Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Teetering on the brink

After writing my yearbook-nostalgia piece about 1966, I had to do a little digging about the songs that were popular back then.

Ye gods and little fishes! What happened? How could there be such an explosion of passion and talent and innovation, cheek-by-jowl with the most inane slop?

I can't name them all here, but I went on the Billboard Top 100 for '66 and just pulled out a few, not randomly but because they caught my eye and/or I liked/remembered/hated them.

There was an idiotic thing called 96 Tears by ? and the Mysterians. The DJs on CKLW Detroit ("Windsor and Detroit know/It's Radio Eight-oh!"), which we all slavishly listened to every day, must've had a bit of trouble with that one. Then there was Red Rubber Ball by a band called The Cyrkle, who might as well have named themselves The Oblivions.

The Lovin' Spoonful, who were many-hit wonders and (at their best) superb, scored a couple of big ones: Summer in the City (which still evokes for me those sweaty, cicada-chanting days in Chatham when I slept over at Shawne Aitken's house and played Archie and Veronica. Never mind) and a real gem called Did You Ever Have to Make Up your Mind.

Rumor has it that this was based on the bees-buzzing-around-honey effect Joan and Mimi Baez seemed to have on men during the height of the folk craze, and Richard Farina's big dilemma: which one to suck up to? (He finally chose Mimi before dying in a motorcycle accident a couple of years later.) Even Bob Dylan went through the "make up your mind" bit before shunning both of them. Their father Albert Baez must have been relieved.

Oh, and the Mamas and the Papas, laid-back but somehow completely focused, with their voices so perfectly meshed that they sometimes created alarming, spinning overtones in the studio that whirled like little tornados above everyone's head. This seldom happens except with those rare operatic sopranos whose high notes can shatter glass.

They put out Monday Monday that year, the song that makes absolutely no sense when the lyrics are analyzed ("so good to me"? The rest of the song vilifies it.) The rest of the group didn't even want to do it, it sounded so lame: a day of the week? Later they came out with one of their most brilliant '60s anthems, California Dreamin'. (My personal fave is Twelve Thirty, a haunting memoir of the life of a young prostitute. Their heyday was so short that this must have followed soon after.)

Oh, and. Donovan was getting big then, with Sunshine Superman. This one reminds me of the smell of oil paints. Yes. Shawne and I used to do paint-by-numbers, as well as stroll over to the park where perverts were known to hang out. Associations are weird. Last Train to Clarksville reminds me of peanuts. Paperback Writer is hoppity as a hot hen. 

Then there's Nowhere Man. What had happened to the Beatles, anyway? All their songs were getting so melancholy. We didn't know it, but it was the beginning of a gathering storm.

Oh, there are tons of others, Wild Thing, Good Vibrations, Rainy Day Women #12 and 35: but as good as these sounded then, I can't get into them now. I loved Walk Away Renee and found this strangely beautiful video, I found Summer in the City badly lipsynched on one of those teen shows (where no one ever performed life). I am a little afraid to look up Twelve Thirty or Ruby Tuesday (which came later, and which for some reason tear my guts out).

Noel Coward or some snoot like that once said, "Amazing how potent cheap music can be." I'd reverse that. Those 45 rpms only cost a couple of bucks back then. Amazing how cheap potent music can be.



  1. Ruby Tuesday still gets under my skin. Not sure why. Cheap potent music. Indeed.

  2. It reminds me of my daughter, particularly at the time she was leaving home. She was in a sort of romantic triangle and was seeing someone at work she wasn't supposed to (whom she later married). The lyrics just remind me so much of her fiery spirit, her restlessness, her piercing of phoniness and pretense and insistence that people be real with her. She and I were very close then and I know she respected me. I miss those times in some ways, because since then she has seen through me and realizes how limited I am.

  3. All children go thru that phase of embarrassment when they see their parents as people. The respect will come back, because the love is still there. The more she learns about herself as a mother the more she will appreciate having you as hers.

    Happy Mothers Day.