Songs that Shaped Our Lives in the 60s Are Needed in the Time of Corona
The Quarantine has given us plenty of time to devote to hobbies, reading, etc. Many of us have spent far too much time following the vagaries of the 24-hour news cycle on cable news channels. I found that after hours of the onslaught of mostly bad news, I needed a respite. I found relief in music or as we said back in the 60s, tunes. I began to think of the songs from my youth, the songs from high school, college, and beyond. I even wondered if there was a particular song from then that I would identify with these Corona days.
As I think about the times we are in now I am struck by how similar they are to 1968, when I was in the Army. Then we were mired in our own series of crises the most devastating of which was the disastrous war in Vietnam. Most of the protest songs from then were anti-war. We also suffered the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. The anti-war demonstrations and civil rights protests, especially after Dr. King’s murder were often violent. There was the police riot at the Chicago Democratic Convention. Young men were subject to the draft. That threat hung over all of us in that age range like a pall affecting all plans. We had the Apollo program blasting off in 1968 and in 2020 we had the SpaceX shot to the International Space Station. The times they were a changin’ in 1968 and not necessarily for the better. We just knew there was uncertainty and unrest everywhere. Much like we’re experiencing today.
I asked myself, is there a song that speaks to the disruption and dysfunction of the time of the coronavirus? Nothing immediately came to mind. We are in a time that has been described as a war. The wars we know best, Vietnam and WWII had their songs. WWII had the big bands of Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Duke Ellington. Vietnam had Peter, Paul, and Mary; the Rolling Stones; and The Beatles. So far no one has emerged as the voice of the pandemic. The protest songs from the tumultuous days of the 60s come to mind as relevant for today.
One 60s tune that captures the zeitgeist of these days is,” For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. It was released in late 1966 and made it to number 7 on the Hot 100 Chart in 1967. The YouTube video features Stephen Stills and his bandmate Neil Young who would be with him in Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The song has recently been performed at the Democratic National Convention and used by protesters this summer. Even though the song is over fifty years old when America and the world were much different, the lyrics have a hauntingly familiar resonance for the turmoil of today.
Another candidate for the 2020 protest song that is more specific in its original targets is “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire. McGuire sang with the folk group the New Christy Minstrels. His version of the song was released in 1965. The song hit number 1 on the Hot 100 Chart in the same year. Some of the original references are dated now, but the overall theme of frustration with the powerful, those who control our lives with little regard for humanity, continues to attract many fans.
Other protest songs include “If I had a Hammer” by Peter Paul, and Mary released in 1962. “Give Peace A Chance” by the Plastic Ono Band with John Lennon before he left the Beatles, was released in 1969.
A reading of the lyrics of the original “Born in the USA” released in 1982 by the “Boss” Bruce Springsteen with the E Street Band reveals that it was a protest song about the treatment of Vietnam veterans.
My favorite of the protest genre is “Abraham, Martin, and John” by Dion, released in 1968. “Abraham, Martin, and John” was written after the deaths of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy. The song charted out at number 4 in late 1968. I was vividly reminded of this song at the memorial services for John McCain, John Lewis, and most recently, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. They didn’t die young, but they made an impression on American society during decades of uncertainty and turbulence.
My research on these songs led me to discover some interesting trivia about Dion. Dion DiMucci was lead singer with the Belmonts. They had such early rock classics as “I Wonder Why,” and “A Teenager in Love.” Dion split with the Belmonts and had many solo hits such as “Runaround Sue”, “The Wanderer,” and “Ruby Baby.” Dion was the only survivor of the Winter Dance Party tour group featuring Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper that crashed with no survivors in February 1959. Dion survived because he couldn’t afford the 36-dollar cost of the ticket to ride on their doomed airplane.
Listening to the song it is hard to believe that Dion recorded it in one take. He initially did not like the song but after urging from his wife and producer, he did the song which will endure forever as a tribute to leaders who give their all for freedom and equality. “Abraham, Martin, and John” is less a protest song and more a tribute to these leaders who helped us through some of our most trying times. It seems to fit today especially with the addition, if only in one’s mind, of our latter-day heroes, John Mc., John L., and RBG.
If you haven’t heard these tunes recently, I encourage you to find them and take a trip back in time to those days when we were deeply affected by the unsettling events of the day. We were looking for solutions to problems that seemed intractable. We survived then and we will survive today but we all must act to preserve our health and our freedom. The words of these songs may help us steel us resolve to join the struggle to preserve the legacy of our heroes and our nation.
Add your songs for today in the comments.~~Valerie