WHERE IS THE LOVE?
Make Love Not War
Love Is The Answer
God Is Love
Peace And Love
If you are of an age that this means nothing to you, trust me. It was real. At the time the radio airwaves were chock full of love songs. Stevie Wonder, the Stylistics, The Supremes, Roberta Flack, The Beatles, the Righteous Brothers, Smoky Robinson & Miracles – and the list goes on. Now this is not to say that everything was great and wonderful during those two decades. Indeed, they were not. Civil Rights leaders and demonstrators slain, Anti-Viet Nam protesters shot and killed, riots in city after city each summer like clockwork. No. By any rational measure, the 1960’s and the 1970’s were tumultuous decades: full of anger, strife, violence and divisiveness.
Still, against the turbulence, the violence and the strife back then, there was a thematic backdrop that centered around love, compassion, and understanding as a counterpoint to some very scary real world happenings. To illustrate, here are some of my favorite love songs from back then:
To my mind (simple as it might be) one of the greatest duets of all time. This clip was filmed on the grounds of the 1964 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, NY.
And while I was not a Beatles fan, who could ever forget the "She Loves You" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" that started it all in 1963:
To say nothing of "All You Need Is Love" (BTW I am now a huge Beatles fan.)
But the Sixties were what I would call the Golden Age of Soul. With Stevie Wonder giving us such hits as "I Was Made To Love Her," Martha and the Vendellas banging out that national anthem "Dancing In The Streets," Smoky Robinson and The Miracles singing about "The Tracks of My Tears" and the Temptations and Four Tops having hit after hit after hit, Sly and The Family Stone doing "Everyday People"and "A Family Affair" - it was truly a magical, transformative time in America pop music. So-called "crossover" pop music ruled. One of my all time favs is the Isley Brothers "This Old Heart of Mine"
And then there was Dionne Warwick who, with Burt Bachrach and Had David, seemed to rule the airwaves for over a decade.
On the other hand, can anyone forget Aretha Franklin's iconic version of the same Bachrach/David song?
At the cusp of the new decade, in 1971, Marvin Gaye - against the wishes of Motown - released what has become one of the most iconic, most honored LP's of all time. (For those of you who don't immediately recognize the term "LP" I'm speaking of the pre-CD era where vinyl ruled the music industry. I hear vinyl is making a comeback!) "What's Goin' On" combined a searing critique of American culture with a heartfelt plea to our better instincts. It is by far one of the best albums ever recorded.
While every composition on "What's Goin' On" is sheer brilliance, I admit that my favorite is "Save The Children"
Until Frank Ocean's release of "Channel Orange" in 2012, I don't think there has been a "pop music" album that has so captured the cultural trappings of their respective times as "What's Goin' On" did. Frank's album is - like Marvin's - sheer genius. And if you listen to "What's Goni' On" today, you will find that Marvin's paean to humanity rings just as true in 2014 as it did in 1971. I recommend that you listen to Marvin then Frank one after the other. While the cultural references are decades apart, you will find that both are basically pleas for sanity in our dealings with each other.
The 1970's seemed to be a transition decade preceding as it did, the disco era. But love songs still took top honors in the pop music world back in the 70's with such great love songs as the Bee Gees "How Deep Is Your Love," the Emotions "Best of My Love,' Flacks' never to be topped "The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face," the Jackson Fives "I'll Be There," Marvin's "Let's Get It On," Three Times A Lady" by the Commodores, "Close to You" by the Carpenters, Carly Simon's "You're So Vain," the Jackson Fives "I'll Be There," Diana Ross' mega hit version of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," and Edwin Starr's "War."
Of all the 1970's mega hits, I have to say that "Everbody's Talking At Me" is certainly one of my favs. No doubt this is a reflection of my abject admiration for the movie "Midnight Cowboy" (the only x-rated movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.)
Soul music seemed to fade as Disco rocked the scene. Yet The Jackson Five, Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops and the Temptations were still up there on the Billboard 100 Top Tunes. And while I have to say that I have a particular fondness for Marvin and Tammis' 1964 versions, I can't help but admire Diana Ross and the Supremes lushly orchestral, operatic version of "Aint No Mountain High Enough" released in 1970. It is sublime.
And then there was this:
"Saturday Night Fever" was released in 1977 and announced the Disco Age and the fabulous songs of Donna Summer. But the rise of disco effectively squelched protest as a means of change and ushered in what I like to call "the decade of denial" witnessed by the conservative economic and social agendas that were ushered in by Ronald Reagan. Little did we know at the beginning of the 1980's that AIDS would ravage the planet and our country would be divided into competing camps that today have virtually destroyed the belief that, working together as a nation, that despite our differences we are all Americans and that we could overcome any obstacle if we put our minds and wills to it. Fear, hopelessness and anger seem to rule these days.
My point is, that despite the helter-skelter atmosphere that was the 1960's and 70's
- downtowns burning, lynchings and killings in the South, Viet Nam - there was this "vision" (I'll call it that for lack of a better term) that through the power of love, understanding and peace we could solve our problems and remain together through terrible times. Today - not so much. Seems as if we are bent on arming every single American with Bushmasters and AK-47's. Somehow I don't see this as a practical solution to our current problems. And while I know there are love songs today, the attitude so many Americans shared - that love could serve as powerful guide and glue in our society - is gone.
I am what you could call a "lapsed Christian" I suppose. I don't go to church - haven't since the age of thirteen - and yet my Summer School Bible lessons taught by my cousin Kathy still inform my everyday existence and, in fact, my very being. Unlike today's "muscular" "aggressive" Christinaity that seems to be the rage among the fundamentalists and witnesses to Christ, her version of Christ's message was one of caring, and compassion, and humility and a deep love for humanity. That, as far as I'm concerned, is a much better cultural vision than "we need to be armed to the teeeth so that we can defend ourselves from our domestic enemies."
I close with this from Engalnd Dan and John Ford Cole released in 1979 and perhaps a prescient protest to what was to follow for us in the 1980's.