Not just ‘Sgt. Pepper’: Many 1967 musical firsts echo today
NEW YORK (AP) — “Sgt. Pepper” was only the beginning. Half a century after the Beatles’ psychedelic landmark, it stands as just one of many musical astonishments of 1967 that shaped what we listen to now.
The rock album became an art form, and the tight, two-minute hits of Motown and Stax began to give way to the funk of James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone and the fiery candor of Aretha Franklin and “Respect.” It was the dawn of the rock festival, in Monterey, and of the pop soundtrack, Simon & Garfunkel’s music for “The Graduate.”
And it was the year Bob Dylan and the backing musicians who would name themselves the Band quietly gathered at a pink house outside of Woodstock, New York, and recorded dozens of songs that were the birth of “roots music” and the foundation for rock’s most famous bootleg, “The Basement Tapes.”
“We were in our own little world, up in the mountains, kind of isolated from everything that was going on,” says the Band’s Robbie Robertson. “But looking back at that time, you could see that the stars were aligned and there was a magic people have been trying to dissect ever since.”
There were endings in 1967 — the deaths of Otis Redding and Woody Guthrie — but many more beginnings. Few years contained so many notable debuts, from recording artists who would influence punk, heavy metal, glam rock, progressive rock, new wave and other musical trends of the following decades: The Velvet Underground, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Doors, along with first albums by Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin (with Big Brother and the Holding Company), the Grateful Dead, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Sly and the Family Stone.
Music scenes thrived throughout the United States and in England, where the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Cream and others were making some of their best music; and a young Reg Dwight renamed himself Elton John and began his songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin.
Besides “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the Beatles released the hits “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” and unveiled their paean to the Summer of Love, “All You Need is Love.” The Stones issued the acclaimed “Between the Buttons” album and the classic two-sided single “Ruby Tuesday” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” The Who’s “The Who Sell Out” interspersed mock-radio commercials and jingles and such hits as “I Can See for Miles.” Cream’s “Disraeli Gears,” often listed among rock’s greatest albums, includes the band’s signature song, and signature riff, “Sunshine of Your Love.”
“The classic album era begins around this time and it canonizes music in a very different way than when you hear a single,” says Ann Powers, a music critic for NPR and author of “Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music,” which comes out in August. “And that’s a powerful reason why the music remains so resonant, because the album is a like a novel set to music. It’s the form we share with our children and the form we teach and the form we collect.”
In the U.S., San Francisco’s Haight-Asbury district was the home of Flower Power and Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” the unofficial anthem. It was the year Joplin, the Dead and other San Francisco acts broke through nationally and Jefferson Airplane released its two most famous songs, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.”
In Grand Rapids, Michigan, the founders of Hot Line Music Journal helped out a high school friend and released his debut album, “Backup Train”; Al Greene would soon drop the final “e″ from his last name. In Memphis, Stax was at its peak, with a triumphant tour of Europe featuring Redding and Booker T. & the M.G.‘s, Redding’s dazzling performance at Monterey and classic singles by Sam and Dave (“Soul Man”) and Arthur Conley (“Sweet Soul Music).” Stax never approached such success again; Redding was killed in a plane crash in December, days after adding overdubs to what became his greatest hit, ”(Sittin’ On the) Dock of the Bay.”
In Philadelphia, producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff had their first top 10 hit, the Soul Survivors’ “Expressway to Your Heart.” In Cincinnati, James Brown gathered his backing musicians and recorded “Cold Sweat,” widely considered one of the first funk records and a track sampled by Public Enemy, DJ Shadow and other rap and hip-hop artists.
“We like to celebrate debut work, but the best work often happens when mature artists have to confront challenges from outside music. James Brown had been making music for quite a while by 1967. But being part of African-American culture, he’s looking at the rise of Black Power and Afro-centrism and he knows he needs to try different things,” Powers says.
“And this leads to a new phase and a new freedom. And you can still see that impact. Black Power became extremely influential with hip-hip artists. You look at Kendrick Lamar and you can imagine Kendrick Lamar as part of 1967. He has a different sound, but the sentiments and the political stance are not that far off.”