By Tony Walas, Harris Teller /author Visions of Music – Sheet Music in the Twentieth Century
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, let’s examine some significant artifacts from the time – the popular sheet music of 1967. That these pieces of our music heritage are still around fifty years later, to remind us of those groovy songs (and performers) is something we should celebrate. They represent more than just the music they contain. They capture the look . . . the spirit . . . the essence of the late 60s. We’ll examine a few in this article.
1967 was a watershed year for the counterculture. The 60s psychedelic influence was reaching its peak, not just in its birthplace of San Francisco, but across the nation. The impact of the emerging hippie movement was affecting music, art, fashion, and literature, amongst other aspects of our culture. The phrase “turn on, tune in, drop out” – used by Timothy Leary in January at a youth gathering appropriately called the “Human Be-In” – became the mantra of the moment, as well as the impetus for a growing interest in meditation and spiritualism.
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San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)
Released in May, and sung by Scott McKenzie, this song was initially used to promote the upcoming Monterey Pop Festival. However, it advertised much more that that – “San Francisco” identified a place that became the Mecca for the counterculture and those who aspired to its ideals, centered in its Haight-Ashbury district. The song also became one of the biggest selling singles of the sixties.
Here is a song that perfectly captures the spirit of 1967. Coming out just as the Summer of Love was beginning, “Groovin’” became its unofficial anthem and a #1 hit for the Young Rascals. Their music had a smooth sound which incorporated a mix of blues, soul and pop. Later on the group would shorten their name to just the Rascals.
Incense And Peppermints
The California psychedelic pop band the Strawberry Alarm Clock sounded perfectly groovy performing this song, and certainly looked the part on the sheet music cover. Hippie fashions . . . drug references . . . way out lyrics, it all fit together for the time. With lyrics preaching the use of drugs to gain self awareness, their hit song “Incense And Peppermints” went to the top of the charts.
Looking back at these titles from 1967 reminds us of the enormous range and variety of songs found on the AM radio dial – still the dominant media for listening to music – during the sixties. The “single” was still the driving force in the music industry. The Billboard pop chart contained a broad sampling of MOR(Middle of the Road), pop, and Motown sounds. It was a selection not as segmented as radio airplay is today, but open to a wide array of performers.
It’s hard to believe that the song “Respect” was written and recorded by the legendary Otis Redding in 1965, yet was over-shadowed by the cover version sung by Aretha Franklin almost two years later. The same song, imparting both a male and female perspective, became the vehicle for a totally different message.
The reason? Aretha made a few minor changes in the lyrics but most importantly added a catchy new four line chorus, missing from the original. This is where the word R-E-S-P-E-C-T is spelled out twice with two alternating lines to reinforce the overall idea of demanding recognition for individual worth and importance. The final addition of the background singers repeating “Sock it to me” was perfect for the times, and completed the substance of the song.
“Respect” was quickly accepted by both the growing (and militant) feminist movement of the late sixties and those struggling on the Civil Rights forefront. It became more than a song; it began to represent a cause . . . an anthem.
It was this song that gained Aretha Franklin a much wider audience and world-wide attention. She won two Grammy Awards for it in 1968, and years later she sang the song to humorous effect in the 1980 Blues Brothers movie. Glamor photo of Aretha on the sheet music cover
Keeping it all in the family, Frank Sinatra recorded this duet with his daughter Nancy, achieving similar chart success that he had with “Strangers In The Night” (#1 in both the USA and UK) the previous year. “Somethin’ Stupid” has the distinction of being a rare example of a father/daughter recording to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The “cute” illustration on the sheet music cover shows them both in a playful pose.
This was a period when popular music began to evolve. While some songs quickly became dated and have disappeared into the dusty abyss of memory, certain artists and groups began to write and record music that has stood the test of time. The new birth of “rock” began to produce music that we now consider “classic,” and which has provided us with a lasting legacy of outstanding material.
Light My Fire
The Doors reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Light My Fire” from their debut album, and the song went on to be their best-selling release. The distinctive organ sound of Ray Manzarek, along with Jim Morrison’s strong vocal delivery, helped create a moody, atmospheric effect in this and other hits like “Hello, I Love You,” “Touch Me,” and “Riders On The Storm.” But it was the charismatic persona of Jim Morrison that dominated the music and the influence of the Doors, even after his death in 1971 at the age of twenty-seven. This striking black and white cover imagery is found on almost all published sheet music for the Doors.
The multi-talented Van Morrison first came to the attention of the American audience as the lead singer for the group from Belfast, Northern Ireland called Them, charting the hits “Gloria” and “Here Comes The Night” (both in 1965). He left them (pun intended) in 1966 and quickly established a reputation as a singer/songwriter/musician extraordinaire who, to this day, remains an artist that follows his own heart and mind. Van the Man also received top British honors for his contributions to music, tourism and charitable causes – receiving an OBE in 1996 and being knighted in 2015.
Relying heavily on an R&B influenced organ sound at a time when the guitar was fast becoming the instrument du jour, the short-lived Spencer Davis Group established a distinctive sound, generating hits like “Gimme Some Lovin’” (1966) and “I’m A Man” (1967). The considerable talents of original member Steve Winwood on keyboard, vocals and songwriting duties provided a key element of their success. When he left in late ’67, the group lasted only two more years. Steve went on to form Traffic and then joined Blind Faith in 1969, before ultimately deciding on a solo career. He released a number of critically acclaimed solo albums producing two #1 Billboard Hot 100 hits, and winning two Grammy Awards.
Next time: we’ll look at sheet music from the movies of 1967.