(c) David N. Townsend
Changing the World:
Rock 'n' Roll History, Culture, and Ideology
David N. Townsend
Mind and Soul
The cultural revolution that arose among the youth/rock generation of the 1960s was not merely about lifestyles or clothes or musical choices, or even political attitudes. It was ultimately a philosophical revolution, a deep and fundamental shift in the belief systems, values, and ideals of a huge population of young people, in directions that were often radically different from traditions that had prevailed for decades, even centuries. It was a revolution not only in how people looked and behaved, but in how they thought: in their innermost consciousness, and subconscious perceptions and feelings. These effects were not subtle, nor accidental. By the late 1960s, a search for new sources of enlightenment, new ways to perceive life and reality, and indeed new Gods and religions, was an active, deliberate goal at the core of countless young people’s life pursuits. And this search was very prominently guided and inspired by Rock Music and rock musicians, who were rapidly becoming, if not quite the prophets of a new religion, then at least the choir accompanying many a new sermon.
This mental and spiritual journey of typical ‘60s rock fans was complex on many levels, not something to be trivialized by oversimplified caricatures or the condescending cynicism of outside commentators, then or now, who did not experience or understand it. It is just as easy to ridicule or dismiss the beliefs and practices of any devoted “believer” or “seeker” of traditional organized religions as it may be to marginalize the rituals and convictions that grew out of the ‘60s counterculture. By extension, however, it is therefore just as valuable, and important, to take these attitudes seriously, to examine the ways in which the sensibilities of the Rock movements spiritual side actually built upon (some would say improved upon) established religious, philosophical, and intellectual traditions… even if those ideas were most often expressed in weakly rhymed couplets with screeching guitars in the background.
Drugs and music
We can pinpoint at least one key catalyst for this spiritual journey: the sudden surge in the use (and potency) of “mind-altering” drugs that occurred starting in the mid-Sixties, chiefly among teenagers and college students, and of course musicians.
The use and abuse of various forms of drugs and stimulants by musicians long predates the Rock era. Alcohol, of course, has always been the fuel to ignite musical flames across all genres and periods – even during Prohibition at the dawn of the Jazz era – and booze has probably been the curse and downfall of more musicians over the years than all other drugs combined. But even the more exotic, potent, and controversial stuff, from marijuana to cocaine to heroin, were commonly used by a host of performers since at least the early 1900s. The great Blues singer Billie Holliday died from multiple complications after a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse (she was actually arrested for drug possession while she lay dying in a hospital); Jazz legend Charlie Parker passed away at the young age of 35, his body also collapsing due to extensive drug and alcohol intake; country music giant Hank Williams only made to age 29 when his lifestyle did him in. Countless other musicians of the Blues, Jazz, and Beat generations were widely known heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and booze addicts. However, such drug use (other than alcohol) was far less prevalent among the audience for these musicians, or in the general population, before the 1960s.
We should also recall the special role that another group of drugs -- not so much “mind” altering as “body” altering – has played in the music world for generations: amphetamines, uppers, “Speed”. Where alcohol is the depressant, the downer that unleashes emotion, passion, and creative angst in the artist and the audience, speed has almost as often provided the energy burst, the jolt of intensity that keeps the singers singing, the players playing, the dancers dancing, and the all night party going all night. By the early 1960s, amphetamines had become perhaps the most widespread drug of choice among the Rock ‘n’ Roll generation, the stimulant that allowed young bodies to keep up with the hyper-charged lifestyle that the new music and social scene demanded. Speed pills were available by the millions, both from conscience-free doctors’ prescriptions and from a vast and growing distribution network, originating somewhere among the drug company manufacturers and passing through organized crime, street dealers, nightclub operatives, and countless others. Particularly in the urban, upper-middle class settings of New York, L.A., and London, jet-setting “speed freaks” became as common as the long-haired pot smokers who would soon displace them. The British Mods movement was fueled almost exclusively by speed, and produced a wealth of songs that were inspired by, and paid tribute to, the drug’s addictive grip, such as much of The Kinks’ and The Who’s high-octane repertoires, and The Small Faces’ ode to a dealer, “Here Comes the Nice”: “He knows what I want, he’s got what I need, He’s always there if I need some speed…”
However, while amphetamines continued to energize the bodies of rockers well into the ‘60s and beyond, the arrival of psychoactive and hallucinogenic drugs in the mainstream music and social scene dramatically changed the focus of the emerging youth and Rock culture from the body to the mind. Almost overnight, these drugs – principally marijuana and LSD – became a central feature of the student-based counterculture, an essential accompaniment to the music and lifestyle of Sixties’ youth. The sudden shift in 1964-65 in fundamental habits and attitudes connected with drug use was as rapid and comprehensive as the changes in men’s hair length, and soon in clothing and color, and of course in the music itself. Just as the Beatles’ arrival in the United States launched a massive invasion of new bands, new styles, and new interests among young music fans, very soon thereafter the Beatles’ own exploration of new sensory stimuli was mirrored across the populations of those fans on both sides of the Atlantic. The immediate and long-term effects of this experimentation on virtually all aspects of popular culture would be monumental.
The apocryphal moment in history that can be said to have ignited this transformation occurred on August 28, 1964, in New York’s Greenwich Village, when the visiting Beatles first met Bob Dylan. While the musical fallout of that meeting of legends-in-the-making was itself profound – the Beatles started to write poetry for lyrics, and Dylan started to electrify his songs – the more subtle consequence arose when Dylan offered to share a few marijuana joints with the boys, who had never before tried the stuff. The impact of getting high for the first time was as powerful for Lennon and McCartney as it has been for countless other inductees into the fraternity of pot smokers, and they immediately assumed the habit, which soon became a central and controversial feature of their public image as well.
Although marijuana (cannabis) has been in worldwide use in one form or another for centuries, the plant had already come under widespread legal restrictions and social condemnation since early in the 20th century. The famously hilarious alarmist documentary film, “Reefer Madness” was released in 1936, and through the 1950s pot smoking in the United States was generally confined to certain segments of the African American community, jazz musicians, and the influential but relatively small Beatnik movement, without penetrating into the mainstream white teenage Rock ‘n’ Roll crowd. Bob Dylan and the pre-hippie folk music subculture were in many ways direct heirs to the Beats’ legacy, and early adopters of pot as their drug of choice. After the Dylan-Beatles summit in 1964, as folk morphed into Folk Rock, the vastly larger audience that tuned into their music also turned on to marijuana as well.
By 1965, and onward throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Peace movement, hippie culture, Folk Rock, and college student life in particular were all intricately interwoven with each other, and tightly tied together with hemp. It is difficult to track the patterns of pot growth , distribution, and use during this era, as media reports were stereotypically either ignorant or foreboding, legitimate research studies few and far between, and most publicity surrounding pot focused on high profile celebrity arrests or police raids. There was, to put it mildly, little broad-based awareness or understanding by the Establishment (adults) of the scope and magnitude of the marijuana phenomenon. But it is a safe assumption that, on any given college campus on any given day – and especially during concerts or protests – a very large percentage of students, probably a majority, were getting stoned on a regular, even daily basis. Quite simply, pot smoking for students became a habit nearly as common as tobacco was for their parents.
Over time, naturally, this habit spread further up and down the age scale, to post graduates and high school teens, but there remained an immense generational divide between the young and those who had come of age before the early 1960s. Much more than long hair and bellbottoms, more than loud rock music and protests and civil disobedience, the use of and attitudes toward marijuana defined the sharp, uncompromising battle lines between “hip” and “square”, between the youth counterculture and the adult “Establishment”. Parents, teachers, police, and politicians didn’t just object to drugs, the abhorred them, saw them as quintessentially evil, the downfall of civilization itself. For the bulk of the Rock generation, on the other hand, the drug experience was not merely a playful escape, a “recreational experiment” (as some have taken to rationalizing their actions in later years), but both a euphoric pleasure and altogether serious commitment at the same time: something very important and central to their way of life. The utter rejection and demonization of pot by adults – who invariably had never even tried the drugs used by their kids, even while gulping martinis and chain-smoking cigarettes – represented the most openly hostile rejection of the kids themselves. It was a declaration of inter-generational war by those in power, albeit against a foe that was in the same instance rejecting the very concept of war itself.
Most of the direct links between pot and Rock Music are fairly hidden and innocuous. The sensory stimulation caused by the drug simply tends to make listening to music more enjoyable, just as it does eating food or staring at clouds. It doesn’t necessarily matter what kind of music – jazz and classical and calypso are all equally enhanced by a marijuana buzz – but there’s little doubt that the emerging new rock styles of the mid-Sixties were deeply influenced by the fact that the musicians were often stoned when the wrote and performed them, and stoned audiences could perhaps appreciate those influences more intimately. These included, on the one hand, increasing the volume and intensity of many recordings (in tandem with the increasing sophistication and power of high-fidelity record players, soon to evolve into “stereo sound systems”). At the same time, another segment of the music (linked to Folk Rock) turned toward more sensitive, intricate mood settings, thought-provoking poetic lyrics, and acoustic instrumentation. Both styles were compatible with the heightened sensitivity and mood shifts engendered by pot smoking.
The common thread was that the music became something to listen to. It has often been pointed out by rock historians that one of the biggest changes in the nature of the music and the audience starting in the mid-60s was that as “Rock ‘n’ Roll” transformed into “Rock”, it changed from being mainly a “stand up” (i.e., dance) experience to a “sit down” experience. Listeners in dorm rooms and crash pads would get stoned, put on records, and simply sit and listen to them, doing almost nothing else except perhaps staring at the increasingly intricate album cover art and maybe munching on snacks in silence. Often the visual setting would complement the scene too, with black lights, lava lamps, and psychedelic posters to stimulate the eyes while the ears and the mind were concentrating on the music. Of course, there were also the ritual activities involved with the act of pot smoking itself to keep the group occupied. The rolling and passing of joints (enshrined by Lowell George’s song, “Don’t Bogart That Joint” first recorded by The Fraternity of Man, and then by Little Feat), the filling and lighting of pipes, and the “cleaning” of seeds from pot, which was a delicate process that usually took advantage of folding album covers – these preoccupations became practices rites that were adopted across the drug subculture, and were intimately linked to the music that accompanied them.
There are plenty of rock songs from this era and later that actually did describe and/or advocate marijuana smoking, although not nearly as many as the outraged older generation were often led to believe. Suspicion inevitably circulated among the alarmist media, politicians, and the like that rock singers were somehow trying to subliminally indoctrinate young listeners into their sinister drug fraternities through veiled messages in their songs. (They thought the same thing about sex, too.) So when the Beatles sang, on “I Want to Hold Your Hand”: “It’s such a feeling that my love – I can’t hide, I can’t hide!”, there was sputtering indignation that the lyrics really sounded like “I get high, I get high!”. This is despite the fact that the Beatles recorded this song long before the fateful meeting with Dylan and pot (and despite the obvious rhyme of “hide” with “inside” from the preceding line). Meanwhile, a song such as “Dr. Robert” from 1966’s Revolver (British release) went comparatively unnoticed, although it was in fact an explicit reference to a notorious London drug dispenser. The simple reality was that Beatles fans were turning on to pot and other drugs not because of secret commands by their heroes, but because their entire cultural frame of reference was becoming permanently entwined with drug use, and they were caught up in the same phenomenon as were the musicians.
Nevertheless, some songs do stand out from this period to highlight the emerging linkage of pot and rock, and the attitudes shared by musicians and fans, both about the feelings and thoughts that marijuana was generating within them, and also about the negative pushback from authority figures. One of the first major pop hits that appeared to be overtly about drugs was The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High”, released in 1966 and promptly banned by numerous radio stations, which didn’t prevent it from reaching #14 on the U.S. singles chart. The instrumentation of the song involves a dominant, distorted, 12-string guitars that creates an eerie sense of disorientation, fitting accompaniment to the ambiguous lyrics, which were generally interpreted to represent a drug experience (even though the band claimed it was about an airplane flight). Even more brazen, although clearly tongue-in-cheek, was Bob Dylan’s confusingly titled “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, from Blonde on Blonde in 1966. Dylan cleverly played on the double meaning of the concept of “getting stoned” – i.e., to be pelted with rocks, as in Biblical times, by mindless persecuting mobs, versus getting high on marijuana, and being persecuted for that lifestyle:
They’ll stone you when you’re riding in your car
They’ll stone you when you’re playing your guitar
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned…
This song is performed in a carnival atmosphere with a prominent sliding trombone and a laughing background audience, clearly mocking the authority figures who are its implied protagonists.
Such aggressive disrespect, for adult morals, for law enforcement, was an inevitable side effect of the Generation Gap, which connected closely with anti-war sentiments as well. The fact that pot was illegal, and could lead to arrests and jail time, was hardly a deterrent for most counter-culture converts: it just helped to reinforce their antagonism toward the hypocrisy of the Establishment. When major rock stars such as John Lennon and Mick Jagger were arrested, threatened with jail or deportation, and held up as some kind of criminal elements, the disconnect was strengthened even further. This conflict itself became the topic of a wealth of protest songs, such as Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming into Los Angeles” (“Bringin’ in a couple of keys [= kilos of pot]; Don’t touch my bags if you please, Mr. Customs Man”), and John Prine’s sublime “Illegal Smile:
You may see me tonight with an illegal smile
It don’t cost very much, and it lasts a long while
Won’t you please tell The Man I didn’t kill anyone
I’m just trying to have me some fun.
As marijuana use spread and became entrenched in the youth and rock culture, a search for more exotic and extreme forms of sensory stimulation also grew up. It found the most potent answers not in plants grown in Mexico or Colombia or in ancient medicinal rites and potions, but in the form of artificially synthesized chemicals produced in sophisticated science laboratories. And the purveyors of these new wonder drugs were no (at first) shady street dealers or organized crime figures, but high profile scientists, psychologists, and Harvard University professors. The phenomenal story of the arrival and conquest of psychedelic drugs – most prominently Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), as well as certain strains of mushrooms which were, in fact, found in nature – reads like a modern fairy tale, complete with odd, larger-than-life characters, bizarre adventures, cross-country journeys, magic castles, and mass celebrations that simply swept across two continents in the space of just a few years. Some of the key figures, controversial and enigmatic at the time, have attained the status of folk legends: Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsberg, Owsley Stanley, Hunter S. Thompson.
From the earliest, pre-rock era days after the first synthesis of LSD and discovery of its powerful effects in the late 1930s and 1940s, this particular chemical compound had been recognized as a kind of revolutionary breakthrough in psychopharmacology, although the exact value and best uses of the drug were highly debatable. Its mind expanding effects were championed by novelist Aldous Huxley in his 1954 book, The Doors of Perception (later to inspire the naming of the band The Doors). Starting in the 1950s, LSD became an obscure but powerful preoccupation for a select few interest groups, from experimental psychologists to avant garde literary and artistic types, to the American CIA and military, and Britain’s MI6, which were actively involved in ominous mind-control experiments. However, it was only with the arrival of Leary and Kesey and company, at the dawn of the Sixties countercultural revolution, that LSD found its natural constituency, and suddenly became a stimulus for social transformations far beyond even its users’ wildest dreams.
LSD was too scientific a term to last long in popular usage, and soon new terminology arrived to mark the emergence of the drug from obscurity to widespread familiarity and use, particularly among the younger generation that was rapidly inventing a vocabulary of its own. The drug itself came to be called “Acid” (among other things) – a name rather at odds with both the chemistry and the biological effects of LSD, which certainly didn’t burn or corrode its users, although it may have dissolved mental bonds. Some of the music that grew up with the drug was thus classified as Acid Rock, a label that was sometimes misconstrued to mean merely the kind of loud, explosive music that would later evolve into Heavy Metal. Rock for and by acid users was far more nuanced and diverse than that, although it certainly included loud proto-Metal among its styles. The other prominent new word to enter the lexicon was “Psychedelic”, a term invented in the 1950s by a psychiatrist studying the hallucinogenic effects of LSD, intended to reframe the clinical description of the drug’s effects on the mind, away from “psycho-active” or “psychotic”, to imply a more uplifting and ultimately positive experience. “Psychedelic” soon became more broadly associated with the sudden adoption of bright colors and flamboyant designs in fashion, in film and television (LSD’s arrival conveniently coincided with the dawn of Color TV), in contemporary pop art as typified by the works of Andy Warhol and Peter Max, and ultimately percolating throughout the commercial culture. The most enduring visual images of the ‘60s – tie-dye T-shirts, multicolor floral designs, bright flashing lights and flowing rivers of abstract color schemes – are directly linked to the psychedelic stimulations fostered by LSD use.
But the psychological effects of acid went far beyond visual distortions and enhancement of color and light (largely attributable to the drug’s tendency to enlarge one’s pupils). Much more powerful, and lasting, were LSD’s impacts on the conscious and subconscious thoughts, perceptions, and feelings of its users. It is no exaggeration to note that for many of those who first experimented with LSD in the mid-1960s, the impact was akin to a deeply religious or spiritual experience. Certainly this was the type of reaction for the proselytizers of the acid gospel, particularly Timothy Leary and his followers. Abandoning their Harvard professorships, Leary and Richard Allen initiated formal research projects involving communal acid-dropping sessions with dozens of participants, not merely to enjoy the strange, warped sensations, but to share the profound insights and visions of spiritual transformation that they had experienced under the drug’s influence. Richard Allen followed the signals of his altered consciousness and delved deeply into Eastern mystical traditions, a path that many others would soon follow. He changed his name to Baba Ram Dass, and wrote a book of stream-of-consciousness philosophy entitled Be Here Now, which became something of a handbook (if not a Bible) for the LSD enlightenment movement. As the title implies, acid-driven revelations tend to focus on seeking the beauty and serenity in the present moment, in everyday existence. Nature, sounds, color, taste, sexuality, laughter, and of course music, are elevated to transcendent, divine status, and earthly human petty concerns and conflicts are revealed as meaningless distractions. The drug also often fosters an emotionally intense sensation of compassion and love for one’s fellow man/woman, inspired by feelings of common human frailty, and the collective search for meaning and fulfillment: the “one-ness” of humankind. A typical acid trip could be a several hour or all-day experience, with a variety of highs and lows (and the lows could sometimes be dangerous, even psychologically destructive for some unprepared users), across a frenetic range of sensations, personal revelations, group play, uninhibited expression and deep contemplation, often concluding, as the drug’s effects gradually wore off, in a rather exhausted haze of emotional contentment. And, unlike the shorter sensory bursts and subsequent crashes often associated with pot smoking, as well as alcohol and most other “recreational” drugs, the after-effects of acid trips could be almost as significant as the wild ride of the trip itself. Users would retain and reflect upon the new perspectives to which their minds had been exposed, often feeling deeply, permanently changed by the experience. It is not hard to recognize the parallels to more traditional religious revelations and conversions, nor to understand how profoundly these effects influenced the outlook and attitudes of a large segment of the Sixties youth generation. Quite simply, the roles that traditional Church and Temple and Bible and Preacher had played in shaping the values, beliefs, and spiritual awareness of previous generations, from casual worshipers to devoted “born-agains”, was largely usurped by laboratory-produced chemicals, and the counter-culture that grew up in their midst. The term “psychedelic” was even derived from Greek roots meaning ”soul-manifesting”.
These effects were all strongly reflected in the new musical directions that arose in the midst of the LSD deluge. There are a wealth of memorable songs from the 1960s that reference mind altering experiences, with varying degrees of depth. Among the best-known are such classics as:
· “Mellow Yellow” and “Sunshine Superman”, 1966, both by British psychedelic folk-rock pioneer Donovan, whose lyrics mystically describe the sensations of acid tripping;
· “Incense and Peppermints”, Strawberry Alarm Clock, 1967 (“Who cares what games we choose? Little to win, but nothing to lose… / Turn on, tune in, turn your eyes around, Look at yourself …”);
· “I Can Hear the Grass Grow,” The Move, 1967 (A very popular British act that never made the successful jump to the U.S. charts);
· “Journey to the Center of the Mind”, Amboy Dukes, 1968 (“It’s a land unknown to man, where fantasy is fact / So if you can, please understand, you might not come back!”)
· “Magic Carpet Ride”, Steppenwolf, 1968 (“Close your eyes girl, look inside girl, let the sound take you away…”);
· “Legend of a Mind”, The Moody Blues, 1968 (An instrumentally intricate tribute to Timothy Leary: “He’ll bring you up, he’ll bring you down…”).
The most intensive and lasting impacts of LSD on the music scene and culture took hold in the creative centers of New York, London, and especially San Francisco. Some of the first famous acid trippers were actually New York-based Bebop Jazz musicians such as John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk. Then Bob Dylan, already a leading prophet of the East Coast marijuana counter-culture, found new inspiration from his acid experiences, and turned his songwriting and poetic talents somewhat away from overtly political activism and toward more introspective and pastoral themes, such as “Mr. Tambourine Man,” a wistful poem evoking idyllic images a peaceful, carefree life, clearly influenced by LSD-type experiences (“Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin' ship, My senses have been stripped . . .”). The song was initially a #1 hit for The Byrds in 1965, before Dylan’s own version was released, and signaled a new, psychedelic stage in Folk Rock’s evolution.
Meanwhile, in New York City’s East Village, avant garde Pop artist Andy Warhol was presiding over an underground explosion of psychedelic and innovative art, film, poetry, and music in the heart of the new Bohemia. Warhol’s traveling multimedia extravaganza, entitled the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable,” featured music by The Velvet Underground (see Chapter **), which was much darker and more ominous than Acid Rock, and tended to highlight speed and heroin rather than LSD, but acid and pot were still in high demand and very much influenced the sensibilities of the New York scene.
Overseas, in London’s vibrant club scene, which provided venues for lesser known, more experimental bands while the first wave of Invaders were still conquering America, a near overnight fascination with LSD took hold, in the process almost completely displacing the once dominant amphetamine culture with a much more mellow, technicolor acid motif. Young entrepreneurs opened a series of new nightclubs in the city with names like UFO and Middle Earth, and began to showcase these new local bands, which played marathon jam sessions for acid-drenched audiences. The most successful act to emerge from these sessions was the original Pink Floyd (see Chapter **), under the leadership of Syd Barrett, who virtually invented the experimental, psychedelic, other-worldly sound of British Acid Rock, complete with fantastic light shows. Procol Harem also performed in these clubs, as well as such less remembered and creatively named bands as The Soft Machine and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Brown. The latter group produced one unique, magnificent hit called “Fire”, in which Brown portrays a pyromaniac demon lord, screaming: “I am the God of Hell Fire!”, before the sounds of a church organ and trumpets simulating the sensation of consuming flames. It was a joke, but probably with a slight tint of realism for listeners whose heads and eyes were exploding with the aid of potent LSD.
Among the celebrities hanging around those clubs in 1966 was Paul McCartney (the only Beatle at the time who was still single, and hence out and partying the most), and it was not long before the Beatles themselves became converts to the world of Acid. Starting with their 1966 album Revolver, McCartney as well as John Lennon and George Harrison, began to reveal the intense and serious effects that their own LSD experiences had on their perceptions, their beliefs, and their creative voices. Most of their songs were not explicitly drug oriented, and again the attention of critics and the popular media was misdirected to such red herrings as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, whose overly obvious initials and surreal imagery made it the poster song for LSD, regardless of Lennon’s repeated (and debated) denials as to its meaning. More pertinent examples would have included “She Said, She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”, both Lennon compositions from Revolver. The initial lyrics of “She said, she said, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead’” were actually spoken by actor Peter Fonda during an acid-laced gathering with the Beatles in California, and John found the observation disturbing enough to capture the feeling in a song. “Tomorrow Never Knows,” also touched on the theme of death in the context of an acid trip; Lennon was inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and by a related book by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and their colleague Ralph Metzner, The Psychedelic Experience. It included Indian instruments, a wealth of innovative studio sound effects, and spiritual, introspective lyrics (“Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream, it is not dying…”), all of which would become a hallmark of many Beatles songs, and other acid-inspired music to come.
The Beatles music that most deeply reflects the influence of LSD and their emerging new spiritual perspectives doesn’t mainly involve fantastic or macabre imagery, but rather the uplifting and inspiring sentiments that became their lasting legacy: love, peace, serenity, awareness. One of the quintessential examples is “Strawberry Fields Forever” (1967). Like many Beatles classics, this song has been diagnosed and deconstructed endlessly. Strawberry Field was a location and memory from Lennon’s childhood in Liverpool; just as McCartney did with the single’s flip-side, “Penny Lane”, Lennon recalls this childhood place of simplicity as an idyllic paradise, a symbol of the inner peace that he, and everyone, is striving for: “Nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about…” Some of the lyrics, however, tap into a different side of the sensations triggered by acid – and are much more readily understood by fellow trippers, who can follow the rapidly shifting thoughts and stuttering expression that is typical of a mind racing from one profound insight to another:
Always, no sometimes, think it’s me
But you know I know and it’s a dream
I think I know, I mean, ah yes, but it’s all wrong
That is, I think I disagree
The instrumentation and recording techniques – flutes, trumpets, multi-layered drums, strings, intermittent guitar licks, along with the odd reprise at the end of erratic and piercing notes and mysterious mumbling, only enhance the song’s status as an acid trip soundtrack.
A different example, but equally relevant, is “All You Need is Love” (1967). This song was initially written by Lennon and recorded as part of a live global BBC TV broadcast in 1967. On the surface, it could be taken as a simple variation on a thousand standard pop love songs, including dozens of earlier Beatles releases, although using the French national anthem as the introduction and the prominence of horns and strings set it apart from most contemporary records. But the message of this song is subtly and significantly different. The Love they are talking about is no longer teenage romance, boy-girl angst, or sexual tension, but universal, spiritual love, the kind that Jesus and Buddha talked about. Lennon had already been exploring this message in “The Word”, on Rubber Soul, and even in “Tomorrow Never Knows” (“love is all and love is everyone”), and with this anthem the Beatles drove yet further into this explicitly philosophical and even religious territory. Few rock bands to that time had ever offered this type of universalist sermon in a popular song, and certainly not in a #1 hit by a band with the following and influence of the Beatles, and hence the very real potential for their message to be received and internalized by millions of impressionable fans. This was no superficial decision, but a conscious and deliberate reflection of the dramatic shifts in the group’s outlook and experience brought on both by drugs and by their increasing exposure to and embrace of new sources of philosophical and musical traditions.
Most prominent among these influences were Eastern, especially Indian, culture and music. As early as 1965, the Beatles began experimenting with the use of Indian instruments when George Harrison played a sitar on “Norwegian Wood”. In 1967, they met and became enamored with Marahishi Mahesh Yogi, a prominent teacher and inventor of Transcendental Meditation, who became their unofficial spiritual guide for a time, most notably during an extended stay at the Maharishi’s ashram in India, where they wrote much of the music that would later appear on the White Album and Abbey Road. Although John became disillusioned with what he saw as the Maharishi’s hypocrisy (he is the disguised subject of the song “Sexy Sadie” – “You made a fool of everyone”), the deeper influence of Eastern spiritual practices remained in their music and their life’s work. This was true above all for George, who was clearly most transformed by his immersion in Indian culture, and maintained a lifelong love of Indian music, philosophy, and people, especially the great sitar master Ravi Shankar, who became the most visible Indian performer to venture to the U.K. and the U.S. One of Harrison’s most complete attempts at expressing this devotion musically was his song “Within You Without You” from the Sgt. Pepper album. This is in no real respect a “rock” song, but a showcase of Indian instruments (sitar, an tamboura drone background, tabla drums, dilruba strings) as well as the messages of Hindu inspired spiritualism:
…with our love, we could save the world…
And the time will come when you’ll see we’re all one
And life goes on within you and without you.
It is no coincidence that the Beatles’ dabbling in Indian culture accompanied an explosion in the late 1960s of Western interest in Eastern traditions. Greatly aided by expanding travel and communications channels, suddenly hordes of previously upright and uptight Europeans and Americans were taking Yoga classes, learning Meditation techniques, lighting incense, chanting mantras and repeating Hindu or Buddhist aphorisms, and wearing Nehru jackets. Its impact spread far beyond the rock and youth generation, and was certainly not exclusively embraced by those who experimented with mind-expanding chemicals, but nor can the connections between the prevalence of drugs and the fascination with all things Indian be ignored. For the formerly insular culture of America especially (which didn’t have the historical colonial connections and immigrant Indian population prevalent in England), the Indian invasion at times seemed almost as overwhelming as the British Invasion, also spearheaded by the Beatles, had been just a few years before.
It is perhaps fitting that the Beatles played their last live concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, in August 1966. In a sense, they were passing the cultural torch from England back to America, and to Northern California and San Francisco in particular, which was by then fast becoming Ground Zero for the counterculture and the hippie ethos, and especially for Acid Rock: first in the surroundings of the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, where the Free Speech Movement was one of the beginning salvos of the political upheavals of the 1960s, and ultimately in San Francisco, the former frontier, Gold Rush/Wild West capital, which had also been the adopted home to many of the previous generation’s Beat intellectuals, including Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. The epicenter of the city’s subculture renaissance became the Haight-Ashbury district near Golden Gate Park; this old neighborhood of multi-unit residences and converted Victorian houses emitted a kind of siren call to wandering young people throughout the country, which, beginning around 1965, ultimately attracted tens of thousands of wayward teenage immigrants to live in cooperative apartments and communes, engaging in “free love”, exploring alternative philosophies and diets and health regimens, and ingesting incalculable amounts of drugs, especially LSD. In the process, San Francisco and Haight-Ashbury spawned a wave of new and innovative musical talent virtually unprecedented at one time in one place.
The prevalence of acid was absolutely central to the cultural and musical awakening in San Francisco. It was here that Ken Kesey, who had first been introduced to LSD through “official” government experiments in the late 1950s, and had gained acclaim through his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, initiated a series of public mass drug experiments unlike anything modern society had ever witnessed. His so-called “Acid Tests” were organized first in public parks and later in local dance clubs, inviting anyone interested in mind expansion, hedonistic fun, and experimental music, to join in. Thousands of kids took up the offer. The acid – which was not yet illegal – was provided for free, in thousands of tablets, courtesy of chemical entrepreneur Owsley Stanley, reputed to produce the purest and most effective stuff available, all in the spirit of the times.
These sessions helped inspire and encourage local musicians, who were drawn both to the availability of the drugs and to the ready-made, appreciative audience. More than any other drug, the effects of LSD on both performers and listeners tended to yield a shared experience, especially during live shows, in which almost anything a performer felt inspired to do on stage would be accepted by fans, who could sense the same subtle feelings as the artists, as they were carried along by the same waves. These sensations led to lengthy improvisational jam sessions at many shows, which might have seemed tedious at best to the uninitiated, but which represented the quintessence of the acid rock phenomenon. Nearly every band that joined the impromptu movement took up this style of free-form jamming as part of their repertoire; it was fun for the musicians, who could break free from the restrictions of 3-minute, Top 40 formats and emulate their jazz/bebop brethren (who had always somehow seemed more musically cool), and it fit perfectly with the state of mind and body of the young audiences, who were typically in a semi-trance state, preferring to flow from one peak to another along a slow, meandering path, often dancing in similar free-form patterns.
In this environment, a throng of new bands sprung up in San Francisco, anchored in Haight-Ashbury, often with interchanging memberships, who performed at the Acid Tests and similar free-form parties, offering a combination of folk- and blues-based rock, enhanced by acid-inspired electronic sound effects, light shows, and of course supplemental drugs like marijuana, alcohol, and even heroin.. They included pioneers like the Charlatans, who actually got their start playing in the Nevada desert to comparable groups of acid-inspired fans; Country Joe and the Fish, easily the most overtly political band of the era; Quicksilver Messenger Service; Moby Grape; and numerous other parochial acts that have retained respectful status among critics and rock historians. Within this pantheon of the mid-60s San Francisco sound, however, there are three legendary names that stand out as true rock legends, both for their musical accomplishments, and for their cultural and historical impact on many levels. As of 1965, some of the early manifestations of these greats would have been identified on the program as The Great Society, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and The Warlocks, and they would have been utterly unknown to national audiences. By a couple of years later, the key figures in these groups were well on the path to immortality, under the better-known names of The Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and The Grateful Dead.
The Jefferson Airplane was the first San Francisco band from this movement to become full-fledged national stars. The band was started in 1965 under the auspices of vocalist Marty Balin, guitarists Paul Kantner, and Jorme Kaukonen, and bassist Jack Casady, who played together at some of the early Acid Test venues. They gained immediate popularity for their high caliber folk-rock sound, and were signed to a record contract by 1966. But it was the addition of lead singer Grace Slick, whom they met at one of the shows while she was singing with a different band called The Great Society, that really established the Airplane’s mass appeal. Grace’s high-flying, dominant voice potently complemented the down-to-earth folk-rock virtuosity of the founding Airplane members; it also helped that she brought with her a Great Society song, “Somebody to Love,” which had been unsuccessful for them but soon became the breakout national hit that established Jefferson Airplane as a commercial force. Their second album, and first with Slick, Surrealistic Pillow, was released in early 1967 and became a major national and international best-seller which introduced more of the mass audience to what was becoming the “San Francisco Sound,” and particularly the emerging style of folk-influenced Acid Rock.
Jefferson Airplane’s most powerfully and overtly drug-oriented song was “White Rabbit”, also from Surrealistic Pillow, which rapidly became and has remained an unofficial anthem of the ‘60s drug culture. Loosely based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland – a book that has occasionally been suspected of being drug-inspired itself – the song combines Alice characters (the Rabbit, Alice, the Red Queen, the talking Doorknob) with drug references more explicit than nearly any pop song had dared before (“one pill makes you larger, one pill makes you small” / “and you’ve just had some kind of mushroom…”). Musically it offers a slow-building rush that is also directly analogous to an acid trip, starting quietly with a simple bass line and Grace Slick’s soft voice, then growing in volume, pace, and intensity amid echoing guitar feedback, while Grace’s singing reaches ever higher and stronger levels, until the song crescendos with her screaming the acid credo: “Feed your head!” This anthem has endured as a beloved classic as strongly as any acid rock recording, as much due to its musical and vocal potency as to any specific drug-related nostalgia.
Continuing to capitalize on their early popularity, the Airplane at first explored even more experimental and innovative musical directions in line with their psychedelic inclinations, but shifting away somewhat from their folk roots toward more electric styles. While they didn’t produce smash hit singles, their albums sold well and they still packed concerts in the U.S. and Europe. The members of Jefferson Airplane also endured long after the ‘60s era ended, reinventing themselves in a variety of incarnations: Kaukonen and Casady formed the folk-blues band Hot Tuna, which played together with the Airplane for awhile, before branching off to become their own independent group. In 1974, Balin, Slick, and Kantner transformed the Airplane into Jefferson Starship (which later became merely Starship) in a shout-out to the countless Star Trek fans among the maturing hippie generation, a formation which yielded strong pop hits throughout the ‘70s such as “Miracles”, but which however reflected little of the group’s folk and acid origins. In typical rock story fashion, throughout the 1980s and beyond the various band members and new additions broke up, reunited, sued each other, and eventually faded from prominence, but Jefferson Airplane’s ground-breaking status as psychedelic rock pioneers has not faded.
Big Brother and the Holding Company was another local San Francisco blues-rock band playing in the acid-drenched clubs in 1965-66, when their manager brought in a young woman singer from Texas, Janis Joplin, who had previously lived for a couple of years in Haight-Ashbury, and had even once collaborated with Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen on some amateur blues recordings. The truth is that Janis Joplin made Big Brother into a star act; both before and after her brief membership, the band produced little of note, but for two years they provided the platform on which Janis rose to become one of the most celebrated and admired female rock stars in history.
Joplin achieved this status despite a tragically brief career (1966-70) that included only four albums and just a handful of hit songs. Such was the power of her voice and the passion of her performance that nearly every fan, critic, and fellow musician who heard or saw her singing was smitten. Her unique vocal style – a raspy, shouting voice that could take over a song and an auditorium, then slip quietly back into soft, feminine sweetness – is unmistakable on her best known recordings, including the gut-wrenching “Piece of My Heart” from Big Brother’s 1968 second album, Cheap Thrills. But the studio recordings could not really do justice to the natural, unrestrained performer that Janis Joplin was on a live stage. Beginning with her first shows with Big Brother in San Francisco, Janis’s reputation took off as a no-holds-barred dynamo, a young white woman singing blues standards such as “Ball and Chain” and “Summertime” with as much authentic passion as any of the legends, from Bessie Smith to Big Mama Thornton, who had inspired her to take up singing as a teenager in Texas. Fortunately, there are quite a few surviving films and videos, both professional and amateur, as well as live recordings of her raw concert performances (along with more “polished” gigs from television engagements) to testify to Janis’s unrivaled stage persona: screeching at the top of her lungs, re-inventing lyrics, talking up the audience, laughing at herself, and simply mesmerizing listeners with her energy and vocal range.
When it came to drug use, although she hung out with the San Francisco psychedelic crowd, Janis Joplin was not an excessive acid user; her vices of choice were mostly heroin and alcohol, the combination that would suddenly cut short her career in October 1970 even as she was ascending to new heights of popularity. Her solo album Pearl was released posthumously and climbed to #1 on the Billboard album chart in early 1971, where it remained for more than two months. Many of the songs on this classic album evoked a sense of sad fatalism about love and life, quintessential blues themes. Perhaps because she was a heroin addict, and also due to her painful, lonely childhood in Texas, Joplin did not typically explore the same kind of psychological and spiritual themes as the other San Francisco bands. However, she did take the opportunity on this album to take a dig at superficial materialism and religion, with the self-authored, a-capella song “Mercedes-Benz”: “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz/ My friends all drive Porches, I must make amends…”
The most unforgettable song on Pearl, and the crowning and lasting legacy of Janis Joplin’s career, was not really a blues number, but a country-style song written by her friend and former lover Kris Kristofferson, “Me and Bobby McGee”. If one were ranking and comparing popular songs throughout history, it would be difficult to find any recording from any era or genre to place above this one. Janis’s version transforms Kristofferson’s song into a kind of blues-country-rock hybrid that delivers virtually everything one could ask for: great singing, poetic lyrics, catchy tune and rhythm, rocking guitar and organ solos, highs and lows, energy and emotion: all in a four-minute package. The song’s story combines three key traditional rock themes in one: longing for lost love, celebration of music itself, and an on-the-road journey through the heartland. The lyrics travel across three iconic American musical locales in the space of a mere two verses: Louisiana (home of Jazz and the Blues), Kentucky (center of Country and Bluegrass), and California (the new Rock frontier), as Janis and Bobby share songs with a truck driver, with the “windshield wipers slapping time”. Kristofferson also provided one of the greatest lines ever in the chorus: “Freedom’s just another word for ‘nothin’ left to lose’,” which Janis embellished by screaming in her inimitable style: “And that’s all that Bobby left me!” Joplin showcases her entire range of voices on the song, from sweet and touching to raw and passionate, and the recording builds to a rocking crescendo at the finale that generates adrenaline to rival any hard-rocker. One gets the feeling, from this studio recording, that the jamming and shouting and dancing could have gone on for much longer, in the true spirit of the San Francisco sound. Sadly, there were no live performances of “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin – and no tribute show or cover recording could hope to match her original – so this all-too-brief slice of musical perfection is the one and only version available to remember her, to remind us of the heights that raw talent and unrestrained passion can reach, at the nexus of great American musical traditions.
Finally, if there is one band the personifies Acid Rock, the Sixties mystique, and the San Francisco legend, it is the Grateful Dead. Over the years, The Dead have gained a global, exalted reputation that places them among the top tiers of the rock pantheon, but much of this prominence developed in later years, as their core fans grew older and more prosperous, their history became more widely known, and their non-stop schedule of live shows became perpetual sellouts. At the outset, and for many years thereafter, the Dead were relatively obscure compared with many of their San Francisco contemporaries. They had very few bona fide “hit” songs on radio or in single record sales until 1987’s “Touch of Grey” (when they were self-consciously over-the-hill), and although most of their major albums attained Gold and Platinum sales status, this typically occurred only many years after their release. Few bands have ever exhibited this type of staying power or mushrooming appreciation of their original works over the course of several decades.
The foundations of the Grateful Dead’s unique journey were also formed in 1965 in the Haight-Ashbury communes and the Acid Test am sessions. First performing as the Warlocks, core band members Jerry Garcia (guitar and vocals), Bob Weir (guitar), and Phil Lesh, together with Ron “Pigpen” McKernon – the first of a half-dozen star-crossed keyboardists for the Dead – and Bill Kreutzman, one of many drummers, became the house band for the maoirity of the Acid Test gatherings throughout late 1965 and 1966, as well as numerous other public performances in the San Francisco area. One of their frequent venues was the Fillmore Auditorium, a dance hall recently opened by a local promoter, Bill Graham (who went on to become one of the most successful and influential promoters in the burgeoning rock music business, particularly with the new ‘60s generation bands and sounds; he also later managed the Jefferson Airplane). The Grateful Dead performed numerous times at the Fillmore, including a headline show on New Year’s Eve 1967, an event that signaled the arrival of the Sixties’ pinnacle year. By then, the Dead had gained a broad local reputation for their performances and their intoxicating blend of improvisational blues, folk, country, bluegrass, and rock ingredients. From their earliest incarnation, they began assembling a repertoire of little-known songs, some dating back decades, together with original material, that they could play with little rehearsal and in extended, half-hour jams and medleys with seamless, untiring enthusiasm.
From the beginning, acid was the fuel that powered the Grateful Dead phenomenon. So strong was the linkage that Owsley Stanley himself, the premium LSD manufacturer for all of San Francisco, became their most devoted fan, moved in with the band, supplied them steadily with top-quality acid, and assumed self-appointed roles as sound engineer, manager, and pseudo-spiritual advisor. Still, most Grateful Dead songs did not overtly reference their unconcealed drug influences, although many innuendos are there for the anointed to hear. One key exception is “Truckin’”, the song that became their de facto anthem, with its description of the band’s 1970 drug bust in New Orleans, and the signature line “Lately it occurs to me/ What a long, strange trip it’s been”. For a band that, from 1967 onward, made touring on the road its life’s work, this message can have the double meaning of both physical and psycho-spiritual travel; for acid veterans and musicians alike, there’s little difference between the two.
The more common themes in many original Dead songs, which resonated just as strongly with the hippie and acid culture, involved pastoral images, a sense of escape and transcendence of material concerns, and a kind of generalized spiritual enlightenment:
Wake up to find out
That you are the eyes of the world
(“Eyes of the World, Wake of the Flood, 1973)
Once in a while
you get shown the light
in the strangest of places
if you look at it right
(“Scarlet Begonias”, Mars Hotel, 1974)
Other favorite Dead classics include “Uncle John’s Band” (from 1970’s Workingman’s Dead), an harmonic ode to an imaginary folk band playing “by the riverside”; and the powerful “Box of Rain” (from 1970’s American Beauty), a sad and moving elegy inspired by bassist Phil Lesh’s dying father, which also contains a universal message that could just as easily apply to the Dead’s philosophy toward drugs, or any other aspect of the culture they embodied: “Believe it if you need it, if you don’t just pass it on”.
Summer of Love
All of these trends and developments – expanding drug use, acid rock, new creative and spiritual experimentation, and extraordinarily innovative musical energies – seemed to converge on a kind of peak meeting of the altered minds in the watershed year of 1967, a year that must be considered the pinnacle of the Sixties’ youth, rock, love, drug, and hippie era. So much happened in so many venues, involving growing armies of legendary bands and musicians, their increasingly devoted followers, events in the real world, and the artistic and political response from the very self-aware youth movement. San Francisco was the ultimate Mecca that drew countless wandering flower children to its shores and parks and rooming houses and dance clubs and recording studios. Folk rock singer Scott McKenzie immortalized this migration of spirits with the soft ballad “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”. This song was a major hit that year, and became another unofficial anthem of the westward movement, which in many respects recreated the Gold Rush of a century earlier – in both geography and the hopeful dreams of its explorers. They were journeying for unspecified reasons, in search of the bohemian lifestyle advertised by Berkeley-San Francisco word-of-mouth channels and reinforced by the popular media, and seeking the inner peace and collective group camaraderie that came with the package.
The sense that a new era was dawning resonated intensely among the slice of the younger generation – roughly 16 to 25 years old, late high school through immediately post-college – that was fortunate enough to reach that stage of life at that moment in history, with the freedom and resources and sense of adventure to explore dramatic new horizons. In January, Allen Cohen, a poet and founder of the seminal underground newspaper The San Francisco Oracle, organized what he called the first “Human Be-In”. The term was a play both on “human being” and on the many confrontational “Sit-Ins” that political protesters had been featuring in their increasing showdowns with authority throughout the Western world, but in this case the cause aimed at spiritual liberation. At the core of the implied philosophy were the notions of consciousness, embracing one’s inner self in the present moment, the message embodied in Ram Dass’s Be Here Now, and reflected in myriad songs and writings emerging at the time, such that a Be-In represented a gathering of pilgrims collectively “being” together. The event was a huge success, drawing tens of thousands of participants to Golden Gate Park, and spawned imitations elsewhere, including another Be-In in New York’s Central Park in March. The San Francisco event was attended by counterculture luminaries such as Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Jerry Rubin. Music was provided by the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Quicksilver Messenger Service, while LSD was provided by Owsley Stanley, tens of thousands of hits, all for free.
By June, the movement and the media (including the newly launched Rolling Stone magazine) had inaugurated the “Summer of Love”, also centered in San Francisco. The challenges of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement were reaching their own threshold of conflict, and unpleasant, violent protest was becoming an unavoidable feature of these political clashes. While sympathetic to the goals of these movements, the prevailing sentiment within the Summer of Love culture was to highlight the positive, reconciliatory, and compassionate effects of their belief system: putting flowers into the gun barrels of soldiers, chanting “Make love not war!”, and preaching that music (and higher consciousness) can conquer all antagonism. A typical expression of the sentiment, similar to that in Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco” was contained in another folk-rock song, by the Youngbloods, “Get Together”, which was first released in 1967 (and became a hit two years later, ironically after it was utilized in a public service TV ad promoting religious tolerance):
Come on people now,
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now
The highlight of the Summer of Love, and perhaps of the entire era, came in mid-June 1967, at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, held on fairgrounds in Monterey, California, just south of San Francisco. Monterey Pop was actually organized by a group out of Los Angeles led by John Phillips of The Mamas and Papas, with the intent of showcasing both the new San Francisco sound and a wide variety of other acts that were changing the popular music landscape worldwide. It succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations, becoming a pivotal event in rock history on multiple levels. Over three days, more than 200,000 fans attended the concerts, and witnessed some thirty different acts (while again ingesting untold amounts of marijuana and LSD). These included several groups that were already heavyweights of the international airwaves and record sales, such as Simon and Garfunkel, the Mamas and Papas, the Association, the Animals, and the Byrds. The roster was also packed with the pantheon of the San Francisco scene, although many of these, aside from Jefferson Airplane, had not yet become widely known outside of Northern California, a status that Monterey Pop changed instantly. The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, the Steve Miller Band, and Country Joe and the Fish all played at Monterey, and all were soon signed to recording contracts. The shows were further diversified with the inclusion of non-mainstream performers such as jazz and blues singer Lou Rawls, Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar, and South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela.
There were numerous historically significant breakthrough performances at Monterey Pop. The two sets by Big Brother and the Holding Company exposed Janis Joplin to a wider audience for the first time, and her rendition of the blues standard “Ball and Chain” had audience members and fellow musicians dropping their jaws in awe, launching Joplin to national fame almost overnight. The Who, which had to that time not earned much of a following in the United States, put on a patented full-blast performance, highlighted by Pete Townshend smashing his guitar and other instruments, and they would soon thereafter rise to the upper echelons of British rock idols.
What few could have anticipated at the time, however, was that the most memorable and show-stopping performance at Monterey would come not from one of these many established local and international headlining bands, but from a relatively obscure newcomer, whom most in the audience had scarcely heard of. This performer, of course, was Jimi Hendrix, whose set on the stage near the end of the Monterey Festival is among the most famous live rock performances of all time, and would single-handedly launch him from virtual anonymity among American rock audiences to become the most influential guitar player of his, or any, generation.
Jimi Hendrix’s career followed a path that was remarkably parallel to Janis Joplin’s: from the sudden rise to fame following Monterey, just a handful of successful album releases with only a few actual hit singles, then sudden death at the peak of their fame, within three weeks of each other in 1970. Yet Hendrix, who released all of three formal studio albums and one live album during his career, went on to become an even bigger posthumous star than Joplin, one of the most revered and recognized rock icons of all time, on a par with Elvis, Dylan, the Beatles, and only a few other superstar legends. In the decades since his death, nearly 100 albums and CDs have been released, containing live performances, “lost” recordings, compilations, covers, and various other Hendrix tributes. More than a dozen biographies and other books have been published about his brief career. And he has been further immortalized by billionaire superfan Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, who funded the construction of the Experience Music Project, a museum and multimedia interactive tribute to Hendrix and rock in general, in their mutual native city of Seattle.
As all Hendrixologists know, Jimi grew up admiring Blues greats such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and B. B. King, as well as Elvis Presley, and taught himself to play a right-handed guitar upside down as a lefty. His natural talent and perseverance found him jobs as a session guitarist for an array of luminaries in the early 1960s, from Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson to Little Richard. His original breakthrough came when he was playing in various clubs in New York in 1966 and was “discovered” by Chas Chandler of The Animals, who offered to be his manager and invited him to England where he formed the “Jimi Hendrix Experience” with British backing musicians Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding. The Experience very quickly earned both public popularity and effusive respect among the British rock deities who witnessed their shows, from Eric Clapton to Pete Townshend to Paul McCartney. By mid-1967, Hendrix was already major star in the U.K. and throughout Europe, and the Experience’s first album, Are You Experienced, was second only to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper on the U.K. album charts, although it was not even yet released in the U.S., and he remained unknown in his home country. After his breakthrough at Monterey (see below), that fame spread just as rapidly in the U.S., and over the next three years Hendrix came to be regarded as one of the most innovative, as well as enigmatic, musicians on the rock scene.
What made Jimi Hendrix so unique, entertaining, and influential was a combination of innately original and virtuoso talent, energetic imagination, and aggressive showmanship, arriving at just the right time and place in the evolution of rock music and culture. In some ways, one might say he was the Miles Davis of rock guitar, so revolutionary and creative was his style. What Hendrix did differently and more originally than any of his predecessors or contemporaries was to utilize his famous Fender Stratocaster to its fullest potential as an artistic tool, to create sounds and feelings and sensations that were the central element of his music, not mere background foundation or melodic embellishment. He did this with an astonishing array of simple guitar playing brilliance and technical enhancements, including many new electronic devices that were just being invented, such as wah-wah pedals, fuzz-boxes, and tremolo (“whammy”) bars, and special amplifier and speaker effects, while embellishing and virtually inventing new guitar chords never heard on standard rock songs. Above all, Hendrix revealed that mere volume – loudness, noise – could itself be a source of creative invention, as well as exhilarating entertainment for both performer and listener. He turned his amps up LOUD, and deliberately manipulated the unique characteristics of electronic guitar sound, creating heavy distortion, reverb and echo, and an uncanny use of feedback to produce other-worldly, ear-splitting sounds that were just what his mind-altered audiences needed to catapult them to new levels of aural ecstasy. Of course, Hendrix augmented his virtuoso talent with a showman’s personality and image, playing his guitar behind his back and with his teeth, undulating and moaning in an overtly sensual manner on stage on songs like “Foxy Lady,” while wearing flamboyant costumes, from hat to scarf to bell-bottoms, that would forever stamp his appearance on the Rock culture’s consciousness.
After his 1967 debut recordings, which yielded most of his best-remembered songs – “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” “Foxy Lady,” “Fire,” “And the Wind Cries Mary”, among others – Hendrix and the Experience produced only two more studio albums, Axis Bold as Love (1967) and the double-LP Electric Ladyland (1968), on which he played the roles of lead musician, composer, director, and producer. For these sessions, Hendrix experimented with increasingly sophisticated recording techniques, such as stereo separation and fading, multi-tracking, tape speed changing, and more, while creatively distancing himself from more commercially accessible songs. He became a notorious perfectionist in the studio, insisting on dozens of takes, yet improvising and changing instrumentation on a whim, while incorporating a parade of guest musicians. Despite the raw, avant-garde nature of these works, Jimi’s vision and his connection with the evolving tastes of the rock audience meant that even the 15‑minute blues jam extraordinaire, “Voodoo Chile”, received considerable FM-radio airplay, and Electric Ladyland reached #1 on the U.S. album chart, becoming one of the best-selling double-albums ever, despite not yielding any real hit singles (although several of its songs charted in the U.K.). Both “Voodoo Chile” and its cousin at the end of the album “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” present Hendrix at his most masterful, showcasing mesmerizing guitar work: screeching high notes, blasting echoes, rapid-fire riffs, unnatural wah-wah and fuzz effects, in a smooth, almost carefree style that left other guitarists of his era dumbstruck, and has inspired countless imitators in the ensuing decades. This album also contained Hendrix’s classic, explosive reinvention of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”: Jimi was an avowed Dylan fanatic, and he paid tribute to many of his predecessors and contemporaries by playing their songs on his albums and in his concerts, always with his unique adaptations that even the original artists admired.
Perhaps more than any other performer of his era, Jimi Hendrix is also inextricably associated with drugs. He was and still remains the definitive psychedelic poster child. He popped LSD with regularity, both on stage and in the studio, along with a range of other drugs, including marijuana, alcohol, methamphetamine, and heroin (although ironically, it was sleeping pills that ultimately killed him). During his brief moment in the spotlight, he never slowed down, going 1,000 miles per hour touring and recording constantly across both Europe and the United States, while ingesting myriad chemicals. Who can say how much these drugs contributed to his muse, to his wanton inspiration and tireless perfectionism? For his fans, meanwhile, the experience of listening to his unique combination of sensory and cerebral music was in a sense indistinguishable from the effects of the drugs that a majority of them were usually taking as well. The song that is most widely associated with psychedelic, hallucinogenic inspiration is “Purple Haze,” probably Jimi’s most popular recording, and one of his personal favorites as well:
Purple haze, all in my brain
Lately things just don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky
Even with this song, however, whatever mind-twisted imagery the lyrics may imply, its most lasting impact is the guitar work, especially the legendary opening riffs, which include what has come to be known as the “Hendrix chord”.
Hendrix was certainly tripping on acid that evening in June 1967 when he took the stage at Monterey to introduce himself to his native country for the first time, and in the process establish a legend for the ages. From an historical point of view, the paths that led to that performance were almost mythical. He had gotten his start playing clubs in New York, while revering Bob Dylan (he played “Like a Rolling Stone” during his Monterey set); he earned fame and admiration in London among the elite of the British Invasion, then voyaged with the rest of the world to San Francisco in the Summer of Love, where it was Paul McCartney who insisted that the Monterey Pop organizers include him in the program, and he was introduced on stage by Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, who called him “the most exciting guitarist I’ve ever heard”. And his set immediately followed that of The Who, after a famous backstage dispute as to which act should go first; when Hendrix lost the coin toss and was forced to follow The Who’s apocalyptic, instrument shattering performance, he determined to upstage them, once and for all. It’s hardly remembered that The Jimi Hendrix Experience played a total of nine songs that evening, as it was the finale, right after Purple Haze, that literally set the place on fire. Thanking the audience with sincere affection, Jimi announced that he was about to “sacrifice something that I really love” in tribute, and launched into a feedback and distortion driven version of The Troggs’ “Wild Thing,” an innocuous minor hard blues love song that gave Jimi the vehicle for his pyrotechnic climax: after playing behind his back and humping the amplifiers, sending screaming reverb and feedback into the air, he laid his guitar on the stage, produced lighter fluid and matches and ignited a rising flame, to which he gesticulated on his knees as if in prayer and rapture. He then picked up the still-burning guitar and smashed it to pieces, and tossed the shards to the audience. Along with the Beatles’ appearance on Ed Sullivan, Dylan’s electric show at Newport, and scenes from Woodstock and a few other vintage iconic performances, this moment, and especially the pictures of Hendrix literally worshiping his burning guitar, is one of the most indelibly preserved images of the Sixties, and of all rock history.
There was yet one more breakthrough performance at Monterey, the night before Hendrix’s climax, this by another star-crossed, legendary musician, another unique African American singer whose influence was nearly on a par with that of Hendrix, although they showcased starkly different styles – and a man for whom a different set of spiritual antecedents and inspiration were central to his musical passions. This man was Otis Redding, and his presence at Monterey Pop represents another pinnacle of the 1960s era’s musical, cultural, and spiritual heritage, as well as a critical link between the past and future of black American music. Just as 1967 saw the zenith of the (largely white) Hippie movement and the Summer of Love, it was also a climactic year in the Era of Soul. Otis Redding was Soul Music’s leading light, one of its most prolific songwriters, producers, and performers, a consummate showman who was, however, hardly known to “mainstream” white audiences. His inclusion on the Monterey program reflected the organizers’ goals to present a truly diverse selection of performers, and put Redding in the position of Soul’s ambassador to the Northern California hippie/acid rock world that day. Little did anyone suspect that his performance there would also be among the last of his brief, brilliant career, as well as the inspiration for his most beloved and enduring song.
But before we come to that bittersweet finale, we need to take several steps back, to review and appreciate the special phenomenon that was Soul Music during its heyday, its vital place in the evolution of the culture of rock music, and how it further injected long-standing religious and spiritual traditions into the heart of that culture.
The term “Soul” was not a euphemistic or ironic label. It literally implied, at least in its original source, music aimed toward, and emanating from, the “soul”: i.e., the Holy Spirit of Christian dogma. It is an unambiguously religious reference, whose roots were deeply embedded in the Church – specifically, the black American church. From the era of slavery through Reconstruction, Jim Crowe, and Segregation, the greatest sanctuary for suffering, dispossessed black Americans (greater even than the Blues) was their religion, and their church. By the early 20th Century, the black church had become one of the strongest institutions in the United States, its rituals and symbols representing a core feature of emerging African American culture. There were significant differences between these black churches and the traditional features of most white American Christian worship in its many denominational varieties. While European-based, puritanically influenced Protestantism leaned heavily toward either solemn, low-key ceremonies or fire-and-brimstone evangelical rants, and the Catholicism of many immigrant populations retained the Old World, Latin flavor of stern seriousness, the Sunday services in most black churches became raucous parties by contrast. Over time, these came to be highlighted by two complementary performances: preaching and singing.
The preaching style of black ministers typically involved a degree of passionate oratory that contrasted starkly with the reserved, subdued persona that blacks were compelled to maintain in public during the Segregation era. The congregations attending Sunday services could look forward to shouting, dramatic, uplifting sermons from their spiritual leaders, exhorting them to obey God’s will while inspiring them with visions of paradise and redemption. And they could expect to participate in these performances as well, shouting “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” in reply to the preacher’s rhythmic exhortations, following a ritual of distinctly African origin known as “call-and response”. The most charismatic preachers commanded enthusiastic followings and became the strongest leaders of black communities, and eventually of black political and civil rights movements, using their church sermon rhetorical skills to move followers to social activism as powerfully as they had ignited their spiritualism. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was only the most famous in a long line of such charismatic leaders who emerged from the traditions of the segregated black church, going back more than a century.
Meanwhile, aside from spoken and shouted words, these churches developed an affinity for singing their praise to the Lord that reflected the same passions as the preachers’ sermons. Both inside and outside the formal Sunday ceremony, black congregations came to adopt a musically-based worship tradition unlike anything found in traditional European-based Christianity. The early black religious songs became known as “spirituals”, a unique class of African-American folk songs that evolved during the slave era as Africanized versions of Anglo-Christian hymns. In the post-Civil War period, spirituals became some of the most poplar Negro music, and the first introduction of many white audiences to black music of any kind, as touring groups of spiritual “Jubilee Singers” gained widespread acclaim, even traveling to Europe, in a period before even the Blues or Ragtime had risen to popularity. Within the churches, the growing musical traditions helped to develop generations of increasingly skilled and creative singers and performers, often including the preachers themselves, who would lead the choir and the congregation in song as well as sermon.
Beyond spiritual singing, many black churches and informal religious ceremonies also incorporated ritual dancing, highly influenced by African tribal traditions. These dances, known as “shouts”, involved prolonged, slow rhythmic movement accompanied by clapping or percussion instruments, with dancers sometimes entering a trance-like state and even collapsing in ecstasy, as the shout built in intensity and the Holy Spirit “entered into” the participants’ souls.
By the 1920s, these combinations of Euro-Christian, African, and black American traditions had evolved into a rich, original genre of religious music, just as the Blues and Jazz had evolved as popular secular forms. The style eventually came to be known as Gospel Music, and a number of singers as well as Gospel songwriters became widely famous in black American communities, particularly in urban centers such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and Memphis. For the next several decades, Gospel became a centerpiece of black culture and music, as the church remained a unifying element of the African American experience. Gospel singers and recordings gained tremendous popularity outside of church settings and with white as well as black audiences. Such stars as Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, Alex Bradford, and groups like the Soul Stirrers and the Dixie Hummingbirds established themselves as legends in their own time, and influences on generations of musicians worldwide. The songwriters might have been even more influential: names such as Thomas Dorsey and Charles Tindley composed wrote literally hundreds of Gospel numbers.
As early Rock ‘n’ Roll began to emerge in the 1950s, Gospel music had a direct impact in many ways: in the vocal harmonies of doo-wop groups, in the shout-out singing styles of church-raised singers such as Ray Charles and Little Richard, in the rhythms and instruments and even lyrics that morphed with Blues and Country and Western to produce the Rock ‘n’ Roll revolution. Still, even as Rock took off as a new popular genre, black Gospel music remained a strong force of its own throughout the 1950s and 1960s and beyond. What happened by the late 1950s, however, was that the commercial and popular appeal of the new generation of musicians and music fans began to draw many artists who got their start in a pure Gospel setting to transition to the secular world, and they brought both their talents and their musical styles, and even many of their songs with them. Ray Charles was one of the earliest pioneers, having earned early acclaim as a Gospel singer, who then boldly appropriated Gospel songs and turned them into mainstream popular songs. Typically, the way this was accomplished was in effect to substitute God with a lover: the passion and devotion and wonder and beauty ascribed to The Almighty in a Gospel song could be readily transferred to a woman, however blasphemous some of the churchgoing public might find such a notion. Charles, for example, re-wrote the lyrics to “It Must Be Jesus” to become “I Got a Woman”, a #1 R&B hit in 1955. Even his signature “What’d I Say?”, which was an original song rather than a Gospel copy, features the quintessential call-and-response motif, and could itself easily be adapted to a high-energy church service.
Another of the most influential crossovers from Gospel to popular music was Sam Cooke. A child singing prodigy with roots in church choirs, Cooke joined the popular Gospel group The Soul Stirrers at age 19, in 1950; they had been one of the most popular Gospel groups in the country for more than two decades, and Cooke soon went on to become the Soul Stirrers’ leader and one of the most recognized singers in Gospel. His sweet falsetto voice and passionate range, together with dashing good looks, made Cooke a natural candidate to move beyond the Gospel world, starting in 1957, to become a huge pop star, with both black and white audiences. He was also a shrewd businessman, and established his own record label in 1961. Over the course of his pop career, Cooke had 29 Top 40 hit records, including smash hits “You Send Me” (1957), “Chain Gang” (1960), “Twistin’ the Night Away” (1962), and “Wonderful World” (1960), with its memorable opening line, “Don’t know much about history…”. Sam Cooke’s popularity and style were pivotal in launching the Soul sound of the 1960s. He also set another unfortunate Soul precedent with his tragic death in 1964, when he was shot by a hotel manager in what was eventually ruled as self-defense, although the circumstances were never fully explained; there would be numerous similar Soul tragedies in the years to come.
Stand by Me
Sam Cooke’s legacy is also tied in with the history of one of the most enduring links in the Gospel-Soul-Rock/Pop chain: the song (and lyric) “Stand By Me”. This simple three-word phrase wonderfully encapsulates a century of cultural, musical and spiritual evolution, while evoking perhaps the most basic yet profound meanings underlying both religious and secular music aimed at the “soul”.
The tale begins with Charles A. Tindley, the “Grandfather of Gospel,” who was one of the first and most prolific Gospel songwriters and producers in the early 20th Century. It was Tindley who originally wrote “I’ll Overcome Some Day,” which evolved into the anthem of the Civil Rights movement, “We Shall Overcome”. In 1905, Tindley wrote a song called “Stand By Me”, which took the form of a slow, solemn hymn, imploring God to be there for the singer during times of trouble:
When the storms of life are raging
Stand by me…
In the midst of tribulation
Stand by me…
When I’m growing old and feeble…
When my life becomes a burden…
Stand by me.
The song became immensely popular in Gospel circles, and a standard that was sung and recorded countless times over the ensuing decades. Elvis Presley released a version on his 1966 Gospel collection, How Great Thou Art, and Bob Dylan even performed the song in concert.
Meanwhile, after Sam Cooke left the Soul Stirrers, he continued to write Gospel songs for them, and one of the first recordings by the group with his replacement Johnnie Taylor as lead singer was a Cooke composition entitled “Stand By Me Father”, released in 1960. Although musically and lyrically different, the song was clearly inspired by the Tindley original:
Oh Father, you’ve been my friend
Now that I’m in trouble
Stand by me to the end…
When I’m sick Father…
When it seem like I don’t have a friend…
Then, not long after Cooke left the Soul Stirrers, another established lead singer, Ben E. King, dropped out of his highly successful pop group, The Drifters. King (under his given name of Ben Nelson), who had been lead singer for some of the Drifters’ biggest hits such as “Save the Last Dance for Me” and “This Magic Moment”, also got his start singing in a church choir, and his strong, somewhat raspy baritone voice was more preacher-like than Cooke’s falsetto. Working with the songwriting dynamos Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, King launched his solo career with the hit “Spanish Harlem” in 1961. Then later that year they collaborated to produce yet another variation on “Stand By Me”, and created a legend in the process. Again the music and lyrics were new, but the spirit and inspiration of the original Tindley classic, as well as Cooke’s variation, were undeniable. The song begins with a modest rhythm and a single guitar playing a soft Blues riff, later accompanied by violins and angelic harmonies. Then King’s voice enters, singing a haunting yet soothing ode to the same sentiment of faith and fellowship in times of trouble:
When the night has come, and the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand by me.
And darling, darling stand by me, oh stand by me…
On the chorus, King’s vocal doubles in pitch and volume, as he cries out for the comfort he needs: an exhilarating and chilling passage that gives the recording its unforgettable power.
With this record, one can argue that Soul music came into its own. It was a smash hit, #1 on the R&B chart and #5 on the Pop chart in the U.S. King’s recording was the essence of what Soul came to represent: a Gospel-inspired song, performed in intensified and upbeat versions of Gospel vocal and rhythmic styles, and transformed into a secular love song by the simple addition of the word “darling” – to imply that the one King wants to “stand by” him is not God, but his woman. Countless Soul hits would follow the same pattern over the next decade, but King’s “Stand By Me” has had staying power and influence beyond almost any other. It has been covered by dozens of artists, including a 1975 hit version by John Lennon which helped revive popular awareness of Ben E. King and other Soul forebears. In 1986, a Rob Reiner movie also entitled “Stand By Me” used King’s original recording in its soundtrack, and his version returned to the charts, peaking at #9, and becoming one of a very few records ever to become a Top Ten hit twice more than two decades apart. The sentiment invoked by the song has been featured in a wide range of other popular music over the decades. Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” (1965) is one of the most popular and recognized Country songs of all time. Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (1970) and Carole King and James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” (1971), both #1 hits and Soft Rock classics, draw from the same source inspiration. Punk legends The Clash had their first U.S. hit single in 1979 with “Train in Vain (Stand By Me)” (which complains that his companion “didn’t stand by me”). British progressive rockers Oasis had a #2 U.K. hit in 1997 with yet another “Stand By Me” – interestingly, on their Be Here Now album – a hard guitar rock anthem, with lyrics that only faintly recall Tindley’s 100-year-old hymn:
The cold and wind and rain don’t know…
Times are hard when things have got no meaning…
Stand by me, nobody knows the way it’s gonna be.
Oasis songwriter Noel Gallagher has said that he was inspired by John Lennon, and Lennon was inspired by Ben E. King, who was inspired by Sam Cooke, who was inspired by Charles Tindley – who was presumably inspired by God, and by the religious musical traditions of the slave era and of Christianity and Africa back to Antiquity, each expressing the same simple message of endurance, comfort, and compassion with his own voice.
In the wake of Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Ben E. King, an entire generation of Gospel-trained singers and songwriters came of age in the mid-1960s. While hippies were exploring new psychological and musical horizons under the influence of artificial drugs, the Soul movement was offering a style of music and feeling that was at least indirectly drawn from the oldest source in The Book: the Lord. Reinforcing and strengthened by the growing civil rights movement and the uplifting sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his fellow preacher-activists, Soul singers added a musical accompaniment to the renaissance that was sweeping black America. This wave of inspiration produced a flood of legendary and influential songs, and some of the most famous performers in American popular culture. Here are some of the highest of the highlights:
Wilson Pickett, “In the Midnight Hour” (1965, #1 R&B chart, #21 Pop chart). Pickett, like Otis Redding and many other Soul stars, made his name under the guidance of Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records in Memphis, together with sister company Stax and its house band, Booker T. and the M.G.’s, which virtually invented the instrumental sound of Memphis Soul. This song features Pickett’s potent, energetic voice evoking passionate anticipation of late-night romance, supported by a pounding backbeat and a prominent horn section. Pickett followed “Midnight Hour” with a string of hits, including enduring classics “Land of 1,000 Dances” and “Mustang Sally”. These were all unrestrained dance numbers that energized both black and white social gatherings across the country in the mid-1960s.
The Impressions, “People Get Ready” (1965, #3 R&B, #14 Pop). The Impressions originally gained prominence as a duo of songwriter/performers who first met as church choir singers: Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield. They hailed from Chicago, the main Northern outpost of Soul’s emergence (also Sam Cooke’s home town). While they scored a national hit as early as 1958 with “For Your Precious Love” (see below), their greatest success came in the mid-1960s when Mayfield led the band after Butler’s departure. “People Get Ready” was their most memorable song, an overtly Gospel-style hymn that spoke to emerging political activist sentiments as well. Mayfield’s sweet soprano is backed by tender harmonies as he sings of the “train a-comin’” – a well-worn metaphor in Gospel for the imminent arrival of the Lord, and/or the journey to Heaven, as well as the coming Judgment for sinners and oppressors. This song has been covered dozens of times by artists from Aretha Franklin to Rod Stewart to U2. It is the foundation for Bob Marley and the Wailers’ 1977 classic “One Love/People Get Ready” (see below). In 2006, John Mayer won a Grammy for his “Waiting for the World to Change”, which was also closely inspired by Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” both musically and thematically.
Percy Sledge, “When a Man Loves a Woman,” (1966, #1 R&B, #1 Pop). The first few notes of this smash-hit classic feature a lonely organ solo that sounds like it was recorded right in the middle of a solemn church service. Then Percy Sledge’s voice enters, singing the title line at peak intensity: part of the lasting appeal of this song is how its signature lyric and vocal simply jump out at the listener from the beginning. Many music lovers probably can sing the song’s first line only, and don’t remember any others. It is the ultimate male lover’s lament, about the pain and pleasure, anguish and ecstasy that only a man truly in love (“deep down in his soul”) can understand. The song’s feeling, melody, and that initial vocal outburst have had such staying power that it has returned to the top of the pop charts around the world multiple times, in cover versions by Michael Bolton in the U.S. in 1991 and in Australia in 1988 by Aussie superstar Jimmy Barnes, while Sledge’s original record again reached #2 in the U.K. after it was featured in a Levi Jeans TV commercial.
James Brown, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, (1965, #1 R&B, #3 Pop). James Brown, of course, merits his own special place among the pantheon of Soul artists, who knew him universally as the “Godfather of Soul”. More than any other, Brown emulated the passion, and showmanship, of a preacher possessed with the Spirit, and his live performances, much more than his recordings, rose to mythical status for the sheer energy that he exerted on stage. James Brown is a prominent example of a performer whose long-term influence on music well surpassed his direct commercial impact during most of his career. He got his start in the mid-1950s with a band he called the Famous Flames, and was heavily influenced by Little Richard, both musically and stylistically (Brown even filled in for Little Richard on a tour in 1957). Over the next four decades, James Brown became an institution, especially among African American audiences, scoring dozens of hit records, including seventeen that reached #1 on the R&B chart, although his Pop singles chart success was considerably less, highlighting the racial divide surrounding his unique style and sound. This song, “I Got You,” is probably his best-known single among the mass (white) audience, along with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” also from 1965, and “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” from 1966, “Cold Sweat” (1967), and his smash hit “Living in America” from 1985. Other major, influential hits within the R&B (black) market included “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” (1968), “Super Bad” (1970), and “The Payback” (1974).
So strong was his reputation, his legendary energy, and the unique intensity of his performing style that James Brown’s “sound” became a vital influence on generations of (mostly black) musicians. His unrelenting emphasis on rhythm, from the percussion sections to the syncopation of his own voice, anticipated and laid the groundwork for both Funk and Rap, along with a wealth of subgenres and styles. Virtually every major R&B artist of the 1970s and 1980s, and many since, would acknowledge James Brown as a vital influence on their music and performances.
On stage, Brown had no equal. From the 1960s onward, he delivered countless live shows, many of them televised and even simulcast in movie theaters for his rabid fans. He developed a vintage showmanship that was both closely choreographed and spontaneous at this same time. He would be introduced by an MC with the fanfare and drama of a heavyweight boxing championship, creating euphoric anticipation as he took the stage. He would then launch into an exhausting, lengthy, passionate show that would explode from one emotionally draining highlight to another. In addition to his loud, raspy singing and shouting, he would delight the crowd with stunning dance moves: hyperactively shuffling his feet, his entire body vibrating across the stage, and a patented one-footed slide-step move (twenty years before Michael Jackson introduced the “Moon Walk”). He would milk the audience, singing only a few words between frenetic dance steps, dragging out a song chorus at its climax interminably in an enticingly sensual manner. At the (apparent) conclusion of the show, Brown would appear to collapse from exhaustion, and his assistant would come to his aid, drape a cape over him, and start to lead him slowly off the stage. Brown would then rise up and throw off the cape, and rush back to the microphone to resume singing, as if wanting to give just a bit more; often he would repeat this same trick two or three times in a row, generating increasing waves of rapture among his fans. In these performances he often emulated a preacher, and his entire act was reminiscent of the of the traditions of Gospel and spirituals going back more than a century, but with the originality of the consummate modern showman, and musical and rhythmic innovations that were all his own.
Arriving in 1967
All of this Soulful music percolating through the early and mid-1960s reached its peak in 1967, that watershed year of unequaled creativity and spirit for the entire Rock music culture, white and black, hippie and soul brother/sister. On top of the classics and stars that had already made their mark, 1967 added these new highlights to Soul’s legacy:
Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell, “Your Precious Love,” (#2 R&B, #5 Pop). This song has a genealogy comparable to “Stand By Me”. Thomas Dorsey’s “Precious Lord” from 1932 is considered an all-time Gospel classic; the Soul Stirrers covered this song, and they also had a song in the 1960s entitled “His Precious Love”; the first big hit for Jerry Butler and the Impressions was “For Your Precious Love” (1958). Each of these different titles represented a different song, but they all incorporated the sentiment of deep, “precious” love of God, or of a human lover. This version is a slow, melodic love song that combines both the religious and the romantic, as the duet sing “God must have sent you from above.” Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell had several duet hits for Motown in the mid-60s, as the Detroit label expanded its sound from its pop roots to embrace the Soul revolution emanating from Memphis and Chicago. After Terrell’s untimely death in 1970, Marvin Gaye emerged as a huge solo star and highly influential songwriter. His “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (see below) and “What’s Going On” (see Chapter **) are two of the most enduring Motown Soul classics. Tragically, Gaye’s life and career also ended prematurely in 1984, when his own father shot and killed him.
Gladys Knight and the Pips, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” (#1 R&B, #2 Pop). This song was written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, and has the distinction of becoming a hit for three different artists within just a few years’ time. Motown scored two top singles, first with this version in late 1967, and then with Marvin Gaye’s in 1968, which sold even better. Then the blues-rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival released an extended jam version of “Grapevine” in 1970 that became a hit in itself and a staple of FM radio play. This first release introduced the world to Gladys Knight and her soon-to-be notorious backups singers/dancers, the “Pips”. The song is a cheating-lover vehicle that is so universal and flexible it could be recorded in Gaye’s mellow rhythm and high-pitched crooning style, where the woman is cheating on the man, or in the upbeat, almost celebratory Gospel version by Ms. Knight, which she turned up yet another notch in live performances, as if the betrayed woman singer is either angrily shouting at her cheating lover, or somehow cheering the situation. Gladys Knight and the Pips went on to become one of the most popular and successful 1970s Soul groups, with the smash hits “If I Were Your Woman,” “Neither One of Us,” “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” and their Grammy Award Hall of Fame signature tune, “Midnight Train to Georgia”. On all of these songs, it is Gladys Knight’s powerful, unrestrained voice that elevates what are otherwise standard pop lyrics and melodies to heart-racing intensity, while her Pips provided intermittent call-and-response backup vocals and neatly choreographed dance steps, which generated a fair amount of bemused satire over the years.
Jackie Wilson, “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” (#1 R&B, #6 Pop). Jackie Wilson had been an early Soul star, contemporary of Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and James Brown since the late 1950s, whose hyper-energetic style rivaled Brown’s, while his good looks made him a screaming favorite among young female fans. His nickname was “Mr. Excitement”. He began his career with The Dominoes (replacing Clyde McPhatter), then had a Top 10 hit as a solo artist with the doo-wop number “Lonely Teardrops” in 1958. “Higher and Higher” ultimately became his signature hit: another fast-paced uplifting (literally) song that could be just as readily sung at a church service as in a dance club. It was revived again as a hit when featured in the 1989 movie “Ghostbusters 2” (and was also used as a crowd rallying song at Barack Obama speeches in 2008). In yet another Soul tragedy, Wilson didn’t live to enjoy the renewed honors, as he died in 1984, having spent nearly a decade in a coma after collapsing on stage during a 1975 concert. In tribute, at the 1984 Grammy Awards, Michael Jackson dedicated his Album of the Year Award for Thriller to Jackie Wilson, underscoring his influence on the next generation of Soul-Pop superstardom.
Arthur Conley, “Sweet Soul Music,” (#2 R&B, #2 Pop). This song, the only significant hit for Conley, was co-written with Otis Redding and adapted from a Sam Cooke song, “Yeah, Man”. It served as a kind of tribute milestone to the coming of age of Soul, similar to Chuck Berry’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” a decade earlier. For some reason, Redding chose to use the horn arrangement from “The Magnificent Seven,” a well-known cowboy-western theme, to back up the song, perhaps as an ironic contrast to the up-tempo, black urban style of the rest of the music. The lyrics consist of a series of verses that put the “spotlight” on the reigning Soul starts of the day: Lou Rawls, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, James Brown (“he’s the king of them all”), and Otis Redding himself. Conley’s voice closely resembles Brown’s raspy shouting style, as does the rhythm and energy of this dance floor crowd pleaser.
Sam and Dave, “Soul Man” (#1 R&B, #2 Pop). Yet another all-time classic that arrived in 1967, “Soul Man” is one of a few songs that both defined and transcended its genre. Sam Moore and Dave Prater were former Gospel singers who made the transition to Soul stars as a duet, incorporating the call-and-response motif along with fancy dance steps to accompany their singing. Another success story of the Memphis Atlantic-Stax Records collaboration, they had a run of Top 10 R&B hits from 1965 to 1968, most co-written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter. Those two also composed “Soul Man,” which catapulted Sam and Dave to superstar status with the mainstream (white) audience as well, and fueled a frantic live performing career that spanned America, Europe, and Japan over the next few years. Lyrically, “Soul Man” is a bold pronouncement of the arrival of this new kind of black man – “got what I got the hard way… you ain’t seen nothin’ yet” – an assertion of the growing black identity redefinition. He’s not a threatening figure, just an aggressive, confident lover: “I learned to love before I could eat.” Still, the song’s success was due at least as much to its musical depth and intensity as to its message. For these, it owed as much to the Stax house musicians as to Sam and Dave’s singing. These lunch pail players, Booker T. and the M.G.’s as the main band and the Mar-Keys as the horn section, were just about the most successful unknown orchestra in America during the mid-1960s, as they delivered the essential instrumentals on countless records. On “Soul Man,” the lead guitar track that opens the song and provides backup throughout helps define the tune (along with the dominant trumpet and bass lines). In one famous pause, Sam yells “Play it, Steve!”, a shout-out to Steve Cropper, the M.G.’s indefatigable guitarist and co-songwriter, who happened to be white, but was among the most influential musicians in defining the Memphis Soul sound.
“Soul Man” was famously revived in 1979 by the “Saturday Night Live” comedy team of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, who formed the Blues Brothers duet as a sketch for the show, and were so well received that they soon released a #1 live album and a hit movie based on the act. Always intended as an honest tribute to Blues, R&B, and Soul music, which had been lost to the radio airwaves and record stores by the late 1970s in favor of “pre-programmed electronic disco”, the Blues Brothers paid reverent homage to the real stars whom they emulated, both by including Cropper himself and other Soul era musicians in their band, and by giving cameo roles in their films to the likes of Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, and Cab Calloway. Nearly a decade after Sam and Dave had faded from public view, the Blues Brothers’ “Soul Man” was again a Top 20 hit, and the Blues Brothers band, in various incarnations, continued to revitalize vintage Soul and Blues in performances worldwide for years thereafter.
As if the flood of popular and memorable Soul music weren’t already enough for one year, 1967 was also the year in which Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul herself, burst on the scene. That year, Aretha conquered all before her, scoring no less than five Top 10 hit records (“I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You”); “Respect”; “Baby I Love You”; “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”; “Chain of Fools”), followed by another four in 1968. Few performers of any stripe, outside of Elvis and the Beatles, had ever realized such sudden and dominant success, and virtually no solo female singer of the Rock ‘n’ Roll era had even come close before Aretha. Not that she had been utterly unknown prior to 1967; in fact, one could say that Aretha Franklin was essentially destined from childhood to be the heiress to inherit the heritage that became Soul music. Her father was a national prominent Baptist minister as well as Gospel singer, and not only did she grow up singing and playing piano in his churches, but her family were friendly with Gospel legends Clara Ward and Mahalia Jackson, who both inspired and mentored Aretha. She recorded her first album of Gospel songs at age 14 in 1956. The family was also friendly with Sam Cooke and Berry Gordy, Jr., and by 1960 (after giving birth to two sons as an unwed teenager), Aretha chose to set out on a career in popular music. Although she had some modest success with a range of ballads and nightclub numbers, it took seven years and a switch of record labels from conservative Columbia to the Soul factory at Atlantic for Franklin to achieve her breakthrough. Teaming with the likes of Otis Redding (who wrote “Respect” and had previously released his own version), Steve Cropper, and the Sound Rhythm Section from Atlantic’s studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Aretha seemed to find herself musically almost overnight, and the pop audience couldn’t get enough of her.
To some extent, as time went on, Aretha Franklin seems to have unwittingly fallen into the category of stars who were “famous for being famous”. She so completely dominated her particular genre that from 1968 to 1975 she received the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B performance every year for eight straight years. Although she put out many quality records during this period, at least part of the reason for her unrivaled success was that there were really very few prominent black female singers to compete with her. Soul, like Rock in general, remained heavily male dominated through the mid-1970s (and beyond). Thus, in 1969, when she won the Best Female R&B Grammy for “Chain of Fools,” the other nominees in that category were Ella Washington, Barbara Acklin, Etta James, and Erma Franklin; of these, only Etta James had a significant recording career. Similarly, in 1973, Aretha won for her album Young, Gifted, and Black, and the competition were Betty Wright, Esther Phillips, Candi Staton, and Merry Clayton, again not exactly household names now or then, although Esther Phillips did have two #1 singles over the course of a long career. This unique status placed particularly difficult burdens upon Franklin, unlike those facing most male Soul and pop stars, and probably contributed to her relatively volatile career in and out of the spotlight. She was looked up to by both the Black Power and Women’s Liberation movements as a strong symbol and voice, while trying to be faithful to her Gospel and family roots, her musical talents, not to mention the expectations of record producers, the media, and the mass pop audience.
It was this initial outburst in 1967of feminine-charged Soul songs that vaulted Aretha onto her throne. While listeners had become accustomed to hearing how black males feel “when a man loves a woman deep down in his soul,” they were far less familiar with the black woman’s point of view on God, love, sex, and the relationships among them. And it turned out to be a very different perspective. While Soul Men expressed their worship for women in terms that were virtually identical to their traditional devotion to God, these divine feelings were not always mutual. Some of the earliest female R&B hits included songs like Willie Mae Thornton’s “Hound Dog” (later appropriated by Elvis, with different lyrics and meaning) and Ruth Brown’s “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean”. The aforementioned Etta James, who was one of the most successful R&B singers of the early 1960s, had hits with such titles as “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “Fool That I Am,” and “Stop the Wedding”. Evidently, the women were somewhat less starry-eyed about the true nature of Earthly love. Aretha’s “Chain of Fools” touched the same chord:
I ain’t nothing but your fool
You treated me mean, oh you treated me cruel
Of course there were true feelings of love and passion for men as well, both in the Motown-style pop tunes (such as The Supremes’ “Baby Love” or Mary Wells’s “My Guy”), and in more traditional R&B and Soul sung by women. But even these took on a different tone than most of the devotional and/or lusting sentiments expressed by the men. Fontella Bass’s 1965 hit “Rescue Me,” for example, calls for her man to rescue her from being “lonely and blue”, but it doesn’t sound as if she worships the ground he walks on. Aretha Franklin’s greatest love songs are at once intensely emotional and still down-to-earth realistic. The title of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” says it all: her lover makes her feel human, natural, not Heavenly or divine. And in “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” she is confounded by her feelings for a man who “hurt me so bad” but whom she still can’t leave or stop loving: “I don’t know why I let you do those things to me…”
Then there is “Respect”. Rarely has any single song become such a transcendent, revealing anthem for its time and its audience. The innumerable awards, accolades, and all-time-greatest rankings that have been attached to this particular recording celebrate not merely a great singer belting out heart-pounding high notes on top of a hopping beat backed with catchy horns and backup singers. Hundreds of songs meet those credentials (even if few singers could hope to match Aretha’s vocal range and lung capacity). What is exceptional and, from an historical perspective, almost astonishing about this record is how Aretha Franklin made it her own, transformed a very different song into the feminist anthem it has become, by the force of her voice and energy and passion. When Otis Redding first wrote and recorded his version, it was about himself, the man, asking his woman for “respect when I get home.” Given the male-dominated, sexually charged culture of the time, as well as the lustful, aggressive manner in which Otis sang it, the only realistic interpretation of this lyric was that he wants sex from her: “respect” = “sex”. He claims he’s been working hard, and is about to hand over to her all the money he’s earned, and he’s apparently rather frustrated to come home, looking for some lovin’, and get the cold shoulder.
When Aretha Franklin sang the same song, with just the slightest modifications to the lyrics, it took on an entirely different meaning. The respect that she wants from her man, when he comes home, is not about sex nor even romance, it’s simply true “R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find out what it means to me!” Her challenge reflects a far more sober and authentic view of the world for countless black women of the 1960s (and many white women as well), who were struggling in the kind of dubious relationships portrayed in this and other female Soul songs: where men were frequently unfaithful, unreliable, disrespectful, even abusive (for example, demanding sex as a form of “respect”). Also, in Aretha’s version, without even changing the words at all, the line “I’m about to give you all my money” reveals a very different dynamic than Otis’s song, as it suggests that she, the woman, is the one earning a living for the couple. This was much more often the case for working class black couples and families in the 1960s (and before) than it was for white Americans. We can readily imagine Aretha’s character as a housemaid or a waitress or even a factory worker, struggling to make ends meet, while her boyfriend/husband is jobless, hanging out on the streets, maybe drinking or gambling, then coming home late after she’s finished her work for the day, and both demanding her wages and mistreating her verbally or physically. These may be are stereotypical images, but they are based on all-too-frequent reality for women who lived with such harsh relationships, and Aretha’s bold shouting of her demand for “just a little bit” of Respect must have felt like the voice of liberation to so many women who had been wondering where all the pious and passionate female-worshiping men were hiding out. At the least, one supposes, they must have hoped that their men might take the hint not only from Aretha’s song, but perhaps also from Otis Redding himself, whose own advice to his fellow frustrated lovers was to “Try a Little Tenderness”…
Back at Monterey
Thus, we arrive at last again back on the stage of the Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967, at the confluence of cosmic forces in the evolution of the 1960s’ musical, cultural, and spiritual renaissance. As we mentioned, it was Otis Redding who was granted the honor of representing the vast depth and tradition of Soul Music at Monterey, among the predominantly white, Hippie, Acid Rock, West Coast bands and audience, a large majority of whom were undoubtedly unfamiliar with Otis or the Soul sound beyond the most prominent AM radio hits. Redding had established himself among the core Soul audience of mostly black fans as one of its most popular stars, scoring numerous R&B chart hits, including “Mr. Pitiful” (1964), the slow and sensuous “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (1965), and his cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” (1967), marking one of the first times that a black singer earned a hit record by covering a white (and British) band’s recording, reversing the typical pattern. Otis was a prolific songwriter, working closely with Steve Cropper and other Memphis talents, as well as a meticulous and instinctive studio producer who arranged his own recordings at the Stax studios. But he was most popular for his live performances, as he brought boundless energy, enthusiasm, and an uplifting love of people to his shows. He never seemed to stop smiling on stage, and while he was no James Brown as a dancer or showman, he still regularly brought fans to their feet to share in the excitement he generated.
This excitement was in full display as Otis closed out the second night of Monterey Pop. He bolted onto the stage with a rousing version of a Sam Cooke shout-out song, “Shake!”, and didn’t let up for a five song set that had the mostly white audience jumping and clapping. He included his own version of “Respect”, while acknowledging that Aretha Franklin had already taken command of his composition. He then climaxed his set with “Try a Little Tenderness,” one of his best crowd-pleasers, which starts as a slow ballad that expresses sympathy and understanding for girls who “get weary”, suggesting that the best way for men to win them over is to be gentle and kind (rather than demanding as in “Respect”). The song then progressively builds, however, to a hyperactive, chaotic finale, in which Otis’s calls for “Tenderness!” seem to unleash all of the passion that he’s been holding back, while he jumps around the stage, shaking and contorting with the microphone, as the band accompanies him with louder and louder trumpets and drums and keyboards. His performance of this number at Monterey hit all these highlights, and the crowd was euphoric and breathless as he left the stage. So strong was Redding’s reception at Monterey that his reputation, and that of Soul music on the whole, soared in the immediate aftermath, among critics and fans and particularly the young, white, hippie demographic that, among other things, bought the most records.
Otis Redding was so moved by his breakthrough experience in Northern California that he was inspired soon thereafter to write a song in tribute. Rather than another upbeat rocker, however, this time he composed a soft, melancholy tune, in collaboration with Steve Cropper: “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”. The Bay is San Francisco Bay, and the lyrics depict a young man who has traveled from his home in Georgia in search of California’s elusive promises, only to wind up alone and without purpose, sitting alone by the ocean, “wasting time”. The song is a beautiful expression of sad isolation (“this loneliness won’t leave me alone”), which Otis sings with simple, authentic emotion. Why he channeled the energy and exuberance of his Monterey performance into such a mellow lament is unclear, but it’s impossible in hindsight to avoid the sense of foreshadowing in this change of mood. Redding recorded the song on December 6, 1967, in Memphis. Three days later, he and his backup band, the Bar-Keys, performed on a local TV show in Cleveland; the following day, their small airplane crashed into a lake in Wisconsin, killing Redding and all on board. He was only 26 years old.
“Dock of the Bay” went on to become a posthumous #1 hit in 1968, Otis’s best selling single and his most well known legacy, even though it misrepresents his usual style. But with the sudden death of its creator, at the end of the watershed year of 1967, in the wake of the Summer of Love (and Soul), a lot more seemed to die as well, and there was yet more tragedy on the horizon.
Death of the ‘60s
The idealistic and optimistic karma of 1967 was destined, apparently, to come into sober conflict with the harsh realities of the material and political world outside of the mind-altered bubble of places like San Francisco. Four months after Otis Redding’s sudden death, a much more shocking event stunned the world and ripped out the hearts of African Americans above all: the assassination of Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, of all places. The following evening, James Brown was scheduled to perform a concert in Boston. After news of King’s murder spread, riots were breaking out in cities across America, and Boston was already a hotbed of racial confrontation; Brown and Boston’s mayor decided to broadcast his show for free throughout the city on public television, and as a result so many fans stayed home to watch that Boston avoided any serious violence at that flashpoint in history. Nevertheless, a devastating turning point had been reached in the 1960s’ growing pains, and the prevailing sentiments of Peace and Love were rapidly being displaced by anger and outrage, especially among the young, minorities, and those who felt most disaffected with the established order.
There were many other riots and protests to come, sparked by continuing civil rights abuses and racial discrimination, and especially ignited by the growing opposition to the war in Vietnam, on college campuses, and throughout the tumultuous 1968 Presidential campaign (see Chapter **). Then, on June 6, just two months after King’s death, came another assassination, equally horrific and sensational: Senator and Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, JFK’s highly respected brother and champion of civil rights was gunned down in a Los Angeles hotel, right after winning the California Primary. Three days earlier, in a far less publicized event, avant garde icon Andy Warhol was also shot by a distraught fan, although he survived his serious wounds. The ideal world that had been fantasized by hippie rockers and Soul shouters was literally being shot down around them. The next year, on December 6, 1969, the last month of the 1960s, violent death even invaded the once idyllic environment of rock festivals, in Altamont, California. In place of the peaceful communalism of Monterey and Woodstock, Altamont turned into a virtual riot, which culminated when members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang stabbed to death a member of the audience during a Rolling Stones performance (famously recounted in the documentary film, “Gimme Shelter”).
At the same time, the naïve embrace of drugs as a purely positive path to enlightenment was also being shattered, as the dark underside of ingesting toxic substances began taking its toll in a most public manner within the rock world. In August 1967, the Beatles’ manager and driving force, Brian Epstein, died of an overdose of sedatives, which he took to counteract his habitual amphetamine use. In 1969, the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, who had become strung out and paranoid under heavy drug use, was found drowned in his swimming pool. Then in rapid succession, two of the brightest lights of rock music were snuffed out at the peak of their fame and creativity. On September 18, 1970, Jimi Hendrix died in the London apartment of a girlfriend, asphyxiated in his own vomit after apparently overdosing on sleeping pills combined with red wine. Barely two weeks later, on October 4, 1970, Janis Joplin was found dead in her Los Angeles hotel room, from an overdose of heroin. The next year, more death arrived, as Jim Morrison, the enigmatic figurehead of The Doors (see Chapter **) also succumbed to a heroin overdose on July 3, 1971, in a bathtub in his girlfriend’s apartment in France. Less noticed, on October 12, 1971 erstwhile rockabilly star Gene (“Be-bop-a-lula”) Vincent joined the parade of drug and alcohol abuse victims. Six years later, on August 16, 1977, the King himself, Elvis Presley, nearly forgotten by the new generation of rock fans but still worshiped by legions of ‘50s veterans and attendees at his iconic Las Vegas shows, finally fell under the weight of years of excessive intake of an apparently unlimited supply of pharmaceutical candies, ending his unique life and career on the bathroom floor of his Graceland estate in Memphis. Elvis was only 42 years old when he died.
The sudden deaths, especially of Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison, right after the end of the decade, presented an eerie parallel to the “Day the Music Died”, the 1959 plane crash that had killed Buddy Holly and company, and symbolically signaled the end of the 1950s’ era of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s happy-go-lucky childhood. These tragedies, brought on by wanton excesses of hedonism and drug abuse, combined with the social chaos that was breaking out all around, similarly sounded a death knell for the 1960s’ own style of youthful innocence. Adding insult to injury, the end of the Sixties also saw the acrimonious breakup of the band that most inspired and epitomized the decade’s embrace of optimism and Love, as the Beatles disintegrated over into infighting about contracts and personalities and creativity. The final song on their last studio album, Abbey Road, was apparently self-consciously entitled “The End”, leaving their beleaguered legions of followers with one last hopeful credo: “And in The End, the love you take is equal to the love you make”.
The high profile downfalls of high living, drug abusing rock stars also accompanied uncounted similar tragedies among nameless young people who fell victim to the same excesses, especially those who ventured on from mind-expanding to more addictive, body destroying substances, heroin in particular. The idea of simply smoking joints or dropping acid as part of a communal exploration of new horizons was increasingly tainted by the intervention of this notorious opiate that had been entrapping and killing musicians from Billie Holiday to Hank Williams to Charlie Parker since before Rock ‘n’ Roll came into being. In response to these sad developments, the music itself began to reflect the anguish and conflict of those at the center of the culture, who had seen their colleagues and friends succumb to inner weakness and overindulgence. Before the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were few prominent songs that acknowledged the dark side of drugs or partying. The Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper” (1966) portrayed a stressed housewife who relied on amphetamines to get her through the day. Paul Revere and the Raiders’ song “Kicks” (also 1966) admonished kids against unspecified excesses, presumably drugs. But as the ravages of heroin and other substance abuse took their toll, more artists began to shed sober light on the dilemma of both celebrating mind expanding freedoms while abhorring some drugs’ destructive effects. The first and most ominous of these was the seminal Lou Reed/Velvet Underground song, “Heroin” (1967), a raw and vivid depiction of the mind and feelings of an addict:
When I put a spike into my vein
Then I tell you things aren't quite the same …
Because a mainer to my vein
Leads to a center in my head
And then I'm better off than dead
A parade of prominent artists would soon make the key distinction between inspirational and uplifting drugs and the ravages of heroin. The hard rock band Steppenwolf, which had a hit with the mind-expanding “Magic Carpet Ride,” also released a Hoyt Axton song called “The Pusher” (1968), a vicious attack against heroin “pushers”, as compared with marijuana “dealers”: “The dealer for a nickel, will sell you lots of sweet dreams/But the pusher ruin your body, he'll leave your mind to scream”. John Lennon, at the moment of the Beatles’ breakup, revealed his own (and Yoko Ono’s) struggle with kicking heroin, with the song “Cold Turkey” (1969).
Folk rockers were also caught in heroin’s grip. John Prine, on his 1971 debut album that included “Illegal Smile”, which essentially endorsed marijuana, produced a heartbreaking ode to Vietnam veterans who had turned to heroin, and sometimes died from it, entitled “Sam Stone” (“There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes/Jesus Christ died for nothin' I suppose . . ."). And Neil Young’s top-selling 1971 solo album Harvest included a live performance of one of the most touching and personal requiems about the drug, “The Needle and the Damage Done” (“A little part of it in everyone / But every junkie’s like a setting sun”).
The popular radio airwaves found that listeners were suddenly quite open to songs that highlighted the downside of hedonistic lifestyles and drug-addled party scenes. The 1969 debut (and only) album by the so-called supergroup Blind Faith, consisting of Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and Ginger Baker, included their best-known song, “Can’t Find My Way Home”:
Come down off your throne and leave your body alone
Somebody must change …
And I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home.
In 1970 the cover band Three Dog Night, which would score several major hits in the early ‘70s with songs that had previously failed to chart by other artists, had a #1 pop single with “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)”. The song was written by prolific songwriter Randy Newman, and originally recorded by Eric Burden and the Animals, but Three Dog Night’s version was the one that made it to the top of the charts. It depicts a young man who feels frightened and alienated at a social gathering where all kinds of unmentionable acts seem to be taking place (“Don’t turn on the lights, ‘cause I don’t want to see”). A similar theme appeared in the 1972 Top-10 hit “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel, Scottish songwriter Gerry Rafferty’s first band (“Well I don’t know why I came here tonight/I got the feeling that something ain’t right… Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right…”)
This shift in tone and message, unfortunately, didn’t do much to slow the proliferation of hard drugs and the tragic consequences of addiction and overdose, both for musicians and for their fans. Throughout the 1970s and beyond, heroin and its bastard offspring, crack cocaine, continued to ensnare and destroy countless members of the post-Sixties generation(s), and became, if anything, an even more prominent source of sad inspiration for scores of rock songs. James Brown released a 1974 spoken-word single, “King Heroin”, on which he admonished his followers to stay away from heroin (“The white horse of heroin will ride you to Hell”). Southern Rock icons Lynyrd Skynyrd acknowledged the destructive impact of drugs among their ranks, with both 1974’s “The Needle and the Spoon,” and 1977’s “That Smell” (“…the smell of death surrounds you”). Post-punk 1980s star Billy Idol sank into addiction, and recorded a 1993 Techno/Dance Club variation on the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”, which also riffed on Patti Smith’s famous line, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”.
In other eras, the Heavy Metal, Hip Hop, Grunge and other movements have all wrestled with prevalent drug abuse among musicians and followers. Members of numerous Metal giants from Motley Crüe to Guns N’ Roses were heavy heroin and coke users. GNR’s “My Michelle” and “Mr. Brownstone”, from their monumental 1987 debut album Appetite for Destruction, both address heroin addiction. Motley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx published a 2007 autobiography and “soundtrack” album, The Heroin Diaries, detailing his own descent into abuse and addiction in the late-1980s. Rap musicians have produced countless songs referencing drugs, often with a favorable spin toward marijuana, but many have also prominently decried heroin and crack. Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel’s 1983 single “White Lines,” ripping cocaine addiction, became a hip hop standard, with its tag line “Don’t don’t do it”. The female trio TLC had a massive international hit song and video in 1995 with “Waterfalls” (partly based on a 1980 Paul McCartney’s song of the same name), which portrayed the heartbreak of urban decadence and despair. In 2005, Gangsta Rap superstar 50-Cent, who had himself been a crack dealer when he was as young as 12, produced the dark rap “Baltimore Love Thing,” depicting the cruel allure of heroin to an addict attempting to quit. Among leading Seattle Grunge bands, Alice in Chains focused heavily on drug addiction themes, including most songs on its historic 1992 album Dirt, including “God Smack”: “So your sickness weighs a ton/And God’s name is smack for some”. Ten years later, Alice’s lead singer Layne Staley died of a heroin and cocaine overdose.
Possibly the most overtly painful and authentic heroin lament of more recent vintage came from Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, with his 1994 release, “Hurt”:
Hurt myself today, to see if I still feel
I focus on the pain, the only thing that's real
The needle tears a hole, the old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away, but I remember everything
This song was successfully covered by country legend Johnny Cash, himself a one-time heavy drug user, in 2002, with the accompanying Grammy-winning video serving as a kind of epitaph for Cash’s life and career, just a year before he died.
Along the way, many, many others have died from the direct or indirect effects of drug abuse, addiction, and overdose, leaving a parade of vanquished careers and pathetic downfalls among some of the most inspired yet troubled artists of the late 20th century. Some of the most prominent among their ranks include: two of the four members of The Who, Keith Moon (alcoholism-related, 1978) and John Entwistle (cocaine 2002); Sid Vicious, founder of The Sex Pistols (heroin overdose, 1979); Lowell George, multitalented frontman of Little Feat (heart attack from drug complications, 1979); John Bonham, Led Zeppelin’s drummer (1980, alcohol asphyxiation), Mike Bloomfield, celebrated Blues guitarist (heroin overdose, 1981); John Belushi, SNL comedian, movie star, and Blues Brothers founder (heroin/cocaine speedball overdose, 1982); Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys (alcohol drowning, 1983); Curt Kobain, legendary and enigmatic leader of Nirvana, whose apparent suicide while under a heavy dose of heroin has spawned endless conspiracy speculation (1994); Jonathan Melvoin of the ‘90s post-punk band Smashing Pumpkins (heroin overdose, 1996); Dee Dee Ramone, of punk pioneers The Ramones (heroin overdose, 2002); Rapper “Ol’ Dirty Bastard” (ODB) (cocaine and prescription drugs, 2004). For more than four decades, Rock music has wrestled painfully with the contradictions of its free-living, life-celebrating, mind-expanding ethos and the often tragic consequences of excess and despair that have accompanied such ideals.
The Dead Live On
Meanwhile, even as the 1970s saw the onset of an era of both awakening doubts about drug use and the inward-turning self-centeredness of the so-called “Me Decade”, the spirits of the 1960s did not entirely fade away. In fact, it was The Dead who continued to live on; The Grateful Dead, to be specific. Although they started out in the San Francisco/Summer of Love heyday, the Dead didn’t really establish a national reputation until 1970, when they released two landmark albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, which together virtually defined the foundation upon which the legacy of the Hippie movement would be carried forward in the post-‘60s era. Between them, these works contain the bulk of the best known and most compellingly original Dead songs, as well as much of the material that would highlight countless Grateful Dead live concerts in the years and decades ahead. One key addition to the group from this period onward was lyricist Robert Hunter, who went on to pen the majority of the poetry underlying Dead songs for nearly their entire career, a relatively unique collaboration, to have a major group “member” who never sang or took the stage. Fittingly, Hunter had once participated in the same early CIA experiments with LSD that had launched Ken Kesey’s creative career; his acid-inspired sensibilities thus meshed well with Jerry Garcia and the other band members’ musical inclinations. In making these two seminal albums, the Dead were eagerly experimental and bold, working on elaborate vocal harmonies and intricate multi-track effects to enhance their improvisational techniques, while continuing to mix a wide range of styles and sounds. Among the many highlights were the acid-extolling “Truckin’” and the cocaine anthem “Casey Jones”; along with “Uncle John’s Band”, a harmonic ode to an imaginary folk band playing “by the riverside”; the soft, sweet “Ripple”, on which Garcia revealed a lullaby quality voice; the bluesy, up tempo “Sugar Magnolia”; and “Box of Rain,” perhaps the band’s greatest masterpiece.
Throughout the 1970s and into the ‘80s and beyond, the phenomenon of the Grateful Dead expanded and refined itself, as the band toured almost constantly, playing well over 100 shows per year. Their concerts were attended by local fans in each venue, but the core audience was increasingly made up of a growing, passionate army of hard-core devotees who came to be known universally as “Deadheads”. As scraggly long hair, psychedelic imagery, and bohemian lifestyles began to fade into memory with the onset of the Me Decade, Glam Rock, Disco, and Heavy Metal, the Deadheads persevered as the living embodiment of Sixties idealism and communalism, in both philosophy and practice. Again, drugs were central. Most Deadheads were regular marijuana smokers and LSD users, and the rituals involved with following the Dead around the country, from show to show for weeks and months on end, were highlighted by the ecstatic and transcendent experiences induced by very strong chemicals, especially during the performances themselves. At every Dead concert, hundreds of fans would dance in the aisles, the hallways, on the grass at outdoor shows, gyrating and flowing in mesmerized syncopation with the music, at one with the band and their fellow travelers. The Dead were intimately aware of this core contingent of their fan base, and they usually included a special segment in each show aimed directly at the tripping Deadheads, known as the “Space Jam”.
No two Dead shows were ever the same, as the band often spontaneously segued into random songs and jams from their vast repertoire of original and traditional material. Over time, this variety of set lists became new fodder for the obsessive interest of the Deadhead community, who would dutifully archive and exchange lists and comments on song selections throughout the global web of their underground network. And as technology advanced, the tools of the Deadhead trade expanded as well. The Grateful Dead were pioneering in the realm of sound engineering, highlighted by technician and chemist Owsley Stanley’s 1973 design of a massive on-stage sound system labeled the “Wall of Sound” (not to be confused with Phil Spector’s studio recording technique of the same name). At the same time, the Dead were utterly open to the public recording of virtually all of their performances by absolutely anyone. Whereas other bands would prohibit and confiscate any amateur recording equipment found on audience members, the Dead’s policy allowed the development of a massive informal recording and tape-exchange practices, with the most techno-enabled of fans granted special rights to set up sophisticated equipment near the stage. True Deadheads collected and dubbed and traded cassette tapes of concerts like baseball cards, and conversed knowingly about scores of cherished live shows.
The Dead were able to flourish financially under this formula – which would have caused copyright attorneys seizures for any other band – because of their unique relationship with their fans, who would keep coming to the hundreds of concerts, and buying albums and tickets and Dead-licensed merchandise. Eventually, the Grateful Dead evolved into a highly efficient corporate entity, with dozens of employees culled from among the most ever-present Deadheads. Attending a Dead concert was like visiting the Dead Mall, as the streets and parking lots around the show would be filled with vendors hawking tapes, t-shirts, posters, and countless other memorabilia (as well as drugs), while literally thousands of itinerant Deadheads roamed around, camped out, and made purchases that in peak years brought the Grateful Dead enterprise upwards of $60‑million per tour. No other band in the history of rock music ever commanded such intense loyalty.
It is not difficult to see the parallels that many have suggested between the Grateful Dead phenomenon and a fringe religion or a cult. For some cynical outsiders, this Cult of the Dead must have seemed especially ominous, as the band’s widely dispersed imagery always consisted of elaborately psychedelic pictures of skeletons and other death symbolism, and one of the most popular songs was “Friend of the Devil”. But on another level, the religious linkages are very legitimate and significant. For serious Deadheads, the band’s performances carried very much of the same kind of spiritual intensity as Revival meetings have for many devout Christians for more than a century. While Jerry and his bandmates were not worshiped as Holy figures, they were certainly cherished, studied, emulated, and indeed revered by serious, intelligent, adult fans, not merely screamed at with juvenile hormonal excitement like teen idols. In the passion that they felt for the music, in the honest love that they held for the band members – and that the band felt for their fans – and certainly in the mutual respect and support and compassion that followers shared among themselves, one can claim that the Grateful Dead community manifested the best traits that formal religions offer to adherents; and given that, for many young people of this generation, such formal religious ties were losing any sense of relevance, this type of meaningful and authentic substitute was more than gratifying.
By the end of the 1960s, when much of the idealism and communal spirit embodied by the hippie and drug cultures and epitomized by the Haight-Ashbury scene had begun to dissipate, the Grateful Dead became the most visible and self-consciously faithful remaining acolytes of that era's brief window of counter-cultural utopian optimism. Throughout the next two and a half decades, they toured incessantly, and the army of Deadheads grew to add a new generation of converts who had been children, or not even born, during the '60s heyday, who found in the communal culture, the hedonistic and liberated lifestyle, the immersion in and passion for authentic music, and the rituals and convictions reinforced by psychedelic stimuli, an oasis of contentment, with themselves and their fellow travelers. For many reluctant grownups, who had long since of necessity joined the Establishment, the periodic arrival of the Dead at various venues around the country was always a beacon, a coming together point for like-minded souls, a gathering of the faithful to recapture a unique feeling, surrounded by an accepting and nurturing community; not just lovers of rock or folk or acid or tie-dye or dancing, but those seeking something more, certain cosmic connections, liberation, self-actualization: "moments of grace," as Garcia called them near the end of his life.
Sadly, along the way, Death also visited the Dead. A string of tragedies befell three successive keyboard players for the group, two of them drug-related. Original member Pigpen McKernan was a heavy drinker, whose deteriorating health led to his gradual replacement by Keith Godschaux in 1971-72, and ultimately caused his death due to liver and stomach damage in 1973. Godschaux was replaced by Brent Mydland in 1979, and was then killed in a car accident less than a year later. Mydland lasted just over a decade as the Dead’s main keyboardist as well as contributing vocalist and songwriter, but he then died from a speedball overdose in 1990. In 1987, the band had their last major hit (and highest charting single), with “Touch of Grey”, which self-consciously acknowledged and embraced their advancing years. Finally, in 1995, Jerry Garcia himself succumbed to decades of poor health (he had fallen into a diabetic coma in 1986) and drug and alcohol dependency, dying of a heart attack while in a rehabilitation clinic in California. He had only just turned 53 years old; his ashes were later scattered in the San Francisco Bay. One of his most touching songs from the vast Grateful Dead repertoire, “Brokedown Palace,” offers as fitting an elegy as any for Jerry Garcia, and for all his fellow travelers who lost their lives too soon for living them too hard:
Its a far gone lullaby, sung many years ago
Mama mama many worlds I’ve come since I first left home…
Goin home, goin home, by the riverside I will rest my bones
Listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock my soul.
Death is not something that adventurous, optimistic young people tend to think about much. By 1970, rock ‘n’ roll was only 15 years old, and the first generation of fans were only just entering their 30s, while the bulk of the white counter-culture and the black Soul movement were barely twenty-something, or younger. Redding, Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison were all 26-28 years old when they died. Only a handful of records made the charts that dealt with death in any serious way. “Last Kiss” by the Cavaliers, a pop ballad about a fatal auto accident (“Oh where oh where can my baby be?/The Lord took her away from me”) was a Top 10 hit in 1964 (and later also a hit for Grunge mainstays Pearl Jam in 1999). The Shangri-Las’ famous “Leader of the Pack,” a #1 hit in 1964, ends with the death of the singer’s boyfriend in a motorcycle accident. Then there was the bizarre “D.O.A.,” a one-hit wonder by Bloodrock in 1971, which depicted the experience of dying from the first-person viewpoint of the victim in an airplane crash (“God in Heaven, teach me how to die!”). Somehow this macabre song became a minor cult hit, and reached #36 on the pop chart, despite being banned on many radio stations. Of course, the much more prevalent and painful experience of young death during the ‘60s and early ‘70s was confronted by the tens of thousands of casualties among youthful soldiers in Vietnam, and their families and loved ones.
The spiritual, universal themes echoed in ‘60s Acid Rock and Soul songs didn’t dwell upon human mortality or suffering and loss; they were guiding the flock toward beautiful new horizons, celebrating the wonders of love and the unlimited potential of the human spirit. These sentiments served well as a surrogate for traditional religion’s positive, uplifting, communal messages. But when tragedy and death enter the scene, religion plays another, more somber role, to comfort the grieving, to provide a sense of meaning and context, to bring people together and reassure them of the value and continuity of life. Rock music didn’t really offer this kind of comfort or insight during its first stages. But now, as the influence of the movement had penetrated deeper into the minds and feelings of its followers, it was compelled to look at the Big Questions: about Death, about God, about Heaven, and, coming full circle, about the Soul.
One song got right to the point. In 1974, the Righteous Brothers had a #3 hit with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven”, a eulogy to many of the fallen rock stars, from Otis to Jimi, Janice, and Jim, as well as Bobby Darin and Jim Croce. (“If there’s a Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven, you know they got a hell of a band.”) The Righteous Brothers were themselves an interesting anomaly: the most successful “White Soul” group, a duo consisting of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, whose deep baritone harmonies and emotion-infused love songs misled many fans to think they were black. Their heyday was also the mid-1960s, when they had smash hits with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Unchained Melody,” and the aptly named “(You Are My) Soul and Inspiration,” songs that remained high on the playlists of Oldies radio stations around the U.S. for decades. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven” was a comeback song for the Righteous Brothers, after five years out of the spotlight – it seems the mood and the times were just right for their nostalgic tribute.
Heaven as a concept has featured in numerous songs throughout the Rock era, both in a spiritual and metaphorical sense. Performers across the broad spectrum of genres have touched on the subject, but seldom with deep religious intent. Undoubtedly the most celebrated example would be Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (1971), arguably the definitive Classic Rock standard (see Chapter **). The meaning of its signature line – “and she’s buying a stairway to Heaven” – is at best symbolically obscure, gently mocking materialism, the idea that people can buy their way into Paradise. On the opposite end of the musical spectrum, the Bee Gees, at the height of their Disco era fame, lamented that “Nobody gets Too Much Heaven no more…” (1979). The same year, New Wave pioneers Talking Heads proclaimed that “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens”. Canadian superstar Bryan Adams’s 1985 international smash hit “Heaven” followed the Soul tradition of equating earthly romantic love with celestial paradise. In the same vein, former Go-Go’s member Belinda Carlisle had a #1 hit in 1987 with the pop-dance love song, “Heaven is a Place on Earth.” In stark contrast, Eric Clapton composed the moving “Tears in Heaven” following the 1991 tragic accidental death of his four year-old son (“Would you know my name if I saw you in Heaven…?”).
In most of these and similar songs, the idea of Heaven is not taken literally in its Biblical sense, but is more of a symbol for an ideal. Only Clapton’s song, coping with real, painful tragedy, directly touches on the religious notions of afterlife and the human soul. This is how mainstream rockers have most often dealt with traditional religion, typically Christianity: with a certain detached skepticism, if not disinterest and often open questioning and doubt as to the existence of God and the value and meaning of religious mythology. These views have both reflected and guided rock fans’ perceptions, during an era of immense social upheaval and a breakdown of faith in many long-standing institutions and beliefs.
We’ve noted that, for countless young people in the 1960s, Rock music and the surrounding counter-culture lifestyle became a very real substitute for the ceremonies and spiritual nourishment of organized religion. In March 1966, John Lennon voiced this same, rather undeniable observation, when he cynically pointed out in an interview that “the Beatles are more popular than Jesus” in the lives and interests of youth. He was commenting on the inversion of priorities, not proclaiming themselves deities, but he was also revealing a deeper skepticism toward religion, as in the same interview he also said that Christianity “will vanish and shrink”. Regardless, his words met with orchestrated outrage in certain segments of society, particularly in the still strongly fundamentalist Southern American “Bible Belt”, where radio stations implemented Beatles boycotts and even ominous record burnings not unlike the racist Ku Klux Klan cross burnings – and indeed the Klan even burned the Beatles in effigy during some protests. Lennon later apologized and said he wasn’t anti-religion, but didn’t really retract the sentiment. After the Beatles broke up, John revealed even more bitter feelings about both religion and society, on his first solo album, 1970’s Plastic Ono Band, in an anguished song entitled “God”:
God is a concept by which we measure our pain…
I don’t believe in Jesus…
I don’t believe in Beatles!
I just believe in me…
On his most famous solo song, 1971’s “Imagine,” Lennon implored people to “Imagine there’s no Heaven… and no religion too.” Yet through all of these clear rejections of doctrinal religion, John Lennon was also a ceaseless advocate of the basic moral principles at the core of Christianity, Buddhism, et al: Peace and Love, brotherhood, compassion, charity, and the common destiny of humanity: “I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”
God of Doubt
Also in 1970-71, rock music and religion converged on Broadway, with the release of the “rock opera” album and stage musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. This tour de force production incorporated a wealth of highly original and sophisticated rock arrangements within the motif of traditional Broadway musicals, embellished by the captivating vocal talents (on the studio album, which preceded the stage production) of Ian Gillan, lead singer of the British hard rock group Deep Purple, in the role of Jesus, Murray Head as Judas, and Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene. The show tells the Biblical story of Jesus’s last few days, from his entry into Jerusalem to his Crucifixion, faithfully following the events as laid out in the Gospels, but with “hip” slang and a few imagined extrapolations of the characters’ thoughts and feelings. Both the title song and Yvonne Elliman’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” were hits in 1971, and other songs from the album received extensive airplay, while the Broadway production won multiple Tony Awards and has been performed consistently around the world, often in churches, ever since.
What is most interesting about this work, however, is that, despite its clear foundation in doctrinal Christianity, “Jesus Christ Superstar” is not, at its core, a “religious” statement. On the contrary, the main theme underlying the story is actually the questioning of Jesus’s divinity. In the climactic title song, as Christ is about to be crucified, the ghost of Judas sings, “I only want to know: Jesus Christ, who are you, what have you sacrificed?... Do you think you’re what they say you are?” Still more provocative was the song performed by King Herod, which was played frequently on the radio, out of the context of the Biblical scene, and must have raised many shocked eyebrows when the Herod character sang lines such as “You’re a joke, you’re not the Lord, you’re nothing but a fraud!” Even the title of the rock opera is deliberately ironic, labeling Jesus a “Superstar”, a word which in 1971 was still relatively new to public discourse (having been popularized in the mid-60s by Andy Warhol). Superstars were thought of as mega-media icons like Elvis and the Beatles, or actor Paul Newman or footballs Joe Namath. By lumping Jesus Christ in with such modern idols, Webber and Rice reinforced rather than dispelled prevailing discomfort with the notion of blind faith in traditional Christianity, and the dominance of the religion in mainstream adult society.
Over the years, many rock musicians have built upon these same themes, often becoming even bolder in their challenges to orthodoxy. Among the most inflammatory were the Rolling Stones, who toyed with the critics who decried their decadent image by portraying themselves as virtual devil worshipers, first with their 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request, and then with one of their best and most enduring songs, “Sympathy for the Devil” (1968). Released only a few months after Robert Kennedy’s assassination, “Sympathy” included the biting lyrics: “I shouted out, ‘Who killed the Kennedys?’ when after all, it was you and me!”. The Stones’ aggressive use of such devil imagery and lyrics became a prototype for countless Heavy Metal and Goth followers down the road, from Black Sabbath to Alice Cooper to AC/DC and Megadeth.
In 1971, British Folk-Art rockers Jethro Tull (see Chapter **) released their landmark album Aqualung, which contains a series of intensely philosophical songs that openly question modern religion. These include the hard-rocking “Hymn 43” (“If Jesus saves, then he better save himself…”), and the contemplative “Wind Up” (“I don’t believe you, you’ve got the whole damn thing all wrong…”). Most aggressive is “My God”, which features a virtuoso solo by singer/songwriter/flautist Ian Anderson, along with a scalding sermon for hypocritical church-goers:
He is the God of nothing
If that’s all that you can see
You are the God of everything
He’s inside you and me
Many other artists have shared this type of cynicism toward God. Crosby, Stills and Nash, never ones to shy away from controversial social commentary, unleashed their critique of Christianity in 1977’s symphonic “Cathedral”, which included the unrepentant line: “Too many people have died in the name of Christ for anyone to heed the call.” New Wave stars Depeche Mode commented on the ironies surrounding suicide and death with 1984’s “Blasphemous Rumours,” claiming “I think that God has a sick sense of humour…” Making a similar point, the British post-Punk band XTC had a 1986 hit with “Dear God”. The song is presented ironically as a letter or prayer from a child to the God whose very existence she questions, through which XTC’s Andy Partridge points out all of mankind’s suffering and God’s apparent indifference, concluding with a crescendo of music and emotion, “If there’s one thing I don’t believe in… It’s you, Dear God”.  Iceland’s Sugar Cubes, the band that launched singer Björk’s star career, went even darker with 1988’s “Deus”, both proclaiming that “Deus does not exist,” and symbolically equating God with a child molester. Folk Rocker Joan Osborne suggested a different type of humanistic perspective on her 1995 hit, “One of Us”, which captured imaginations around the world with its hook: “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on a bus…”
Each time one of these types of contemplative songs that doubt and criticize God and religion has broken out to achieve mass popularity, it has reinforced awareness of the profound sense of disconnection felt by so many in modern society, especially younger people. The singers are not usually suggesting answers, but are voicing some of the troubling questions pervading our culture, and rejecting the stale answers offered by outdated religious dogma. In so doing, they help create a forum for searching, disillusioned listeners to share their uncertainties, in the face of a mainstream mass culture that still, at least superficially, pretends that the Old Time Religion is still good enough for them.
On the other hand, mainstream rock music itself has certainly included its share of Christian influenced and other pro-religious messages over the decades. Much of Soul music, as we’ve seen, is closely related to its Gospel roots, and contains spiritual-sexual double meanings that, at a minimum, are not at odds with traditional notions of God and Heaven, and in some cases have been explicitly religious. Beyond Soul, there have been several other significant examples of pop-rock songs and musicians that have openly made their case on God’s behalf. One of the earliest and most prominent in this category is “Spirit in the Sky,” a one-hit wonder from 1969 by Norman Greenbaum, ironically a Jewish songwriter from Boston. The song remains an instantly recognizable favorite on Oldies radio, but it is arguably more appreciated for its intense, fuzz-echo guitar licks than for its undeniably Christian lyrics (“I’ve got a friend in Jesus”). Either way, both the message and the music of “Spirit in the Sky” were appealing enough to generate over two million sales of the single, and the song has been covered and used in films and TV commercials dozens of times. Greenbaum’s record also arguably was the Godfather anthem of what eventually became an entire sub-genre of “Christian Rock”, which attracted dedicated believers starting in the 1970s who tried to overcome the historic antipathy that the American (white) fundamentalist Christian movement held toward the Rock culture. Another founder was Larry Norman, who endured a long and moderately successful career, and produced the genre-defining song “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” The style eventually gained significant momentum in the 1990s and beyond, with dozens of bands and artists producing Christian-oriented music in Rap, Alternative, Metal, and other Rock styles, although seldom cracking the mainstream pop charts or radio airplay.
There has also been a minor “Jewish Rock” movement, although with no real notable performers as such. On the other hand, Jewish artists, beyond Norman Greenbaum, have proliferated within the mainstream throughout Rock history. The most notable include premier songwriters and producers such as Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, and Phil Spector, and numerous star performers from Bob (Zimmerman) Dylan to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel to Lou Reed, Billy Joel, the Ramones, and David Lee Roth, among others. Perhaps the most prominent Jewish artist to incorporate spiritual themes in his music is Canadian songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen; his moving melody “Hallelujah” (1984), so powerfully captures sentiments of both religious and earthly love, doubt, and hope, that it has been recorded over a hundred times around the world.
Religious messages, particularly Christian references, have been much more successful when packaged by bands who have gained broader, secular credibility for their music. A case in point is the Doobie Brothers. One of the founding bands of Southern Rock (see Chapter **), the Doobies’ had a well-earned reputation for their hard guitar rocking, upbeat sound. In the midst of their run of popularity in the mid-1970s, the Doobie Brothers released “Jesus is Just Alright” (1972), which was a modest Top 40 hit. The song is another power rock anthem that even agnostic ‘70s Rock fans had no trouble enjoying, despite the obviously religious lyrics, which proposed that Christian worship was not something to be ashamed of (“I don’t care what they may say…”). Many other bands have at least tentatively ventured into the same territory over the years. Megastars U2, for example, recorded a tribute to folk legend Woody Guthrie with a version of his “Jesus Christ”, and they’ve embraced religious imagery in other songs such as “If God Will Send His Angels” (1997). U2’s epic ballad ”One” (1991) presents a more universal spiritual message of shared destiny and common humanity.
In some cases, mainstream artists have themselves turned from secular music to zealous religious belief, usually with less than positive effects on their recording careers. This occurred, for example, when Bob Dylan underwent his “born-again Christian” phase in 1979-80, although his first Christian-themed, Gospel-based album, Slow Train Coming, was well received, many of his fans were alienated, and his Gospel follow-up Saved sold poorly, and began a period of marked decline in Dylan’s popularity throughout the 1980s. Several Black artists have either abandoned or augmented their musical careers to become ordained ministers, including pioneer Little Richard, Soul superstar Al Green, and iconic Hip Hop star M.C. Hammer. Following a different path, multi-platinum British Folk Rock star Cat Stevens announced his conversion to Islam in 1977, changing his name to Yusuf Islam, and giving up music altogether for many years, while devoting himself to Islamic-focused philanthropy.
Perhaps even more interesting is the multitude of Christmas songs, and even entire Christmas albums, that have been released by all manner of rock artists, year-in and year-out, since the Rock era began. Every December, a wide spectrum of radio stations unpack scores of these venerable tracks for the holiday season, then put them away for another year on December 26th. Many of these songs are of the secular Christmas variety, worshiping Santa Claus more than Jesus Christ, or merely celebrating the festive and wintry traditions of the season. Some of the most popular standards include “Jingle Bell Rock,” originally written by Bobby Helms in 1957 and recorded by dozens of groups and singers over the years; “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” first sung by Brenda Lee also in 1957, and covered by almost as many artists ever since; Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph” (1958); the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” (1963); and Bruce Springsteen’s live version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (1985). Other Christmas songs are also not explicitly religious, but do invoke ethereal notions of “Christmas Magic” or universal messages of “Peace on Earth” and brotherly love. Highlights include John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s timeless anthem “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” (1971), the Waitresses’ popular fable “Christmas Wrapping” (1981), and the Band Aid all-star charity release “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” (1985) (see Chapter **).
On the other hand, some rock artists have taken their critiques of religion into the realm of Christmas tradition as well, pointing to the hypocrisy of excess materialism and the lack of spiritual seriousness attached to the holiday. Greg Lake, of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, recorded “I Believe in Father Christmas” (1975), a solemn reflection on childhood promises unfulfilled. The Kinks’ own “Father Christmas” (1977) depicts poor street kids mugging the old man, demanding money, not toys. And Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, consistent with his record of harshly challenging religious convention, wrote first “A Christmas Song,” (1969) and then, two decades later, “Another Christmas Song” (1989); the first again decried hypocrisy of drunken holiday parties, in contrast to Jesus’s message and purpose (“You’d do well to remember the things He later said”), and the second lamented mankind’s continuing inhumanity to itself (“How many wars you fighting out there, this winter’s morning?”).
Still, Anderson equally celebrated the positive spirit of the Christmas (and Solstice) season, even releasing a Jethro Tull Christmas Album in 2003, reflecting the mixed feelings of so many toward the decidedly uplifting and comforting sentiments that come from centuries of Euro-Christian music and ceremonial traditions. In this same spirit, countless rock artists have recorded their own versions of traditional Christmas hymns and carols as well. These range from “Silent Night” (Sinead O’Connor, Elvin Bishop, Britney Spears) to “The Little Drummer Boy” (Joan Jett, David Bowie’s famous duet with Bing Crosby) to “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” (pop-rockers Hanson, heavy metalists Twisted Sister). The reality is that most rock ‘n’ rollers have remained at least ambivalently connected to the core religious legacy of their own childhood, and of the society in which they were raised, as do a large proportion of Rock fans of all ages. Christmas is a unique event in its cultural dominance and resilience, which can serve to reinvigorate the better impulses of the ideology that it celebrates, while continuing to captivate the child-like imaginations of even the most hard-core cynics, especially through music.
Then, as long as we’re on the topics of both doctrinal religious and drug-inspired spiritual influences in music, we must also recognize the unique phenomenon of Reggae music, and especially Bob Marley, its greatest star (see also Chapter **). Reggae represents the ultimate nexus of intense religious devotion and mind-altering drug use, unified in an intertwined lifestyle and belief system that permeates the music as well. Arising from the impoverished streets of Jamaica in the late 1960s to sweep over the music world in the 1970s, Bob Marley (and his group the Wailers) and the Reggae movement he personified were deeply inspired by the spiritual/religious movement known as Rastafari. Although its foundations are Judeo-Christian, Rastafarians regard former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie as the embodiment of God (“Jah”), and embrace an Afrocentric world view (Africa/Ethiopia is known as “Zion”) that rejects the values and dominance of the West (or “Babylon”). The smoking of marijuana (“ganja”) is a fundamental sacrament, intended to enlighten believers’ consciousness and invoke a spiritual connection with God/Jah. The music of Marley and dozens of other Jamaican and international Reggae musicians is replete with references to these beliefs, in songs such as Marley’s “Rasta Man Chant” (1973), and “Iron Lion Zion” (posthumous, 1992), The Melodians’ “Rivers of Babylon” (1972), and Peter Tosh’s “Mama Africa” (1983).
Bob Marley and the Wailers’ most critically acclaimed album, 1977’s Exodus album, was also his most openly spiritual, a masterpiece that linked Rastafari and universal messages of love and togetherness with both political and romantic sensibilities in the purest of reggae styles. No less than Time Magazine named Exodus the greatest album of the 20th century, and it has received countless other accolades. The title song reflects the dream of Rastafaris to repatriate to Zion/Africa, while the upbeat dance classic “Jamming” celebrates the joy of worship, Rasta-style (“We’re jamming in the name of the Lord…”). The album’s climactic number, another of Marley’s biggest hits, is also fundamentally religious: “One Love/People Get Ready”. The song’s core is a simple chant: “One love, one heart… let’s get together…give thanks and praise to the Lord, and feel alright.” This chorus builds around an adaptation of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions’ enduring 1965 hymn “People Get Ready” (see Soul Classics, above). Marley was directly inspired by Mayfield when he first wrote “One Love” early in his career, and incorporated Mayfield’s verses addressing the fate of the “hopeless sinner/who has hurt all mankind”. (In the Rastafari context, these would be white Westerners who had enslaved Africans and corrupted Babylon.) Nonetheless, the prevailing message of the song is a positive, hopeful sense of shared destiny and happiness. This work thus represents Bob Marley’s contribution to the ongoing legacy of spiritual universalism in Rock music, evolved from the earliest African and Gospel roots, by way of Jamaican cultural and musical adaptations, strongly reinforced by the thick smoke of ganja.
All Things Must Pass
Finally, there is one Rock artist who has surpassed all others in infusing religious and spiritual themes into pop/rock music: George Harrison. We’ve seen how Harrison’s early fascination with Indian music and beliefs was reflected in “Within You Without You,” from Sgt. Pepper in 1967. During the remaining Beatle years, Harrison contributed but a few compositions to the group’s later albums, but they came to be some of the best loved: from the powerful, moving “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (from 1968’s White Album), to the timeless love ballad “Something,” and the inspirational and uplifting “Here Comes the Sun” (both from 1969’s Abbey Road). Still, when the Beatles finally split and began their solo musical journeys, few anticipated that it would be George, the quiet one, who would leap to the forefront with the most extensive creative, commercial, and cultural impact of the four. But during those final tumultuous years, while John and Paul had been venturing into interpersonal and political conflicts, George had been developing, writing, meditating, and growing both musically and spiritually, due largely to his continuing connection with India, and his close friendships with a growing collection of high caliber musicians from around the world. Since he had typically been limited to two songs per Beatles album, by the time the group broke up he already had a backlog of material and ideas, and his unshackling from the Lennon-McCartney duopoly allowed him to open his vault to the world.
The result was All Things Must Pass, Harrison’s magnum opus triple-album, released in late 1970, mere months after the Beatles’ final LP release, Let It Be. The album was a stunning landmark in many ways. The three discs were unprecedented in pop music, and the attendant $10+ price tag as well. It was packaged now as the typical jacket-and-sleeve, nor even the fold-out jacket of most double albums, but in a box, an inch thick with a fold-out cover, which contained all three discs plus a 3-foot poster of Harrison. Both the poster and the album’s cover photo revealed a new George who had not been seen in any recent Beatles pictures: his hair was grown to below his shoulders and his beard was at least a foot and a half long, creating a deliberate image of a sage guru, in contrast with the youthful, laughing hippie his fans had known.
Musically, the album is quite simply a masterpiece. It contains 18 songs (plus the two-sided “Apple Jam” sessions of impromptu Blues jamming by Harrison and friends), showcasing a wide variety of styles from soft love ballads to jolting rockers, all highlighted by Harrison’s plaintive and passionate voice, and his distinctive, string-bending lead guitar work. Many songs are accompanied by orchestras, horns, and a pantheon of guest musicians from Eric Clapton to Ringo Starr to Billy Preston and a dozen others. The recordings were produced by the legendary Phil Spector, who perfected his Wall of Sound technique on this album, creating a deep, full, shiver-inducing feel on its most complex tunes. Commercially, All Things Must Pass was an instant smash hit, reaching #1 on the U.K. and U.S. album charts, as well as those in many other countries, and yielding two #1 singles and a half-dozen others that earned significant radio airplay throughout the first post-Beatle year of 1971. These included upbeat hard-rockers like “What is Life?” and “Apple Scruffs” (a tribute to Beatles groupies), and sweet and somber songs such as “Isn’t It a Pity?” and his version of Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You”.
The most astonishing thing about All Things Must Pass, however, and its most enduring influence, was its overtly religious and spiritual message, and how fervently this was embraced by legions of fans worldwide. This was not merely a pop record, it was a virtual rock ‘n’ roll hymnal, which expressed the deep passion and faith of its composer more authentically than any popular recording before or since.
Leading the way, of course, was the album’s, and Harrison’s chef d’oeuvre, “My Sweet Lord”. To those unfamiliar, it might be hard to imagine how universally beloved a song could be that consisted fundamentally of a mere two guitar chords and lyrics that said little more than “My Sweet Lord, I really want to see you… I really want to know you…” But this simple, deceptively profound and beautiful recording arrived at a moment in musical and cultural history when vast numbers of people were seemingly open to, even waiting for, just such an anthem. The song opens with a soft acoustic rhythm, over which Harrison adds his distinctive sliding/bending guitar lick, and then sings the signature refrain in a reverent and sincere tone, simply and emotionally conveying how much George really wants to see and to know God. Spector’s orchestration builds the song’s sense of enthusiasm, layering drums, tambourines, and bass, and adding a backing choir that chants “Hallelujah” behind George’s increasingly passionate singing. After an instrumental bridge, the song resumes almost exactly as in the first part, but with a subtle, vital change. In the second part, the backing chorus changes from singing “Hallelujah” to “Hare Krishna”. While the former is universally recognized as a Judeo-Christian shout of praise and rapture, the new chant is a Hindu mantra. As the song progresses, this chorus goes further, into another Hindu chant, “Gurur Brahma…”, a ritual prayer to the Supreme Cosmic Spirit or Creator in Hindu theology. In this small but significant way, Harrison transformed “My Sweet Lord” from a Western-Christian sounding hymn to a universalist affirmation, embracing multiple international religions, and imprinting his personal convictions about the spiritual nature of God on a pop song that would inspire generations around the world. Not incidentally, “My Sweet Lord” shot to #1 status in the UK and the US, among other countries, in early 1971, and became one of the most successful hits of any of the ex-Beatles.
Following and amplifying on these themes, a half dozen other songs on All Things Must Pass further highlight George Harrison’s spiritual devotion. Perhaps the most intense and direct of these is “Awaiting on You All,” a loud, fast-paced, foot-stomping anthem:
You don’t need no church house
And you don’t need no temple…
If you open up your heart…
The Lord is awaiting on you all to awaken and see
By chanting the names of the Lord and you’ll be free.
Note that he deliberately calls for chanting the “names” of the Lord, reinforcing his message that different depictions of God in different religious traditions are equally valid.
Other songs touch on different aspects of his philosophy, some more solemn, some celebratory. “Isn’t It a Pity?” slowly and touchingly laments the selfishness and pain of the world: “How we take each other’s love… forgetting to give back” – directly violating the sentiment contained in the Beatles’ final slogan from just a year before, “the love you take is equal to the love you make”. The title song “All Things Must Pass” reflects on the impermanence of both good and bad, sunshine and rain, but offers optimism that darkness, and lost love, will ultimately pass on to light. In the moving ballad “Beware of Darkness,” George warns listeners of the dangers of such painful experiences, of “thoughts that linger, the hopelessness around you…” and promises that such sadness “is not what you are here for”. Equally touching is the sweet “Run of the Mill,” in which he reminds us that we are each responsible for our own fate: “Everyone has choice when to or not to raise their voices; it’s you that decides.”
Two other songs on the album present yet more religious credos, in very different ways. “Art of Dying” is a hard rock stomper, featuring screaming lead guitar, pounding drums and dominant bass, while the lyrics describe a Hindu view of death and reincarnation. The last song on the album, “Hear Me Lord” is Harrison’s very personal prayer, begging the Lord’s forgiveness for “those years when I ignored you,” while praising God’s universal presence and asking for strength and inspiration. Who can say how many countless fans were similarly inspired and transformed spiritually by this music? Listening to the complete album in sequence was an exhausting and uplifting experience – undoubtedly enhanced by pot or chemicals in many cases – capable of infusing Harrison’s sense of hope and faith deep into his listeners’ souls. Harrison’s own popularity grew even more immense after this record was released, and he toured the world in 1971 along with Ravi Shankar, playing a mix of traditional Indian and this new solo music to sold-out arenas, and then organizing the seminal Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 (see Chapter **), and soon becoming involved in managing financing, and producing other bands and motion pictures, as well as cultivating a lifelong friendship with the legendary comedy troupe, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He released several more albums, including a 1973 follow-up, Living in the Material World, which offered more spiritual anthems, such as the title song and the #1 hit “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)”, further establishing George Harrison as the undisputed guru of post-1960s idealism and spiritualism. In 1988, he organized the impromptu all-star band The Traveling Wilburys, with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and almost-forgotten early ‘60s icon Roy Orbison (who died just as their album was released) . The group’s best songs, “Handle With Care,” and “End of the Line,” were Harrison compositions, upbeat tunes with optimistic, encouraging, and empathetic themes.
As the years passed, times changed, and the ideals of the 1960s became quaint and naïve in the minds of many from subsequent generations. Drug use shifted from mind expanding and soul manifesting to pleasure stimulating and body/life destroying; reverent soulful traditions were displaced by gangster worship and sexual obsession; the Material World seemed to conquer all, including the countercultural rock movement that became just another commercial demographic; and quests for spiritual enlightenment ran up against resurgent fundamentalism in both West and East. Yet through it all, George Harrison maintained his faith and optimism. On his final album, 2002’s Brainwashed, he lamented in the title song how brainwashed society has become, by teachers, leaders, high finance, the media, and technology, but ultimately reiterated his basic beliefs:
God God God
You are the wisdom that we seek…
The soul does not love, it is love itself…
I just won’t accept defeat.
Harrison was already dying of lung cancer when he recorded this song, and he passed away in November 2001 even before it was released, peacefully practicing his own Art of Dying. The final words on the song and album are another Hindu chant, “Namah Parvati,” which George and his son, Dhani Harrison recite together, a requiem for his life, faith, and love. A year after his death, close friend Eric Clapton organized an all-star Concert for George at London’s Royal Albert Hall, featuring Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Tom Petty, Billy Preston, Jeff Lynne, Dhani, as well as Ravi Shankar and an entire Indian orchestra. In a loving and moving tribute, they performed songs from Harrison’s career before a reverent audience, celebrating the life and inspiration of a man who had achieved simultaneous heights of material success and spiritual enlightenment rarely seen in modern human history. The message and the legacy were not about someone lost, since all things must pass away, but about how much love he had given to so many, and about giving it back.
—END CHAPTER 6—
 British progressive superstars Oasis released a hugely successful hit album in 1997 with the title Be Here Now.
 A fourth legend, Carlos Santana, was also getting his start in San Francisco at the same time (see Chapter **).
 The lesser known acts were helped immeasurably both by the prevalence of record company talent scouts who also attended the concerts, and by the famous documentary film, “Monterey Pop”, by director D.A. Pennebaker. Also, Eric Burden of the Animals memorialized the concerts with a song, “Monterey”.
 More than forty years later, Public Television stations were still showcasing videos of Hendrix at Monterey to their Baby Boomer audiences as part of fundraising appeals.
 Indeed, Davis openly admired Hendrix’s music and was inspired by him to develop his later jazz-rock fusion style in the 1970s.
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 Mainly the African Methodist Episcopal and National Baptist Convention denominations, as well as evangelical orders such as the Church of God in Christ.
 This was a wholesale “replacement” of the original 1950s group of the same name, which had featured the legendary Clyde McPhatter as lead singer.
 The only competition would be Diana Ross with The Supremes, which as a group had six #1 hits between 1964 and 1965.
 Erma was Aretha’s older sister, who had released the original recording of “Piece of My Heart”, which Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company turned into a major hit later in the year.
 The video for “White Lines” was produced by an unknown NYU film student, Spike Lee.
 Godsmack is also the name of a widely popular late 1990s hard rock band, influenced by Alice in Chains.
 “Too Much Heaven” was composed for and donated to UNICEF and the International Year of the Child.
 Clapton had previously revealed a solemn religious streak on the Blind Faith album, with the deeply personal “Presence of the Lord”.
 In 2008, rap-rocker Kid Rock released an album and song entitled “Rock ‘n’ Roll Jesus”; interestingly, there was little protest. Meanwhile, the same year, the Vatican issued a public “foregiveness” of John Lennon for his original “Beatles more popular than Jesus” remark.
 Elton John had a song of the same name on his 1980 album 21 at 33, expressing similar sentiments but with less overt cynicism.
 In December 2008, “Hallelujah” had the unique distinction of reaching both #1 and #2 on the UK pop charts at the same time, in cover versions by Alexandra Burke and Jeff Buckley.
 This simple chord sequence, and the equally simple melody of the main verse, were the basis for an infamous copyright infringement lawsuit claiming that “My Sweet Lord” was somehow copied from a minor early ‘60s record by the Chiffons, “He’s So Fine”, possibly the low point in the history of Intellectual Property jurisprudence. Harrison eventually bought the song rights to “He’s So Fine” just to put a permanent end to the absurdity.
 He also founded the Material World Foundation, which became his major charity for supporting numerous artistic and spiritual endeavors.