Will all commie pinkos please report to the Group W bench at Alice’s Restaurant?
Arlo Guthrie had a hard act to follow. His father was the legendary Woody Guthrie, whose songs influenced hundreds of artists, and became the focal point for political protest for the generation that was to follow his death at the age of 55 in 1967.
During the last four-plus decades, Arlo Guthrie has released dozens of albums, toured constantly, and become a respected member of the modern day folk movement. His first album, released the same year as his father’s death, remains his most enduring and memorable because of the title song.
Alice’s Restaurant was issued during September of 1967 and elevated Arlo to the upper ranks of 1960s folk artists. The title song, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” was a definitive song of the Vietnam War era and remains the grand opus of his career. It became such a hit that two years later, the song was made into a movie.
The song was an 18-minute talking blues style anti-war song. There really was an Alice, a restaurant, and an officer, Obie. It was a first person account of his arrest for littering, a visit to his draft board, and of being regulated to the Group W bench for rejects. The 27 glossy 8 X 10 pictures with circles and arrows was a bonus. The humor, which attracted the attention of millions, belied the serious political commentary and biting anti-war message. The song has been updated a number of times through the years, including during the Reagan and Bush administrations, but the original remains the classic version.
Most people who purchased the album did so for the title track, but there were several other songs that represented the era well. “Chilling of the Evening” was a melodic but scathing criticism of the Vietnam War. “Ring-Around-A Rosy Rag“ concerned an arrest for drug use hidden in 1920s-style music. “The Motorcycle Song“ was another humorous and clever track with odd rhyming that was a nice ride through the anti-protest movement of the late 1960s.
Alice’s Restaurant is somewhat dated today but remains a funny, joyous, and ultimately insightful album that did Arlo Guthrie’s father proud.