In 1966, the world’s greatest pop band, The Beach Boys, forever changed rock and roll. Instead of giving the world another gilded album of musical chocolates, each song individually wrapped in ocean colored tin foil, they buried their music in a mix of motor oil and sand. They produced an album, a “concept” album called Pet Sounds, that said to the world: “behind the orange grove lushness of our harmonies, there is emotional dissonance, a “meaning” behind it all that needs to be unearthed”.
In 1967, The Beatles finished what The Beach Boys started by recording “Sgt. Pepper”. Beneath the jouncy melodies and rainbow candies, “Sgt. Pepper” is a disturbing trip through a dark, psychedelic jungle. The transformation was complete. The fissure between Us and Them yowled in the night and began to swallow up our world culture.
In the US column, free love, no war, a new zeitgeist. In the THEM column, patriotism, solidity and a future in plastics. In 1967, Woody Guthrie and John Coltrane died (conferring them from living Gods to immortal deities), Andy Warhol changed soup cans into art and created his 15-minutes of fame and the Grammy committee was incubating its uncoolness by calling “Strangers In The Night” the Best (Fucking) Record of The Year.
From the insipid samba of “Something Stupid” to the sarcastic shuffle of “Words of Love,” he’s neither Us nor Them. He stands solidly between two poles, his hands uniting the fearful Zen of “Let’s Live For Today” with the careless sunshine of “Windy” and “Up Up And Away”. What could be more unifying in the year of Us and Them than to hear white (Johnny Rivers) sing black (The Miracles)? What could be more significant of pop music oneness than for a Motown group (The Supremes) to record a decidedly West Coast song (The Happening)? We all know that music unifies, don’t we…until we decide to segregate it.