circus-like tunes) and Tim Buckley (in the arrangements and phrasing) hold to some degree too. This is certainly his most rock-oriented record, courtesy of the typically tasteful, imaginative Elektra arrangements, particularly with Michael Fonfara’s celestial organ and the ethereal guitar riffs (which, again, recall those heard on Buckley’s early albums). As a songwriter, Ackles was among the darkest princes of his time, though the lyrics were delivered with a subdued resignation that kept them from crossing the line to hysterical gloom. “The Road to Cairo,” covered by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, and the Trinity is probably the most famous song here. But the others are quality efforts as well, whether the epics tell of religious trial, as in “His Name Is Andrew,” or the mini-horror tale of revisiting an old home in “Sonny Come Home.”

Beyond the tracks mentioned there, I’d also recommend “Blue Ribbon,” “Laissez-Faire” and “Be My Friend.” And keep an ear out for the organ/piano interplay. Without having the same sonic results, the pairing of those instruments seems to have drawn on similar approaches by Procol Harum and The Band.

Tracks:
The Road To Cairo
When Love Is Gone
Sonny Come Home
Blue Ribbons
What A Happy Day
Down River
Laissez-Faire
Lotus Man
His Name Is Andrew
Be My Friend

David Ackles – David Ackles (1968)

The link above is to a YouTube playlist of the entire album.

First Wednesday: October 1968

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

In October of 1968, the world’s focus – or much of it, anyway – shifted to Latin America.

The main event of the month was the 1968 summer Olympic games, which took place in Mexico City, Mexico, from October 12 through October 27. The games provided, in my memory, two iconic moments: The first is U.S. long jumper Bob Beamon collapsing in disbelief after breaking the world record for the long jump by an astounding 21 inches (55 cm). The second, and likely more well known, is the human rights protest by African-American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their black-gloved hands during the awards ceremony for the 200-meter run.

But several other major events of the month took place in Latin American, the most important of which might have been the Tlatelolco Massacre, as it’s come to be called.

During the night of October 2, military personnel and other men with guns shot at five thousand students and workers who had gathered [to protest] in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City. Ten years ago, Wikipedia noted: “The death toll remains controversial: some estimates place the number of deaths in the thousands, but most sources report between 200 and 300 deaths. The exact number of people who were arrested is also controversial.”

Notes from 2018: The report on the massacre at Wikipedia has changed over the past ten years. Regarding the death toll, the site now says: “According to US national security archives, Kate Doyle, a Senior Analyst of US policy in Latin America, documented the deaths of 44 people; however, estimates of the death toll range the actual number from 300 to 400, with eyewitnesses reporting hundreds dead.”

Beyond that, I am deleting from this post several additional paragraphs about the massacre, as the Wikipedia report has changed substantially in the past ten years, and I cannot be certain of the accuracy of what I wrote a decade ago. That post from ten years ago can be found here, and the current Wikipedia page on the massacre can be found here.

Elsewhere in Latin American that month, Juan Velasco Alverado took power via an October 3 revolution in Peru; in Panama, a military coup d’état led by Col. Boris Martinez and Col. Omar Torrijjos on October 11 overthrew the democratically elected government of President Arnulfo Arias.

There was also unrest in other portions of the world that month: On October 5, police in Derry, Northern Ireland, used batons to subdue civil rights demonstrators, an event often cited as the beginning of that country’s years of violence called The Troubles. In Jamaica, riots broke out on October 16 in response to the government’s banning from the nation the Guyanese author and activist Walter Rodney.

In the U.S., the Defense Department announced on October 14 that the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marines planned to send 24,000 soldiers and marines back to Vietnam for involuntary second tours. Also relating to the war in Vietnam, by the end of the month, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that peace talks in Paris had progressed well enough that he was ordering a cessation of air, naval and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam, effective November 1.

(Cynics in the room might note that Johnson’s announcement and action came days before the U.S. presidential election, which was being contested by Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat; Richard Nixon, a Republican; and George Wallace of the American Independent Party. The announcement seemed to help Humphrey, as polls in the days before the November 5 election showed him gaining ground on Nixon. Political pundits and writers have theorized for [fifty] years that Humphrey would have won the presidency had the election been a week later or had Johnson announced the bombing halt a week earlier.)

So, in the midst of politics and blood and war, what did we hear that month when we sought solace in music?

Here are the top fifteen records in the Billboard Top 40 for October 5, 1968:

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C Riley
“Fire” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
“Little Green Apples” by O.C. Smith
“Girl Watcher” by the O’Kaysions
“Slip Away” by Clarence Carter
“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals
“I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” by the Bee Gees
“1, 2, 3, Red Light” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company
“I Say A Little Prayer” by Aretha Franklin
“Time Has Come Today” by the Chambers Brothers
“Revolution” by the Beatles
“The Fool On The Hill” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66
“Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud” by James Brown
“The House That Jack Built” by Aretha Franklin

Boy, that’s about as representative (and maybe as good) as a top fifteen can get, I’d guess. You’ve got the mainstream rock of the Beatles, the country cross-over from Riley (O.C. Smith’s record might have gotten some country play, too, I think), straight R&B from Aretha and Clarence Carter and some psychedelic R&B from the Chambers Brothers. There’s Arthur Brown’s powerful rock. You’ve got some blue-eyed soul from the Rascals, pop from the O’Kaysions and the Bee Gees, and a little bit of bubble-gum from the 1910 Fruitgum Company. And then there’s James Brown’s uncompromising and funky proto-rap. Wow!

A note from 2018: O.C. Smith’s “Little Green Apples” did not make the country Top 40 in Billboard, which I find a little surprising. The record did, however, go to No. 2 on the magazine’s R&B chart and to No. 4 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart.

For those who bought their music via albums, it was also an interesting month. Here are the Billboard top ten albums for October 5, 1968:

Waiting For The Sun by the Doors
Time Peace/The Rascals’ Greatest Hits by the Rascals
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & The Holding Company
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Gentle On My Mind by Glen Campbell
Realization by Johnny Rivers
Wheels Of Fire by Cream
Steppenwolf by Steppenwolf
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly

There are a number of interesting records and names on that list. What might be most interesting, however, are titles and a name that aren’t there. In the previous week’s listing, the soundtrack to the film The Graduate had been in tenth place, featuring songs by Simon & Garfunkel as well as incidental music from the movie. When that album slipped out of tenth place, it marked the first time since March 16, 1968 – six-and-a-half months – that there was no mention of Simon & Garfunkel on the top ten albums list. Between the soundtrack to The Graduate and their own two albums, Bookends and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, Simon & Garfunkel had dominated the albums list as much as anybody during 1968.

The records that did make up the top ten as October 1968 started are a pretty good bunch themselves. I would say that the only one that hasn’t aged very well at all is the Iron Butterfly, which to me is pretty much a dead end. (I should admit here that I purchased a copy of the group’s Live when it came out in 1970; the incessant noodling on the side-long live version of the group’s hit was even less accomplished than the side-long studio version, so I sold the album to a used record store within days.)

There might be a few quibbles about the quality of the rest of that albums list: Janis Joplin did far better on her own, with better backing musicians, than she did on the Big Brother album, but the record is still an interesting look at her development, as well as an acid-drenched product of its time. As I’ve noted here before, I always have some reservations about the Doors, but Waiting For The Sun has some good work on it, especially the single “Hello I Love You” and a few other tracks, including “The Unknown Soldier” and the pairing of the bluesy “Summer’s Almost Gone” and the awkward waltz of “Wintertime Love.”

Note from 2018: I’m startled that I didn’t single out the Johnny Rivers album for a comment. Any listing I make of my favorite ten albums of all time will, I think, always include Realization.

With those caveats, that’s a pretty good list of albums. And the album I’m posting today comes from the list: José Feliciano’s Feliciano!

As October 1968 began, Feliciano’s version of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” had been in the Billboard Hot 100 for eleven weeks. It had peaked at No. 3, and the album from which it came, Feliciano!, was in its seventh week in the Billboard Top Ten, with seven weeks to come. (It would peak at No. 2 for two weeks in December 1968.) Feliciano, then twenty-three, was a big enough star in October 1968 that he was invited to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium before a World Series game. The performance – a Latin-tinged interpretation – was loved by some and criticized by many. (A single was issued and went to No. 50 during a five-week stay in the Billboard Hot 100.)

There’s no controversy in Feliciano! It’s a solid set of covers, in a style that All-Music Guide tabs as “soulful easy listening,” with Feliciano – who was blinded since birth by glaucoma – working his way through songs by the Beatles, the Mamas and the Papas, Bobby Hebb, Tom Paxton and others, including, of course, the Doors’ “Light My Fire.”

Even with a singer as distinctive as Feliciano, though, performing such well-known songs as “Light My Fire,” “California Dreamin’,” “In My Life,” and “Here, There and Everywhere” can be awkward, if not actually risky. It’s difficult to cover such well-known material and not remind listeners of the originals. Feliciano managed that with “Light My Fire,” I think, and he battles “California Dreamin’” to a draw, but other than those tracks, the best tracks on the album are the lesser-known songs, especially Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing On My Mind” and Fred Neill’s “Just A Little Bit Of Rain.” (The latter song is likely more familiar in the version recorded in the mid-1970s by the Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys.)

Still, Feliciano! is a good, if not great, album and it’s pleasant listening. It was Feliciano’s commercial peak, as only one other single and two of his succeeding albums – and he’s recorded prolifically – reached the Top 40. He continues to record, frequently in Spanish, and released his most recent album, Con Mexico en el Corazon, earlier this year.

Note from 2018: According to Wikipedia, Feliciano has released seven more albums in the past ten years, one in Spanish and six in English (including two that were offered only as digital downloads). His most recent listed is the 2017 album As You See Me Now, recorded with Jools Holland.

The credits for Feliciano! at All-Music Guide are slender and, I think, are incomplete. They do list Ray Brown on bass, Milt Holland on percussion and Jim Horn on flute, alto flute and recorder.

Tracks:
California Dreamin’
Light My Fire
Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying
In My Life
And I Love Her
Nena Na Na
(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me
Just A Little Bit Of Rain
Sunny
Here, There and Everywhere
The Last Thing On My Mind

José Feliciano – Feliciano! [1968]

The link above goes to a playlist of the full album at YouTube.

First Wednesday: September 1968

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

The month of September was a fairly quiet one in 1968, an intermission of sorts. As one looks at the listings of the month’s events at Wikipedia (which is where I start as I examine 1968), only six events are listed, and five of them are:

The African nation of Swazliand became independent on September 6. A September 11 plane crash in the French Mediterranean killed a prominent French general and ninety-four others. A tour of South Africa by England’s Marylebone Cricket Club was canceled September 17 because South Africans “refused to accept the presence” of Basil D’Oliveira, who was of African descent, on the Marylebone team. Marcelo Caetano became prime minister of Portugal on September 27. And a September 29 referendum in Greece gave more power to the ruling military junta.

The sixth event listed, however, becomes a bit more significant with a second look. On September 7, 1968, Wikipedia says, “150 women protest against the Miss America Pageant, as exploitative of women. It is one of the first large demonstrations of Second Wave Feminism.” (First Wave Feminism, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, earned women in the U.S. and the U.K. the right to vote, Wikipedia reports in a different entry, adding that the term “First Wave” was coined retroactively during the 1970s.)

An interesting account of the 1968 protest in Atlantic City is posted at JoFreeman.com, the website of an American feminist, political scientist, writer and attorney. She writes:

The 1968 protest originated with New York Radical Women, one of the earliest women’s liberation groups in the country. About 150 feminists from six cities joined them to show how all women were hurt by beauty competitions. They argued that the contest declared that the most important thing about a woman is how she looks by parading women around like cattle to show off their physical attributes. All women were made to believe they were inferior because they couldn’t measure up to Miss America beauty standards. Women’s liberation would ‘attack the male chauvinism, commercialization of beauty, racism and oppression of women symbolized by the Pageant.’

The Atlanta City (sic) convention center opens onto a vast boardwalk between it and the beach. The large expanse of boards easily seen from the entrance makes it a great place for demonstrations. Women’s liberation took advantage of this to stage several guerilla theater actions. A live sheep was crowned Miss America. Objects of female oppression – high heeled shoes, girdles, bras, curlers, tweezers – were tossed into a Freedom Trash Can. A proposal to burn the can’s contents was scuttled when the police said that a fire would pose a risk to the wooden boardwalk. Women sang songs that parodied the contest and the idea of selling women’s bodies: ‘Ain’t she sweet; making profits off her meat.’ A tall, Miss America puppet was auctioned off.

Sixteen feminists bought tickets to the evening’s entertainment. They smuggled in a banner reading WOMEN’S LIBERATION. Sitting in the front row of the balcony, they unfurled it as the outgoing Miss America made her farewell speech, while shouting ‘Freedom for Women,’ and ‘No More Miss America.’ The pageant continued as though nothing had happened. This action was quickly followed by the release of two stink bombs on the floor of the hall. All protestors were removed from the hall; five were arrested, but later released.

The outrageousness of challenging the Miss America icon brought the press out in droves, putting women’s liberation on the front pages all over the country. From this, women learned that a new feminist movement was emerging and flocked to join.

The 1968 demonstration also saddled women’s liberation with the myth of bra burning. Forevermore the press would repeat that women burned their bras. They never remembered where this was supposed to have occurred, let alone that it never happened.

One could argue, I think, that of all the events of 1968, that cluster of demonstrations at Atlantic City had the greatest long-term impact, starting with American society and Western culture. Those demonstrations certainly caught folks’ attention. I recall the derision and bafflement my pals and I and our parents expressed toward the women who dared to interrupt an American institution like the Miss America pageant with their complaints and demands concerning things we’d never questioned.

But those complaints and demands triggered a slow process in much of the industrialized world. My friends and I and our parents watched in the coming years as our world was changed by feminist ideas, and most of us changed along with it. As a historian of sorts, I know how things have changed over the past forty years, but I’m of utterly the wrong gender to truly gauge the long-term impact of what those women began at Atlantic City in September of 1968.

So I turned to my wife, the Texas Gal, whose mother was a working mom in the 1960s, when there weren’t many such moms around. “She was a feminist by necessity,” the Texas Gal says of her mother. That functional feminism, the Texas Gal says, “made me always assume that I would work and that I would be able to fend for myself.”

Beyond her mom’s example, the Texas Gal adds: “The other thing that feminism did, long-term, was make it possible to be a career woman and still be a woman. For a long time, a career woman had to act like a man. Now a career woman can act like a woman: she can wear jewelry and dress femininely, she can like animals and quilting and cooking, and she can still be respected in the boardroom.”

With that in mind, it’s interesting to take my customary look at the Top Fifteen records of the time and see the Rascals’ “People Got To Be Free” riding at No. 1 for the fourth week in a row on September 7, 1968 (with one more week at No. 1 yet to come). While writers Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati and the rest of the Rascals had their hearts in the right places, it’s worth noting that after singing “People everywhere just wanna be free,” the Rascals later proclaim, “It’s a natural situation for a man to be free,” with no mention of women. One wonders if Cavaliere and Brigati would be so gender-specific were they writing today.

Exclusionary language aside, “People Got To Be Free” is a great single, and it sat atop a good set of singles. Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen from September 7, 1968:

“People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals
“Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf
“Light My Fire” by José Feliciano
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley
“Hello, I Love You” by the Doors
“The House That Jack Built” by Aretha Franklin
“1, 2, 3, Red Light” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co.
“You’re All I Need To Get By” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
“I Can’t Stop Dancing” by Archie Bell & the Drells
“Stay In My Corner” by the Dells
“Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream
“You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by Vanilla Fudge
“Hush” by Deep Purple
“Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues
“Love Makes A Woman” by Barbara Acklin

Actually, that’s not just a good set of singles, that’s a great set. Feliciano’s Latin-inflected “Light My Fire” was an eye-opener, and there’s some solid soul/R&B with the sides by Aretha, Marvin & Tammi, Archie Bell and his boys, the Dells and Barbara Acklin.

And there’s some good rock, too, with Steppenwolf, the Doors, Cream, Vanilla Fudge (the pace of the group’s version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” is about as glacial as rock gets) and Deep Purple (covering a song written by countryish singer-songwriter Joe South).

The only bit of froth that might have made me push the button for another station is “1, 2, 3, Red Light.” The Vogues’ single is pretty light, yeah, but, as I’ve written before, it’s one of those songs that remind me how I felt about a certain young lady (and it doesn’t seem possible that it’s been forty years).

Let’s see if the Billboard top ten albums from the first week of September provided listening as good as the radio did that week:

Waiting For The Sun by the Doors
Time Peace/The Rascals’ Greatest Hits by the Rascals
Wheels of Fire by Cream
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Realization by Johnny Rivers
Steppenwolf by Steppenwolf
Aretha Now by Aretha Franklin
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel

That’s a list that holds up pretty well forty years later. The Johnny Rivers’ album is, as I’ve related here before, one of my favorites and a resident in my all-time Top Ten Albums list. Nothing else here quite approaches that level, but the two records by Cream are superb, as are the albums by Aretha, Feliciano, the Experience and Simon & Garfunkel.

Steppenwolf is pretty good, and the Rascals’ record is a solid collection of their hits (most of which came from the years when the group was called the Young Rascals). And I have fewer problems with Waiting For The Sun than I do with most other albums by the Doors. (It ranks second to Morrison Hotel for me.)

The album I’m sharing today never got to those heights when it came out in 1968, but to me – as I listen in 2008 – it provides an aural landscape that captures that strange, tumultuous, freaky and tragic year as well as anything can.

Sweetwater was an odd band, but that fit right in with the times. As All-Music Guide notes: “An unusual rock group in both the size of their lineup (which numbered eight), the instrumentation employed, and the eclectic scope of their material, Sweetwater didn’t quite get the first-class songs or breaks necessary to make them widely known. Lead singer Nansi Nevens was backed not just by conventional guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards, but also flute . . . conga . . . and cello.”

The group’s first release was all over the stylistic map as well. To cite AMG again: “Their self-titled debut album was the kind of release that could have only been the product of the late ’60s, with the music flying off in all directions, and a major label willing to put it out. Sweetwater blended Californian psychedelia with jazzy keyboards and a classical bent, especially in the flute and cello, but did not cohere into a readily identifiable aesthetic, or write exceptional songs, although they were okay. Perhaps Reprise was willing to give such a hard to market and classify band a shot, figuring that in the midst of psychedelic rock scaling the charts that would have seemed unimaginably weird just a couple of years before, who knew what would sell now?”

All of that is true, yet I find a charm in the album as it wanders all over the landscape. I particularly like the opener, an extended take on the traditional “Motherless Child.” Other highlights for me are “Here We Go Again,” with its swirling vocal and harpsichord-like keyboard; “Come Take A Walk” with its mellow flute (and its hippie-ish lyric, too); “My Crystal Spider,” with its odd shifts in style; and “Why, Oh Why” with its frenetic violin.

The only track that’s not particularly complelling, actually, is “What’s Wrong,” a classic 1960s litany of the ails of society, but then, overt preaching is never as fun to listen to as is subtle persuasion.

Overall, Sweetwater is a pretty good listen, if a bit derivative: listeners will notice a very clear sonic resemblance to Jeffeson Airplane. Sweetwater’s not as good as the Airplane, of course, but not many bands were. And Sweetwater was plagued by bad luck: In December 1969, four months after the band was the first group to take the stage at Woodstock, lead singer Nevins was in an auto accident. Her vocal cords were damaged and she had severe brain injuries; she was in a coma for weeks and needed therapy for years. The band’s second album – for which Nevins had recorded a couple of tracks before the accident – was completed without her and did not sell well. After a third album in 1971, the band broke up.

AMG notes: “The surviving trio of Nevins, keyboardist Alex Del Zoppo and bassist Fred Herrera reunited Sweetwater in 1997, and two years later – to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Woodstock – cable network VH1 produced and broadcast a film about the group, with Felicity co-star Amy Jo Johnson cast as Nansi Nevins; the picture sparked a considerable resurgence of interest in the group, and that same year Rhino released Cycles, a limited-edition retrospective of their work for Reprise.”

Tracks:
Motherless Child
Here We Go Again
For Pete’s Sake
Come Take A Walk
What’s Wrong
In A Rainbow
My Crystal Spider
Rondeau
Two Worlds
Through An Old Storybook
Why Oh Why

Sweetwater – Sweetwater [1968]

(The link is to a YouTube playlist of the full album.)

First Wednesday: August 1968

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

For years, just to confound people, when bull sessions turned to politics and to the public upheaval that frequently accompanied politics in the 1960s and 1970s, I’d nod and say quietly, “I was in Chicago in ’68.”

The other folks would get quiet, look at me – I’ve always looked younger than I am, a genetic trait that I now cherish in my mid-fifties – and wonder. Some asked me if things had been as bad as they saw on TV, and I could honestly say they were worse. Some might ask if I had been in danger.

And I’d laugh and then ’fess up: I was fourteen and was actually in the suburb of Morton Grove that week in August 1968, spending one night in the Chicago area with my parents as we headed east on vacation. Nevertheless, as my parents and I watched the events inside and outside the International Amphitheatre on the north end of Chicago that evening, we were less than fifteen miles from the absurd, troubling, heartbreaking and utterly unnecessary confusion and violence that surrounded the Democratic National Convention during its four-day run in the Windy City.

The confusion of the Democrats inside the amphitheater and the continued confrontations between police and protestors outside made the convention another one of those touchpoints of 1968, a year that continued to lay trouble upon trouble, grief upon grief. By the time the convention ended on Friday, August 30, the angry confrontations between the authorities and the protestors – the Youth International Party (Yippies), the Black Panthers and numerous other protest groups, some serious and some less so – had degenerated into what an investigating commission later termed a “police riot.”

(Along that line, in one of the few moments of levity to come from the Chicago convention, Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley, frequently conversationally challenged, defined the role of law enforcement in his city thusly: “Gentlemen, get the thing straight once and for all – the policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”)

Watching the televised chaos that evening in a motel room so very close to the scenes we were seeing was – as was so much that year – confusing and dismaying. I stared at the scenes of bitter argument and confrontation inside the amphitheater and I stared at the scenes we saw of confrontation and violence outside the amphitheater. We saw on television, I am sure, less than what went on, but the news anchors and reporters for whatever network we were watching made frequent reference to the violence taking place in the streets of Chicago. And I do recall wondering, as I sat in our hotel room: Is this how grown-ups solve things?

But I also saw on television something that gave me hope. One of the heroes of the convention – and there were few of those in retrospect – was Georgia’s Julian Bond, who had led a civil-rights based challenge to the regular delegation sent by the Georgia Democratic Party. The challenge succeeded. As a token of respect (and I believe this took place during the evening my parents and I were in Morton Grove, fifteen miles away), Bond’s name was placed in nomination for the office of vice-president of the United States. He was forced to withdraw as he was only twenty-eight, seven years shy of the constitutional age requirement of thirty-five, but that evening, forty years ago, Julian Bond became the first African American man to be nominated for a national office by a major party.

The Democratic National Convention in Chicago might have been the largest news event of the month, and, as it came at the end of the month, it tended to wash over those events that had come before. But there were at least two other events worth nothing:

The Republican National Convention took place in Miami, Florida, during the first week of August. The Republicans nominated former vice-president Richard Nixon for president and Spiro Agnew, governor of Maryland, for vice-president. Nixon’s nomination was one more step in one of the most remarkable political resurrections in American history, and Agnew’s nomination was an utter surprise and puzzle. “Spiro who?” was the reaction of many news producers and news consumers. (Both were elected twice, of course, and both resigned in disgrace, Agnew in October 1973 and Nixon in August 1974.)

The other event worth noting was the crushing of what was known as the Prague Spring in the now dismantled nation of Czechoslovakia. In his book In Europe, Geert Mak writes:

“In January, orthodox Communist Party leader Antonín Novotný was replaced by the amiable Alexander Dubček, who immediately loosened reins: press, radio and television were allowed to criticise the regime freely, persecuted writers and intellectuals were granted amnesty, and plans were made to reform the economy along Western lines. The impending thaw became visible in the streets of Prague, in the length of men’s hair, the cautious miniskirts, the screening of Western movies . . .”

An opposition newspaper published an essay about true democracy by playwright Václav Havel: “Democracy is not a matter of faith but of guarantees” that allow “a public and legal competition for power.” Mak notes that all 250,000 copies of the newspaper sold out in a few hours.

But the changes were short-lived. On the night of August 21, a half-million soldiers from the Soviet Union and four other members of the military Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia and ended the experiments. New leader Gustáv Husák reversed almost all of Dubček’s reforms.

(Dubček managed to survive, not a minor accomplishment, and after communist rule over the country ended, served in Czechoslovakia’s Federal Assembly as a member of the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia before dying in 1992 from injuries sustained in an auto accident. Havel, the writer quoted above, was imprisoned during the late 1970s for his work for human rights; after the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989, Havel was elected the last president of Czechoslovakia and – in 1992 – the first president of the Czech Republic.)

On a personal level, August 1968 brought one major first: I earned a substantial sum of money for the first time by working at the first of three annual state trap shoots at a nearby gun club. As I wrote some time back, I earned $40 that first summer and learned that the tarry powder from the trap targets did nasty things to my skin. My face turned brown and its skin turned leathery for a few days before peeling off in large hunks. But the $40 seemed worth it, and the drudgery of spending nine to ten hours a day in a little blockhouse halfway underground was tempered by the songs on the radio I brought with me. Looking at the top fifteen records in the Billboard Hot 100 from August 3, 1968, I can remember hearing every one of them many times during the trap shoot:

“Hello, I Love You” by the Doors
“Classical Gas” by Mason Williams
“Stoned Soul Picnic” by the 5th Dimension
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela
“Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones
“Lady Willpower” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
“The Horse” by Cliff Nobles
“Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues
“Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream
“Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf
“Pictures of Matchstick Men” by the Status Quo
“People Got to Be Free” by the Rascals
“Sky Pilot (Part 1)” by Eric Burdon & the Animals
“This Guy’s in Love With You” by Herb Alpert

Generally, when I cite Top Tens or Top Fifteens here, I have a quibble or two. But not this time. I imagine that some might find the Vogues’ entry a little slight, but for me it’s a cherished song, and that’s a great Top Fifteen.

So let’s take a look at the top ten from the album chart from that week and see if we stay as lucky.

The Beat of the Brass by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
Wheels of Fire by Cream
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Graduate soundtrack by Simon & Garfunkel/Dave Grusin
Aretha Now by Aretha Franklin
Time Peace/The Rascal’s Greatest Hits by the Rascals
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
A Tramp Shining by Richard Harris
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Honey by Andy Williams

Well, I could live without the Andy Williams, but other than that, it’s pretty good. I do have two caveats: I think that the Jimmy Webb/Richard Harris opus “MacArthur Park” is one of those records people either love or hate, so that would determine the fate of A Tramp Shining. For my part, I like the single and the album. And maybe the Herb Alpert/TJB album is a little soft once you get past “This Guy’s in Love With You.” But in general, that’s a good bunch of albums.

The album I’m sharing today actually came out in October 1968 and quickly became a classic of its type. Jackie DeShannon’s Laurel Canyon didn’t sell well enough to make the Billboard Top LP’s chart (now the Billboard 200), but as a snapshot of 1968 life in southern California, the record loomed larger than its sales, an assessment that Jason Ankeny, writing for All-Music Guide, agreed with:

Laurel Canyon wonderfully captures the natural, idyllic vibe of its titular setting, the creative nexus of the late-’60s Los Angeles music scene. Swapping the polished pop approach of Jackie DeShannon’s past hits for an appealingly rough-edged country-soul sensibility, the record celebrates a place and time that transcended the physical world to signify a virtual Garden of Eden for the flower-power generation. Featuring extensive contributions from pianist Mac ‘Dr. John’ Rebennack and guitarist Russ Titleman, Laurel Canyon boasts a swampy, lived-in charm that perfectly complements DeShannon’s sexily gritty vocals. Her soulful reading of the Band’s ‘The Weight’ anticipates Aretha Franklin’s like-minded cover, but most impressive are originals like ‘Holly Would’ and the title cut, which eloquently articulate the rustic beauty of their creator’s environs.”

Beyond those three tracks mentioned there, which are stand-outs, I’d also recommend “She’s My Best Friend” (written by Don MacAllister), “Bitter Honey” (written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols) and the album’s closer, DeShannon’s own “L.A.”

Musicians on Laurel Canyon were: Mack Rebbenack on piano, Harold R. Batiste Jr. on electric piano, Russ Titleman on acoustic guitar, Craig Tarwater on electric guitar, Ray Trainer on bass and Paul Humphrey and Abe Mills on drums. Background vocals were by Barry White (yes, that Barry White), Brendetta Davis and Don MacAllister. The album was arranged by Battiste; Charles Greene & Brian Stone were the producers.

(In the years I’ve been collecting vinyl, I’ve only seen one copy of this album, the one in poor condition that I bought in September of 1999. The only available CD of the album is a British import [though these days, I’m not certain that’s a major distinction as far as availability is concerned]. This rip is from that CD; I found it online about two years ago. If you like the album, go find the CD if you can. Another note: The artist’s name is spelled both “De Shannon” and “DeShannon” on the record itself. I’ve gone with the latter spelling.)

Ten years later, getting a physical copy of the album is a hard buy: At Amazon today, a used vinyl copy of Laurel Canyon will run almost twenty-seven bucks, and a new copy will cost you $199.99. A used CD will cost at least $86.92. But the album is available in mp3s for $8.99. If one goes that route (or goes for the expensive CD), the album comes with eight bonus tracks, four written and produced by Bobby Womack.

Tracks and writers:
Laurel Canyon (Jackie DeShannon)
Sunshine of Your Love (Jack Bruce-Peter Brown-Eric Clapton)
Crystal Clear (Ray Trainer)
She’s My Best Friend (Don MacAllister)
I Got My Reason (Barry White)
Holly Would (Jackie DeShannon)
You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me (William Robinson)
The Weight (Jamie Robertson)
Bitter Honey (Paul Williams & Roger Nichols)
Come and Stay With Me (Jackie DeShannon)
L.A. (Jackie DeShannon)
Too Close (Jackie DeShannon, Charles Greene & Brian Stone)

The link below goes to a playlist of the remastered Laurel Canyon (with the above mentioned bonus tracks) at YouTube.

Jackie DeShannon – Laurel Canyon [1968]

First Wednesday: May 1968

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

When one looks back at the major events of 1968 – or of any year, for that matter – there is generally a kind of storybook quality about them: They happened, they got attention, but they didn’t really affect us or the people around us.

What I mean is: No matter how awful – or in rare cases, beneficial – an event might be that is large enough to attract the attention of the world, simply because of sheer numbers, it rarely affects us or someone we know. To put it in the perspective of an event I mentioned in my look at March 1968, very few of us in the U.S. knew someone involved with the massacre at My Lai. As horrible as it was, when the tale of the massacre became public, very few of us had our revulsion augmented by the fact that we knew someone who had pulled a trigger or knew someone who was murdered or had a loved one murdered. And as powerful and terrible as the events of 1968 had so far been as we entered May, most of us were still spectators, gaping at the display.

But in May, as obliquely as it might have been, a major news story touched down at our home in St. Cloud. It wasn’t tragic, it could have had a far greater impact than it did, but it was there.

What became known as mai 68 in France began, says Wikipedia, as a series of student strikes that broke out in May at universities and schools in Paris, “following confrontations with university administrators and the police.” The French government, led by President Charles de Gaulle, attempted to end the strikes with more police action, but that only made matters worse.

There were street battles with the police in the Latin Quarter of Paris, followed by “a general strike by students and strikes throughout France by ten million French workers, roughly two-thirds of the French workforce. The protests reached such a point that de Gaulle created a military operations headquarters to deal with the unrest, dissolved the National Assembly and called for new parliamentary elections for June 23.”

Wikipedia further notes: “May ’68 was a political failure for the protesters, but it had an enormous social impact. In France, it is considered to be the watershed moment that saw the replacement of conservative morality (religion, patriotism, respect for authority) with the liberal morality (equality, sexual liberation, human rights) that dominates French society today. Although this replacement did not take place solely in this one month, the term mai 68 is used to refer to the shift in values, especially when referring to its most idealistic aspects.”

In St. Cloud, at my home, we watched the events of about four thousand miles away with great interest. I remember seeing students at the barricades in the streets of Paris, both on television and in photos in newspapers and magazines. Why did it matter? Because my sister, three years older than I and about to graduate from high school, was scheduled to spend six weeks in France that summer – near Paris, I believe – studying French language and culture.

Her six weeks would begin in July, but as the events of May wore on, I seem to remember my sister and my parents being kept informed by the sponsoring agency. There was some concern that the program might have to be canceled. Now, a Midwestern girl not getting her chance to go to France pales, I know, when compared with many of the wounds that the year of 1968 was inflicting. But it would have saddened her greatly, and grief is grief. As it happened, the furor in France died down as the summer came, and the sponsoring agency found a place to host the program in the city of Narbonne, just off the Mediterranean Sea. My sister got her time in France.

The uncertainty, though, had a point, as I look back at it. It was a lesson, as if the universe were pointing out that large events are more than tales on a storyboard: They touch people’s lives.

Beyond the upheaval in France, May of 1968 was a relatively tranquil month, according to the list of events at Wikipedia, almost as if the world were catching its breath for what was to come. Still, relatively tranquil is not tranquil.

There were increasing protests in the United States against the war in Vietnam. In Catonsville, Maryland, a group that came to be called the Catonsville Nine went to the local draft board on May 17. Two brothers who were Catholic priests, Fr. Daniel Berrigan and Fr. Philip Berrigan, headed the group. At the draft board office, Wikipedia says, the nine protestors “took 378 draft files, brought them to the parking lot in wire baskets, dumped them out, poured homemade napalm over them, and set them on fire.” They were tried in federal court in October and found guilty of “destruction of U.S. property, destruction of Selective Service files, and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967.”

The breakaway Nigerian province of Biafra was surrounded by the Nigerian army. This contributed, Wikipedia notes, “to a humanitarian disaster as the surrounded population was already suffering with hunger and starvation.” Efforts to relive the privation were launched around the developed word. Wikipedia once more: “It has been argued that by prolonging the war the Biafran relief effort (characterized by Canadian development consultant Ian Smillie as ‘an act of unfortunate and profound folly’), contributed to the deaths of as many as 180,000 civilians.”

The images we saw from Biafra in the news were truly horrible. If the name of the province/nation is unfamiliar to you, Google it and click on the image search.

There’s no way to write a paragraph of transition from starving Biafrans to the Top 40 without seeming utterly callous. So let’s just acknowledge, I guess, that some folks could play while some starved. It’s always been so, and – unhappily – it will likely always be so.

Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen for the week of May 4, 1968:

“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Cry Like A Baby” by the Box Tops
“Young Girl” by the Union Gap Featuring Gary Puckett
“Lady Madonna” by the Beatles
“Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & the Drells
“I Got The Feelin’” by James Brown & The Famous Flames
“Cowboys to Girls” by the Intruders
“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra and Chorus
“A Beautiful Morning” by the Rascals
“The Unicorn” by the Irish Rovers
“If You Can Wait” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
“Dance to the Music” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Take Time To Know Her” by Percy Sledge
“Summertime Blues” by Blue Cheer
“The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde” by Georgie Fame

Not a bad batch, with the exception of Bobby Goldsboro and the Irish Rovers. “Young Girl” might be a little creepy, given today’s point of view, but I’m not sure we thought about it like that back then. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the Intruders’ record. I might recognize it, but I’m not sure.

Here are the Top 10 albums in Billboard from that first week of May 1968:

The Graduate by Simon & Garfunkel/soundtrack
Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly soundtrack
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With by Bill Cosby
The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

A couple things jump out. First, it was a very good spring for Simon & Garfunkel. In its second week on the charts, Bookends had jumped from No. 71 to No. 4, and it would stay on the album chart for another thirty-eight weeks. The soundtrack to The Graduate was in its fifth week at No. 1 with four weeks to go during a forty-seven week stay on the chart. And Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme ,which came out in 1966, had re-entered the Top Ten in early April and would stay until late June, eventually cataloging sixty weeks in the Top 40.

The other thing I noticed is that Are You Experienced had popped back into the Top Ten after falling out. The last week in April, the first album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience had been at No. 13. The first week in May, it was at No. 10, in its thirty-eighth week in the Top 40. The record had done the same thing in February, popped into the Top Ten and then out again, as well as twice in 1967, in October and December. (Its peak position had been No. 5, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums and it would be in the Top 40 for a total of seventy-seven weeks.)

And from the vantage point of fifty years later, I wince as I see one of Bill Cosby’s comedy albums on the chart. I had one of them, Wonderfulness, which I bought in 1967. Does that also make me wince? Only a little. I was fourteen. My copy of Wonderfulness, which I would guess hadn’t been played since the late 1960s, went out the door during the Great Vinyl Selloff a little more than a year ago. Did I sell it because of the allegations of criminal sexual behavior (now, in one case, found to be true) or because I no longer wanted it? A little of both, I’d guess.

The album I’m sharing today would enter the Top 40 during the second week of May. It would be a short stay – just six weeks – and the album would peak at No. 29, but in terms of quality and in terms of influence, Jerry Butler’s The Ice Man Cometh would shine as brightly as anything released in 1968.

Butler came out of Chicago and joined the Impressions in the late 1950s, hitting with, among others, “For Your Precious Love,” which, in 1958, went to No. 11 on two of the Billboard pop charts of the day and to No. 3 on the magazine’s rhythm and blues chart. He then left the group and moved to the Chicago-based Vee-Jay label in 1960. Six Top 40 hits followed through 1963, the biggest of them being “He Will Break Your Heart,” which went to No. 7 on the pop chart and spent seven weeks on top of the R&B chart in 1960.

In 1967, Butler signed with Mercury, and after one Top 40 hit – “Mr. Dream Merchant” went to No. 38 (No. 23, R&B) – went into the studio with two producers being allowed to helm an album on their own for the first time: Leon Gamble and Kenneth Huff. The resulting record threw off four Top 40 hits and started Gamble and Huff along the way to their near-domination of the charts in the 1970s with their Philadelphia International label, which had a roster that included Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, the O’Jays, the Three Degrees, MFSB and more.

That’s not to say The Ice Man Cometh serves only as an appetizer, as a preview of coming attractions. It’s a great album on its own, as Butler’s combination of smooth and gritty is echoed by Gamble and Huff’s setting the blues-based rhythm section to work against pop-based strings and background vocals. The four singles that came from the record were “Never Give You Up” (which went to No. 20 pop, No. 4 R&B), “Hey, Western Union Man,” (No. 16 pop, No. 1, R&B), “Are You Happy” (No. 39 pop, No. 9 R&B) and the record’s single best track, “Only the Strong Survive,” which topped out at No. 4 on the pop chart and at No. 1 for two weeks on the R&B chart.

(Lovers of Elvis Presley will recall that the King covered “Only the Strong Survive” during his sessions in Memphis in early 1969. When they listen to Butler’s version, they’ll see where Elvis got his ideas. Don’t get me wrong: Elvis’ version of “Only the Strong Survive” is a great record. It’s just not as good as the original.)

Track list:
Hey Western Union Man
Can’t Forget About You, Baby
Only The Strong Survive
How Can I Get In Touch With You
Just Because I Really Love You
Lost
Never Give You Up
Are You Happy?
(Strange) I Still Love You
Go Away – Find Yourself
I Stop By Heaven

Video unavailable.

First Wednesday: April 1968

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll update our examination of charts from fifty years ago and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

Forty years ago this evening, I went into the living room to watch something on television. It was just after dinner and dishes, so it was somewhere between six and half-past six. Or maybe it was nearly seven o’clock. I’m not sure, and I have no idea what it was I was planning to watch that Thursday evening.

The television schedule for that evening shows nothing I’d have been interested in: Batman, The Flying Nun, Cimmaron Strip and Daniel Boone occupied the hour between half-past six and half-past seven. I’m sure I was planning to watch as much as I could that evening of a Minnesota North Stars playoff game from Los Angeles, but that would be later. When I turned the television on that evening, it was still light outside.

But almost as soon I turned the television on, it was dark. One of the national newscasters – I do not recall which one – told me and millions more that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed that evening in Memphis, Tennessee. He had been shot while on the balcony of his motel room, preparing for another evening of supporting the sanitation workers’ strike that had brought him to the city.

I was fourteen but already had – as I’ve noted before – a sense of news and a sense of history. I imagine I went and told my parents the news, but I know I sat in front of the television for a couple hours as the white men employed by whatever network I was watching tried to make sense of the assassination of a black leader. Except they couldn’t make sense of it, of course. It was one more brick of insanity falling in place in the mad wall that 1968 was building.

Campaigning in inner city Indianapolis that evening, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy found himself relating the news of Dr. King’s assassination to a crowd of black supporters. “It fell to Kennedy,” writes Tom Brokaw in his book, Boom!, “to deliver the news, which was so shocking and unexpected that it took everyone a few moments to absorb the enormity of the fact.”

Brokaw goes on:

“As he stood in the darkness, illuminated only by the lights of news cameras, Kennedy talked gently but intensely about the need to resist ‘hatred and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction . . .’ he said, ‘or we can make an effort as Martin Luther King did to . . . remove that stain of bloodshed that spread across our land’.”

In what Brokaw calls “one of the most powerful speeches of Kennedy’s career, delivered extemporaneously,” the senator told the crowd:

Aeschylus once wrote: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country; whether they be white or whether they be black. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world.

There was no violence in Indianapolis that night, but riots broke out starting that night and over the next few days in more than a hundred U.S. cities in response to Dr. King’s murder, including – according to Wikipedia – Baltimore, Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. In an event that may or may not have been related but that added to the tension in the country, two days after Dr. King was murdered, a shootout in California between Oakland police and members of the Black Panthers resulted in several deaths, including that of Panther Bobby Hutton, who was sixteen.

Racial tension continued to spark riots through the spring, as in Louisville, Kentucky, in late May, where rumors that white authorities were intentionally delaying a plane that was bringing black leader Stokely Carmichael to Louisville triggered two days of rioting in the city’s west end. A year already bad was getting worse.

Also that month, Rudi Dutschke, the head of APO, a German left-wing student organization opposed to the sitting government, was attacked and injured April 11 (he would die eleven years later from his brain injuries). The same day, German left-wing students blockaded the Berlin headquarters of the Springer Press. Many of them were arrested, including Ulrike Meinhof, who in the next few years would organize the Red Army Faction, a German revolutionary organization.

From April 23 through April 30, protestors at Columbia University in New York took over administration buildings and shut down the university. Wikipedia says the “protests erupted . . . after students discovered links between the university and the institutional apparatus supporting the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, as well as their concern over an allegedly segregatory gymnasium to be constructed in a local park.”

From where I sat in the American Midwest, the world was falling apart. That wall of insane bricks the year was building, seemingly of its own accord, was getting larger. At the end of the month, there was an event that, looking back, provides a smile. At the time, though, it did nothing more for people of my parents’ generation than provide another bit of confirmation that the world was indeed going mad: On April 29, the musical Hair – with its songs about drugs and sex and its on-stage nudity – opened on New York City’s Broadway.

Within a year, despite its depravity, Hair would spin off four Top Ten singles for four different groups or performers: “Hair” by the Cowsills (No. 2), “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by the 5th Dimension (No. 1), “Good Morning Starshine” by Oliver (No. 3) and “Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night (No. 4).

But those hits came in 1969. What was it we were listening to during the first week of April 1968, when the bricks began to fall faster?

Here’s the Top 15 from Billboard for the first week of April 1968:

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
“Young Girl” by the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett
“Valleri” by the Monkees
“La-La Means I Love You” by the Delfonics
“(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” by Aretha Franklin
“Cry Like A Baby” by the Box Tops
“Lady Madonna” by the Beatles
“The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” by Georgie Fame
“Love is Blue” by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
“Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro
“Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)” by Manfred Mann
“Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co.
“Scarborough Fair/Canticle” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Dance To The Music” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Kiss Me Goodbye” by Petula Clark

If nothing else, it was a great time to seek solace with a radio (with the probable exception of “Honey”; I can live with “Simon Says”). Some folks, of course, liked their music in long form. Here’s what the Top Ten album chart looked like during the first week of April 1968:

The Graduate by Simon & Garfunkel/Soundtrack
Blooming Hits by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra
Aretha: Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin
The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
Valley of the Dolls by Dionne Warwick
John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan
Disraeli Gears by Cream
Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly soundtrack

If one were looking at that as a shopping list, there are only a couple of hitches. One could get by without The Graduate for the most part as long as he or she had three Simon & Garfunkel albums: Sounds of Silence; Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme; and the forthcoming Bookends. That would give the listener all the S&G songs from the movie except for one version of “Mrs. Robinson.” Completists, of course, would need The Graduate.

Other than that, the only album that’s not essential to get a musical sense of 1968 would be the Dionne Warwick record. The album’s two hits – the title song and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” – don’t gain anything by being heard in the context of the album, which has otherwise always seemed extraneous to me. The Paul Mauriat album, on the other hand, has always been enjoyable, from the hit title song on down, a remnant of the times – not all that far gone – when the album charts were dominated by pretty music and not by rock.

The album shared here today, Tom Rush’s The Circle Game, was not nearly that large a seller. I’m not sure where it ranked in sales when it was released in 1968; all I can safely say is that it did not reach the Top 40 album chart. Nor did its creator ever have a Top 40 hit.

[Ten years later, with a larger reference library, I can say that The Circle Game peaked at No. 68 on the Billboard 200 during a fourteen-week run in the spring and early summer of 1968. It was the best chart performance of any of Rush’s albums. And the best any single of his did was in early 1971, when “Who Do You Love” bubbled under for five weeks, peaking at No. 105.)

Rush, a native of New Hampshire, came to public attention through the folk scene in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the early 1960s. His early work, according to the first edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, “placed him squarely in the folk-blues vein of contemporaries John Hammond and Koerner, Ray & Glover.”

A move to Elektra Records for 1965’s Tom Rush brought some experimentation with song choices and performing styles. The 1966 follow-up, Take A Little Walk With Me, which featured one side of rock-styled performances and one side of country/folk blues, was well-received.

It was in 1968, with The Circle Game, that Rush hit his high-water mark, according to the Rolling Stone guide. Rush’s choice of songs is impeccable: The record draws from the catalogs of the then-unknown trio of Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor, and Rush provides a couple of good originals, with one of them – “No Regrets” – being one of those songs a writer hears once and immediately wishes he had written.

Beyond “No Regrets,” the record’s highlights include two of the Mitchell compositions – the title song, which Mitchell released on Ladies of the Canyon in 1970, and “Urge for Going,” which she placed on the B-side of “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” in 1972. The Rolling Stone guide says Rush’s take on “Urge For Going” sums up the atmosphere of The Circle Game, saying that the song’s “low-key, spare arrangement characterizes the educated, wistful and warm style Rush had evolved.”

Rush’s performance of Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves” is also effective. If I have a quibble about the album, it’s that sometimes the arrangements behind the songs are a bit lush. It’s a mood that works for the most part, but sometimes I’d like something a little more spare. But that’s a minor quibble about a very good record.

Tracks
Tin Angel
Something in the Way She Moves
Urge for Going
Sunshine, Sunshine
The Glory of Love
Shadow Dream Song
The Circle Game
So Long
Rockport Sunday
No Regrets