Saturday Single No. 546

Let’s go – and as I write that, my mind automatically fills in “to San Francisco,” channeling the Flower Pot Men’s British hit (No. 4) from 1967 – so what the hell, let’s go there.

It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, when thousands of real hippies and wannabees and lost children made their ways to San Francisco to hang around the Haight, get groovy, listen to music, and either find or lose themselves.

Okay, that’s kind of cynical. Maybe.

Was the hippie invasion and the Summer of Love a construct of the mass media whose reporters and columnists had no idea what was going on but had to package it somehow? Or was it an organic thing that the media discovered? Or was it something else?

It really doesn’t matter. If it was a construct, the construct became the real thing and the real thing got subsumed into the construct, and we can debate metahistory and microhistory and the McLuhanesque Ideal and the Friedling Fallacy all day (and all of the night) and come to no conclusions.

The Summer of Love, from where I sit in the cheap seats today (and from the Midwestern perch from where I saw the news reports fifty years ago), brought a few things that lasted: Some good music, a case study in Pied Piper media frenzy, and a reaffirmation of San Francisco’s lasting and perhaps pre-eminent place in American culture as a destination where one can alternately find or lose or sell or buy one’s self all with the purpose of being the best self one can be.

That lasting and possibly pre-eminent place in our culture is borne out (from my narrow perspective) by the number of songs from all eras that use San Francisco as either a place or a metaphor or both. Digging just into the digital shelves here (and looking only at titles), the summer of 1967 alone offered us the record by the Flower Pot Men (the single was by British session artists with the omnipresent Tony Burrows on lead vocal; there’s also an album, which I’ve heard but know little about) and the anthemic “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” by Scott McKenzie, penned by John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas.

There are also on the 1967 shelves here a few of the no doubt numerous covers of the McKenzie record, a version of Jesse Fuller’s oft-covered “San Francisco Bay Blues” by Richie Havens, and one very odd track that made me stop for a moment.

I have too many tracks on the digital shelves that reference San Francisco in their titles to deal with all of them on a Saturday. So let’s call this the first in a series that I hope we can continue in the week to come. And we’ll start with a track from 1967 that’s utterly out of touch with what we think of when we ponder San Francisco during that year. In other words, it that has nothing to do with flower power (or with blues on the bay, for that matter).

Here’s that surprising nugget from the digital shelves, Nancy Wilson’s “I’m Always Drunk In San Francisco (And I Don’t Drink At All).” It’s from her 1967 album Welcome To My Love, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

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