Ship of Fools

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(Pictured: the Rascals, whose “People Got to Be Free” was on every kid’s radio 50 years ago this week.)

When I started putting posts together for this week, I thought that the theme was going to involve August turning to September. But sometimes the muse has her own ideas, and so this week both of my blogs will feature posts about 1968. They will appear here today, Wednesday, and Friday, and on Tuesday and Thursday at One Day in Your Life.

This week in 1968, the country’s attention was riveted on Chicago and the Democratic National Convention, where all of the frustrations the 1960s caused for three generations—kids, their parents, and their grandparents—sparked up and then exploded. The way it happened was a shock back then, as best I can recall it, but today it seems inevitable. With the benefit of hindsight, we understand both why the kids protested and why the Chicago Police Department went nuclear. Everyone’s nerves had been stretched to a breaking point in 1968 by war and assassination and each side’s reactions to them. They were destined to snap sooner or later in more or less the way they did, and if not in Chicago, then somewhere else, and soon.

At WGLI in Babylon, New York, a small-town station on Long Island, certain hits of August-going-on-September reflected young people’s visions of peace and/or love: “People Got to Be Free,” “Grazin’ in the Grass” (an instrumental, yes, but one that depicts a carefree late-summer idyll), “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and “Reach Out in the Darkness.” But other songs celebrated youthful visions that were worrisome to the older generations, including indiscriminate sex (“Hello I Love You”), dropping out of polite society (“Born to Be Wild”) and drugs (“Journey to the Center of the Mind”).

And leave it to the Rolling Stones to grin crazily at all the trouble in the world and call it a gas.

WGLI’s survey dated August 26, 1968, contains some of the oddballs we like around here. It has two versions of “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” the monster hit version by Jeannie C. Riley (which we’ll discuss here in greater detail on Friday) and a cover by Bobbi Martin, and two versions of “Mr. Bojangles,” the original by Jerry Jeff Walker and the other by Bobby Cole. Martin had scored a handful of Top-10 Easy Listening hits in the middle of the 60s, but her greatest success was 18 months away: the housewife anthem “For the Love of Him” would go to #1 Easy Listening and #13 on the Hot 100 early in 1970. Cole was a jazz singer well-known in the New York City area, and his “Mr. Bojangles” hit #79 on the Hot 100 and #38 Easy Listening.

Bobby Cole was not the only local artist on WGLI’s playlist. The Hassles are best known for being Billy Joel’s first claim to fame, although he’d been in other bands before, and the Hassles had existed before he joined in 1966. “Four O’Clock in the Morning” was written and sung by Joel and sounds like a cross between Vanilla Fudge and the Beatles. Aesop’s Fables was a Long Island group with two singers and a horn section that made a handful of singles and a couple of albums; their version of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” is just weird—although it did predate the more famous Supremes/Temptations version by a few months. (Soul singer Dee Dee Warwick had done it first, in 1966.)

WGLI’s pick album of the week is the third album in 12 months by the Cowsills, Captain Sad and His Ship of Fools. It contains “Indian Lake,” which had hit earlier in the summer of 1968 and was likely still in recurrents at WGLI as August turned to September. The title song takes aim at a person who talks a lot but hasn’t really accomplished anything. The kids might have seen eventual Democratic presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey in it, but Humphrey’s generation, sitting in their living rooms watching the news from Chicago, might have been thinking the same thing about their kids.

(Coming Wednesday: a look inside Billboard magazine 50 years ago this week.)

One response

  1. Thanks to your blog I regularly discover some amazing music I’ve never heard before. I grew up on eastern Long Island, moved there when I was nearly 10 years old in 1977. So prior to that time there was a lot of music I hadn’t heard, like Aesop’s Fables and most of the Hassles’ music. Of course, from ’77 on Billy Joel was my soundtrack to a Long Island youth…

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