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Mr. Pop History Presents 1965 Week-By-Week

Overview by Robert Neill


By 1965, Pop Culture was finally starting to resemble that popular image of "The 60's" that many people have, but which didn't really exist yet during the first half of the decade. Wacky, gimmicky TV novelty shows, rock n' roll musicians with long-ish hair and movies with controversial adult themes are all evident in the pop history of 1965.


The prevailing sources of entertainment were continuations of those that had begun in 1964 orearlier. In popular music, the British Invasion in general and the Beatles in particular continued to be hugely popular with American audiences. Other popular musical genres in 1965 were such also-pre-1965 favorites as the Motown sound (as well as soul music in general) and surf music, with the Supremes and the Beach Boys especially vying with the various English rock artists for radio airplay and record sales.


Although the folk music phenomenon of 1963 had fizzled somewhat in 1964, by 1965 the folk-rock subgenre surged into popularity. The Byrds and Bob Dylan (among others) fused the two music styles into chart-topping hits and / or critically-acclaimed recordings. One of the top-selling hits of the latter half of 1965 was Barry McGuire's apocalyptic "Eve of Destruction," one of the quintessential examples of the folk-rock sub-sub-genre that used to be described by the now almost-forgotten phrase "protest music." Even a few more traditional-sounding folk songs (such as "Catch The Wind" by Donovan) found their way onto the charts in 1965, along with various country, pop, teen idol, instrumental and easy-listening records.


By 1965, rock n'roll music was at least a decade old. It had seldom, if ever, taken itself seriously as an art form. Rock historians can look back now with 20-20 hindsight on the music of Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and the Sun Records rockabilly stars of the 1950's or the classic Motown recordings, Phil Spector productions and surfin' hits of the early 1960's and proclaim them to be great works of art, but at the time these records were being created, 'art' was seldom the intention. What has often been described as "the true spirit of rock n' roll" is the music's anybody-can-do-it element. Rock n' roll had developed as a simple, direct style of music, so that any group of kids could take guitars and drums into a garage, club or even recording studio and produce songs that other kids could dance to, listen to or identify with.


When the moguls and record companies recognized early rock n' roll as a potentially commercial commodity that could be merchandised and exploited, the music might have become a bit more slick and professional, but it was still being produced just for fun (plus now profit), with little consideration of its lasting impact or artistic qualities. By the late-1960's, however, rock n' roll music began taking itself seriously and even became a bit pretentious at times. Some consider this change to be a sign of rock n' roll flourishing and maturing and achieving its potential. Others mourn it as the death of the true spirit of rock n'roll music.


It's difficult to pinpoint any one exact moment at which rock n' roll passed over from 'frivolous' to 'serious.' Some music historians cite June, 1967 when The Beatles released their ambitious "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album. Others point to May, 1966 when the Beach Boys released the musically-complex and lyrically-mature 'Pet Sounds' album. Those who were really paying attention in December of 1965, when the Beatles' "Rubber Soul" album was released, knew that rock n' roll was already starting to develop loftier creative goals. Although the Beatles' newest record continued to reflect the exuberance, energy and enthusiasm of the Fab Four's rockin' predecessors, to the attentive listener it was fairly clear that the Beatles also had something deeper and heavier on their minds. Although 1965 audiences were accustomed to hearing such seriousness in folk music and folk-rock, it wasn't expected from pop acts like the Beatles.


The TV networks recognized rock n' roll's resurgent popularity in 1965 by booking numerous contemporary rock stars to appear on prime-time variety shows such as CBS' The Ed Sullivan Show. In January, NBC introduced the "Hullabaloo" TV series as a showcase for young rockers. In September, ABC's extant similar "Shindig" program expanded to two nights a week. ABC also introduced a second pop star showcase "Where The Action Is," featuring top rockers performing in various locations.


Quite a few enduring classic TV shows debuted in 1965. The secret agent craze begun in 1962 by the James Bond movies was lampooned by "Get Smart," a much-beloved sitcom about a dim-witted spy and the secret government agency for which he bumbled. In some respects, Get Smart has outlasted the more serious spy shows it lampooned. Other classic sitcoms that debuted in 1965 include "I Dream of Jeannie," "F Troop," "Hogan's Heroes" and "Green Acres." The first one fit into the burgeoning gimmick / novelty category that had already proven successful with "Mr. Ed" and "Bewitched;" the last one was another CBS 'rural comedy' designed to capitalize on the success of that network's already-popular "Beverly Hillbillies" and "Petticoat Junction." The middle two sitcoms were military comedies in the tradition of "McHale's Navy" and Sgt. Bilko. All of the above new 1965 shows have maintained a cult following and loyal audience over the ensuing decades, many of them inspiring reunions, remakes and revivals.


Another debuting 1965 sitcom that has achieved lasting fame is "My Mother, The Car." This gimmick show about a man whose deceased Mother is reincarnated as a talking vintage automobile has often been denigrated as the Worst TV Show of All Time. Although the series did last only one year, it's reputation for sheer awfulness may be somewhat exaggerated.


The game show "The Dating Game" began on daytime TV in 1965 and was so successful it moved in 1966 to prime time andeventually led to further Chuck Barris productions such as "The Newleywed Game" and "The Gong Show." Some pop historians look back on Barris' game shows as the progenitor of the intrusive "reality TV" genre that forces real-life people to expose embarrassing details of their private lives for the entertainment and amusement of millions of viewers. Tell-all talk shows like the Jerry Springer Show, and follow-me-with-a-camera-and-see-what-I-do TV verite like the shows featuring Anna Nicole Smith and the Osbournes probably owe as much to Allen Funt and Art Linketter--when it comes to embarrassing people by allowing them to be themselves on TV--as they do to Chuck Barris, however.


Another high-profile series that debuted in 1965 and is often unjustly disparaged is the Irwin Allen adventure program "Lost in Space." Adored by many and reviled by an equal number of others, this science-fiction series has also maintained an appreciative audience through the decades and had as lasting an impact on pop culture as the aforementioned sitcoms. In the early 1960's, science-fiction about space exploration was rare and hard to find in the contemporary entertainment media. "Lost in Space" was the bellwether for an explosion of such TV shows ("Star Trek," "Land of the Giants") and movies ("Planet of the Apes," "Countdown," "2001: A Space Odyssey") in the latter half of the 1960's.


Some other noteworthy series debuted in 1965. The long-running Western drama "The Big Valley" starring Barbara Stanwyck was designed in the tradition of "Bonanza." The cowboy / secret agent hybrid "The Wild, Wild West," set during the post-Civil War era, combined two popular genres, boasted great fight scenes and intriguing fantasy elements and is still a crowd-pleaser. The long-running, but now seldom-seen drama "The FBI," was the sort of staid, flinty-eyed, serious 'cop show' that cop show parodies have long drawn inspiration from. Popular entertainer Dean Martin began headlining his own eponymous variety series in 1965. It proved phenomenally-popular, running for a decade and eventually making Martin the highest-paid man on television. The long-running daytime soap opera "The Days of Our Lives" premiered in November.


Shows featuring spies and private detectives were in abundance on TV by 1965, but the central characters were usually white guys. In 1965, "Honey West" debuted with Anne Francis as a female private eye, presaging later TV action heroines like Emma Peel, The Girl From UNCLE, La Femme Nikita, Xena and Buffy. Though Barbara Feldon seldom gets credit for it, it should be noted that her role as the resourceful female spy, Agent 99, on the already-mentioned "Get Smart" depicted her as an empowered female ahead of her time in 1965, too. As early as the 1965 Get Smart pilot, 99 could be seen punching out a bad guy. 1965's "I Spy" is generally credited with 'breaking the color barrier,' by casting Bill Cosby opposite Robert Culp as co-leads. Other African-Americans had been featured on television before, notably Nat 'King' Cole starring in his own variety series in 1956, but a drama series with a black man and white man working together as equals was seen as a major socio-cultural breakthrough.


The Oscar-winning movies of 1965 are difficult to detect a pattern in. The Best Picture Oscar  went to the lavish Hollywood musical "The Sound of Music," a film that has developed an even more enthusastic following in the ensuing years. Lee Marvin won the Actor Oscar for his role in the light-hearted Western romp "Cat Ballou." The three remaining acting Oscars went to performances in serious social dramas: Actress Julie Christie ("Darling"); Supporting Actor Martin Balsam ("A Thousand Clowns") and Supporting Actress Shelley Winters ("A Patch of Blue").


Although 1965 produced many excellent movies, there don't seem to be as many 1965 movies that have had the staying power to remain popular favorites through the decades as there are such movies from other years of the 1960's. Besides the Oscar-winners, the sprawling historical drama "Dr. Zhivago," the Disney comedy "That Darn Cat," the James Bond spy thriller "Thunderball" and The Beatles' second movie "Help!" are four 1965 films that have continued to find an appreciative following over the years. There were, however, many successful movies in 1965 in all genres: comedies, dramas, war movies, monster movies, science-fiction, family comedies, big-budget spectacles, low-budget exploitationers, thrillers, beach party movies, films built around the latest rock stars, 3 new Elvis films and new movies for fans of the Three Stooges and Jerry Lewis.

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