Every year is the fiftieth anniversary of something, and this year we should expect to see lots of retrospectives about the significance of 1967 and the so-called “Summer of Love” that has entered into the mythic landscape of that momentous year.
The curious thing about thinking or talking about music is that, in this age of instantaneous access to information, we can listen to any album we want, anytime we want. In this sense, none of this music exists only in the past, because we can listen to it now. The past, in other words, becomes an illusion, just waiting to be spun into a narrative that suits our needs. For instance, when I was listening to music in 1967, I wasn’t conscious of that year being anything special or particularly worth remembering. Now, of course, we invent labels like “The Summer of Love” to make the year seem somehow more comprehensible. Of course, by doing so we are distorting history and trivializing the experiences of those who lived “back in the day.”
Like most people who listen to music, I have many personal memories attached to my songlists. For instance, every time I listen to The Doors’ first album (released on 1/4/67 but not part of my experience until much later that year), I remember first hearing the album version of “Light My Fire” on our Buick’s radio when me and Dad were on our way back from my playing the organ at a North Wilkesboro, NC dinner meeting and I was, appropriately enough, mesmerized and mystified by Ray Manzarek’s organ playing (much better than mine) on the extended version of a song I had only heard in its truncated single hit version. A whole new world was opened up to me, and I haven’t been the same since. Needless to say, I didn’t connect Ray Manzarek’s organ solo at the time to a similar solo by John Coltrane, who died in 1967. and the jazz saxophonist didn’t become an important part of my life until the 1990s. I don’t look back at this Buick radio experience with nostalgia, however, because I have never had a desire to return to that earlier world. But I have nevertheless developed a sense of wonder at how our lives are often experienced as a series of transformative moments.
1967 has many such transformative musical moments. I purchased several now-iconic albums during 1967. The ones that still occupy prominent slots on my playlist (thank goodness, I don’t have to deal with those inconvenient vinyl albums anymore) include “Surrealistic Pillow” (Jefferson Airplane, released on 2/1, but not purchased by me until that summer, in West Jefferson, NC), “Disraeli Gears” (Cream, released on 11/10 and introduced to me by a Life magazine article I was reading in the barber shop), “Smiley Smile” (Beach Boys, released on 8/18, and nowhere close to the magnificence of their crowning achievement, “Pet Sounds,” released the previous year), “Hip-Hug-Her” (Booker T & The Mgs, released on 6/26 and purchased by me in my hometown TV/Radio shop a few days later–one of my favorite organ-based albums), “Vanilla Fudge” (Vanilla Fudge, released on 8/31, and responsible for many anxious moments as I tried to learn the organ parts to “You Keep Me Hanging On”), and “The Electric Prunes” (The Electric Prunes, released on 4/29, and still one of my favorites by the faux-group put together by recording genius David Axelrod).
Some albums that influenced me most were never purchased. Although I was astounded and confused by Jimi Hendrix, I didn’t purchase his “Are You Experienced,” which was released on 5/12. And I never saw his performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 1969 Woodstock festival until many years after the documentary film was released. And one very influential album I never heard. For some reason, I was fascinated by Moby Grape’s self-titled first album (released on 6/6), but I never listened to it. I count it as a major influence during the summer of 1967, but I never heard the album in its entirety until I added it my iPad playlist a couple of years ago. Influences sometimes have to simmer until they boil. Interestingly enough, two albums that have now become very influential never entered my consciousness until the 21st century. The ground-breaking album by Miles Davis, “Miles Smiles,” was released on 1/23 and took the jazz world by storm. But it didn’t take me by storm in 1967, and neither did one of very favorite albums from that year, The Velvet Underground’s “The Velvet Underground And Nico” (released on 3/12). In that far-away era that somehow existed without social media and YouTube, I had no idea who Lou Reed was, much less Andy Warhol, who drew the infamous banana that graces the cover of the album. This album has now emerged as my favorite 1967 album (with “Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim” being the runner-up), which goes to show that influences range far and wide and are not always confined to a particular year. So, I can listen to the Velvet Underground without a shred of nostalgia. As an aside, I didn’t listen to Aretha Franklin’s stellar album, “I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You” (released on 3/10) until many year later, although I couldn’t avoid the impact made by “Respect,” which is in many ways the official anthem of 1967.
In case you are wondering, I couldn’t wait to purchase a copy of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” soon after its 6/1 release by The Beatles, and remember not being all that impressed, except by “A Day In The Life.” Of course, I was more of a Rolling Stones fan at the time.
Before I bring this much-too-long column to an end, I must relate that the musical highlight of the year came one Saturday afternoon in early June while watching “American Bandstand.” In a totally uncharacteristic move, Dick Clark introduced me to a thoroughly non-American-Bandstand selection, Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade Of Pale.” Needless to say, 1967 was a year that featured lots of organ playing, and I have never recovered from the shock and the elation of hearing that song for the first time. If I were asked to create a time capsule for the 50th anniversary of 1967, this would be my first choice. And I never tire of performing my own version on my keyboards–a version that is constantly changing.
I encourage you this week to think about the music that has influenced you. And I hope you will do so without nostalgia. These, as Carly Simon reminds us, are the good old days.
See you next week.