An alternative view on the halcyon pop year of 1967…
1967 – The Year it all went wrong
Commonly upheld as a high watermark of Pop culture, the year 1967 can also be viewed as a year when pop went into a self indulgent phase that ultimately distanced the artist from the audience – a malaise that would stretch into the next decade.
To understand 1967, we need to look at the musical advances made the previous year: The Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’, The Beatles ‘Revolver’, Bob Dylan’s ‘Blonde on Blonde’ being three examples of how far pop – now entering the rock phase – had come since its early conventional love song in the pop form of only a few years before. Dylan of course is the exception here; but the Beach Boys and The Beatles wrote mostly uncomplicated love songs with a typical boy/girl subject matter.
By 1967, the drug culture had become more insidious in the music business. A relatively new drug experience was influencing the minds and music of artists and bands: LSD.
The Beatles’ drug use was harder to detect: even their own ‘pop on LSD’ album Sgt Pepper had a conventional songwriting core at its heart: they still wrote hummable tunes and showed signs of wanting to address their audience in a direct, if increasingly lyrically oblique way at times.
London’s Pink Floyd took it all further – much further – than the Beatles. Their musical experimentation made the Beatles sound positively conventional. Listen to the opening track of their debut album ‘Piper at the gates of dawn’: ‘Astronomy Domine’ – this was generation splitting music.
Your Mum and Dad certainly would not like it. And if they did, maybe somebody spiked their drinks.
The Psychedelic phase in music had started and the culture shock waves went out, affecting almost every band around at the time. Even the down to earth, no nonsense Small Faces started to sound a lysergically enhanced.
The drugs themselves influenced the pop culture and the music in turn, turned inwards…
The major characteristic of LSD is that it is not a communal drug. It is by the nature of the experience it provides, an introspective drug: the artist reaches inward, then delivers the ‘revelations’ to the audience. It had a ‘messianic life altering’ quality about it and this seeped into the music.
What started out as playful whimsy : ‘Arnold Layne’…’Lucy in the sky with diamonds’….soon became a gateway to self indulgence and to be quite frank, a lot of boring music.
Pink Floyd, under the leadership of Syd Barrett, maintained their radical focus and made some exciting and genuinely innovative music that owed as much to free jazz as to pop and blues. But we all know what happened to Syd.
However, for every exciting pioneer, there was a pompous ‘here is our message’ approach that diseased a lot of pop – or more accurately, rock – for the next ten years or so. Hence, the lineage from Sgt Pepper and Pink Floyds’ ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ albums also gave rise to the stench of pretension and over-long musical passages with delusions of being profound and classical.
Throw into this malaise, a new type of rock journalism – the intellectual cultural and political appraisal of pop music as first found in the American magazine ‘Rolling Stone’ and you get the picture emerging of a generation who were starting to take themselves very seriously indeed. And the musicians responded accordingly – now ‘artists’.
The Moody Blues – a band who first came into the scene as a beat group, were among the first to fully exploit the classical possibilities of pop music. (influenced by the Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’ no doubt: the Beatles are to blame for a lot of musical follies that followed them)
The Moody Blues’ music was symphonic in texture (thanks to the Mellotron, an instrument that could mimic the sounds of strings and flutes for example) and extended the boundaries of the two minute-odd pop song – actually broken by Dylan’s ‘Like a rolling stone’ and the Animals’ ‘House of the rising sun’ in 1965- into passages that included spoken narrative. Very serious indeed they were. A whole generation of ‘serious music fans’ bought their albums by the million, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Indeed, the album was now the thing: singles were for ‘silly teenyboppers’ as one hairy person said at the time whose name was John Peel.
Albums became thematic; tracks lasted for as long as ten minutes and more: improvisation and virtuosity became the modus operandi of any band worth its worthier-than-thou salt.
Pop was seen as a lesser art form. The age of rock was here: and by God, did it have a huge superiority complex, sneering at the people who just wanted good old fashioned catchy tunes and economical songs that were instantly gratifying and – heaven forbid – might have served some vacuous purpose as to dance to at the weekend. The older smart pop fan was soon to grow up into Soul, realising its unpretentious emotional connection and responding to its directness. Soul, although of course, had its ‘psychedelic moments’ was mostly unaffected by silly white middle class boys on LSD. It remained the preferred music form of the white and black working classes. 1967 was a great year for Soul music, but this is seldom reported when appraising the era.
So the lines were drawn: even the Beatles nearly lost their collective heads up their bottoms with their 1967 premiere of ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ – a film that took mindless and directionless pretention to new depths. Fortunately, it had some great songs: which cannot be said for other bands that fell under the LSD spell of 1967.
The Rolling Stones delivered a stinker of an album in ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ – an album so desperate to be strange and deranged, it merely sounded contrived and misguided. The only decent track was a bad LSD nightmare trip through the cosmos (Pink Floyd influence here): ‘2000 Light Year From Home’.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the Doors were making some cool blues and jazz influenced music but unfortunately had a lyricist with bad poetic pretentions that passed with the stoned crowd as being somehow meaningful. Jim Morrison, a genuinely charismatic and compelling singer, at least started to strip back the pretentions on their last and best album ‘LA Woman’ – but by then he was dead and his legacy, a ‘roman wilderness of pain’ as that immortal awful line from ‘The End’ said. Pity he didn’t live as I am sure he would have seen the era as the pile of deluded crap that it was.
At least Dylan did the sensible thing in 1967, and lay low, preferring to not be associated with the acid pranks of the head up the bum generation.
One of the earliest debunkers of the ‘stench of 1967’ was the Who’s Pete Townsend. He quickly made an about turn, maybe fired on by drummer Keith Moon’s famous opinion that ‘flower power and psychedelia was a load of crap’.
But Townsend must be charged with guilty as he went on to make the concept album ‘Tommy’. Except it wasn’t an album, it was a rock opera.
Even Townshend was a pompous twit. Still, at least it had some great songs on it to make up for the pseudo-spiritual plot of the story line.
And there is a word: ‘pseudo’…it became the zeitgeist defining buzzword for the era 1967-1976.
Suddenly, rock stars were indulged in their every whim and thought, like they were delivering the sermon from the mount. The trouble was, both them and the audience believed it: the mass delusion fallout from 1967 very much in evidence well into the 1970s.
John Lennon, encouraged by Yoko Ono, suddenly decided he wanted to be the avant garde Beatle (it was actually Paul, who first made himself familiar with outré composers such as John Cage). This resulted in the artistic decline of one of the sixties most innovative, honest and passionate songwriters. His songs were now his ‘art statements’. Yoko encouraged him and Lennon – probably so bombed out by drugs, gladly fell prey to the ‘me me me’ of obsessional self exploratory crap, the apex or nadir of which was the song ‘Imagine’ – a lyric so inane and naïve it should be banned for appealing too much to simple minded idiots everywhere, who believe it to be a ‘hymn for peace’ rather than the ‘message from Jesus John’ that it is. But at least it had a good tune and didn’t last too long.
The seventies saw the evil seed of 1967 sowed even bigger, more stupid, more indulgent and…more pompous: need I name the bands such as Yes and ELP who took the 1967 curse into ridiculously even more pretentious territories?
1967 then: the year it all went wrong. The Velvet Underground could have rescued rock, given it a new perspective, but the trouble was, people didn’t listen until ten years later. Until then, pop music was stolen away from its audience and replaced with your older serious brother’s record collection. No pop allowed. Rock n roll was far too simple.
1967 is to blame – the year it all went wrong.