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Summer of Love Oldies

The greatest golden oldies about peace and love from the Summer of 1967


Some say the "hippie" movement began in January 1967 at the world's first "be-in" in San Francisco. But the "peace and love" philosophy established there, a product of the city's underground scene, was really just a clarion call for young people all over the world to join the scene in the upcoming summer. A hundred thousand college students did just that, traveling to California in the summer of 1967 to experience the "Summer of Love" themselves. It was a happening that would have a profound affect on America and the world, and radio, as the following ten hits from that summer will show, was already geared up.

1. "All You Need is Love," The Beatles

Directly commissioned (so the legend goes) by the BBC for the world's first international live satellite broadcast, this song proves that the Beatles were not just great songwriters and musicians, or even great cultural icons, but effective propagandists; certainly no other group could have fashioned such a simple but powerful statement understandable by all the countries the broadcast reached. John's lyrics, typically, were quite Zen and worked best when you didn't unravel them but they seem to be about the self-empowerment of love itself, and that was enough to make this the nearly-official anthem of the summer, wherever you were. As the band itself instructs, "It's easy!" Love as a new dance craze? Only the Fab Four could pull that off.
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2. "Let's Live for Today," The Grass Roots

The hippie ethic is thought of as a late-Sixties invention for many people who weren't there, but as this hit proves, it was already well-defined by 1967: "We'll take it nice and easy and use my simple plan / You'll be my lovin' woman, I'll be your lovin' man / We'll take the most from living, have pleasure while we can." In other words, you can live off of love, not money. Perhaps even more of a radical idea now than it was then, but set off by one of the greatest repeated count-offs in rock history ("ONE-two-three-four!"), you believed it anyway. Or at least you wanted to. The bridge, which is equal parts gypsy campfire dance and sexual frenzy, doesn't hurt, either.
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3. "San Franciscan Nights," Eric Burdon and the Animals

A tender little folk-rock ballad, admirably restrained, from a singer and band who would become known for wild psychedelic excesses. Burdon was a boy from a rainy English town who'd become taken with the sunny city in question back in 1966, and this ode has a warm, sad quality that perfectly resonates with the moment in question: it can't possibly last, but what a moment it is. (Try and get this one with the original intro, which is a direct, hilarious slap at the Dragnet TV show and its amusingly reactionary view of all things hippie.)
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4. "White Rabbit," Jefferson Airplane

This cryptic tango, which sounds, at first, like a retelling of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland stories, was revealed by Airplane singer/songwriter Grace Slick as a metaphor of sorts: if "one pill makes you larger," etc., then why can't adults (or at least adolescents) take pills that make them, well, higher? A radical idea, to be sure, and it's probably only the attendant publicity of the Summer in question that lifted this creepy little number into the Top 10 -- not because it's no good, but because there'd never been anything on the charts like it, and there certainly hasn't since.
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5. "Light My Fire," The Doors

The Doors were always several shades darker than even their contemporaries in the San Francisco underground: it may have become a cliche to assert that the band represented the dark side of all this newfound freedom, but that doesn't make it any less true. This, therefore, is the ultimate anthem for the Summer of Love those kids didn't tell their parents about -- the bacchanalian orgy, the pyre that Jim Morrison was only to happy to light once this generation figured out that the rules on sex had been obliterated, too. And in typical Doors fashion, it builds up to an aural orgasm, which never fits the subject matter better than it does here. (Does that make the single version a quickie?)
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6. "A Whiter Shade of Pale," Procol Harum

Orchestrated around a Bach cantata, but played like Ray Charles, this was the perfect blend of heart and head, of soul and symphony, of dark continent wail and European construct. And the band had the added bonus of a full-time lyricist who wasn't officially a member (quite the hip addition for bands in those days, especially in the psych scene), which makes this one of those classics that blows minds as well as earphones. No one that summer could have told you what it meant to "skip the light fandango" or wander through your playing cards, but if you were there in that moment, you knew what it meant to you.
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7. "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)," Scott McKenzie

McKenzie was a friend of Mamas and the Papas founder John Phillips, who wrote and produced this, his one and only hit, for him. Although it was meant to promote the Monterey Pop festival of June 1967, it soon became synonymous with the entire summer in San Francisco -- a call out to the young and tuned in to make their exodus to the center of new Aquarian thinking. It's a little sappy and overearnest, like the movement itself was at times, but McKenzie was completely honest in his intentions, even wearing a garland of flowers while recording it. (That's John on guitar, Michelle Phillips on bells, and the famous "Wrecking Crew" sidemen on everything else.)
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8. "Incense and Peppermints," The Strawberry Alarm Clock

It's typically thought of as bubblegum, but that's because the lead singer wasn't actually a part of the band and the lyrics were written by label staff. That's too long of a story to go into here, but the Alarm Clock's intention to combine S.F. psych with L.A. pop works wonders anyway, resulting in an organ-fueled freakout tempered by pop smarts and Beach Boys-like sha la las and ba ba bas. It didn't get to the top of the charts until December of '67, hot on the heels of the movement's move into the American heartland. But airchecks prove that San Francisco stations were playing it in July.
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9. "Groovin'," The Young Rascals

Forget the birds, the sunshiny arrangement, the beatific vocals -- this is s a song about sex, albeit one that makes sex feel very beautiful, sunshiny, and natural. There were few number one songs, in '67 or any other year, that could boast being this laid back, and since the Rascals were always masters of blue-eyed soul, there was a little extra punch in this ballad that made the whole thing seem real. Take the idea of being "groovy" (which had already permeated the public consciousness) and mix in the idea of being in the groove, which had its own delicious, layered meaning, and you can see the cultural crossroads where this song planted roots. It's impossible not to feel peaceful, and maybe a little frisky, while listening to it.
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10. "Itchycoo Park," The Small Faces

Psychedelic in both form and function, this sunny and occasionally bent folk-pop number was the first British record to feature phasing, that strange aural soup that makes you feel as if you'd just dropped out and turned on. (Um, so I hear.) Since the park in question -- somewhere near London, and obviously not going by that name at all -- is English, that made the 45 a necessary listen for Brits who couldn't possibly jet to San Fran to see what all the hubbub was about. The lyrics are about skipping school to get high, but the group (who'd later mutate into the Faces, Rod Stewart's backup band) simply lied to authorities in order to avoid the radio ban.
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