1967 – The summer of love
by Pete Clemons
This year has seen the release of several album compilations celebrating the fact that it is 50 years since ‘the summer of love’. The seeds, however, for the summer of love had been planted earlier in the year during January when thousands of people descended on the Golden Gate Park, San Francisco for a counter culture party.
The party, also known as the Human-Be-In, had been organised by an underground magazine who were attempting to bring together several disparate groups of people and form one alliance. In other words, they were attempting to bring together ‘a gathering of the tribes’. The whole thing was the culmination of a series of events that had really been developing over a couple of years.
Of course there is so much more to the story of the hippies, and that period of history, but for all its rights and wrongs there is no denying the musical legacy that was inspired by and spun off from it.
Close to the Golden Gate Park is the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and due it already being a meeting point for bohemians the area became known as the capital of the hippie movement. The movement even had a house band, a group who had formed a year or so earlier and who became known as ‘The Grateful Dead’. The ‘Dead released their debut album months after the Golden Gate Park party.
Other bands from the West Coast of America, such as The Doors, Jefferson Airplane and Love who had formed before the birth of the hippie, but who were an integral part of the whole growing scene, released classic albums of their own during 1967.
Meanwhile back in the U.K. the first half of 1967 had seen the singles chart dominated by the likes of Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and American band The Monkees who were clearly benefiting from their extremely popular TV series. Even The Beatles double ‘A’ side release ‘Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever’ failed to get to number 1.
The first half of 1967 also saw The Rolling Stones release their own double ‘A’ side single of ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ and ‘Ruby Tuesday’. Originally destined for their fifth album ‘Between the Buttons’, the single was omitted on the U.K. version due to the lyrical content.
But then, and seemingly out of the blue, appeared one of the anthems of 1967, ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ by Procol Harum. According to co-writer Keith Reid, this hauntingly beautiful song was a journey with characters.
DJ John Peel had spent some time in California and on his return during March he joined Radio London and was keeping people aware of what was happening on the West Coast by way of his show ‘London after Midnight’. A little later the name of the show changed to the Perfumed Garden and attracted an amazing audience response. Later in 1967, after Radio London was forced to close, John was snapped up by the BBC.
Down the coast from San Francisco, in Monterey, a 3 day pop festival held in June was organised, by John Phillips of vocal harmony group The Mamas and the Papas. The festival itself included, amongst many others, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin and Coventry’s own Beverley Kutner who, backed by Lou Rawls band, performed ‘Sweet Memories’, ‘Sweet Joy’ and a Donovan tune ‘Picking Out the Sunshine’. And for many of the artists performing that weekend, it was a life changing event.
The Mamas and the Papas, along with Scott McKenzie closed the show with a set that included the song ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair). Of course that song topped the UK singles charts for a good number of weeks over the summer months. It is arguably the most recognised song to be associated with the ‘flower power’ era.
Also capturing the essence of the summer of love was The Beatles and ‘All you need is Love’. The song was played live on T.V. and watched by over 400 million people on a worldwide link. ‘All you Need is Love’ was then released as a single and hit the number 1 spot.
Other notable singles from 1967 included ‘Massachusetts’ by The Bee Gees, one of the first songs played on Radio One, The Kinks ‘Waterloo Sunset’, The Pink Floyd ‘See Emily Play’ and The Foundations with ‘Baby, Now That I’ve Found You’. Apart from creating a fresh new sound, The Foundations were the first multicultural band to hit number 1 in the U.K.
As far as the albums chart went in the U.K. during 1967, I think it is fair to say that the top of the charts was dominated by just a few releases. These being: the original soundtrack for the film ‘The Sound of Music’, a greatest hits album by The Beach Boys, a couple of L.P. releases by The Monkees and The Beatles and ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.
That wasn’t the whole story though. 1967 saw debut releases for The Pink Floyd with ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, The Equals and ‘Unequalled Equals’, Scott Walkers first solo album and ‘Are You Experienced ‘by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
And let’s not forget that there were a host of other wonderful albums released, all essential listens, such as The Velvet Underground with Nico, Leonard Cohen, The Four Tops, Cream and many others for example that, initially, may not have had a huge impact but, over time, have gained the status they deserved.
The year ended with the Beatles dominant in the charts once more. ‘Sgt Peppers’ was still riding high and in the singles chart both ‘Hello Goodbye’ and the Magical Mystery tour EP topped. And who could forget the Magical Mystery Tour film being screened on BBC over the festive period. Apparently the critics, at the time, were not that keen but those who saw it thought otherwise.
The counterculture, certainly had its faults that’s for sure, but I think it left its mark and shaped some aspects of the world we live in today. It is still far from a perfect world, I would be naïve to think otherwise, but I do think the legacy of the whole movement has certainly made everyday life more colorful, open and accepting than what it used to be. The music at least, from 1967, will always continue to inspire.