Once again, Sixties Music Secrets would like to welcome back Mr. John Ross as this week’s guest blogger! John, as many of you know is the creator and host of our favorite music blog https://theroundplaceinthemiddle.com/“. The Round Place In The Middle Please enjoy John with his take on the most interesting year, from the most fascinating decade of all time! Here’s Johnny!
There are a lot of significant years in the History of Rock and Roll America, years that conjure an immediate, forceful image in the mind of anyone interested in the subject: 1956 (Elvis), 1959 (the Day the Music Died), 1964 (Beatles), 1967 (Summer of Love), 1969 (Woodstock…and Altamont), 1977 (the Year Punk Broke).
But there was no year quite like 1965.
I glommed onto it in 1978, three years after I started buying records. I graduated high school in June. We were already hearing about some version of the draft being brought back (they ended up settling for Selective Service a couple of years later) and the betting, even then, was that the next round of madness would be in the Middle East and have something to do with oil.
Seniors had the last week of school off. We just needed to show up for the grad rehearsal and then the event itself.
The day we were supposed to report for rehearsal I took my dad’s car (it would be a few months before I had one of my own) to a nearby mall and wound up sifting through the records in the bargain bin of a Woolco, where I found an as-seen-on-TV greatest hits package on Johhny Rivers for $2.99 and The Byrds Greatest Hits for $3.99.
I don’t remember why I was so flush—maybe just because it was graduation week and presents were beginning to show up—but, for once, I was able to afford both.
I had heard of the Byrds, but I knew a lot more about Johnny Rivers. He had more hits. At a buck cheaper I figured his comp was the score of the day, if not the month.
I figured that right up until I dropped the needle on the Byrds (and what turned out to be one of the greatest comps of all time). A little less than twelve minutes later, “A time for pe-a-c-c-c-e, I swear it’s not too late” was ringing in my head and my life had been altered in that way that only happens a handful of times the very first time you hear a record.
Cut to 1980, my first semester at Florida State, after a couple of years in junior college. I visited a church which, in turn, visited me at my apartment. The youth counselor came by with a kid my age and the first thing he noticed was my record collection. He asked what kind of music I liked and somewhere in the discussion that followed, I mentioned my favorite band was the Byrds.
That struck a chord because his first semester in college had been in 1965. There were two songs he remembered being played.
One was “Turn, Turn, Turn.” The other was “Eve of Destruction.”
Now I had already had my life altered by “Downtown” (#1 in January 1965 and, later that year, my first musical memory, which involved five-year-old me running around in circles in a mall trying to figure out where that wonderful sound was coming from while my sister chased me and my mother, who could no longer run, gazed on in wonder). And I had already been altered again by “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (#1 in February 1965 and, in 1978, my first out-of-body experience that didn’t involve religion, let’s just leave it at that).
But all that was personal. It was only when I had that chat with the counselor whose church I never again attended, that it began to dawn on me. 1965 wasn’t quite like any other year. Not just for me but for the world.
Maybe because I was so taken with the music, or because I had an acute sense of having JUST missed something monumental, or because all my history classes had stopped in the 50s, I already had an abiding interest in everything 60s. The music, yes, but not just the music. Not just the politics or history either. What soon took hold of me was the way they all became inseparable. And the more inseparable they became, the more I noticed everything—and I mean EVERYTHING—ran through ’65.
It became impossible for me to read about the Watts riots without wanting to play “Nowhere to Run” or “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” “Mr. Tambourine Man” seemed more relevant to the Summer of Love than anything from the actual summer of ’67. “Like a Rolling Stone” was clearly the manifesto of the most tumultuous American decade since the 1860s. Unless of course “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was.
And 1965 was peak everything. The Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Dylan, Byrds, James Brown, Motown, Impressions—all at their best. Southern soul made its first serious inroads on the pop charts and the American conscience. Folk rock (which had made such an impression on me) was born and epitomized in a matter of months. I was left gasping for air trying to take it all in year-by-year in the late 70s and early 80s. I can only imagine what it was like at the time.
But nothing ever brought it home quite like those memories the youth counselor shared with me in the winter of 1980. The insanity of Lyndon Johnson escalating the Vietnam war at a moment bracketed by “Eve of Destruction” (#1 in August) and “Turn, Turn, Turn” (#1 in December) and the implications for every decade since, were reinforced by everything I read or saw. I don’t know if politicians would benefit by paying attention to the pop charts now, but in 1965, the very kids who would have to fight and win the new war were the ones buying and requesting Barry McGuire and the Byrds.
Seemed like a serious disconnect to me. It still does. Banning such songs from Armed Forces Radio could not have been of much use. Controlling the air-waves is not the same as controlling the air. With the Spirit of ’65 breaking out everywhere, it’s a wonder the White House missed it.
Or did they?
The American military experience in Vietnam was defined by the first major ground battle, which took place in Ia Drang Valley in November 1965 (three months after “You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun your totin’?” topped the charts and one month before “A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late” did the same). The battle, the first of our string of empty “victories” has been brought back to the public conscience in the decades since by Hal Moore’s memoir We Were Soldiers Once…and Young and the Mel Gibson movie based on it. It’s essence was simple enough. Inflict causalities. Don’t occupy the ground.
It was an odd way to conduct a war, so odd nobody had ever really thought of it before. It’s the way we’ve conducted war ever since. Whatever you think of the results, it is certainly something new under the sun. Before 1965, before “Eve of Destruction” and “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Satisfaction” and “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Nowhere to Run” and “People Get Ready,” not to mention Rubber Soul and Highway 61 Revisited and Mr. Tambourine Man and long-legged girls dancing the night away on Shindig and Hullaballoo and Hollywood A-Go-Go, all promising that a better world was right there within our reach, war leaders of every time and place could always make certain safe assumptions about whether or not the ugliest consequences of their decisions carried any price they weren’t prepared to pay.
After 1965, it has never been safe to make such assumptions. After 1965, the expectations changed for nearly everything. The new world that resulted hasn’t always gone the way we might have hoped. As anyone who has even a modest acquaintance with human history before the 1960s can attest, war, poverty and the desire to inflict them, are far more deeply ingrained in human nature than peace and prosperity. But if we ever do reach that higher ground, I’d be willing to bet that the Spirit of 1965 will play as much a part as the Spirit of 1776.
Cut to a few years ago. One weekend after dark I was driving in my car on my way home from somewhere or other, listening to Little Steven Van Zandt’s radio show The Underground Garage. Steven mixes oldies with newer, independent, garage band records but the highlights are often his monologues. This particular night he went on at length about the lost idealism of the 1960s. It was one of those moments when you hope and pray the DJ is going to somehow find just the right record to punctuate his thoughts—meaning it will surprise you and then make you smile and say “Of course.”
I don’t remember much about the rest, but I’ll never forget Stevie’s last words, a call back to the halcyon spirit of his youth: “Before the empire divided us.”
There was no way to follow that with a record made in any year but 1965 and, when it came on, it surprised me.
Then it made me smile. And say “Of course.”
As I like to say. I don’t miss the past. I miss the future that never arrived.