Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Groovin'

Flower Power: Part 7 (Final)
One of the ultimate Flower Power songs would be The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love," but since that love anthem was already featured here, we'll take a look at another Beatles' song, a classic of psychedelia. Written mainly by John Lennon (credited to Lennon/McCartney), "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" comes from biggest-selling album of the 1960s, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. After its release at the beginning of the Summer of Love in June 1967, the BBC banned this song suspecting its title was referencing drugs (LSD), however, Lennon always denied that claim. Lennon's son, Julian, had inspired the song with a drawing of his school-friend Lucy, floating "in the sky with diamonds." The lyrics are a surreal and lavish daydream, accompanied by a complicated arrangement featuring a tamboura (stringed instrument) played by George Harrison, and a counter melody on organ by McCartney. In 1974, Elton John released a cover version of this tune (discreetly featuring John Lennon on backup vocals and guitar), and it is the only Beatles cover song to reach #1 on the Billboard chart. From The Beatles' 1968 animated feature film Yellow Submarine, here's "Lucy in the Sky with Diamond."
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Next up, this light-hearted, groovy tune comes from the classic American folk duo, Simon & Garfunkel. About the Queensboro Bridge in New York City, "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" comes from their third album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme released in October 1966, which reached #4 on the album charts and is considered on of the greatest albums of all time (I even recently purchased it at a used record store!). Written by Paul Simon and featuring musicians from the Dave Brubeck Quartet, the message of this folk rock song is delivered right in the first verse of the song: "Slow down, you move too fast." A popular cover version was recorded by Harpers Bizarre the following year, making it into sunshine pop arrangement. From the Smothers Bros. Comedy Hour, here's Simon & Garfunkel, with a little "accompaniment" by Tommy and Dick Smothers.
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Known for venturing into a wide variety of musical genres, Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan was one of the first British pop musicians to adopt a flower power image. Influenced by US West Coast bands (like Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead), he recorded one of the first examples of psychedelia at Abbey Road Studios in January of 1966. Released later that summer in the U.S., "Sunshine Superman" was a psychedelic folk song that reached #1 on the US Billboard charts (#2 in the UK), selling over 800,000 copies in just the first six weeks, eventually earning a gold disc. Written for his future wife, Donovan's lyrics mention two DC Comics superheroes, Green Lantern in addition to Superman. The eclectic arrangement was quite innovative with the prominent use of the harpsichord and sitar, combined with a funky, conga-like back-beat. Described as " the quintessential bright summer sing along," here's a Donovan classic.

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And for our final band of Flower Power Month, it's American blue-eyed soul group from New Jersey, The Young Rascals. These guys found themselves with one of their biggest hits at the beginning of the Summer of Love when "Groovin'" spend four weeks at #1 on the charts in May of '67, earning a certified gold record by June. Written by group members Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati with lead vocals by Cavaliere, this classic tune is a slow, relaxed groove and has become one of the group's signature songs. Based on Cavaliere's newfound interest in Afro-Cuban music, the instrumentation features a conga, harmonica, and a Cuban-style bass line. Resulting in a different sound from The Rascals' white-soul origins, the head of their record label originally did not the song released, however, the song (and the group) proved to have crossover appeal when "Groovin'" hit #3 on the Billboard Black Songs chart. Considered one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll (by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), it is also a recipient of a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. Great tune, but to be honest, as a kid, I always misheard the line, "life would be ecstasy, you and me endlessly" as "you and me and Lesley!" (wait, who the heck is Lesley?).
 

If you enjoyed Flower Power Week, be sure to revisit some past posts featuring other Flower Power-type songs such as The Turtles' "Happy Together", The Mamas & The Papas' "California Dreamin'" and The Byrds' "Turn! Turn! Turn!" both featured here, and Procol Harum' "A Whiter Shade of Pale".

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Wanting to Be, to Hear, and to See..."


Flower Power: Part 6
Well, it's turning out that Flower Power means all kinds of things to different people. Sometimes it's psychedelic, hippie music, anything Summer of Love, or sometimes any late 1960s music that goes with images like smiley faces, peace symbols, lava lamps, and paisley prints. Well, here are some pop-ier sounds that go with all that retro groovy-ness.

Similar to the Flower Pot Men (just featured a few weeks ago here), British pop group Edison Lighthouse was originally a studio-only band that existed solely for session vocalist Tony Burrows, who has sung the lead vocals on hit singles for more groups than any other recording artist (including Flower Pot Men, as well as White Plains' "My Baby Loves Lovin'" and The First Class' "Beach Baby" to name a few). Released in January 1970, "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" became the fastest climbing UK #1 hit record in history and peaked at #5 on the U.S. charts. After the single's success, Burrows went on to record other projects, so a group was assembled to mime a performance of this million-seller on Top of the Pops (not the featured clip below). For several years to follow, many members would come and go from the group, but since they didn't score any further chart activity, they became known as a transatlantic one-hit wonder.

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Starting out in the mid-1960s in Los Angeles as R&B back-up singers, Sonny & Cher (Bono) were an American pop music duo and husband and wife team that even became media personalities with the success of their TV shows in the mid-'70s. In their ten years together, they sold over 80 million records worldwide, after which Cher went on to have a highly successful career as a singer and actress and Sonny became an elected Congressman. A defining record of the early counterculture movement, "I Got You Babe" was released in July 1965, becoming the duo's biggest hit and signature song. Written by Sonny Bono for himself and his wife late at night in their basement, he wanted to capitalize on the popularity of the word 'babe,' as heard in Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" (a hit for The Turtles). Spending three weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts, as well as hitting #1 in the UK and Canada, this song even made the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Rolling Stone magazine). Just at the beginning of their career, here's a live performance by the comic relief duo Sonny & Cher.

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Known for their vocal harmonies, Spanky & Our Gang was an American folk rock/sunshine pop group that formed in Bloomington, Illinois in 1966. Led by Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane, the band's name comes from the popular Our Gang comedies of 1930s (also known as The Little Rascals), and Elaine was nicknamed "Spanky" by one of the band members (possibly influenced by her last name) who said she resembled the character George "Spanky" McFarland. Released on their self-titled debut album in 1967, "Sunday Will Never Be the Same" was their biggest hit, which reached #9 on the Billboard charts during the Summer of Love. However, during the fall of 1968, an upsetting blow came to the group when their lead guitarist (and trombonist and vocalist) Malcolm Hale died of carbon monoxide poisoning in his home at the age of 27. He had done most of the music arrangements and pretty much had kept the group together, so after his death, deciding they were satisfied with their musical output, the group disbanded in early 1969. McFarland went on to have some success as a solo artist and even toured with The Mamas & The Papas in '80s, singing Cass Elliot's vocal parts. Originally written as a ballad until the group changed the feel, here's Spanky & Our Gang in a rare live performance of "Sunday Will Never Be the Same" for a Murray the K Special.

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While nearly every Flower Power CD set out there includes The Monkees' "Daydream Believer" (which we'll save for Bubblegum Week instead), I've decided to post another song that seems to relate more with the psychedelic sounds of the counterculture movement. Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King as the title song for The Monkees' 1968 feature film Head, the ethereal and psychedelic "Porpoise Song" is a great mix of distorted, echo-y vocals with organs riffs, strings, woodwinds, and horns floating in and out of the song, complete with lyrics that call into question one's place in the world (and as seen below, visually paired with the lava lamp-like solarization effects). Becoming a cult classic in recent years, Head itself is a 'head trip' that plays mind-games on the audience where each scene abstractly connects to the next. When my sister and I first saw this film as young teenagers, we were slightly disturbed that our beloved Monkees had made such a confusing and strange movie, nothing like their TV series, but years later, I've made sense of the symbolism and it's fascinating. In fact, it's all symbolic of how The Monkees were themselves manipulated by the greatest of manipulators, Hollywood, and how they fought their made-for-TV image (i.e. in this clip, Micky Dolenz is not committing suicide but "breaking free," which by the end of the film [or is it the beginning?], the others follow suit). OK, this film's analysis and music should be featured on its own separate post, so for now, here's the haunting yet beautiful "Porpoise Song" that only managed to reach #62 on the charts in the fall of '68.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ladies Night

Flower Power: Part 5
Today, all the groups featured have a female lead vocalist. This next group could definitely have been included during "Out-of-Towner" Week here at The '60s Beat. From the Hague, Netherlands, Shocking Blue was a Dutch rock band that first formed in 1967. With Mariska Veres on lead vocals, the group released the worldwide hit "Venus" in late 1969, taking them to the #1 spot on the U.S. charts in February 1970 and earning them a gold record. With global sales reaching over 5 million copies, "Venus" became the Netherland's first American #1 hit. Based on "The Banjo Song" by The Big Three in 1963 here (with Cass Elliot before she was a "Mama"), this song was written by Robbie van Leeuwen, who also played guitar and sitar in the band.

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One of the first female singer-songwriters of the rock 'n' roll era, Kentucky-born Jackie DeShannon first began her music career by singing country tunes on the radio at age 6. Recording minor hits in the early '60s, she gained attention when she joined The Beatles on their first U.S. tour, while composing songs for groups like The Byrds, and even forming a songwriting partnership with Jimmy Page (later of Led Zeppelin) (oh and she dated Elvis). In March 1965, DeShannon released her biggest hit, "What the World Needs Now Is Love" (written by Burt Bacharach), and by May, reached #7 on the charts. Although its release predates the Flower Power era, its message rang true throughout the rest of the '60s. In June 1968, right after the shooting of Robert Kennedy, this song was played continuously on L.A. radio stations as an audio vigil. This anthem for love has been performed by over 100 other artists and has been featured in several films.

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One creative group that seems to remain in the shadows is The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, a psychedelic pop/rock band from Los Angeles. Formed in August 1966 out of a folk rock group called The Ashes, this quintet was known for their unique blend of folk rock and psychedelia while incorporating strong male-female vocal harmonies, interesting chord progressions, and multiple time signature changes. Featuring the powerful vocals of Barbara "Sandi" Robinson, their only tune to actually chart was the groovy "It's a Happening Thing," released in 1967. Although it only reached #93 in the U.S., it was a lively flower pop anthem of the time.

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And of course we can't forget one of the first black acts to achieve complete and sustained crossover success (with audiences of all races), the international stars Diana Ross & the Supremes. At the height of the Summer of Love in '67, this top Motown act released their first single that embraced the sounds of psychedelic pop, influenced by the psychedelic sounds by bands like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Representing a shift in the Motown pop sound in the late '60s, "Reflections" reached #2 on the Billboard charts by late summer, only verging on being the group's 11th American #1 single. Featuring one of the first early uses of a synthesizer on a pop record, this was also the last 45 released with Florence Ballad and Mary Wilson singing background vocals together. Written by the Motown production team Holland-Dozier-Holland, here's one of the group's first TV performances featuring Cindy Birdsong as Ballad's replacement (once again, apologies for the video 'obstruction.').

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Be sure to revisit posts including these female icons of the Flower Power era, singers Janis Joplin with Big Brother & the Holding Company, and Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane ("Piece of My Heart" and "White Rabbit"/"Somebody to Love" featured here).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Time of the Season

Flower Power: Part 4
Each of the four bands in this post have been featured a few times before here at The '60s Beat, but what can I say? They have many great tunes! While Flower Power is not actual genre of music, these songs continue to represent the various sounds of Flower Power.

During the '60s, Tommy James & the Shondells released six 1-million-selling gold records, one of which was "Crystal Blue Peruasion," a groovin', gentle-tempoed tune from June 1969. Composed by Tommy James with Eddie Gray and Mike Vale, the song is built around a prominent organ part with gentle lines by an acoustic guitar, a very understated arrangement. While some listeners thought this song was about drug use, James explains where he came up with the title: "I took the title from the Book of Revelation in the Bible, reading about the New Jerusalem. The words jumped out at me, and they're not together; they're spread out over three or four verses. But it seemed to go together; it's my favorite of all my songs and one of our most requested" (Hitch magazine, 1985). Reaching #2 on the charts, its clear the lyrics are expressing that "love is the answer." Although there are no live performances by Tommy James & the Shondells (not until more recent years), here's a primitive, non-representative music video that was made showing images of late 1960s political and cultural unrest (okay, the footage is a bit wild, but we're here for the music anyway).
 
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Although this next song was released a year prior to the infamous Summer of Love (1967), it seems to appear on nearly every Flower Power CD set. After a string of folk-flavored pop hits, The Lovin' Spoonful's biggest hit was "Summer in the City," which scored #1 on the Hot-100 chart in August of 1966. This song was actually written by the brother of band leader John Sebastian, Mark Sebastian (along with band member Steve Boone) who had submitted the lyrics as a poem for a literary magazine while in boarding school. John kept the title and refrain ("but at night, it's a different world..."), but changed the slower verses to be more upbeat. During the instrumental bridge of this song, a series of car horns are featured (beginning with a VW Beetle horn and ending with a jackhammer) to represent the city sounds in the summer. This is another one of those classics included on the Rolling Stones' list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Although this TV footage is a little grainy, you can't miss the band's enjoyment (nor John Sebastian's huge mutton chops!).

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Another band with numerous hits at or near the top of charts in the late '60s, The Association enjoyed several success in 1967. After having the unique honor of being the first act to perform at the Monterey Pop Festival that June (kind of a lead-off concert to the Summer of Love), they also scored big with their singles "Windy" and "Never My Love" (already featured here). Reaching #1 on the charts in July and remaining there for four weeks, "Windy" was the group's second U.S. #1, following "Cherish" in 1966. During the session (knowing they were in the middle of recording a hit), The Association members called in the song's writer, Ruthann Friedman, and asked her to sing on the fade at the end. This footage comes from a live performance at the 1967 Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois (complete with a blond Windy being cute. Where can I find a white, ruffle bathing suit?).

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And we'll conclude with one of my favorite British groups, The Zombies, who will always remain a mystery (to me) as to why they were more popular in the U.S. than their native England. Unfortunately after the release of their album Odessey and Oracle in 1968 (considered to be one of the greatest albums of all time), the group disbanded, but a few singles managed a U.S. release at the urging of new A&R rep Al Kooper. First recorded in Abbey Road Studios in 1967, "Time of the Season" was finally released as a single in November 1968 and made a breakthrough in early '69, reaching #3 in the U.S. and #1 in Canada. Written by keyboardist Rod Argent, the lyrics of this psychedelic pop song perfectly depicted the emotions surrounding the Summer of Love, and is remembered for its call-and-response verses like "What's your name? (What's your name?) / Who's your daddy? (Who's your daddy?)." The uniqueness of lead singer Colin Blunstone's voice, the memorable bass line (similar rhythm to Ben E. King's "Stand By Me"), and Argent's psychedelic improv on the keyboard make this a masterpiece, so much that it is regularly used in pop culture (film and TV) to represent the late 1960s. As The Zombies were long broken-up by the time of its release, they were no live performances of "Time of the Season" during this decade.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Get Together

Flower Power: Part 3
Okay, I realize this next band might appear to have nothing to do with Flower Power but their unique sound seemed to greatly appeal to "flower children."
Formed in 1967 in San Francisco, Santana was a Latin rock band based around guitarist Carlos Santana, and have received a total of eight Grammy Awards over the years. After the group's first audition for a concert promoter, the promoter told them they would never make it in the San Francisco Music Scene playing Latin jazz fusion, and suggested to Carlos to keep his day-job. However, because their style contrasted with the other acts, the group gained public attention after performing at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Immediately following the festival, Santana recorded their debut album, including their first hit single "Evil Ways." Reaching #9 on the charts, this song features Gregg Rolie on lead vocals and Hammond organ, and of course a notoriously-rockin' guitar solo by Carlos Santana.

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Formed in 1964 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, The Arbors were a pop group consisting of two sets of brothers who met while attending college: Tom and Scott Herrick, and Ed and Fred Farran. After scoring a few minor hits in the '60s, they scored their biggest success with a 1969 easy listening version of "The Letter" that reached #20 on the charts (had been a hit two years prior for The Box Tops). After releasing one final album later that year, they began writing and playing music for commercials for the next 30 years. Although The Box Tops' recording of "The Letter" is a classic, I like The Arbors' version even better with its lush, string arrangement and its use of a great psychedelic effect (at the end) known as flanging. Seriously, turn this one up; it's surprisingly dramatic and beautiful (sorry no real video footage).

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A British Invasion band that's been featured a few times here at The '60s Beat, The Moody Blues definitely struck a chord with several audiences with their innovative fusion of rock and classical music. Having sold more than 70 million albums worldwide and been awarded 14 platinum and gold discs, the group continues to perform today with three original members from the '60s. Released as a single and featured on the album Days of Future Passed in November of 1967, "Nights in White Satin" reached #19 on the UK charts, however, it might have scored higher if it weren't for its over 7-minute length. After the success of other lengthy, dramatic songs like The Beatles' "Hey Jude" and Clapton's "Layla," The Moodies re-released this symphonic rock song in 1972 and it charted #2 on the U.S. Billboard chart and #1 in Canada. Written by lead singer Justin Hayward when he was 19, he literally titled the song after a friend gave him a gift of satin sheets. While the London Festival Orchestra performed the orchestral accompaniment in the intro and final sections, the "orchestral" sounds in the main body of the song were played by Mike Pinder's Mellotron (a keyboard device), which became known as the "Moody Blues sound."

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Coming from the New York Greenwich Village folk scene in the mid-'60s, The Youngbloods were a folk rock band who unfortunately never achieved widespread popularity despite having received critical acclaim. Released in May of 1967, their folk rock single "Get Together" first peaked at #62, however, it received renewed interest after the song was used in a radio PSA as a call for brotherhood by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Re-released in May of '69, it peaked at #5 on the charts, and since has been featured in several films. Written as an appeal for peace and brotherhood by Chet Powers in the early 1960s, the song was performed by several other artists before The Youngbloods including The Kingston Trio, We Five, Jefferson Airplane, and Judy Collins, followed by dozens of artists throughout the decades, but The Youngbloods' version remains the most-remembered today. Here's a live version from The Hollywood Palace.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hair

Flower Power: Part 2
First debuting Off-Broadway in 1967, Hair was a controversial yet revolutionary rock musical that tells the story of a "tribe" of politically active, long-haired hippies of the "Age of Aquarius" living in New York City. Many of the songs were big hits on the charts and became anthems of the peace movement of the time. With a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and all music written by Galt MacDermot, here are some of the musical's best-known songs performed by top artists in the late 1960s.

An American pop music vocal group from Los Angeles, The 5th Dimension formed in 1966 and recorded several hit songs in the style of sunshine pop, R&B, soul, and jazz. From the late 1960s through 1975, the original five members helped popularize Flower Power music with both white and black middle-class Americans. One of the most popular songs in 1969 (worldwide) was their single "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In," a medley of two songs from the musical (the first medley to ever top the charts). Remaining at #1 on the U.S. charts for over 5 weeks, this sunshine pop song won both the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Best Vocal Pop Performance by a Group in 1970. Eventually certified platinum in U.S., it is listed at #57 on Billboard's "Greatest Songs of All Time."

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First introduced during Harp Week at The '60s Beat, The Cowsills were a popular American singing group from Newport, Rhode Island, a talented family of siblings joined by their mother Barbara. Initially formed in 1965 by brothers Bill (guitar), Bob, (guitar), Barry (bass), John (drums), and Bob's twin brother Richard as their road manager, the Cowsills extended its family membership by 1967 to include the two youngest siblings, Susan and Paul, thus sibling ages ranging from 8 to 19 years old. Between '68 and '72, they played an average of 200 performances a year and were one of the most popular acts on the American concert circuit. In 1969, they released one of their biggest hits, the title song from Hair, which reached #2 on the charts and sold over a million copies. This footage is poor quality, but here's the group that was the inspiration for the 1970 TV show The Partridge Family.

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From North Carolina, American pop singer Oliver was known for his soaring, baritone voice. Having a few hit songs in the late '60s like "Jean," his first big single was actually "Good Morning Starshine" from the second act of Hair. With his clean-cut looks and vocal talent, he was the perfect vehicle for this July 1969 single, which went to #3 on the charts, selling over a million copies and earning him a gold disc by that August. He performed this tune on several TV variety shows and specials, including The Ed Sullivan Show. (The live performance I originally posted has been removed from YouTube, bummer as usual.)



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Best known for their music from 1968 through 1975, the American rock band, Three Dog Night, earned 13 gold albums and charted the Top-40 Billboard chart 21 times, including three #1 hits. Formed by three lead vocalists, Danny Hutton, Chuck Negron, and Cory Wells, the band's name comes from the story that indigenous Australians would sleep in a hole in the ground with a dingo (wild dog) to keep warn on cold nights, thus a "three dog night" meant the night was freezing (and my husband thought I made this up)! From their second studio album, the group released their soulful version of "Easy to be Hard" from the musical, and it reached #4 on the singles chart in the summer of '69. These guys are great and continue to rock live performances today.
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And of course, since this is a "Hair Day," we'll conclude with the final scene from the 1979 film adaptation of the musical. Altered from the original stage production's plot, this version is about Vietnam War-draftee Claude, who, while on his way to the Army induction center in New York City, befriends a tribe of hippies led by Berger. After Claude is inevitably sent off to recruit training, Berger and his prankster friends plan to visit him by sneaking him off the base for a day. Berger cuts his hair and trades places with Claude, but while disguised as a soldier, the troops are told they're being shipped out immediately. That's where this scene begins. Starring actors Treat Williams and John Savage, this final scene tends to give me goosebumps.