Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Age of Aquarius - Psychedelic 45s of '67

Although the 60s encompassed the hippie era, the Age of Aquarius, of peace and love, more often than not it was the protest song that ID'd the times. Songs like "For What It's Worth" and "Eve of Destruction" marked the political upheaval, the generation gap and the rise of youth as a viable force for change. That in mind we overlook the peace and love hypnotics of the era, else its eschewed in a mire of napalm and social unrest. But honestly, what's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?

The Cowsills' "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" is winsome pop bliss. This psychedelic classic is an out and out caricature of the times; peppy, good-trippy magic, LSD for one's soul. Here is the musical equivalent of a Peter Max painting or a Fillmore West poster. The question arises, was the flower girl a reality "or just a dream to me?"

"Incense and Peppermints" by The Strawberry Alarm Clock isn't even the trippiest song on the LP of the same name, often overlooked as a psychedelic standout. That accolade goes to "Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow." But it's the title track, with vocals by Greg Munford (who was merely a casual visitor at the studio) that made The Strawberry Alarm Clock as enigmatic as The Seeds or The United States of America. This is exactly the music the Mothers of Invention were making fun of. It's sincere hippy-dippy music about colors and love and drugs and stuff, yet it's actually quite competent, which is unnerving to realize, considering how silly it is. Nonetheless, there's an obvious nod to The Strawberry Alarm Clock from bands such as The Pixies, Camper Van Beethoven and of course of Andy Partridge's Dukes of the Stratosphere.

Masquerading as hippie bliss in Frisco was the John Phillips' penned "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)," recorded at the Sound Factory in L.A. (somewhat ironically) by Scott Mckenzie. Phillips played guitar and co-produced with Lou Adler. Underneath it all, though, the tune was an advert for Phillips' Monterey Pop: "For those who come to San Francisco,/ Summertime will be a love-in there." Monterey Pop would prove to be the 60s' first truly successful concert venue introducing the world to both Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Aside from being a peace/love standard, "San Francisco" was a marketing coup.

The Rolling Stones' "She's a Rainbow" from the psychedelic venture Her Satanic Majesty's Request, is trippy dippy indeed, but here the English Teacher comes out in me.  I'm bothered by the mixture of metaphor and simile. The title states that she IS a Rainbow, yet in the body of the text she's LIKE a rainbow! It should remain "She's a Rainbow" throughout so that the prism is personified and "she" is literally the rainbow! At the time, most people listening would have been too high to notice.

Finally, Michael Brown of The Left Banke just was 16 when he wrote "Walk Away Renee," the greatest Baroque Pop (Psychedelic) single ever recorded. The single would reach No.5 on the pop charts in 1966. "Walk Away Renee" was a tribute to Renee Fladen, who was the girlfriend of Tom Finn, the Left Banke's bassist. In fact, the object of Brown's unrequited affection was present at the recording session as he laid down the harpsichord for the track. "My hands were shaking when I tried to play, because she was right there in the control room," Brown recalls. "There was no way I could do it with her around, so I came back and did it later." The entirety of the 45 is narrated by a man walking through a town that holds, at every turn, memories of his time spent with Renee. Without her, the rain, his only sympathizer, falls on vacant lots and empty streets. Even the tangible reminders of their moments together bring nothing but pain on this particular journey: "Your name and mine inside a heart upon the wall/Still find a way to haunt me, though they’re so small." Yet the narrator wins our admiration in the soaring refrains, when he finds the courage to set her free: "Just walk away, Renee/ You won’t see me follow you back home" (a somewhat empty gesture, since she was leaving anyway). 

The Left Banke imploded not long after this hit, yet through "Walk Away Renee" their legacy in music history is secure. It’s not often that a bunch of teenagers can teach us one of love's hardest lessons. The Cowsills taught us dreamy love; The Left Banke, instead, of love unrequited.