Heading to Woodstock – 50 Years On

It was music and it was magic. It was a muddy mess elevated to modern-day myth. It was Melanie, Mountain, and a multitude of hippies, peaceniks, flower children, and freaks. It was mind-blowing and momentous, and it became a milestone for the ages. It was Woodstock. And I wasn’t there. 

Now, at the time, I had a good reason for not going.  Two-and-a-half weeks before Woodstock, the first three-day rock festival on the East Coast was staged just a few miles from Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the Atlantic City Racetrack. There, 50,000 fans attended the Atlantic City Pop Festival and I was one of them. During those three days, I saw Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Santana, Joe Cocker, Iron Butterfly, Canned Heat, and Joni Mitchell, all of whom were scheduled to perform at Woodstock. I also saw, among others, The Mothers of Invention, Procul Harum, the Byrds, B.B. King, Chicago, Three Dog Night, the Chambers Brothers, Dr. John the Night Tripper, and Little Richard. So, when friends from my South Jersey hometown asked me to join them on a journey to Woodstock, I declined. 

But I didn’t let the fact that I didn’t go to Woodstock keep me from writing about the festival just one month after it happened. Woodstock was the subject of my first freshman out-of-class essay I wrote in September of 1969 for Villanova University English Department Chairman Dr. Robert Wilkinson. Dr. Wilkinson deemed my essay cogent, informative, and insightful, but awarded me a grade of D since it contained two spelling errors and two grammatical mistakes. (He was a truly tough evaluator and I hope you will be easier on my books). Despite that crappy start, Dr. Wilkinson eventually became my life-long mentor and was one of the three main influencers (my mother Mary Louise Ivins Price and my high school journalism teacher Jack Gillespie being the others) who led me to enter the worlds of teaching and writing. 

And now, 50 years later, I am returning to Woodstock as a subject for my writing. The festival, in both its original year and its 50th anniversary, is serving as a main linking event in a three-book series I am writing examining the past, present, and future of the music we now call classic rock. In this book, Come Together: How the Baby Boomers, the Beatles, and a Youth Counterculture Combined to Create the Music of the Woodstock GenerationI’m attempting to guide readers through the post-World War II years of the rhythm and blues and country and western music that set the stage for rock & roll, the early Elvis years of rock, the Beatles invasion of America, the psychedelic ’67 Summer of Love, a tumultuous 1968, and the historic festival at Woodstock one year later.  

The next book in the series, What’s That Sound? –  25 Genres and 50 Artists Who Helped Make the Music of the Woodstock Generation will pick up the story at the three-day anniversary celebration held in 2019 at the site of the original Woodstock festival. Then we’ll explore the music of artists who performed at the Woodstock music festival, the Atlantic City Pop Festival, and later in the ’70s, all of which led to the creation of what we today call classic rock. The final volume – tentatively titled Rock of Agers: Why Do the Classic Sounds of the Woodstock Generation Continue to Resonate So Loudly Today? – will show you how you can experience the entire classic rock story by sailing on four floating Woodstock-festival-like music-themed cruises. The book then offers six chapters examining the variety of ways the sounds and legacy of classic rock are being passed on to new listeners.  

So start saving your money. I think the books will be worth buying and I hope you will, too.

Green Tambourine Beats Out Bubble Gum Pop in ’67

By Dave Price

When The Lemon Pipers recorded and released their simple, psychedelic tribute to a street busker, they had no idea the success of their single would start a music genre. But it did. Music critics hail (or decry, depending on taste) “Green Tambourine” as the first #1 hit in the world of bubblegum pop, a category still used to describe songs created to appeal to pre- and very young teenagers. 

Released in November of 1967, “Green Tambourine” reached the No. 1 sport on the Billboard Hot 100 in the first week of February, 1968 and remained on the chart for three more months. The song was written by Brill Building writers Paul Leka and Shelley Pinz. It tells the story of a street musician banging his tambourine and pleading for money (“Give me pennies, I’ll take anything”) in return for performing “any song you want I’ll gladly play.”  

Leka produced the song, which obviously included a prevalent tambourine. It also featured two signatures of the psychedelic sound, which exploded across America after the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival – an electric sitar and heavy tape echo applied to the word play in each chorus (Now listen while I play play play play play play my green tambourine.) 

In producing “Green Tambourine,” Leka established a bubblegum practice where the producer called all the shots in the studio, with the musicians simply following instructions in an assembly-line process. One of the best examples of this is the story of music publisher Don Kirshner, a major force behind the made-for-TV band The Monkees. The band rebelled against Kirchner’s strict creative control and NBC fired him in 1967. Seeking revenge, Kirshner came up with a cartoon band called The Archies based on the Archie comic series. That group’s single “Sugar, Sugar” held the top chart spot in 1969 for four weeks and is considered the epitome of bubblegum music. 

The Lemon Pipers’ song was the first bubblegum hit for the Buddha label, which soon became a major home for bubblegum artists. The band attempted to repeat the success of “Green Tambourine” but their two other singles “Rice Is Nice” (#46) and “Jelly Jungle” (#51) fell far short in that attempt.  

Here is the Billboard Top Ten the week “Green Tambourine captured the top spot: 

  1. Green Tambourine 
  2. Judy is Disguise (with Glasses) – John Fred and His Playboy Band
  3. Chain of Fools – Aretha Franklin
  4. Spooky – The Classics IV
  5. Bend Me, Shape Me – The American Breed
  6. Woman, Woman, – Gary Puckett and the Union Gap
  7. Love Is Blue – Paul Mariat and His Orchestra
  8. Nobody But Me – Human Beinz  
  9. Goin’ Out of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You – The Lettermen
  10. I Wish It Would Rain – The Temptations 

9 Things You Might Not Know About The Lemon Pipers and “Green Tambourine” 

  1. The Lemon Pipers were a much heavier band than their bubblegum efforts would show. They first gained notoriety in 1967 by losing out in the finals of the Ohio Battle of the Bands in Cleveland to current Eagles’ guitarist Joe Walsh’s then-band The James Gang. 
  2. The group once made an appearance on a bill at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West with Traffic, Spirit, and Moby Grape. 
  3. The band left the Buddha label in 1969. It appeared in various reformations for the next few decades. 
  4. Three members of the original band – guitarist Bill Bartlett, keyboardist Reg Nave, and bassist Steve Walmsley – had further chart success in 1977 when they reworked an old Lead Belly song “Black Betty” and released it under the name Ram Jam. 
  5. In 1968, a cover of “Green Tambourine” was included on the Lawrence Welk and His Orchestra’s album Love Is Blue. The single reached No. 27 on Billboard’s Easy Listening Chart. 
  6. The song was featured in a TV commercial for the Plymouth Road Runner in 1970. 
  7. Robert Goulet, who provided the singing voice for the character Mikey, covered the song for the 2001 film Recess: School’s Out.      
  8. Actor Billy Bob Thornton, as the character Lorne Malvo, plays the song at the beginning of Episode 9 “A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage” of the TV series Fargo
  9. Paul Leka, who wrote the music for “Green Tamborine,” had one other hit – “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” for a group he made up entitled Steam. You’ve been hearing that song at all types of sporting events for almost 50 years. 

I Like to Be in America: ‘West Side Story’ Still Relevant After All These Years

Mention the names of lovers Tony and Maria or the song titles “Somewhere” or “I Like to Be in America” to just about any Baby Boomer and they’ll immediately know you’re talking about one of the greatest defining American musicals of their era, West Side Story.

For more than six decades now, Leonard Bernstein’s compelling, tragic reworking of the classic Romeo and Juliet tale set in New York City in the 1950s has been captivating hearts and minds of audiences around the world. But in today’s America, given our bitter battling over immigration and fear of the outsider, the acclaimed musical has been given renewed significance and is just as powerful in production as it was when it debuted on Broadway 1957 and won the Academy Award for best picture in 1961.

If he were alive, famed composer and conductor Bernstein would be 100 and to celebrate his centennial legacy The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. is offering a series of his of his works, including having the National Symphony Orchestra and a talented young cast from New York recently perform a special West Side Story in Concert.

“Today, it seems incredible that Leonard Bernstein could have written West Side Story, an up-to-the-minute commentary on gang warfare then in New York City,” says Fransesco Zambello, artistic director of Washington Orchestra. “But it is timeless in that it struggles with the ideals that are at the heart of the American project: the idea that we are all created equal, and with a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

“In West Side Story, discord between native-born Americans and recent immigrants leads to tragedy, but its most famous song is an anthem to true optimism, a belief in a world “Somewhere” where each person has a place, each person has a home,” Zambello added.

Zambello contends that while we should enjoy Bernstein’s music, we should never neglect his message. “If we simply enjoy the tunes we are missing the point,” he says. “Bernstein devoted his life not only to art, but also to advocacy, education, and the responsibilities of citizenship. May his legacy always inspire us to do the same.”

National Symphony Orchestra Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke, who led the musicians and even changed costume to portray the infamous Officer Kruppke in one scene, has often contemplated why West Side Storyis so enduring.

Reineke acknowledges that part of the musical’s popularity comes from Bernstein’s infectious melodies, complex rhythms, and jazz-infused harmonies. But it is the fact Bernstein’s music and Stephen Sonheim’s sometimes witty, sometimes heart-breaking lyrics, touches so many of us so deeply, he contends, that gives West Side Storyits staying power.

“It shines a mirror on each and every one of us to make us think about how we treat each other as fellow human beings. It exposes our prejudices and preconceived ideas about one race or one class versus another,” Reineke said. “Somehow, someday, somewhere – that was the issue Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim contemplated decades ago. To honor Bernstein’s centennial, I implore each of us as individuals to begin answering ‘Here, now, and compassionately.’”

10 Facts About West Side Story You May Not Have Known, But Will Now Thanks to Mental FlossandWriter Mark Mancini

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO BE ABOUT A CATHOLIC BOY & A JEWISH GIRL.

Religion and national identity would’ve driven the drama of East Side Story, which is what choreographer Jerome Robbins & composer Leonard Bernstein called the project they started working on in 1949. But eventually they decided that “the whole Jewish-Catholic premise [was] not very fresh” when they were having a poolside meeting in Beverly Hills six years later. Under the California sun, they decided to instead focus on—in Bernstein’s words — “two teenage gangs … one of them newly-arrived Puerto Ricans, the other self-styled ‘Americans.’” Because Manhattan’s eastern neighborhoods had been largely gentrified by then, their production was soon given its present title.

2. THE DIRECTOR INSISTED ON AN UNUSUALLY LONG REHEARSAL PERIOD.

Before opening night, your average 1957 musical cast was only given four or five weeks’ worth of practice. Robbins (who also sat in the director’s chair) demanded eight. “We had a lot of work to do,” he recalled, with the show’s intricate dance sequences requiring extra attention.

3. THE JETS & THE SHARKS WERE PROHIBITED FROM INTERACTING OFFSTAGE.

Robbins tried generating real hostility between these fictitious gangs. According to producer Hal Prince, the Broadway veteran kept both groups of actors as far away from each other as possible. “They were not allowed to socialize out of the theater, [and] they were not allowed to take their lunches together.” Obviously, this was an extreme approach. But over time, it started working.

4. FOUR-LETTER WORDS WERE REPLACED WITH INOFFENSIVE JIBBERISH.

Through West Side Story, lyricist Stephen Sondheim wanted the F-bomb to make its musical theater debut. Initially, this choice word appeared in “Gee, Officer Krupke,” but Columbia Records (which released their original cast recording) noted that using such language would violate obscenity laws and—hence—prevent the show from touring across state lines. Defeated, they went with “Krup you!” instead.

5. SPOILER ALERT: MARIA HAD A DELETED DEATH SCENE.

Shakespeare may have killed off both title characters in Romeo & Juliet, but one of West Side Story’s star-crossed lovers lives to see the final curtain drop. Things almost ended much differently. Maria’s untimely suicide was part of an early draft—until composer Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame) offered his two cents. “She’s dead already, after this all happens to her,” he told Robbins.

6. BERNSTEIN PLUCKED “ONE HAND, ONE HEART” FROM A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MUSICAL.

At the time, he was scoring West Side Story and Candide—which was based on Voltaire’s 1759 novella of the same name—simultaneously. Though Bernstein crafted “One Hand, One Heart” for that production, he repurposed it as a romantic duet between Tony and Maria. In exchange, “O Happy We,” which was originally a duet for West Side Storymoved to the first act of Candide.

7. “SOMETHING’S COMING” WAS WRITTEN LAST-MINUTE.

Just 12 days before West Side Story premiered in D.C. (it’d debut in New York later), Bernstein and Sondheim wrote Tony’s hopeful ballad. Their inspiration came from a piece of dialogue that the character was to deliver during his first scene. The line, as penned by playwright Arthur Laurents, went like this: “Something’s coming, it may be around the corner, whistling down the river, twitching at the dance—who knows?” When asked if he’d mind letting the sentence get turned into a number, he enthusiastically replied “Yes, take it, take it, make it a song.” This late arrival had to be re-orchestrated several times, making it a bit of a headache for the pit band.

  1. AUDREY HEPBURN WAS TAPPED TO PLAY MARIA FOR THE FILM VERSION.

In 1959, the screen legend was pregnant—and because she’d already suffered two miscarriages, Hepburn wasn’t about to over-exert herself this time. So, when she was offered the lead role in what would arguably become the most celebrated movie musical ever shot, she declinedRebel Without a Cause star Natalie Wood got the part instead, with Marni Nixon dubbing over her singing voice.

  1. WEST SIDE STORY’S 1961 CINEMATIC ADAPTATION SET AN ACADEMY AWARDS RECORD.

Seven months after its release, the flick brought home 10 Oscars, including Best Director, Best Cinematography, and even Best Picture. Thus, it won more than any other musical ever had in Academy Award history. As of this writing, the distinction still stands.

  1. A BILINGUAL REVIVAL OPENED ON BROADWAY IN 2009.

Laurents joined forces with producers Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, and James L. Nederlander to retell the story he’d helped craft over 50 years earlier. This time, he leveled the playing field. “I thought it would be terrific if we could equalize the gangs somehow,” he explained. By letting the Sharks speak and sing in their native language during large chunks of the musical, Laurents hoped to do exactly that. Like the original, after a run in Washington, D.C. the show moved to New York, where it ran for 748 performances.

This article first appeared

in Talking ‘Bout My Generation

A Look Back at 1967’s Summer of Love in 7 Parts

 

In the summer of 1967, America found itself in a very similar place to where it finds itself today, 50 years later.

The country was bitterly divided, torn asunder by a generation gap; glaring racial, cultural, political, economic, educational, and lifestyle differences; a seemingly endless and possibly unwinnable war in a distant foreign land; and an increasingly unpopular president in the White House.

However, first in San Francisco, and soon spreading around the country and much of the western world, a movement blossomed where a group of rebellious dreamers were convinced they had discovered a way to reject materialism and find peace, love, and happiness.

They were called hippies and they unleashed what is called today the Summer of Love. In a 7-part series, Booming Encore is examining that special summer of 1967.