Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Part III: Instant Karma's Gonna Get You

The very day I became a teenager the Beatles cracked the Billboard charts for the first time with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. I remember first hearing it on a cheerleader’s transistor radio while we rode the team bus home after a Gavin Central Grade School basketball game.

The astonishing cultural phenomenon that was and remains the Beatles has never been rivaled. There was little hype, little PR, it just happened. The music business could only play catch-up and the concert business had no procedure to handle such an explosion. 45% of Americans watched the debut three weeks later on the Ed Sullivan show! (Jack Paar scooped Sullivan by airing a videotape of the lads singing “She Loves You” a month earlier) I must admit that I didn’t like this first hit or “She Loves You” all that much, and I thought the whole head shaking thing was pretty silly. Soon the imitators would come, and I actually liked The Dave Clark Band’s “Catch Us if You Can”, “Glad All Over” and “Because” better. I remained lukewarm until Sis took me to see “A Hard Day’s Night”. In that nearly empty theater with real HI FI (look it up) I heard the Beatles studio stuff for real and was awestruck. I watched Lennon sing “If I Fell” and the harmonies blew me away. It really was Lennon, especially at this stage. In a famous bit a reporter asked him how he had found America. “Turn left at Greenland,” was his quick as an eyelash quip, clearly this guy was going to be a handful.

Here was a path out of the post-assassination doldrums when it became clear that my parents’ generation was losing its grip. Here was a culture all our own. Here was my girlfriend with a comb in her hand ready to fix my hair and there was my father with the clippers in his hand ready to solve that little problem. Here was life being about what I wanted and here was trouble. Not even our goofy version of a military industrial complex ridin’ cowboy in the White House could steal this thunder!

There was much more in ’64. The Invasion brought Gerry and the Pacemakers and Herman’s Hermits, and we danced the Freddy to Freddy and the Dreamers (well, somebody must have). Among this driftwood of “ands” came decent efforts by Peter and Gordon in “World Without Love” and Chad and Jeremy with “Yesterday’s Gone”. The Animals gave us all a second song to play on the guitar in “House of the Rising Sun” (“Louie, Louie” had come first, of course) and just when Dad was starting to tolerate this bunch there was Mick Jagger and the Stones doing “Time Is on My Side”! Manfred Mann scored the first of his four #1 hits in 12 years (name them, don’t cheat) with “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy” and I was digging “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks and its seminal rock guitar lead solo. I also liked the organ solo in the Zombies hit “She’s Not There”.

Stateside the beaches and bumpers boys in LA were hanging on for dear life with the Beach Boy’s “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “I Get Around”, the Rivieras with “California Sun“, “Dead Man’s Curve” and “Little Old Lady From Pasedena” from Jan and Dean and “GTO” by Ronnie and the Daytonas “Oh, Pretty Woman” was a monster for Roy Orbison and the Four Seasons stuck around long enough to score a #1 with “Rag Doll”. Toss in some great stuff from Johnny Rivers (“Memphis”, Mountain of Love”), Ray Charles’s “Hello, Dolly” and Barbra’s “People” and this year was getting pretty full. Though it only hit #31 “The Pink Panther Theme” had some legs, too. Somehow in this crowd Dean Martin’s “Everybody loves Somebody” and Lorne Greene’s shameless “Ringo” were smashes too!

And I haven’t even mentioned soul. The Supremes topped the charts three times with “Come See About Me”, “Baby Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go?” while Mary Wells sang about “My Guy”. The Drifters were “Under the Boardwalk” and Martha and the Vandellas were still hot with “Dancin’ in the Streets”. Sneakin’ up to #11 were the Temptations with “The Way You Do The Things You Do”.

A little white soul came from the Righteous Brothers in “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, to my mind the most depressing song ever written. A lot more fun were the Nashville Cats (from Liverpool) and their “Tobacco Road”.

All inspired efforts but the story of 1964 is encapsulated in the genius of that opening chord in “A Hard Day’s Night” and the buzz of the opening riff in “I Feel Fine”. One tone and you knew it, this was the new stuff.

‘64 rolled into Beatles 65 but it was on Help actually that McCartney was crooning “Yesterday” while Lennon was as usual out in the trenches of the male/female relationship with lines like:

She says that livin’ with me was bringin’ her down
She would never be free when I was around
She’s got a ticket to ride
She’s got a ticket to ride
She’s got a ticket to ride
And she don’t care
This before domestic subjugation of females was to become a contentious issue in America (kinda like now).

I was in eighth grade by now and honestly in love for the first time. I’ll never forget that moment between the buses (and during the busses) when I discovered that there was a physical high greater than the execution of the perfect jump shot as I experienced the unbelievable sensations of mohair and Chanel #5.

’65 showed the trend away from the song-is-everything kind of popular hit. There were exceptions, such as Jewel Akens’ “Bird and the Bees”, “The Boy From New York City” by the Ad Libs and “You’re the One“ by the Vogues, but the hook was beginning to be about the sound.

From the quaint Edwardian suited TV renditions of ballads like “As Tears Roll By” and “Time is on My Side” nobody had a clue what the Stones were about. After “Get off of My Cloud”, “The Last Time” and the incredible “Satisfaction” there was no more doubt.

In America we suffered an ungodly number of hits I refuse to acknowledge from Garry Lewis and the Playboys, but then I guess you could consider this revenge for the lobs of Freddy and the Dreamers and Hermin’s Hermits we would continue to suffer from the UK. We had the soul, and it was better than ever with breakouts by the Temptations with “My Girl” and the Four Tops with “I Can’t Help Myself”. The Supremes struck again with “I Hear a Symphony” and “Stop! in the Name of Love” while vanilla soulers The Righteous Brothers followed up big time with “Unchained Melody”.

Cute American bands like The Lovin’ Spoonful (“You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice”) and The Turtles (“It Ain’t Me Babe”) popped up here and there, and the Beach Boys were ever the Beach Boys with “California Girls” and “Help Me Rhonda”, but there was a growing response to the Invasion brewing as Americans looked for a counterculture to put up against the English. The answer seemed to partially lie a few years back in the poetry of the Beat. Dylan went electric with his “Like a Rolling Stone” and Simon and Garfunkel exploded onto the scene with “The Sounds of Silence”, but the real beginnings of the American “head” generation showed up in the Byrds. These pioneers laid the groundwork for American bands from Jefferson Airplane to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to Pearl Jam with jingle-jangle, spacey songs like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn, Turn, Turn”.

Closing out ’65 came Rubber Soul, and in response to the folksier American trend the powers that be left “Nowhere Man”, “Drive My Car”, “What Goes On?” and “If I needed Someone” off the American version, substituting the acoustically driven “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “It’s Only Love”. The unmistakable scent of pot was becoming evident in lyrics like:

And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire, isn't it good Norwegian wood?
though we didn’t all get it quite yet.

’66 came, another one of those in between years. On one front everything was all sunshine and love with “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys”, “Good Lovin’” by the Rascals, “A Groovy Kind of Love” from the Mindbenders and “Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful”. The Mamas and the Papas emerged with “California Dreamin’”, “I Saw Her Again” and “Monday, Monday” while Graham Nash led the Hollies with “Bus Stop”. Staying on the lighter side we had number #1 hits from the Association with “Cherish” and “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians, not to mention Frank (“Strangers in the Night”) and Nancy (These Boots Were Made for Walkin’”) Sinatra!

But all wasn’t sweetness and light. The Stones were in their own bag with “19th Nervous Breakdown” and “Mother’s’ Little Helper”, both vicious denunciations of 60’s suburban lifestyle, plus a song that would still bring anti-cheer to our present day Goths, “Paint it Black”.

I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes
Contrast that #1 with Tommy Roe’s bubblegum hit “Sweet Pea” and it’s obvious some very different things were going on here. Though the Supremes held on with hits like “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and “You Can’t Hurry Love”, Motown began to lose its momentum. Behind the pop very little was heard from California, though “Wipeout” by the Surfaris was a pretty cool and durable throwback example of the sound begun with the Ventures in 1960.

Somewhere a lot of musicians were sitting around enjoying “Mellow Yellow” (Donovan) or “Day Tripper” from the Beatles while millions of music nuts created by the Soul and Invasion heydays were ready to leave adolescent popsters like The Monkees (“I’m a Believer”) behind. Beginning guitarists had two new victims in “Gloria” from the Shadows of Night and “Wild Thing” by the Troggs—and I was one of them, adding Tommy James and the Shondells’s “Hanky Panky” as well to my Gibson Melody Maker repertoire.

Perhaps the disconnect of ’66 was a result of the gathering storm in America. Consider these two songs, the first from Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler:

Put silver wings on my son's chest
Make him one of America's best
He'll be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret

The war was heating up, and not everyone felt the radiant glory of the above. Sneaking into the #11 spot at one point was “Shapes of Things” by the Yardbirds:

Shapes of things before my eyes
Just teach me to despise
Will time make men more wise?
Here within my lonely frame
My eyes just heard my brain
But will it seem the same?
(Come Tomorrow) Will I be older?
(Come Tomorrow) May be a soldier
(Come Tomorrow) May I be bolder than today?
Soon the partisan ranks would grow. Soon would come the birth of the adult alternative genre that would slake the thirst of millions of productive stereo equipped boomers with money to spend. Soon FM stations would be able to provide an alternative to the Top 30 giants and give a voice to a whole new counterculture. Soon the explosion of pop art, generational disillusionment, anti-war sentiment, drug experimentation (and hateful reaction to all of those) would change things forever. And a big part of that began on December 8th, 1966, when the Beatles, while wrapping up the singles “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane”, went to work with George Martin on a little concept Paul had been kicking around about a music hall band motif.

Soon Rock and Roll was going to mature along with the boomers while it left pop behind, as one of the most important LP’s of all time wouldn’t produce a top 30 single. In Part IV we would see a new word pop up in rock jargon, masterpiece.


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