Here’s a running theme that veterans and probably even newcomers to the Halls of Rock will notice in the otherwise piercing and wise posts of Townsman Hrrundivbakshi: “Hippies weaken rock ‘n roll!” I cannot fully subscribe to HVB’s anti-hippie stance, although like others, I find it fascinating. Hippiedom seemed to me such a logical and necessary extension of where rock ‘n roll had been heading. Sure it ran its course after the musical equivalent of the eighth day without a shower, but I still treasure the injection of Flower Power and poor grooming that their long weekend in the hot, stinking sun brought to rock.
An interesting unfinished part of this story, which is only hinted at in the original comments this post generated: Mike Rabon of The Five Americans came across this essay through his feed, or whatever it’s called, and agreed to an interview. I quickly came up with what I thought would have been some cool questions, but after repeated requests for replies and numerous delays, I finally gave up on hearing back from Mike. Too bad, but I know how life can get busier than expected. Maybe I’ll try once more to get a true hero of the anti-hippie scene’s take on all this. Enjoy!
This post initially appeared 11/14/07.
Starting today, I offer a series of short posts that I hope will help illuminate how and why things went so very WRONG ’round about 1967.
Those of you who’ve been following RTH for while now have probably come to understand that I have a visceral dislike for much of what has come to be labeled “hippie” culture. And, if you’ve been following RTH, you probably know that Mr. Mod has never stopped busting my balls for not donning the white lab coat and providing a detailed taxonomy of all the toxins mixed into my beloved rock and roll music by that messy generational burp.
And so it is that I’ve decided to meet Mr. Mod halfway on the field of cultural battle. Starting today, I offer a series of short posts that I hope will help illuminate how and why things went so very WRONG ’round about 1967.
In today’s essay, I hope to let others do much of the talking, and to allow some of hippie music’s main offenders hang themselves on a rope they painstakingly twisted themselves. In the opposing corner, I present my surprise champions of the day, The Five Americans.
The Five Americans popped up on my rock radar screen as a result of finding a beat-up copy of a song I’d long forgotten, the delightful “Western Union Man”. What a joyful testament to the beauty of the economically designed, tightly arranged pop song! On the strength of this one single, I went and did something foolish: I plunked down $12 for their Greatest Hits compilation. “Greatest Hits”?! The Five Americans had — maybe — three hits worth mentioning! Still, I was overcome by the simple beauty of “Western Union”, and off my money went.
Well, to make a long story short: if you’re looking for all the Five Americans worth listening to, I recommend you find a copy of the “Western Union” single. The rest of the comp I bought vacillates between pretty-good-but-my-life-didn’t-suck-for-never-hearing-them tunes and a sizable portion of full-on needle-lifters.
But the album liner notes did provide inspiration for this post, in the form of a crystal-clear case study of hippie music hubris (and its righteous comeuppance), as related by lead singer and guitarist Mike Rabon, who desribes a bill the Five Americans shared in their home state of Texas with the Jefferson Airplane:
“By then, we’d had three hit records, and they’d only had ‘White Rabbit.’ But they wanted to headline in our back yard. We just told ’em, ‘Go ahead,’ and they ended up jamming and getting the plug pulled. The screamin’ teenies wanted to hear our three-minute zingers.”
Three-minute zingers. How much of what we all love about rock and roll is neatly encapsulated in those three fine, “winner” words! I mean, seriously, how many of you prefer sitting through this:
… to enjoying this:
I’m with Steve Allen — and all the old squares — all the way on this one. Yay, Five Americans, and your one Great American pop song! Boo, Jefferson Airplane, and your self-indulgent, churlish, rooftop drone rock!
Who’s with me on this one?