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Mr. Pop History Presents 1967 Week-By-Week

Overview by Robert Neill


The "Summer of Love." That sobriquet, long-applied to the Summer of 1967, causes some people to snicker contemptuously at how naive, quaint and silly it now sounds. Others become wistful and dreamy about the "Summer of Love" and remember it as a high point in their lives and wish the values and imagery it conjures for them could've lasted forever.


It's difficult to specify exactly when the hippie-era began and ended, but it was definitely operative during 1967. American society was polarized and factionalized in the late 1960's over various social, cultural and poltical issues. The Vietnam War, among other concerns, created an "us vs. them" mentality that saw 'hippies' clashing with 'the Establishment:' Hawk (pro-combat) vs. dove (pacifists); long-hair vs. short-hair; under-30 vs. over-30; left-wing vs. right-wing; etc. etc. This sort of divisiveness occurs in many epochs, but in the late 1960's, American youth seemed especially alienated and often perceived themselves as a burgeoning counter-culture poised to overthrow a corrupt, restrictive power structure--or to at least exist independently of it. Some hippies may have been seriously committed to these ideas and many were sincerely trying to effect social reform, but others were simply dilettantes, tagging along with their peers. The youth culture of the late 1960's often indulged in promiscuous sexual practices, recreational drug use and other hedonistic activities, usually while sporting outrageous clothes and freaky hair styles. Older and more traditional Americans found all this repellent or shocking or at the very least in poor taste... and that was part of the appeal.


The Pop Culure media capitalized on this so-called 'Generation Gap' with plays like the hippie musical "Hair," which began Off-Broadway in October of 1967, as well as with movies, TV shows and records designed to appeal to the 'Love Generation.' The most noteworthy musical landmark of 1967 was the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album, released in June--just in time for the Summer of Love. Many music critics still regard "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" as the greatest rock album ever produced. Musically and lyrically, it was ambitious in scope beyond what was usually heard in a rock n' roll milieu. Its songs varied from old-fashioned-sounding ("When I'm 64") to avant-garde productions like "A Day In The Life." The fact that one of its most psychedelic-sounding songs "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" had the same initials (LSD) as a popular hallucinogenic drug was seen as a hip in-joke by many who refused to believe John Lennon's disclaimer that the shared acronym was just a coincidence. In 1967, the prevalent viewpoint in the counter-culture was that the drug-users were the good guys and anyone trying to stop them were villains. That conception had reversed completely by 20 years later, but in the late 1960's and early 1970's recreational narcotics were considered by many to be 'cool.'


The success of the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album was seen as a new direction for pop music. Other artists began incorporating the album's more psychedelic elements into their own music--whether they wanted to or not. One group that adapted very successfully was the Supremes, whose synthesizer-driven 1967 hit "Reflections" startled fans accustomed to regarding them as one of Motown's more conservative pop-soul acts. Other established artists were not so fortunate in their attempts to adjust; notable failures include Herman's Hermits' bizarre "Wings of Love" and Lesley Gore's "Magic Colors" misfire. Other established artists were able to put together psychedelia-influenced records that were perfectly good, but which went largely unnoticed--like "Live In The Sky" by the Dave Clark Five.


By 1967, rock n' roll was, to some observers, already taking itself too seriously by pretending to be an art form. This self-importance was exacerbated by the 1967 founding of "Rolling Stone," a magazine devoted to rock journalism--a phrase that many still regard as an oxymoron. The playful simplicity of the first generation of rock n' roll had not completely disappeared by the late 1960's, but it was co-existing alongside the work of some rather pretentious and self-indulgent artistes.


One social inequity that the 'counter-culture' may have helped bring to many other people's attentions was the fact that more thana century after the Civil War, African-Americans were still not fully integrated into US society and were still often the victims of horrendous racial prejudice in many parts of the country. Social progress was being made: 1967 was, for example, the year in which Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the first African-American so honored, but racial intolerance still thrived elsewhere. Among the causes championed by the hippies and the radicals were long-overdue respect for African-Americans and an end to segregation.


Popular music in the mid- to late-60's was one area where an artist's skin color was not an issue. 1967 was a particularly strong year, for example, for the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, whose classic recordings "Respect," "Chain of Fools," and "A Natural Woman" were just some of her 1967 hits. Numerous African-American artists were selling well on Stax, Volt, King, Motown and other record labels, right alongside all the British Invasion and other white recording artists.


Other popular forms of entertainment also reflected this growing appreciation of the contribution of African-American artists.Three of the top movies of 1967, for example, starred Oscar-winner Sidney Poitier in stories that explored racial attitudes. Two of the three films were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, with "In The Heat of the Night" defeating "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner." (The third 1967 Poitier movie, "To Sir, With Love," was not nominated for Best Picture, but its eponymous theme song proved to be one of the most popular and enduring hit songs of the year.)


Each year from 1966 through 1969, Bill Cosby won an Emmy, with an increasing number of other African-American actors being nominated for and sometimes winning the TV Awards, too. African-Americans on TV prior to the mid-1960's were not quite as absent as some revisionist tele-historians have claimed, but there certainly were a disproportionately large number of white people depicted on television compared to the ethnographic breakdown of real-life America. In addition to "I Spy," other popular weekly series in the latter half of the 1960's included African-Americans in their ensemble casts. Greg Morris as Barney Collier on "Mission: Impossible" and Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura on 'Star Trek' were especially well-liked by fans of those series and provided role models for some younger viewers who might not have otherwise considered careers in electronics or space exploration.


At the beginning of the 1960's, the TV networks were sometimes skittish about featuring African-American actors on programs that would be seen all over the country, including racially-intolerant markets. By the end of the decade, it seemed as though it were almost mandatory for every new TV show to have at least one African-American in its cast.


Considering the growing popularity of the counter-culture, a large number of the weekly TV series airing in 1967 were surprisingly traditional. There was still an abundance of Westerns, cop dramas, spy series, variety shows, sitcoms, science-fiction adventures and cartoons. The on-going success of "Batman" inspired two superhero parodies, "Captain Nice" and "Mister Terrific." A few more gimmick-novelty shows were introduced that year such as the notorious "The Flying Nun" and "The Second Hundred Years," about a man, frozen in the year 1900, who is unfrozen in 1967 and has to adjust to modern life. Also new and noteworthy in 1967 were Carol Burnett's durable variety series and two popular TV crimefighters: Joe Mannix and the wheelchair-bound Robert Ironside. 1967 also brought yet another revival of the quintessential cop show "Dragnet" with Jack Webb reprising his familiar Joe Friday character.


The most controversial new series of the year 1967 began in February: "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." Although the comedians-folksingers patterned their show after the format of more traditional variety programs, the content was designed to appeal to the hippies, radicals and left-wingers. The skits often contained hip slang references to drugs and sex; the humor revolved around the social issues of interest to the counter-culture; the songs performed were often politically-oriented. The series ran several years, constantly encountering censorship problems with the network over the show's iconoclastic content.


An even younger audience of pre-teens latched on to the after-school soap opera "DarkShadows." Though the serial had featured an undertone of supernatural and horror elements since its June, 1966 debut, the addition in April, 1967 of a vampire character led to the show developing into--over the next several years--a monster rally and Pop Culture phenomenon. Like the other current ABC series with a bat as its central motif, Dark Shadows exploded into a multi-media merchandising opportunity that has still not abated, due in part to the obsessive nature of many of Dark Shadows' fans. Young boys appreciated the monsters, werewolves and mad scientists, while other viewers responded to the tragic tales of unrequited love. Still others appreciated the show for the vintage fashions and jewelry depicted in the show's intermittent time-travel segments.


In August, ABC created another memorable Pop History event-- and a dangerous precedent-- inconnection with its drama series "The Fugitive." The 4-season-old series' entire run had been built around the central unresolved conflict of its protagonist, Dr. Richard Kimble, trying to prove that someone else had committed the murder of which Kimble had been convicted. In the show's final episode, Kimble's quest ended with Kimble exposing the real killer. Although having a final episode that actually "wrapped up" a TV series was not unprecedented ("The Dick Van Dyke Show," for example, had already done so the previous year), this long-awaited resolution garnered "The Fugitive" record-breaking ratings and a phenomenal degree of attention.


In the 1970's, many other TV series (among them "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Nichols," "Strange Paradise" and "The Odd Couple") followed "The Fugitive's" example and presented final episodes that wrapped up the series. Because these events were sometimes highly rated and surrounded by excessive publicity and hoopla, what had once been a novelty started becoming the norm. It has since become almost obligatory for every TV series to make a big fuss over its final episode-- to a point of ridiculousness and absurdity. Shows built around a central conflict that can be resolved ("M*A*S*H," for example) lend themselves to such finality, while sitcoms (such as "Seinfeld" or "Cheers" or "Newhart") or dramas with ongoing multiple storylines (such as "Dallas" or "Hill Street Blues") end on artificial and bizarre notes when they attempt to recreate "The Fugitive's" 'last-episode' mania. What made sense for "The Fugitive" in 1967 seems like a horrendously contrived aberration when shoehorned onto series that don't hinge on a single central conflict. Imagining how clever, welcome and refreshing it would seem now for a series not to end with a hokey final episode wrap-up allows one to understand what an equally exciting and imaginative novelty it was for "The Fugitive" to do so in 1967.


Although foreign films did remain popular in 1967, the acting Oscars for 1967's movies all went to Americans and relatively few of the major category nominees were from other countries. The Actor and Supporting Actor Oscars went to New Yorkers Rod Steiger (for the cop drama "In The Heat of the Night") and George Kennedy (for the prison drama "Cool Hand Luke"). The Actress and Supporting Actress Oscars went to New Englanders Katharine Hepburn (for the comedy-drama "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner") and Estelle Parsons (for the gangster melodrama "Bonnie and Clyde")


Many of the movies of 1967 still stand out both as classic cinema and great entertainment. In addition to the Oscar-winners, other films released that year include "The Graduate," "Enter Laughing," "In Cold Blood," "Up The Down Staircase," "The Dirty Dozen," "Wait Until Dark," and "Valley of the Dolls," along with Elvis romps, family comedies, spy thrillers, westerns, horror films, gangster pictures and even grandiose Hollywood musicals like "Dr. Dolittle" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie."


Movies were becoming more mature as filmmakers continued to explore frank, adult subject matter. Drug use ("The Trip," for example), sex ("The Graduate") and violence were becoming more explicit as the standards forbidding these topics began to seem more like jokes than dogma. When the film industry realized that some audiences enjoyed watching movie characters get shot to death in slow motion and in close-ups as in "Bonnie and Clyde," this began a whole new direction that has continued escalating ever since in the depiction in movies of increasingly gruesome and savage carnage.


Hippie slang and ethics could be found in the titles and / or lyrics of many 1967 hit songs: the trippy "Incense and Peppermints" by Strawberry Alarm Clock; "All You Need Is Love" by the Beatles; "Groovin'" by the Young Rascals; "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield and "The Happening" by the Supremes. Otherwise, 1967 proved to be another unpredictable year musically with a wide variety of styles of music generating record sales and radio airplay. Many rock bands were developing a louder, harder, more dangerous sound, such as The Doors and Jefferson Airplane, both of whom had huge hits that year with "Light My Fire" and "Somebody To Love" respectively. Other groups, such as The Royal Guardsmen and Ohio Express, were aiming in the exact opposite direction, making more innocent-sounding records designed to appeal musically and lyrically to children who weren't old enough yet to identify with the hippie movement or appreciate the edgier acts.

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