It Was 50 Years Ago Today
1967 was a year of unbridled optimism and free-spirited exhilaration. London and San Francisco were the golden meccas for the world’s youth, and the hippies were the harbingers that beckoned them on. The Beatles insisted that all you need is love, and, for a time, that’s all that seemed to matter.
It was easy to share in that serendipity, given a soundtrack that remains as vital and inspiring today as it did a half century ago. Indeed, 1967 is arguably the most prolific year in music history, one that ushered in bands on both sides of the Atlantic, and the unmistakable feelings of adventure, exploration and optimism were always in the air. Here, then, is a list of significant signposts from a half century ago.
10. A soundtrack for the Summer of Love
In the summer of ’67, the focus shifted entirely to San Francisco, leaving London to bask in the glow of Carnaby Street and the still-simmering changes that were occurring in English nightclubs like the UFO and Middle Earth. Haight Ashbury and Golden Gate Park hosted Be-Ins, Love-Ins, hippies and happenstance, while the Dead, the Airplane, Big Brother, Country Joe and the Fish and Quicksilver provided the requisite soundtrack by offering free concerts and recurring gigs at the Fillmore, Winterland and other venues that summoned the the frenzied faithful.
9. Monterey Pop makes its mark
An iconic moment during that fabled Summer of Love, the Monterey Pop Festival – held June 16 – 18 at the Monterey County Fairgrounds south of San Francisco – ushered in a new era of multi-day musical festivities that continues to inspire its offspring even today. Indeed, Woodstock, Bonnaroo, Stagecoach and dozens of other gatherings were spawned from the idea put together by John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas, record producer Lou Adler and publicist Derek Taylor, with the blessings of the Beatles and all the kindred spirits who gathered from London, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
8. The Beatles versus the Stones
The rivalry that took root at the beginning of the so-called British Invasion supposedly continued, and when the Beatles released their ultimate musical milestone, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on June 1, 1967, the Rolling Stones responded six months later, on December 8, 1967, with Their Satanic Majesty’s Request, widely viewed as their darker reply to the playful blend of fantasy and finesse the Beatles had offered up earlier in the year. Pepper was – and still is – rightfully hailed as a work of genius, the greatest rock album ever, but the Stones were widely derided for abandoning their roots and attempting to mine psychedelic silliness. In retrospect, however, it’s earned far more respect, and several of its songs like “2000 Light Years from Home,” She’s Rainbow” and “2000 Man” remain key additions to the Stones’ catalog. The album is also notable in other ways as well: its elaborate 3-D cover, the fact that it was the Stones’ first self-produced album and that it boasted the sole song composed by Bill Wyman outside the axis of Jagger and Richards, “In Another Land.”
7. The Dead come to life and The Jefferson Airplane take off (again)
Although they had gigged extensively around San Francisco prior to recording their eponymous debut, the Grateful Dead gained greater prominence by providing the soundtrack for Ken Kesey’s legendary acid tests. Despite being well received in the Bay Area, its lack of concise song structures in exchange for lengthy rambling jams dampened its commercial potential. Released on March 17, it served as a stepbrother for the Airplane’s big breakthrough with Surrealistic Pillow, released on February 1. The latter boasted tracks that would become the band’s signature songs: “Somebody To Love” (a carryover from Grace Slick’s earlier outfit, the Great Society), “White Rabbit” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover.” Nevertheless, it marked the band’s seamless transition from folk wannabes to psychedelic savants.
6. The Velvet Underground hit up with “Heroin”
The New York scene that circled around Andy Warhol and his series of performances dubbed “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable” gave opportunity to his proteges, the Velvet Underground, to create and perform within the whirling surroundings of art, sex, film, fantasy, photography and cross-gender diversions. The resulting album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, was released in March 1967, crediting Warhol as its producer. The peelable banana on its sleeve was striking enough, but it was its standout songs – “Femme Fatale,” “I’m Waiting for My Man,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties, “Venus in Furs” and, most notably, “Heroin” – that ensured immortality and controversy.
5. England erupts
After Sgt, Pepper set the pace, all kinds of bands were to follow. The Who closed out the year with their cleverly titled The Who Sell Out, adding some psychedelic lustre to their Mod bravado. Other bands attempted the switch to psychedelia as well, but much of it came across simply as silly and pretentious. Nevertheless, 1967 was a landmark year for the U.K., thanks to the release of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut, Are You Experienced? (May in the U.K., August in the U.S.) Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn (August), Cream’s remarkable sophomore set, Disraeli Gears (November), The Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed and Traffic’s Mr. Fantasy (December).
4. The sound of Soul in ’67
Motown had made its mark much earlier in the decade, but Black music remained a vital force in 1967. The Four Tops hit their stride with “Bernadette,” Martha and the Vandellas scored with “Jimmy Mack,” the Supremes ingested a hint of psychedelia with “The Happening,” Stevie Wonder declared “I Was Made to Love Her,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell paired up for “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and Gladys Knight and the Pips declared “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Sam & Dave, Booker T & The M.G.’s, and Isaac Hayes all scored for Stax Records that year, while Aretha Franklin helped launch Atlantic Records with her break-out hit “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Loved You).” Soul was such a strong additive, in fact, that it inspired Atlantic to sign a white group from New Jersey that could actually emulate it. That band, the Young Rascals, quickly found success with a string of hit singles in ’67: “(I’ve Been) Lonely Too Long,” “Groovin’,” “A Girl Like You” and “How Can I Be Sure,” Nevertheless, it was the late, great Otis Redding who became the year’s most singular sensation. After breaking out at Monterey, Redding’s stirring interpretations of “Shake” and “(I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)” ensured his popular appeal would spread among audiences of all races and demographics. The hits that followed – “Try a Little Tenderness,” “Respect” (famously covered by Aretha that same year) and his greatest song of all “(Sittin’ on) the “Dock of the Bay,” released the month after his death in a private plane crash on December 9, 1967 – all helped assure his immortality.
3. A West Coast rivalry
San Francisco wasn’t the only place on the Pacific shore that proved itself to be a fertile breeding ground for music, as Southern California produced its fair share of hits. The Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds helped define folk-rock and with it the first echoes of country rock and Americana. The former’s Buffalo Springfield Again, released in November, was widely viewed as a defining moment for American music. The Byrds released their landmark opus Younger Than Yesterday in February, spotlighting their folk-rock feel as filtered with leader Jim McGuinn’s increasingly imaginative flights of fancy. The album yielded two of the band’s biggest hits “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and another traditional Dylan Cover, “My Back Pages.” SoCal can also take credit for the Doors, whose self-titled first album was released in January 1967 and spawned one of the biggest hits of all time in “Light My Fire.” Dark, defiant and daringly original, the Doors cast a sense of foreboding over an otherwise optimistic year.
2.The Masterpiece that (nearly) never was
In 1967, the Beach Boys were considered uncool, and although they had the chance to perform at Monterey, they declined, due in large part to leader Brian Wilson’s depression, anxiety and increasingly fragile state of mind. Inspired by the Beatles, Wilson had pursued a grand ambition, to release an album that would combine pop, Americana and obtuse experimentation, what he referred to as “Teenage Symphonies to God.” It culminated in a set of songs dubbed Smile, but it ultimately fell apart, to lie in wait for another four decades.
“Down in the Flood” (and in the Basement as well)
Although the songs wouldn’t surface until much later (many of them on The Band’s Music From Big Pink as well as in the form of innumerable covers by other bands) the sessions conducted in the basement of the Band’s residence in upstate New York marked Bob Dylan’s return to recording after his rumored near-death motorcycle accident the year before. One of the first bootlegs to attract attention from collectors, dubbed The Great White Wonder, offered the only evidence of their work prior to their official release years later as The Basement Tapes.