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April 26, 2017

We're fast-approaching the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love

Musically speaking, 1967 was a lot more than ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band'

It will be the upset of the still-young century if, this June, we don’t find ourselves drowning in coverage of the 50th anniversary of two milestones in pop music (and pop culture): The release of The Beatles’ game-changing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album (June 1) and the equally epochal “Summer of Love,” during which the hippie counterculture exploded in a purple haze of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.

From a musical standpoint, the former speaks for itself. “Sgt. Pepper’s” demolished the conventions that had existed for decades prior to its release, and led to a still-unmatched adventurism in popular music. The latter played out to a “Pepper’s”-inspired soundtrack of psychedelic and protest music that likewise shattered accepted pop-composition rules and regulations.

But these are hardly the end-all and be-all of 1967’s musical tale. To the contrary, they were just a small (though crucial) part of the year’s almost supernaturally important and timeless sonic tapestry. A look at the Billboard “Hot 100” chart for the year tells a much bigger story.

Never before (or since) have so many musical touchstones shared such prominence within a calendar year. Interestingly, not all the magazine’s top 10 songs bear witness to this. Neither the chart-topping “To Sir with Love” (by British singer Lulu) nor number 3, “Ode To Billie Joe” by one-hit wonder Bobbie Gentry, resonate all that much today. But the top 10 does include “Windy” by The Association (No. 4), “I’m A Believer (The Monkees, No. 5), “Light My Fire” (The Doors; 6) and “Happy Together” (The Turtles; 8). All arguably rank among the best singles of the rock era.

But, as they say on TV infomercials, there’s more. Let’s look at some of the immortal tracks that populate the remaining 90 spots.

Never before (or since) have so many musical touchstones shared such prominence within a calendar year." 

In the rock category, we have, among others, “I Think We’re Alone Now” (Tommy James & The Shondells, 12); “Ruby Tuesday (The Rolling Stones, 24); “For What It’s Worth” (Buffalo Springfield, 27); “All You Need is Love” (The Beatles, 28); “Somebody To Love” (Jefferson Airplane, 33); “Brown Eyed Girl” (Van Morrison, 35); “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (Procul Harum, 38); “Penny Lane” (The Beatles, 55); “Friday On My Mind” (The Easybeats, 66); “Gimme Some Lovin’ (The Spencer Davis Group, 68); “White Rabbit’ (Jefferson Airplane, 81); and “I Can See For Miles” (The Who, 98).

An impressive list, to be sure, as is the roster of soul/R&B songs that made the chart:

“Groovin’” (The Young Rascals, 9); “Respect” (Aretha Franklin, 13); “I was Made to Love Her” (Stevie Wonder, 14); “Sweet Soul Music" (Arthur Conley, 17); “Expressway to Your Heart” (The Soul Survivors, 18); “Soul Man” (Sam & Dave, 19); “The Happening” (The Supremes, 29); “Your Precious Love” (Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, 32); “Jimmy Mack" (Martha & The Vandellas, 36); “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” (Jackie Wilson, 53); “Bernadette” (The Four Tops, 82); and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, 87).

The same goes for the pop end of things: “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” (Frankie Valli, 10); “Never My Love” (The Association, 20); “Alfie” (Dionne Warwick, 44); “Up, Up and Away” (The 5th Dimension, 47); “Georgy Girl” (The Seekers, 57); “Dedicated to the One I Love” (The Mamas & The Papas, 62); “The Beat Goes On” (Sonny & Cher, 83); “Everlasting Love” (Robert Knight, 90).

And the beat does indeed go on. 1967 was a watershed year for what is now known as “classic rock,” as it saw the release of the debut albums from: David Bowie (“David Bowie,” released the same day as “Sgt. Pepper’s”); The Jimi Hendrix Experience (“Are You Experienced?”); The Doors (“The Doors”); Grateful Dead (“Grateful Dead”); The Velvet Underground (“The Velvet Underground & Nico”); Pink Floyd ("The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”); Traffic (“Mr. Fantasy”) and Big Brother & The Holding Company (“Big Brother & The Holding Company”).

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. In the annals of popular music, no year comes close to 1967.

Chuck Darrow is a veteran entertainment columnist and critic. Listen to “That’s Show Biz with Chuck Darrow” 3 p.m. Tuesdays on WWDB-AM (860), 104.9 FM,, iTunes, iHeartRadio, and TuneInRadio.

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