Finding the Future of Music in the Past

1967 was very good to me: The St. Louis Blues were one of six teams added to the National Hockey League, Disney’s The Jungle Book was released, and then there’s music. While hockey is one of my near and dear loves and I have many fond childhood memories of Mowgli and Baloo, music is to me perhaps the most important achievement of 1967. But, wait. How could music from over 40 years ago have any kind of impact on a 26 year-old? How is music from the 1960s relevant to today’s contemporary, computer-based, crunchy-guitar, auto-tuned music?

While the Beatles had two Billboard Top 100 hits in 1967 (“All You Need Is Love” and “Penny Lane”), neither of these hits were on the group’s eighth studio album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released in June 1967 . Why does this matter today? Artists from every genre list the Beatles as an influence, and much can be attributed to this accessible concept album, the Number 1 album on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” Sgt. Pepper’s leaves behind a legacy among the lexicon of “Top” and “Greatest” lists, appreciated far and wide. Though The Beatles may be considered the foremost group of the ’60s, artists in 1967 had singles and albums that proved just as pertinent. My personal Top 5 from 1967 follows (again personal, though many were at one time Top 10 on the Billboard charts through the year):

The Letter by The Box Tops | Alex Chilton fronted The Box Tops (then later went on to front Big Star), and his gritty, soulful voice helped this song rocket to the number one slot in mid-1967. This driving ode to a letter received by someone’s special girl was a staple during the Vietnam era, and is absolutely irresistible to sing or tap your foot. Alex Chilton may be remembered by some as The Box Tops singer, to others as the guy from Big Star, or perhaps the Replacements song named after him (which all the youngsters can find on their Rock Band video game).

Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry | This Southern-Gothic classic is simultaneously haunting and beautiful, as Bobbie Gentry plucks the strings of her guitar and sings of tragedy in Mississippi in the sultriest of voices. While the subject of the song is ultimately depressing, tragedies like this happen all too often and are just as regularly brushed under the table, never to be mentioned again. Gentry was one of the first ever country artists (though she was sometimes billed as “pop”) to both write and produce her own music. I firmly believe that if Amy Winehouse were to ever clean up her act she’d be this generation’s Bobbie Gentry; insanely soulful, a killer voice and, hell—they’ve both got wonderfully big hair.

Light My Fire by The Doors | Jim Morrison’s vocals and the constant organ line catapulted this song indelibly into the bible of rock ’n’ roll. The iconic figure that Morrison cut helped propel The Doors on a rise to fame that included gigs such as playing this hit onThe Ed Sullivan Show (from which they were banned after a lyric blunder left censors going mad over a supposed drug reference in the song), as well a 1969 show in Miami in which Morrison attempted to “incite a riot”; he failed but was successful in being dealt a warrant for indecent exposure. This past December, Morrison was posthumously pardoned for the famous “could have been” crime. Even after Morrison’s young demise, Doors songs have been featured in many movies and operettas—“Light My Fire” among them.

Incense and Peppermints by Strawberry Alarm Clock | MGMT can thank Strawberry Alarm Clock for being the first recognized as a “psychedelic pop rock group.” This song drips tie-dye and sunshine while referring to those aforementioned recreational activities—not to moralize, but this sounds a lot more innocent than hearing Weezy sing about Purple Drink. Maybe that’s just me…

Georgy Girl by The Seekers | I dare anyone to resist tapping their toes, wanting to clap and sing along to this song the first time they hear it. For such a spirited and carefree sound, the lyrics actually indicate a snide judgment of “Georgy Girl,” asking her to “shed those dowdy feathers and fly a little bit” and wondering “Could it be you just don’t try or is it the clothes you wear?” Britney, Gaga and Christina aren’t the only ladies who can get catty; this song set the precedent for pop cattiness.

Let’s Live for Today by The Grass Roots | Next time you’re watching The Office and you see Creed brandishing a guitar, you’ll know that it’s no act. Creed Bratton was a late addition to The Grass Roots; however, he saw this kaleidoscopic posi-rock hit the Top 10 charts of 1967. While others were “planning their future,” The Grass Roots were busy loving their women and turning out this song to both burst bubbles and tell everyone to keep their chins up and simply live for the moment.

While these songs may take you on an unwanted trip of the far out kind, it’s music like this that makes you appreciate what you’ve got in your record collection. Because, let’s face it, half of your collection would be hypothetical if these once-progressive rock and pop stars hadn’t picked up that guitar, rocked out in Miami, or had strange and tormenting tales to tell. It’s always nice to know where the things you love came from, or the origin of that reference on The Simpsons—and I’m only here to scratch the surface of it all. |Jenn Metzler

Originally posted at Cicero’s Blog on February 2nd, 2011.



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