When did the ‘60s end? The Beatles break up and most supergroups follow. Many Boomers heed Paul’s advice: Get back to where you once belonged. Boomer teens turn on TV again. Welcome to the Me Decade and the Era of Corporate Rock.
1970: All My Children and A World Apart
1971: No new soaps
1972: Return to Peyton Place
1973: The Young and the Restless (New Soaps)
Boomers beat a chaotic, helter-skelter retreat in the early ‘70s. The united counterculture front crumbled and most of our leaders jumped overboard or went down with the ship. Those who remained headed straight for cover and took time out to heal the wounds and assess the damage.
When did the ‘60s end? Hundreds of books touch on this subject, proposing countless theories as to the exact time and cause of death. Some historians claim that it happened as early as the Democratic Convention in 1968, others, as late as President Ford’s pardon of Nixon in 1974. One suggests that it occurred at Woodstock, where Boomers, like lemmings, instinctively realized that the real problem lay in the obscene bulk of their numbers. Or, could it be that the ‘60s ended with the Hippie Hell reflections of Manson and Altamont? Did the era die with four students at Kent State, or was it already gone and buried with King and RFK? Perhaps, Nixon’s burglars snatched the ‘60s at the Watergate Hotel? The answer is yes… to all of the above and more. Unlike the instant, unexpected violence of an assassin’s bullet, so familiar to Americans at the time, the ‘60s suffered a slow, lingering death.
1970 began optimistically… Boomers still believed that they would change the world. A massive, nationwide Earth Day on April 22nd attracted millions in protest of environmental destruction. Nixon, consistent as ever, ignored the event. He watched Patton instead, and became so inspired after repeated viewings of the new film, he expanded the war into Cambodiaon April 29th, sending in more than 20,000 US and South Vietnamese troops. College campuses across America erupted in protest on May 2nd, and Nixon again turned a deaf ear to the vocal majority. Two days later, National Guardsmen fired into a crowd of unarmed antiwar demonstrators at Kent State, killing four students and wounding nine others. On May 8th, a group of hardhat construction workers rushed in and beat up peace demonstrators marching down Wall Street. Tremendous crowds gathered the next day in every major UScity, forcing more than 450 college campuses to shut down. Obviously, the public didn’t understand the first warning, so the government issued a second one to prove that the Kent State slaughter was not just an unfortunate, fluke accident. Mississippi State police opened fire on crowd at Jackson State College on May 15th, killing two more students. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young summed up our feelings soon after with the release of Ohio: “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming/ We’re finally on our own/ This summer I hear the drumming/ Four dead in Ohio/ Gotta get down to it/ Soldiers are cutting us down/ Should have been gone long ago…”
ROCK & ROLL
Nixon made his message perfectly clear: nothing short of total revolution would change his master plan. Should Boomers respond with retaliatory violence, or should they retreat? They searched mass-media reflections for an answer. Bridge Over Troubled Waters claimed the number one spot on the charts for 1970. The “Paul is dead!” rumors of ‘69 proved to be true after all in April of ‘70, as McCartney marked the end of the Beatles with a solo album, on which he announced that he would, from this point forward, restrict himself to “a silly little love song” (“What’s wrong with that?”). The film and the LP, Let It Be, were released posthumously the following month, about the same time as the Kent State massacre. The final summit meeting of the most influential counterculture spokesmen of the late ‘60s felt especially painful, and yet appropriate in the film. The Beatles staged an impromptu farewell concert on the roof of their Hippie Utopia (Apple Corp) and the cops busted it up. The title cut of the album offers some final advise to Boomers: “When I find myself in times of trouble/ Mother Mary comes to me/ Speaking words of wisdom/ Let It Be.” The message continued with, “Get back, get back to where you once belonged,” and “Two of us getting nowhere… on our way back home.” These words belonged to Paul, urging Boomers to retreat. John, on the other hand, not yet ready to surrender, asked for time to analyze the situation: “Everybody had a hard year/ (but) Everybody had a good time/ Everybody had a wet dream/ Everybody saw the sunshine.” He warned: “Christ, you know it ain’t easy/ You know how hard it can be/ The way things are going/ They’re going to crucify me.” Soon after, John, now sure of his direction, encouraged Boomers to continue the good fight in his first solo effort, Power to the People.
Many fans at the time blamed poor Yoko for the breakup of the Beatles, but in retrospect we see that this was not the case. Before she entered the picture the group had already become three solo artists plus a drummer. But even Ringo scored a solo hit (Don’t Pass Me By) on the White Album and George achieved an elevated status with his first A-side release, Here Comes the Sun. John headed in a different direction, leaning towards darker, disturbing word imagery: “The eagle picks my eye/ The worm he licks my. bone/ I feel so suicidal/ Just like Dylan’s Mr Jones” while Paul blissfully sang, “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da… la-la-la-la-life goes on.” The clash of styles drove the the great bards apart and none wanted to play as a backup musician. The demise of the Beatles paralleled that of the counterculture. The time had come for Boomers to go their own way in search of individual truth. But sometimes the naked truth is ugly. Tom Wolfe proclaimed the ‘70’s as the Me Decade. Before the era had even begun, Harrison complained, “All through the day I hear, ‘I, Me, Mine, I, me, mine, I, me, mine.’”
The breakup of the Beatles stunned the Rock world. Individual musicians scattered in every direction. Most of the ‘60s’ Supergroups disbanded at the turn of the decade, including the Animals, Buffalo Springfield, Big Brother, Cream, Credence, the Doors, the Fish, Iron Butterfly, the Mothers and the Rascals. Eric Clapton fled into hiding for four years with a serious drug habit after Derek & the Dominoes and a solo album in 1970. Hendrix followed Brian Jones into Rock & Roll Heaven on September 18, 1970, and two weeks later (October 4th), Janis made it a trio, on yet another drug overdose. Jim Morrison joined them (perhaps) on July 3, 1971.
Surviving artists searched for a new sound: Soft Rock (the Band, James Taylor, Carole King, Carly Simon & Cat Stevens), Southern Rock (Allman Brothers, Doobie Brothers, Marshall Tucker, Lynyrd Skynyrd & ZZ Top), Religious Rock (Norman Greenbaum with Spirit in the Sky-1970, Harrison with My Sweet Lord-‘71, Jesus Christ Superstar-‘71 & Godspell-‘72), Glitter Rock (T-Rex, Queen, Alice Cooper & Suzie Quatro), Glam Rock (Elton John, David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, Rod Stewart, and pioneer, Jagger), Heavy Metal (Grand Funk, Black Sabbath & Judas Priest joining Led Zeppelin) and the original Punk (Iggy Pop). Dylan lost much of his audience with his Country-flavored John Wesley Harding album in 1968, and his duet with Johnny Cash on Nashville Skyline was really too much to bear. The defection did, however, inspire the creation of Hee Haw and the The Johnny Cash Show in 1970. That same year Bobby Zimmerman released Self Portrait, climbed into his shell and remained mute for most of the decade.
The voice of the counterculture let out an awful death moan in 1970. In addition to Lennon’s Power to the People and CSN&Y’s Ohio and Teach Your Children Well, a Canadian group named the Guess Who scored the number two song of the year with American Woman: “…Stay away from me/ I don’t want your ghetto scenes/ I don’t want your War Machine.” Head Soul Brother, James Brown optimistically proclaimed, It’s a New Day, yet Edwin Starr declared, “War, Good God! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” The Temptations found themselves lost in a Ball of Confusion. Neil Young felt Helpless at and on The Losing End.
The focal point for the counterculture throughout the late ‘60s was opposition to the war in Vietnam, and finally in 1970 they saw reflections on the silver screen in a series of stories about parallel conflicts in American history: Little Big Man (the Indian Wars), Patton (WW II), and M*A*S*H (Korean War). Reflections of egomaniacs like Patton and Custer disturbed us with a man like Nixon in the White House. Boomers imagined Nixon on a battlefield strewn with the mutilated bodies of American boys, confessing, like Patton in the film: “I love it. God help me, but I love it so.” Had Nixon watched the scene in M*A*S*H where Trapper John worked hard to save a Communist’s life? A nurse dryly comments, “Doctor, this man is just a prisoner of war.” Trapper relies, “So are you, Nurse. You just don’t know it.” Wait a minute… who are the bad guys in these three films, and who are the heroes? We quickly spotted the victims in Little Big Man… they called themselves the “Human Beings.” “Old Lodge Skins” explained the way of the world to a young Cheyenne Brave (played by Dustin Hoffman): “There is an endless supply of White Men, but there has always been a limited supply of Human Beings.”
A large group of films about student radicals, including Getting Straight, The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart, Strawberry Statement, Revolutionary and RPM never cleared the gate. Kent State made them irrelevant prior to release. Violence threatened the counterculture and Zabriskie Point felt too painful to watch.
Recent attacks by hardhat workers on Peace marchers demonstrated that WASP America blamed the turbulent ‘60s on the young. Good-ole-boys like Joe wanted revenge. Joe hated “niggers and hippies” and found a kindred soul in a conservative businessman in a bar. The Organization Man confessed that he once killed a longhair, and Joe convinced him that they should team up to continue that noble work, and Blue-collar Labor and Big Business merged and hit the streets on a search-and-destroy mission against the “hippie plague.” After the smoke cleared on their first assault, the body count included the daughter of Joe’s new friend.
The protest movement lost direction, as reflected by Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces. The viewer almost expected a replay of a scene from The Wild One: “What are you rebelling against? I donno. You got any toast?” Love Story turned out to be the surprise hit of the year… a traditional Romeo-and-Juliet tragic romance, conceived in a lower-division college English class by Prof Eric Segal for his pathetic underclassmen students. This lowest-common-denominator fare scored a huge hit, and even Dick Nixon recommended it… until his daughters pointed out the “harsh language.” Love Story remains as one of the corniest ‘‘til-death-do-us-part tearjerkers of our generation, and that’s exactly the reason for its success. The counterculture crumbled, and First Wave Boomers felt all alone in a cold adult world. They searched for the Happily Ever After that they, as children of the ‘50s, had been promised, but they never found peace in the ‘70’s.
MASS MDEDIA REFLECTIONS
Television offered slightly more accurate reflections of the times in 1970. Terminally single adults filled prime tube time on The Odd Couple, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Here’s Lucy, The Doris Day Show, Nanny and the Professor, The Partridge Family and That Girl. The combination of the pill, free love, and a let-it-all-hang-out-and-do-your-own-thing attitude of the ‘60s produced tens of millions of lonely young adults in the early ‘70s. Network program schedulers offered a suggestion for the 1970-1 season: The Newlywed Game followed Let’s Make a Deal.
The ‘60s were dead. An era of strength and unity blew in the wind. Boomers, like Neil Young, felt Helpless, and identified with the hero in Sam Peckenpaugh’s Ballad of Cable Hogue. He survived the numerous perils of the Old West, looked forward to the serenity of his golden years, but instead, was run down by the first automobile to come his way in the new age of progress. Boomers felt trapped in mid-air without a pilot in these uneasy times as they watched Airport (‘70), or wiped out by a virus from outer space in The Andromeda Strain (‘71), or slave to our technology in Colossus: The Forbin Project (‘71). They watched sterile worlds, devoid of individuality in THX-1138, Slaughter House Five (both ‘72) and Soylent Green (‘73). Romance was dead (with the exception of Love Story) in films like Carnal Knowledge (‘71) and Myra Brenkenridge (‘72). The myth of an ideal, small-town family unit became exposed in all its ugliness in The Last Picture Show (‘71).
ROCK & ROLL
Tyrone Davis pleaded on the radio in 1970, Turn Back the Hands of Time and CCR asked, Who’ll Stop the Rain? Carole King remarked, It’s Too Late, Lynn Anderson reminded us, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, while the Bee Gees meekly asked, How Do You Mend a Broken Heart? The Who’s reaction to the assassination of the ‘60s came out angry and bitter in We Won’t Get Fooled Again (and, of course, we would). Meanwhile, John Denver planned an escape in Take Me Home Country Roads. Many teens converted to Religious Rock (Jesus Christ Superstar became the number one LP in 1971), or against it with Heavy Metal (Black Sabbath’s Paranoid placed #7 the same year). Alice Cooper spoke for Crest, or “Second Wave” Boomers (those born in the period from 1952 to 1958) with his angry declaration, I’m 18 (“and I don’t know what I want… Caught in the middle, the middle of doubt”). Crest teens felt the defeat, and yet, were born too late to have experienced the victories of the counterculture. Jimi Hendrix formed an all Black Band of Gypsies in 1970 and released the song The Power of Soul. James Brown remarked that It’s a Brand New Day, and early in 1971, declared, Soul Power. Hollywood offered African Americans their very first superhero in Shaft. But the mood soured by the end of the year, and the Father of Soul changed his tune with I Cried and Escape-ism. Talking Loud and Saying Nothing scored Brown’s only hit in 1972.
The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers on June 13, 1971, as (“Beware of”) Smiling Faces (“they lie”) played on the radio. The bungling attempt by our government to suppress the document turned out to be worse than the papers themselves, and the whole episode helped prepare us for the film, The Candidate. Unlike the honest, idealistic politician Jimmy Stewart played in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the Candidate of the ‘70s easily rose above his principles to achieve political goals. Power corrupts.
Money also corrupts, and nearly everyone has his price, as demonstrated in the film The Magic Christian (1970). Dignified English businessmen suddenly lost their cool and fought tooth and nail for a chance to dive into an enormous vat of excrement, urine and blood in pursuit of a few soggy pound notes. “If you want it, here it is, come and get/ You’d better grab it ‘cause it’s going fast.” A decade ahead of its time… in the ‘80s, the hit song from this movie could have served as the YUPPIE (Young, Unprincipled, Pompous Parasites, Immersed in Egomania) Anthem.
The counterculture always demanded truth, and in the early ‘70s, Hollywoodgave them more than they bargained for. The initial shock of beauty-of-violence films like The Wild Bunch (1969) wore off, but now, the theme evolved into a new genre: “The cold reality of violence.” Clockwork Orange kick started the genre, which then moved on with a vengeance to Straw Dogs (1971) and Deliverance (‘72). The heroes of these last two films appeared as normal people, pushed into extreme reactions… suggesting that under certain conditions, anyone is capable of murder.
Hollywood also hinted that law enforcement could no longer protect American citizens in these troubled times. The message: cops must work outside the system, and everyone else should arm themselves and be ready to strike back at all times. Celluloid revenge sold well in the early ‘70s. Civilians like Joe (‘70) lashed out at the hippies, Billy Jack (‘71) at rednecks, and cops worked above the law in Dirty Harry (‘71), Magnum Force (‘73) and Walking Tall (‘74). Finally, Charles Bronson symbolized the average American guy, forced to transform into an urban vigilante killer for the good of his beloved country in Death Wish (‘74).
Michael Corleone, in The Godfather (‘72), pointed out, “If history has taught us anything, it’s that you can kill anyone.” Kay, his wife, questioned his business etiquette, “Presidents and Senators don’t have men killed.” Michael answered as if he were speaking to a child, “Now look at who’s being naïve, Kay.” “I believe in America,” the first words spoken after the opening credits, would have been considered strange in the context of a typical gangster film, but not in this masterpiece by Francis Ford Coppola. The director showed powerful, ruthless businessmen, willing to use any method including murder to achieve success. Michael Corleone became just another respectable corporate giant by the end of Godfather, Part II. How he reached that high station in life was no longer relevant. He now stood above the laws of common men, and at worst could only be accused of an occasional “error in judgment.”
ROCK & ROLL
What ever happened to the Age of Aquarius, with peace, love, understanding and all that other good stuff? St. John asked us in 1971 to “Imagine there’s no countries/ It isn’t hard to do/ Nothing to kill or die for/ And no religion too/ And all the people living a life in peace/ You may say I’m a dreamer/ But I’m not the only one? I hope someday you’ll join us/ And the world will be one.” That same summer, Coke managed to cash in and trivialize the thought: “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony/ I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company/ It’s the real thing/ Coke is what the world wants today/ It’s the real thing.” Indeed.
Rolling Stone interviewed Lennon later that year, and he announced, “The Dream is over. It’s just the same, only now I’m thirty and a lot of people have long hair. That’s what it is, Man, nothing changed except that we grew up. We did our own thing… just like they were telling us to. Most of the so-called ‘Now Generation’ are getting jobs. We’re a minority, you know, people like us always were, but maybe we are a slightly larger minority because of something or other.” Harry Chapin sang of lost dreams in 1972 in Taxi: “You were going to be an actress and I was going to learn to fly/ Now, for him you’re acting happy/ Me, I drive my taxi and get high.” Don McLean, in American Pie, delivered an eulogy, not only for Buddy Holly and the First Golden Age of Rock & Roll, but for the Age of Aquarius and the hippie/yippie counterculture as well: “…The day the music died/ And they were singing/ Bye, bye Miss American Pie…”
An amazing era in American history ended, and reflections of crumbling civilizations filled the screens: Performance (‘70, with Jagger), King of Marvin Gardens (‘72), Slaughter House Five, The Last Picture Show and Cabaret. Joel Grey, as the emcee in the last of these it’s-over-and-I-give-up flicks, beckoned us to “Leave your troubles outside and come join the Cabaret.” The story drew a parallel between decadent Germany in the 1930s and present day America, and just outside of the club waited Hitler and Nixon respectively. Or, at least that’s how many Boomers felt as they watched this film so soon after the massacres at Kent State and Jackson State.
Boomers faced Mean Streets in 1973. Young adults identified with Malcolm McDowell in O Lucky Man!, a coffee salesman in a country that mostly drank tea. Times were hard in real life with increasing inflation, high unemployment rates and gas rationing, but our hero remained optimistic: “Smile while you’re making it/ Laugh while you’re taking it/ even though you’re faking it/ Nobody’s going to know/ And so, You’re a lucky man.”
What happened to the good life that Boomer kids had been promised in the ‘50s, “If you just eat your vegetables and study hard”? Boomers wanted to escape back to those innocent days when the American Dream still seemed plausible. George Lucas offered to take us back with American Graffiti to a time and place where the toughest problem that a teen ever had to face was finding the blonde in the pink T-Bird. “Where were you in ‘62?” (Before the death of JFK’s Camelot).
ROCK & ROLL
The music industry decided to forget about politics and world problems, and instead, returned to the serious business of cranking out love songs. They pushed the genre to a new level. Marvin Gaye sang Let’s Get It On and Diana Ross, Touch Me In the Morning (both 1973) after Billy Paul had confessed to an affair with a married woman in Me and Mrs. Jones (“We’ve got a thing going on”)(1972). Carly Simon proclaimed that the “Me Decade” had officially begun with You’re So Vain(1973). After all the pain, Maureen McGovern optimistically predicted that (“There’s got to be”) A Morning After (1973), but Dr. John wondered if this wasn’t the Right Place, Wrong Time. Vietnam released the first POWs in February, and Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree(1973) soared to number one.
It was time bid farewell to the ‘60s: (“Goodbye Miss) American Pie - Don McLean (1972), Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye) – Gladys Knight & the Pips and Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road - Elton John (both 1973).
Groups like Grand Funk Railroad forced Rock into the ‘70s: “We’re coming to your town/ We’ll help you party it down/ We’re an American Band”… but most Boomers no longer felt in the mood.
African American artists refused to forgive and forget. Stevie Wonder warned of Superstition and War complained The World Is a Ghetto.
Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in 1973 officially buried the Second Golden Age of Rock & Roll, just as Dick Clark’s American Bandstand had done to the First. Pink Floyd provided the most controversial song of the year. Sex and political content were the main issues with censors in the past, but in the Me Decade the flap focused on Floyd’s use of the word “bullshit” in Money (Or, perhaps, because they connected the two words). A heated debate took place to decide if Money could be played on AM radio. Finally, management asked the most relevant question: “Will Money make money for us?” It played.
Big Business staged a hostile takeover of Rock & Roll in the early ‘70s. Most little, laidback FM radio stations disappeared or were swallowed up by corporate raiders, and the ones that remained sounded like Hype AM in stereo. The Money Men moved in and handed mellow DJs ad copy, play lists and, in many cases, pink slips. Bill Graham closed both Fillmores in 1971.
Independent record companies also disappeared. Warner Brothers/ Reprise bought Atlanticin 1967, Electra in ‘70 and Asylum in ‘73. Decca, Kapp and Uni Records merged to form MCA in the late ‘60s, and in the early ‘70s added ABC. MGM and Polydor merged to form Polygram, and soon after added Casablanca, Capricorn and RSO. By 1980 the “Big Six” (Warners, CBS, Polygram, RCA, Capitol and MCA) owned the market. In 1977, for instance, Warner had 23% of all record and tape sales, Columbiatook in 19% and Polygram received 14%. The Me Decade became the era of Corporate Rock… a time when senile old suits decided what was good Rock & Roll.
“… And she’s buying a Stairway to Heaven. (Led Zeppelin—1971).
You Can’t Always Get What You Want (“But if you try sometime/ You might just find/ You can get what you need”) (The Rolling Stones—1973).