Spanky & Our Gang, John V. Lindsay and the counterculture meet in the whirlwind of 1968
by Marshall Bowden
1968, the summer of the New York Urban Coalition’s ‘Give a Damn’ campaign was much different than that of 1967. The summer of love rose in a giant puffy cloud over the San Franciso Bay area and wafted out across the country. But now that cloud was turning darker.
For Spanky and Our Gang, a Chicago-based pop music group whose music helped spawn the sun-drenched subgenre ‘sunshine pop,’ as for many Americans, it turned into the year.
“Stage Fright,” the title track from The Band’s third album, is a greatest hit, a song they performed live throughout the remainder of their career as a group, yet the album is often cited as a definite step down from the first two and a sign that the group was beginning to fracture as the task of songwriting moved from a collaborative effort to mostly the work of guitarist Robbie Robertson.
Released in the summer of 1967, “Ode to Billie Joe” demonstrates how a good story can become more real than our own lives.
There was plenty going on that summer: the Monterey Pop Festival, Elvis married Priscilla, Richard Speck was executed, race riots raged across the country, the Vietnam War continued. The Doors released their debut album, Hendrix released Are You Experienced. Oh, and the Beatles dropped an album called Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band. No one expected “Ode to Billie Joe,” the debut single by newcomer Bobbie Gentry, to make much of a splash.
But for a time, all America became obsessed by the question of what happened on Choctaw Ridge that caused Billie Joe McAllister to commit suicide by jumping off the bridge. Like Who Shot J.R.?, “Ode” became one of those cultural memes that spread like wildfire. Everyone wanted to know what the narrator and Billie Joe tossed off that same bridge: your third period teacher, Dad’s barber Luke, Grandma, the cop directing traffic. Maybe even Bob Dylan.
Songwriter: Jimmy Webb Recorded by: Don Ho, Glenn Campbell, Jimmy Webb
In 1969, public sentiment against the Vietnam War had grown strong in the United States. It was a year after the TET offensive and Richard Nixon, who had campaigned on the promise of peace with honor was the fifth US president looking for a way out of the war. As ’69 wore on, there was outrage over the senseless loss of American soldiers at Hamburger Hill, and the NY Times broke the story, exposed through leaks, of the secrete bombing of Cambodia. In addition, two of the largest anti-war protests draw crowds over 250,000 to Washington D.C.