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Interview:
"Sgt. Pepper's," Summer Of Love Turn 40
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK



The temperatures were hot. But the temperament and the tunes were cool.

The Summer of Love, a venerable expression of youth counterculture amidst a backdrop of anti-war and civil rights initiatives, swept up the world 40 years ago in a five-month blast of psychedelia and good vibes -- including a potent soundtrack of pop music that started with Scott McKenzie's inviting single "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" and coalescing with the early June 1967 release of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album and the June 16-18 Monterey International Pop Festival.

"It was a year like no other that I can remember," says Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, who were one of Monterey Pop's headliners. "I can still remember the way it looked, everybody in their flowing gowns and painted faces and ribbon shirts and tie dye.

"It was very much, 'This is our thing, our generation. We do not want to make war. We want to make peace. We want to make love."

In fact, according to the Beatles all we [i]did[/i] need was love, which they proclaimed on the June 25, 1967 Our World global radio broadcast.

The Summer of Love's starting point actually took place on Jan. 14 of that year, a the Human be-In in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, an event that made the city, and particularly its Haight-Ashbury district, ground zero for the movement even though psychedelic culture -- music, fashion and drugs -- was embraced worldwide. The time certainly required tunes, though -- and it had them in abundance.

Lou Adler, who co-produced Monterey Pop with the Mamas and the Papas' John Phillips, likes to feel that the festival -- with a lineup that included the Who, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janis Joplin, Simon & Garfunkel, the Grateful Dead and other icons of the time -- "became the soundtrack for" the Summer of Love.

"It was creating a community that was built on all of those things that people were either rebelling against or joining in," says Adler. "the music of Monterey was the soundtrack to this cultural movement."



BRING ON THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND

If that's the case, then "Sgt. Pepper's" -- which came out June 1 in England and the following day in the U.S. -- was the Summer of Love's overture.

Though not the best-selling album of all time -- Capitol Records estimates sales of nearly 13 million copies in the U.S. -- "Sgt. Pepper" is without question the most celebrated rock release ever. And, to many critics, it's the most influential, paving the way for ambitious conceptual works by peers such as the Rolling Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd and more. Beach Boy Brian Wilson abandoned the now-legendary "Smile" album because, according to author Steven Gaines, "The greatest album in the history of rock 'n' roll had already been recorded."

"Sgt. Pepper's," which topped Rolling Stone magazine's 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, was an epic mesh of pop songs dressed up with full orchestras, Eastern instruments and sound effects, weaving in and out of each other in a manner unheard of for rock 'n' roll. It was the first album to have a gatefold cover, and the first to print the song lyrics on the cover. It was an international No. 1 hit and one of rock's first Grammy Award winners, even though Capitol Records, the Beatles' label, didn't release any singles from it.

Everything about it said: Important.

"It's really a seminal moment of rock 'n' roll history where you either stayed on the bus or you got off," says Southfield-based radio consultant Fred Jacobs, who pioneered the popular Classic Rock format.

"When we put the format together," Jacobs explains, "we decided ('Sgt. Pepper') was the division point. If you listened and said, 'Uh oh. What happened to my favorite rock group?' then you weren't a candidate for the format. But if you listened and you were on the other side, that's what we were going for."

For both musicians and listeners, "Sgt. Pepper's" was, as Creedence Clearwater Revival bassist Stu Cook says, "a quantum breakthrough in modern music." The Beatles had signaled their experimental ambitions in early tracks such as "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Strawberry Fields Forever," but with "Sgt. Pepper's" "the time had come for experiment," Beatles producer George Martin wrote in his autobiography, "All You Need Is Ears." "The Beatles knew it, and I knew it...we had an enormous string of hits, and we had the confidence, even arrogance, to know that we could try anything we wanted."

Acknowledging that drugs were "starting to find its way into everything we did," the Beatles' Paul McCartney told the group's onetime publicist Derek Taylor that "Sgt. Pepper's" marked a realization that "there weren't as many barriers as we'd thought. We could break through with things like album covers, or invent another persona for the band. Let's pretend we're not the Beatles!

"That was a pretty big dare, you know, and it changed everything."

Foreigner's Mick Jones notes that "pretty much every Beatles album did that" but agrees that "Sgt. Pepper's" in particularly "opened up so much in music. They transformed popular music into art."

It certainly gave the actual summer of the Summer of Love a sunny lift-off, and Monterey Pop was well-positioned to take advantage of its wake.



GATHERING THE TRIBES

The festival was initially conceived as a one-day event at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in northern California. But when Adler, then producing and managing the Mamas and the Papas, was approached about the group playing there, he and the Phillips' stepped up to change, and expand, its scope and intent.

"Three or four weeks before we got the call," Adler recalls, "there was a conversation that took place between Paul McCartney and myself...and a couple other people. We were discussing the fact that rock 'n' roll was not considered as an art form in the way that jazz was, or even folk, but was just considered a sort of a trend.

"So when the idea to do a festival in the same venue that had a jazz festival and a folk festival came up, it sounded like a good idea."

Monterey Pop -- whose 40th anniversary is being commemorated with a new two-CD set of performances from the event -- certainly got rock's festival era off to an auspicious start. Adler and company reconfigured it as a weekend-long, non-profit event, with all but one act -- Ravi Shankar, who had been signed to play the initial festival -- playing for free and proceeds from the $1 admission going to a variety of charities.

And the money has continued to flow for the past 40 years, with the charitable foundation established for the festival continuing to be funded by "ancillary" audio and video releases.

All of those chronicle three real days of peace, love and music, and some mist. There were landmark performances by Otis Redding, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Who; the latter two of whom angered Michelle Phillips when they set fire to and smashed their instruments on stage. "I didn't understand the theater of the absurd at the time," she says with a laugh.

"Monterey was strictly music," Adler says. "There were no speeches other than David Crosby, who spoke about the (John F.) Kennedy assassination.

"And until there was the next festival and the next festival, you didn't realize that Monterey was the [i]first[/i] festival. It became clear that Altamont was about the murder and Woodstock was about the weather and Monterey was about the music. It was great at the time, but it was really later that we realized the importance of what Monterey was."

The Summer of Love ended on October 7, with a ceremony dubbed "The Death of the Hippie" in San Francisco. It's legacy can certainly be found in history books, but it's even more readily accessed via the music, which, from "Sgt. Pepper's" to "Respect" and beyond, continues to pass the test of time.

"People ask me why there were no more Monterey Pop festivals," Michelle Phillips notes, "but the fact is it could just never have been done again. That feeling of youthful unity and anti-war and music, flowers, love...that happened just in one little minute

"But the music, that was more than just that one little minute. It's become...forever."



WHERE WAS MOTOWN AT MONTEREY?

If Monterey International Pop Festival producer Lou Adler had his way, Motown would have had a prominent place at his event.

But blame the fact they weren't there on the famed Detroit label's success.

"We had gone for the Motown acts to get the representation of the black music scene in America," Adler recalls, adding that, "at that time, in '67, there wasn't anywhere near the amount of touring that goes on now.

"But out of all the acts that [i]did[/i] work, the Motown acts were booked ahead of time, so they were difficult to pin down, and we couldn't get them."

Plan B wasn't bad, however; at the suggestion of Rolling Stones producer/manager Andrew Loog Oldham, Monterey Pop went with Otis Redding, whose stunning set was a festival highlight and boosted the singer to superstar stature in its wake.



THE SUMMER OF LOVE'S TOP 10

"All You Need is Love," The Beatles

"Groovin'," The Young Rascals

"Happy Together," the Turtles

"Light My Fire," the Doors

"Respect," Aretha Franklin

"Ruby Tuesday," the Rolling Stones

"San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)," Scott McKenzie

"Somebody to Love," Jefferson Airplane

"The Happening," The Supremes

"Windy," The Association

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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