I can picture music columnists rejoicing 30 years ago, especially if their columns came out on June 1. They had a built-in intro, a quote from one of the most iconic album-opening songs: “It was 20 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play …” It almost writes itself.
This year on June 1, it’s been 50 years since The Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” a milestone album in rock music history. John Lennon, the oldest of the Fab Four, was not yet 27 years old when the album came out, but he and his mates already had been playing in bands for almost a decade. These guys had reached full musical maturity with this album and shattered the mold of what rock music could be.
You have to wonder if there was something in the water — or maybe in the air — that year that produced such musical creativity, and not just because of The Beatles. The year is widely considered a year unlike any other in terms of the number of rock albums that became classics.
So many great rock albums hit turntables that year in addition to “Sgt. Pepper,” a lot of them by newcomers. Jimi Hendix unleashed his debut, “Are You Experienced?” That same month, Pink Floyd released “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” and Arlo Guthrie, whose 18-minute title track on “Alice’s Restaurant” is the only traditional Thanksgiving Day song that I can think of.
At the beginning of the year, The Doors released their debut, and Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow” featured the first recorded appearance with the band of singer Grace Slick. Another Bay Area band, the Grateful Dead, put out its first record in 1967, as did the Velvet Underground, plowing new territory on the other end of the country. The year also featured debuts that weren’t necessarily classics from David Bowie (released the same day as “Sgt. Pepper”), Dolly Parton and Leonard Cohen.
There were so many masterpieces from veterans that year, including Cream’s “Disraeli Gears,” Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You,” The Kinks’ “Something Else by the Kinks,” The Moody Blues’ “Days of Future Passed,” Buffalo Springfield’s “Buffalo Springfield Again,” The Who’s “The Who Sell Out,” Bob Dylan’s “John Wesley Harding, and who can forget “Easter Everywhere,” the sophomore album from the psychedelic punk rockers, The 13th Floor Elevators.
By now, I have listened to and appreciated almost all the albums I’ve mentioned here. In 1967, though, I turned 7 years old and I was blissfully unaware that all these albums were available for my mind-blowing pleasure. Sergeant who? I only knew about songs. I’m pretty sure my family didn’t even have a record player at that point — my parents had split up and Dad, a musician/carpenter, must have gotten the record collection — but I do recall having a transistor radio, my own portal into pop music.
As exciting as that year was for smart, adventurous rock music, I believe it was just as great for songs that would appeal to a 7-year-old. I have fond, deeply etched memories of a lot of songs I heard on top-40 AM radio stations.
I loved “Mellow Yellow” by Donovan, a record I think I acquired a year or two later. The song seemed so fun at the time, and I still get a giggle when he sings “electrical banana.” I just found out today, all these years later that Paul McCartney took a break from being a Beatle to contribute the whispered vocal on “Mellow Yellow.”
“Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” by The Royal Guardsmen would have to be near the top of my 1967 childhood hit list. It doesn’t hold up as well as “Mellow Yellow” does for me now, but at the time the chorus offered a good way for me to practice counting by 10s.
“Let’s Live for Today” by The Grass Roots also had a great counting hook going into its chorus (and at that point I’m sure I was all about living for today), while the “The Beat Goes On” by Sonny & Cher hooked me with the “la de da de de, la de da de da” chorus.
The Who had a top 10 hit with “I Can See for Miles” — in fact, it was the band’s only top 10 hit, which shocks me. I liked it because it had magic and surprises in it and the repetitive chorus was great for annoying any adult within earshot.
I had no idea what the business on the green grass behind the stadium was all about, but Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” caught my ear, as did other romantic tunes that were above my cognitive pay grade as a 7-year-old, like “Happy Together” by The Turtles and “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tommy James and the Shondells.
There were lots of songs to love that year by The Monkees, especially “I’m a Believer,” and to my young ear, “Carrie Anne” by The Hollies sounded like it could have been done by The Monkees, too.
The song that might evoke that year best for me, the one that sounds the most to me like the Summer of Love, so of that time, is “The Rain, The Park & Other Things” by The Cowsills. I remember them performing the song on TV and how cool it was to see a kid my age — Susan Cowsill — on the television. That song had so many hooks — the cascading harp notes, the pulsing organ during the verse, the joyful “I love the flower girl” chorus, and SUSAN COWSILL.
So far, 2017 is shaping up to be a fine year for music, as far as I’m concerned. Might not be another 1967, but I’ve heard a lot of great songs this year, and I’ve especially been impressed with original work our own local music scene.
Rock on …