Friday, January 28, 2011
'60s Rock 'n Roll
I nearly drove off the side of the road the first time I saw this billboard. There they were: the Beatles, floating above the street just three blocks from our house. Two months later, they are now ubiquitous throughout the city, inviting us to buy their music on iTunes. I love seeing them, even though they’ve become a big part of the visual noise of Los Angeles.
And speaking of the Beatles, Tim and I are in the midst of taking a (free!) five-week class called “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been: A Review of Rock’s Greatest Decade” at the Grammy Museum downtown. I’d looked for such an opportunity for years. Still, I thought it was a risky commitment since we’ve both been students of 1960s rock-n-roll our entire lives—Tim, in fact, is currently reading Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards’ new autobiography. Would we know more about the topic than the instructor?
But not to worry. Robert Santelli, executive director of the Museum, is an excellent teacher and master storyteller. Not only is he our age, he’s also met and worked with many of the artists he talks about, making his classes extremely personal and fascinating. I knew we’d struck gold when, halfway through the first session, Tim leaned over and whispered, “I LOVE THIS!”
In the first class, Santelli highlighted music of the early 1960s, positing that this era is often forgotten because no one sound dominated. Sure, there were the “girl groups” and male teen idols we all watched on American Bandstand. These were also formative years for Motown and the Beach Boys. Still, no one great group or musician emerged like, say, the Beatles or Eric Clapton, so this period has been forgotten. At the end of the first session, Santelli promised to dedicate the entire next class to the single most influential songwriter of our generation.
“Paul Simon?” I said, daring Tim to disagree.
“Nope! Brian Wilson!" he countered.
We were, of course, both wrong. According to Santelli, Bob Dylan was the single most influential songwriter—and to hear him tell it, the single most influential human being!—of our generation. I’ve never been much of a Dylan fan (sorry Ginny!), but the lecture was illuminating, taking us through the singer’s entire career right up to last year, when Dylan joined Santelli at the White House for a concert celebrating civil rights. Exciting stuff.
Week 3 finally brought us to what Santelli calls the “1st British invasion”—the Beatles, naturally, but also early Clapton, the Animals, and groups like the Dave Clark Five. I especially liked how the instructor focused on the Beatles’ formative period in Germany—a time that I’ve always found absolutely fascinating. At one point, Santelli asked the students—some 150 of us, mostly baby-boomers—if anyone in the room had seen the Beatles in concert. A woman said she’d seen them twice: she was in the audience for their first Ed Sullivan appearance and then again at Shea Stadium. Our collective jaws dropped in pure envy.
The Beatles’ story continued in week 4 as Santelli compared the group’s (arguably) greatest album, Sgt. Pepper (1967), to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966). Though I didn’t think so then, I now believe Pet Sounds is the far superior album and listen to its songs regularly. Sgt. Pepper, on the other hand, is fairly dated—“A Day in the Life” being the only song worth playing over and over again. Santelli then challenged us to come up with a list of the 25 most important rock songs of the ‘60s. Here are mine (in alphabetical order):
All Along the Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix)
Be My Baby (The Ronettes)
California Girls (The Beach Boys)
A Day in the Life (The Beatles)
Eight Miles High (The Byrds)
For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
God Only Knows (The Beach Boys)
Good Vibrations (The Beach Boys)
I Got You Babe (Sonny and Cher)
I Heard It Through the Grapevine (Marvin Gaye)
I Saw Her Standing There (The Beatles)
Light My Fire (The Doors)
Like a Rollin’ Stone (Bob Dylan)
Louie, Louie (The Kingsmen)
Respect (Aretha Franklin)
Satisfaction (Rolling Stones)
Something (The Beatles)
Sounds of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel)
Stop! In the Name of Love (The Supremes)
What’d I Say (Ray Charles)
White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)
Whole Lotta Lovin’ (Led Zeppelin)
Woodstock (Crosby, Stills and Nash)
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling (The Righteous Brothers)
One more class to go. We’ll be discussing the 2nd “British invasion” (e.g., Led Zeppelin, et al.) on Tuesday.
Which 25 rock songs would you nominate as the best of the 1960s?