I’ve been listening to a lot of old pop music lately. Old as in you first heard it on your AM Radio. Old as in actual melodies and harmonies, even some occasional counterpoint. Old as in no politics, no sex, and no Anglo-Saxon vulgarities. The Beach Boys. The early Beatles. The BeeGees before disco. Chad and Jeremy. The Dave Clark Five. Donovan. The Hollies. Jay and the Americans. The Kingston Trio. The Lovin’ Spoonful. The Mamas and the Papas. Paul Revere and the Raiders. Spanky and Our Gang. And my all-time favorites, The Association.
When I arrived at college, I discovered something surprising: those groups and their music were almost uniformly dismissed as “plastic.” Why? They sounded good. They sang in smooth voices and played their instruments like musicians. They were non-vulgar. They weren’t trying to sell you on some political position or promote some trumped-up “crisis.”
It took a while for me to realize that those were the reasons my fellow collegians dismissed them.
The Association, in fact, had serious street cred, mostly on the basis of “Along Comes Mary,” which everyone just assumed was a drug song, though songwriter Tandyn Almer wisely kept his trap shut. By their second album, the group figured it could come up with some in-house psychedelia, which led to Jules Alexander’s wobbly “Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies,” which didn’t come close to the Top Ten:
“Heebie-jeebies,” should you be wondering, are like the fantods, only hairier. Maybe Curt Boettcher, who produced the band’s first album, could have salvaged that mess, but by then he was gone, and management brought in Hollywood stalwart Bones Howe to produce the next LP.
It was one of the symptoms of the troubles to come, the proverbial “clouds the size of a man’s hand” on our social and political horizons. And it is difficult for me, at this remove, to believe that it had no genesis other than a change in tastes.
There was a strategy in play even then. We were unable to see it, even as it operated on us.
But by no means was a united front presented. One of my best buds in freshman year had some countercultural ideas of his own: he wrote an actual piece called “In the Event That I Lose My Mind,” scored for twelve-string guitar and pipe organ, and recorded in the dead of night in the school tower by yours truly on his four-track Sony. But where did his tastes truly lie? He had a 10½-inch reel of Dionne Warwick, which got played more than anything else on his tape rack. And remarkably, no one picked on me, perhaps because I had Santana and Led Zeppelin II sitting by the phonograph on top of the Grass Roots LPs.