You know, I was all of six years old during the “Summer of Love”, 1967, but for some damn reason when I was a teenager in Toronto Ontario Canada in the pre punk 1970s that era seemed to be the epitome of what music should/could be. You have to remember 1976 meant for most of us that the radio was full of disco schlock, plastic corporate rock, or the masturbatory excesses of progressive poop.
I had an older brother with a record collection, an aunt who had lived in Toronto’s one block hippie district when it mattered (1967) and had a boyfriend that had played with Lighthouse during the late 60s early 70s, and a feeling that I had missed out on something really cool by being born a decade too late. So I grew my hair long, and went to see the movie Woodstock whenever it played at the revue cinemas, and took to wearing an army fatigue jacket.
Of course I had a highly idealized vision of what the music of the era was like, and knew nothing about what type of music was being played on popular radio at the time. I just assumed that the line up of acts that appeared at Woodstock, plus a few others; the Beatles, the Stones and Bob Dylan, was all anybody listened to back then.
It wasn’t until much later that I found out there was just as much dreck around in 1967 as there was in 1977 or 1987. I don’t remember it shattering too many illusions but I do remember thinking, or maybe hoping, that even the pop dreck of that era had to be better then the Captain and Tennille doing old Neil Sedaka hits or “Disco Inferno” by whoever was responsible for that abomination.
Now in 2007, thirty years since the so-called “Summer of Love” Time Life, Sony/BMG, and Universal Music have gotten together to release a two CD one DVD set called Summer Of Love: The Hits Of 1967 in commemoration of the anniversary. In what seems to me a stroke of brilliance unexpected from corporate music, the reason for the two CDs is to delineate between the music that was being played on the AM stations and the FM stations.
I have to admit that my first reaction on seeing this was a Time Life presentation was to be highly skeptical. I mean talk about your ultimate mainstream, un-hip organization. What could they possibly know about what “really” happened during that time? It sounded as ludicrous as getting Walt Disney World creating a retrospective of Punk Rock.
But they’ve done a fine job from the packaging on down to song selection. Jorma Kaukonen from Jefferson Airplane wrote a great introduction to the accompanying booklet, and each song and band represented is given a thorough but concise write up.
I’m not sure what criteria they used for picking the songs, but one thing is for sure they didn’t have to be really high on the hit parade. They’ve especially gone out of their way on the collection of AM songs to find material that doesn’t usually show up on other “greatest hits of the sixties” compilations or gets played on oldies stations.
I’ve never even heard of the Beach Boys song “Heroes and Villains” let alone seen it included in an anthology. Of course, seeing as how it was only ever released as one sided single and the fact Mike Love reportedly referred to it as a “nuclear disaster” could have a lot to do with that. Aside from this aberration in the hit machine that was the Beach Boys, they’ve also unearthed some other song that might not otherwise see the light of day.
How about “Let’s Live For Today” by the Grass Roots, “Talk Talk” by The Music Machine, “Sunday Will Never Be The Same” by Spanky And The Gang (not the television show but a band from Florida), or an equally obscure single by The Mamas and The Papas called “Creeque Alley”. Of course there are some old favourites as well like “Gimme Some Lovin'” by the Spencer Davis Group, “Windy” by The Association, “Reflections” by Diana Ross and the Supremes (the first time Diana was headliner) and “Incense And Peppermints” by Strawberry Alarm Clock.
Okay, so none of them are songs that will set the world on fire, but at least they aren’t the standard stuff we hear all the time and they are better than the average pop song that you’re going to hear on the radio these days. At least they all play their own instruments and sing their own lyrics.
The FM disc is pretty much what you’d expect with songs from Cream, “I Feel Free”, Jefferson Airplane, “Somebody To Love”, Big Brother and The Holding Company with Janis on lead vocals singing “Down on Me” and the ubiquitous “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. But even here they’ve included some nice surprises like Country Joe and The Fish singing “Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine”, and Stevie Winwood leading Traffic through a strange number called “Paper Sun”. Then there are occasional obscurities..
Am I the only person who never heard of The Peanut Butter Conspiracy and their song It’s A Happening Thing”? How about “Pushin’ Too Hard” by The Seeds, “Friday On My Mind” by The Easybeats, or The Blues Magoos and “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet”? Anybody?
Sometimes I think they might have been trying just a little too hard to be obscure but listening to the songs I realize that they’re just as good as anything that some of the more recognizable bands were doing at the same time so what the hell, why not include them? They give one a broader perspective of what was actually going on musically at the time than just hearing the same old tracks that are always dredged up on occasions like this.
The highlight of Summer of Love: The Hits Of 1967 though has to be the DVD. Not only does it contain some excellent footage of concerts and performers from that time that I hadn’t seen before, it also has some pretty frank interviews with some of the survivors of the scene today. Now, I’m pretty sure that it is part of the series The History of Rock n’ Roll so if you already own that this won’t be that much of a treat, but if you’re like me and never had an opportunity to see it, you’ll get a lot out of it.
Only being an hour in length they’re not able to go in depth, but what they do manage to do is to give a pretty honest assessment of the period. There’s not the usual establishment finger wagging bullshit about how evil drugs are because of all the people they killed. (Although when David Crosby sanctimoniously smirked “we were wrong about drugs” I wanted to reach through the television and rip out his new liver. You know the one he has now because he ruined his original with booze? He was able to buy his way to the front of the line for replacements over people who needed them because of cancer or other illnesses; Peace and Love Dave) In fact, the makers of the documentary are very good at staying out of the way and letting archive clips speak for themselves.
The sound quality of the music clips is really quite good and they’ve obviously gone to a great deal of trouble to remaster them as much as possible. I’ve seen some of them before and they are much better now then in the originals. What I found annoying was the habit of speaking over songs, or cutting away from them to something else and hearing it faintly in the background. If it’s supposed to be about the music, I want to hear the music.
That’ a minor quibble though because that’s something that happens all the time and is to be expected. What was truly great though was the candor of some of the people interviewed. The best lines went of course to the people you’d expect; Mick Jagger “Being a Rock and Roll singer is not really that much different than being a stripper” and Pete Townshead talking about the people who didn’t make it. “To you they were fucking icons, to me they were my fucking friends… I hate Keith (Moon) for dying… I love him so much… Look at my life… all my fucking friends are dead.”
Maybe it’s not the idealist epitaph for the “Summer of Love” that I would have wanted to hear when I was sixteen, but one that I can appreciate for its honesty now. In fact, that’s probably what made Summer Of Love: The Hits Of 1967 so good.
It is a warts and all presentation that doesn’t attempt to romanticize the era any more than they attempt to demonize it. Musically and sociologically this has to be one of the most balanced appraisals of this turbulent point in contemporary North American history that I’ve seen done from a popular culture point of view. The makers of this compilation can justifiably feel proud of themselves for a job well done.
All of a sudden I’ve a sudden urge to go and see Woodstock again. What is so funny about Peace, Love, and Understanding? Not a blessed thing. Peace all and take care of each other, but do stay away from the brown acid.