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

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Part V: Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind

Drivin' that train
High on cocaine
Casey Jones you better watch your speed
Trouble ahead
Trouble behind
And you know that notion just crossed my mind

The waves of dissent that drove the counterculture of the 60's were generated on one hand by the drums of war, and on the other by the coming of age of a huge young population, raised in unprecedented (and missed) economically democratic times, educated, optimistic and linked by media. Obstacles would stand in the course of these waves however, and complexity would be inevitable.

The ground war in Vietnam was winding down, somewhat from the movement but largely as a result of sheer numbers. The domino theory of communist progression was a bit too abstract in the end for mothers across America to be losing their sons at 15,000 a year. Still the point needed to be made, as with this hit of 1970 by Edwin Starr:

War means tears
To thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go to fight
And lose their lives

I said, war, huh
Good God, y'all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing

Say it again

That this was still top 40 stuff might tell you that these times were still contentious to a degree unseen in today's supposed red/blue battleground. And then, as with so much that was inexplicable about Nixon, the bombing of Cambodia was exposed, and student unrest over this unexpected expansion of the war led to Kent State, where four ordinary white students were gunned down by a bunch of rednecks with uniforms. This really was the last straw for middle aged farts still fighting "the big one". Their wives had listened to them and their mantra of discipline and patriotism for long enough. Now, even undrafted sons and daughters in a vanilla-as-it-gets regional land grant university (such as the sister school to Kent State, the NIU I would transfer to in DeKalb, IL) were not safe from the war. The mothers and caring fathers of America would end the war in Vietnam, which would, of course, descend into the hell of tourist destination.

So now we would have rebelliousness all dressed up with nowhere to go. A large chunk of this energy would go into a back to the land movement, a Thoreau-like transcendental tangent born of acid induced skirting of the constructs of an incredibly wasteful and damaging suburban lifestyle. Things got more organic, more acoustic. Simon and Garfunkel returned with the monster Bridge over Troubled Water LP and James Taylor was the troubadour in "Sweet Baby James". Cat Stevens in his pre-Islamic extremist days had this contribution in "Where do the Children Play?" from the smash Tea for the Tillerman album:

Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass
For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas
And you make them long, and you make them tough
But they just go on and on, and it seems you can't get off

Oh, I know we've come a long way
We're changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?

As we celebrated our first Earth Day (of Wisconsinite design) this connection between drugs and ecological awareness was being made in such songs as "Nature's Way", from Spirit's Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, a must-have in any college collection:

It's nature's way of telling you, summer breeze
It's nature's way of telling you, dying trees
It's nature's way of receiving you
It's nature's way of retrieving you
It's nature's way of telling you
Something's wrong

Something's wrong

Of course all wasn't just getting a little high or trippy, the ripples of unrest would combine with the enthusiasm, perceived invulnerability and plain stupidity of youth to have some lethal effects. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix would both die at 27 of overdoses, and on campuses amphetamines were taking their toll.

Here's my 1970 fave list, in no particular order:

artistLPfavorite cuts
John LennonJohn Lennon/Plastic Ono BandWorking Class Hero
Neil YoungAfter the Gold RushSouthern Man
Van MorrisonMoondanceInto the Mystic
Led ZeppelinLed Zeppilin IIIThat's the Way; Gallows Pole
The WhoLive at LeedsMagic Bus
Black SabbathParanoidParanoid
George HarrisonAll Things Must PassMy Sweet Lord
The BeatlesLet It BeI've Got a Feeling; Across the Universe
James TaylorSweet Baby JamesCountry Road
David BowieThe Man Who Sold the WorldThe Man Who Sold the World
Jethro TullBenefitTo Cry You a Song
Pink FloydAtom Heart MotherAtom Heart Mother
ChicagoChicago IIFancy Colors; 25 or 6 to 4
The Moody BluesA Question Of BalanceQuestion; It's Up to You
James GangRides AgainFunk 49
Emerson, Lake & PalmerEmerson, Lake & PalmerTake a Pebble; Lucky Man
Paul McCartneyMcCartneyEvery Night; Maybe I'm Amazed; Singalong Junk
The Firesign TheatreDon't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers(it's not that simple)
Paul Kantner / Jefferson StarshipBlows Against The EmpireHave You Seen the Stars Tonight?
Canned HeatFuture BluesLet's Work Together
Elton JohnElton JohnYour Song; Take Me to the Pilot; Border Song
Joe CockerMad Dogs And EnglishmenFeelin' Alright
T. RexT. RexThe Children of Rarn
Rod StewartGasoline AlleyGasoline Alley; Country Comforts; It's All Over Now
Various ArtistsWoodstockStar Spangled Banner/Purple Haze - Jimi Hendrix; Wooden Ships - Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; "Fish" Cheer I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin-To-Die-Rag - Country Joe McDonald
Elton JohnTumbleweed CollectionWhere to Now, St Peter?; Country Comfort; Love Song
Van MorrisonHis Band and the Street ChoirBlue Money; Domino
Creedence Clearwater RevivalCosmo's FactoryLookin' Out My Back Door; Who'll Stop the Rain
Black SabbathBlack SabbathBlack Sabbath
Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungDéjà VuCarry On; Déjà Vu
SantanaAbraxasSamba Pa Ti
Simon and GarfunkelBridge Over Troubled WaterThe Boxer; Cecelia
Grateful DeadAmerican BeautyFriend of the Devil; Brokedown Palace; Candy Man
Derek & the DominosLayla & Other Assorted Love SongsLayla
SpiritTwelve Dreams of Dr. SardonicusNature's Way; Love Has Found A Way
Cat StevensTea for the TillermanFather and Son; Miles From Nowhere
Grateful DeadWorkingman's DeadCumberland Blues; Easy Wind
The KinksLola Versus Powerman and the Money-Go-RoundGet Back in the Line; Lola: Apeman
TrafficJohn Barleycorn Must DieGlad; Freedom Rider

There's a lot more acoustic guitar and piano in these songs, the ivories are tickled in neo-classical ELP, honky tonk Joe Cocker, Elton John, jazzy Traffic and Van Morrison. A lot of these releases represented third or fourth efforts by acts that were maturing, a trend that would continue for this established elite for a few more years. This was becoming the finest hour musically for many bands.

Moving on to '71 we can see this continue:

artistLPfavorite cuts
Marvin GayeWhat's Going On?What's Going On?; Mercy, Mercy Me
Led ZeppelinIVBattle of Evermore; Stairway to Heaven
Joni MitchellBlueThis Flight Tonight
The WhoWho's NextWon't Get Fooled Again; Blue Eyes
The Rolling StonesSticky FingersWild Horses; Can't You Hear Me Knocking?; Dead Flowers
Sly and the Family StoneThere's a Riot Goin' OnFamily Affair
Carole KingTapestrySo Far Away; You've Got a Friend
John LennonImagineImagine
The Allman Brothers BandAt Fillmore EastStormy Monday; You don't love me
Rod StewartEvery Picture Tells a StoryMaggie May; Mandolin Wind; (I Know) I'm Losing You
The DoorsL.A. WomanL.A. Woman; Riders On the Storm
Janis JoplinPearlHalf Moon; Me and Bobby McGee; Mercedes Benz
T. RexElectric WarriorBang a Gong (Get it On)
Jethro TullAqualungAqualung; Locomotive Breath; My God
Alice CooperLove It to DeathI'm Eighteen
YesThe Yes AlbumYours Is No Disgace
The FacesA Nod Is as Good as a a Blind HorseStay With Me
Van MorrisonTupelo HoneyWild Night; Tupelo Honey
NilssonNilsson SchmilssonCoconut (he wrote it)
Alice CooperKillerKiller; Under My Wheels
Cat StevensTeaser and the FirecatMoonshadow; Morning has Broken; Peace Train
The KinksMuswell Hillbillies20th Century Man; Muswell Hillbilly; Skin and Bone
TrafficThe Low Spark of High Heeled BoysLow Spark; Many a Mile to Freedom
WarAll Day MusicAll Day Music; Slippin' Into Darkness
Pink FloydMeddleOne of ThoseDays
Various ArtistsThe Concert for BangladeshBlowin' in the Wind
Paul and Linda McCartneyRamToo Many People; Smile Away; Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
The FacesLong PlayerI Feel So Good; Had Me a Real Good Time
Jimi HendrixCry of LoveEzy Rider
BadfingerStraight UpBaby Blue; Day after Day

The list shows thinning as the frenetic pace of releases slows, partly as a result of the maturing of the concert business, which by now was bringing halfway decent sound to larger and larger venues. Touring to support record sales was less a reality while scheduling record releases to promote lengthy tours became the norm for the big guys.

Some of the best activism was saved for last, as in Marvin Gaye's "Mercy, Mercy Me":

Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas
Fish full of mercury
Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be

No, no

Radiation in the ground and in the sky
Animals and birds who live nearby are dying
Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be

And the incomparable "Imagine":
Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

And Who's:
I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a vow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Get on my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again

Don't get fooled again, no, no


Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

As the ripples of discontent played themselves out the music took a more personal turn. Carol King's Tapestry album began its incredible six year run on the charts, McCartney began his string of silly love songs and Van Morrison and Rod Stewart were crooning to the ladies. In two years we had seen Kent State, the Pentagon Papers, The Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the trial of William McCalley (My Lai Massacre), and at last the withdrawal of 145,000 troops from Vietnam announced by Nixon. It was time to settle down and go to work, unfortunately for many of us with a less than organized preparation resulting from such turbulent times.

A sure sign of things to come was the marriage on July 7th, 1971 of two Swedish pop stars, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Faltskog (ABBA) near Skane in Sweden.

Still, in part VI, the rockers of the vinyl heyday wouldn't go quietly just yet.


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