George Harrison’s marriage to Pattie Boyd may have ended in a whirl of drama but damn if it didn’t fuel some of his best writing. The Beatles themselves ended in a whirl of drama, an ugly breakup only hinted at in the idyllic video by their conspicuous refusal to be filmed together. That drama in turn fueled Harrison, Lennon and McCartny to leap into their solo careers determined to prove themselves. (Ringo got busy filming cinematic classics like Caveman.) That just proves and underlines the way that harsh experiences tend to become the most intense inspiration. George Harrison knew, of course, that his four-way union with the other Beatles was on its dying legs, and that his relationship with his wife wasn’t going so well either. It’s the knowledge of impending change that imbues the most tender of love songs with its soulfulness.
This father-daughter duet was a smash hit and there’s absolutely nothing creepy about it. There’s nothing odd at all about 52-year-old Frank Sinatra singing a tender love song to his 27-year-old daughter Nancy. Never mind that the song was originally written by Carson Parks as a duet with his wife. Never mind that it very much appears to be about the concerns of a staid sugar daddy wondering how to woo a younger woman who gets around a bit. There is nothing in those sentiments that can’t easily be transposed to one of those horrifying father-daughter oath dances where little girls pledge their ‘virtue’ to their daddies. Apparently nobody had a problem with it in 1967, when fresh material from Frank Sinatra was hard to come by and Nancy Sinatra was hot. Anyway, there have been plenty of hit songs about astonishingly disturbing things, and this one is fairly low on the scale. There’s actually something campy and endearing in its weirdness, and it’s almost as if we’re the weird ones for expecting someone like Frank Sinatra to know about normal-person social boundaries.
This should lift your spirits. Donovan hasn’t been on-trend since his heyday, what with gloom and doom being the prevailing mood, but sometimes there’s a need for something cheerful. The optimism and playfulness of 60’s psychedelic folk music hasn’t been recreated. Artists like Donovan, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and early Pink Floyd leaned heavily on folklore, fantasy and children’s literature – things that are just too pure for our cynical world, I guess. It took a truly unique cultural moment to make those things edgy with the in-crowd. No wonder we still gaze back on the 1960’s with awed fascination; every decade since then has just been the same banquet of depravity, sex and anger. Anyway, I hope you’re feeling cheered up.
Jefferson Airplane is one of those groups whose best known songs have been abused into cliche by too many movies about the sixties. Want to signal that your character is really having the ultimate groovy 60’s experience? Throw in some Jefferson Airplane. Besides that, what even is their legacy? It seems that Grace Slick was thinking the same thing, as she tried to distance herself, in the 70’s and 80’s, from being emblematic of a particular two-year period in history, with mixed results. I, for one, don’t know much else of what Jefferson Airplane did outside of Surrealistic Pillow.
If you’ve never listened to Nancy Sinatra, your impression of her might be that of a very corny and square cabaret singer completely out of step with the psychedelic counterculture all around her. That’s based on her background, of course, and the way she wore her hair. It couldn’t be more wrong. Nancy Sinatra made some of the weirdest music of the sixties, and yeah, that’s saying a lot. In her series of duets with Lee Hazlewood, she managed to find an overlap between psychedelia, country music and Europop – three things that could not be more disparate or antagonistic towards each other, yet formed a bizarre love triangle on Nancy’s records. This is one of the best known of their collaborations. It plays like the fever dream brought on by a heavy dose of LSD and a Clint Eastwood matinee. Making it one of the most perfect curios of the psychedelic era, and surprisingly, one of the most enduring.
To call the Velvet Underground ahead of their time has become one of those phrases that have been repeated into meaninglessness. It’s what lazy writers reflexively say when they think they don’t need to unpack or defend their position. But when I approach with focus and try to find some new angle or insight, I still find myself saying simply that the Velvets were light years ahead of everyone else. They produced records that sounded like they’d been made inside a filthy closet – hence, the heretical “Closet Mix” of their album. Mainly though, it was the door-opening, literate and subversive songwriting. Lou Reed wrote, with unvarnished intimacy, about things that were then considered very much unspeakable. Even though the late 60’s were saturated with triumphalist anthems about love and personal freedom, and quasi-religious talk about pharmaceutical redemption, there wasn’t very much real talk. No one spoke of a love that was cloaked in shame and self-flagellation, or of the intimate connections that occurred in a void between people who couldn’t meet each others’ eyes or know each others’ names, or that those moments could be beautiful and worthy of a love song. Fifty years later, it still sounds unsettling, in the sense that you’ve opened a door onto something secret and private and tantalizing and unheard of. It’s purely poetic justice that my preferred mix is the Closet Mix.
This performance of The Soft Parade begs a couple of questions. Why is Jim Morrison so against petitioning the Lord with prayer? And how did they coax an on-key and non-insane performance out of him in the first place? Morrison was looking, in 1969, like a cult leader on the verge of inciting mass suicide. That is, shambolic and bloated, yet still charismatic. Some of the lyrics on the Soft Parade album were lazy or not written by Morrison at all, but the title track felt like the rambling of an unstable mind. Of course, Morrison’s entire persona was based on the perception that he was dangerously unstable… but yet somehow still in complete cosmic control and eminently qualified to lead his followers into a psychedelic spirit quest. But by the end, it appeared that he was just plain unstable in the garden variety manner, and he had barely any control over himself or his life. Maybe it was Morrison’s tragedy that he insisted on trying to inhabit, as an everyday matter, a persona that sold records, or maybe his life trajectory was exactly what he wanted for himself, in his conception of what it means to be a poet. Most people’s literary ambitions don’t involve dying alone in a bathtub, though. You can still see clearly, though, in performances like this one, that the psychedelic spirit quest is still there for the journeying, even if you can’t trust the shaman.