The Times They Were A’Changin’ part 2
The next Rolling Stones LP to come out on the London label was The Rolling Stones, Now! which really did get under my skin. Again it was a combination of original tunes and cover versions which kicked off with the spooky sounding first track: Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.
As this album coincided with my first exposure to marijuana, I tend to associate it with that series of experiences. I describe that first song as ‘spooky sounding’ because, though the lyrics are all about the need to love and be loved, the actual ambiance is full of echo and eerie shouting. Mick Jagger’s vocal is tinged with hostility and the whoops, shouts and falsetto voices in the background make it sound pagan.
When I first discovered a little secret society of friends that were smoking grass I was initially scared by it and I think it informed my exposure to this third album by the Stones. Amongst the tracks was Chuck Berry’s You Can’t Catch Me along with Down Home Girl, Mona and Pain in my Heart. The names Jagger and Richards were attached to a few numbers like What a Shame, Off The Hook and Surprise, Surprise.
When a new album came out in those days I would listen to it attentively a few times while studying all the details of the cover and, gradually, the music kind of entered your soul and wouldn’t go away. I didn’t hear much of the Stones’ music on the radio and I guess I sort of made myself listen to them but they were actually very good and their recordings held lots of hidden details in the background. Also the lyrics weren’t dull. Heart of Stone told a little story of a man used to breaking women’s hearts then being perplexed when his usual technique didn’t work on his latest conquest.
The other pop music of this time was equally exciting. Martha and the Vandellas brought out Dancing in the Street which had an electrifying combative feel to it. The Righteous Brothers released the vocally athletic You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ while Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman purred into the top ten. I also liked Baby Love by the Supremes and You Really Got Me by the Kinks. I wasn’t so keen on Leader of the Pack by the Shangra-Las and passively endured Roger Miller’s Chug-A-Lug.
Just when we’d gotten used to all the Beatles’ songs from A Hard Day’s Night the fab four put out the most fantastic single: She’s A Woman which was followed quickly by I Feel Fine. These two tracks sounded like nothing they had done before which was a trick they kept pulling off for the next few years.
The competition between all these recording artists was intense and did make for a truly creative period in popular music. The first American band to make the charts at this time was The Byrds with their cover of Bob Dylan’s Mister Tambourine Man which brought forth a new musical concept: Folk Rock.
I had heard of Bob Dylan but hadn’t actually listened to him. I knew he’d written Blowin’ in the Wind which Peter, Paul & Mary had recorded back in 1963 and that he and Joan Baez, with whom he performed a lot, had both refused to appear on TV because of the networks’ refusal to allow Pete Seeger on. Seeger’s defiance of HUAC was the reason for the TV networks’ ban.
So I went and bought myself a Dylan album entitled The Times They Are A-Changin’ and the first song to catch my attention was The Ballad of Hollis Brown, a grim ditty all about a dust-bowl farmer who kills his family because they’re starving.
Of course the first thing you had to get used to was Bob Dylan’s nasal singing style. It was a threshold you had to negotiate in order to appreciate his work but I got past that pretty quickly. His main inspiration was someone my father Blackie had known well, Woody Guthrie. In addition to numbers with dark subject matter like Hollis Brown, he also did these rambling talking blues numbers which were very funny.
What I was not aware of as I listened to my first Dylan album was that he was in a state of flux at this time and was playing with rock musicians, a fact which enraged his purist folk fans. He brought his band with him to the Newport Folk Festival and was booed. I picked up snippets of this from people at school but it didn’t really sink in until I heard his single Subterranean Homesick Blues on the radio. The words were more than a bit nonsensical but very funny. I particularly liked: “The pump don’t work ‘cause the vandals took the handles.”
In retrospect Bob Dylan’s influence on the pop music of the later 1960s was profound. In addition to his whining vocal style he also introduced the meaningless lyric and made it acceptable. Not that all his words were meaningless. Some of his lyrics, like in It’s All Right Ma, were poetically and politically truthful.
I suppose that one of the reasons there was such a strong reaction to him going electric was that he also abandoned leftwing politics. Together with Joan Baez, Dylan had become an idol of the left. Songs like With God on Our Side and Masters of War spoke directly to those who were against America’s war in Vietnam. When he went electric he also stepped away from the protest movement. His lyrics now abandoned the particular and embraced the poetically mysterious.
But Dylan still wouldn’t appear on television unlike the Stones. There were two TV shows which featured those in the Top 40: Shindig on ABC and Hullabaloo on NBC. They turned up on Shindig a few times and on one occasion they brought legendary blues singer Howlin’ Wolf on with them. Both these shows had dancers who all would break into the monkey at the drop of a pin and I remember Brian Jones turning around and angrily insisting this young lady be still while Howlin’ Wolf performed.
Their next single was The Last Time and I loved it. I was at this time friends with a beautiful blonde girl named Martha Mason who lived in Sausalito. When the Stones came to San Francisco to perform at the Civic Auditorium a group of us went to see them. One thing that became clear to me was that they were not as big as Andrew Loog Oldham would have us believe as the place was about half full. Alan Eshleman was also there and he remembers it as being a third full but it was still an exciting evening. One of the support groups was The Byrds who were having a hit with Mr Tambourine Man.
I had now seen the Stones on TV quite a few times and in The T.A.M.I. Show and had seen Mick Jagger do that swivel-footed dancing which James Brown had done so well so when they finally came on we were sitting up in the balcony and Martha Mason was particularly amused by my reaction when Jagger did that little dance. I was completely jazzed.
The band, however, came nowhere close to reproducing on stage the sound of their recordings. The only elements that I actually recognized were the sound of Mick Jagger’s voice and the drumming of Charlie Watts. Everything else seemed mired in approximation.
There was a sizeable Mill Valley contingent at this concert which included my brother Jim, Billy Clark and Augie Belden with his girlfriend Laurie Diederich. Augie and Laurie were almost like one person as they were always draped around each other in a constant embrace. They were sitting down near the front and noted that Mick Jagger was surrounded by security guards. Augie told one of the guards that he had to meet someone at the other end of the stage so the guy let them pass and as they did, Augie paused in front of Mick Jagger who was singing the slowish Tell Me. On a kooky impulse Augie reached forward, grabbed his feet and looked up at him. Jagger looked down at him then carried on singing. Augie and Laurie then continued to the other end. In retrospect Augie said: “I guess I’m lucky he didn’t kick me in the face.”
Not long after the Stones, I went to see Dylan in concert. He did the first half on his own with acoustic guitar and I was struck by the fact that he spoke not a word between numbers. Nothing. I guess I was expecting him to have some kind of rapport with the audience but he simply performed his songs. He brought his band on in the second half and a few people walked out in protest.
As the summer pushed on towards graduation day the Top 40 continued to excite. Stop! In The Name of Love by the Supremes, Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey, Help Me Rhonda by the Beach Boys and Wooly Bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs were all exciting records but the biggest hit of them all was Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones.
Satisfaction was not like anything I had ever heard before and, unlike all their previous hit singles it shot to number one.
I remember Dave Shallock telling me that the effect of the lead guitar was produced by a “fuzz box,” an explanation which sounded plausible to me. Dave was the lead guitarist in The Jesters, a very good four piece band that played dances all over Marin at that time. Our good friend Mark Symmes was the drummer.
Satisfaction was unusual for a couple of reasons: the “fuzz box” guitar of Keith Richards was such a strange sound and the driving beat of Charlie Watts’s drums just made you dance with such total abandon. Mick Jagger’s shouted lyrics also seemed to be ranting about society’s materialism and finally it touched on a subject which had never featured in a popular song before: female menstruation.
If there was a cultural revolution brewing in the United States at this time then the Stones’ recording of Satisfaction was certainly in the running to be its anthem.
Satisfaction, The Last Time and a few other tunes were on their next album Out of Our Heads which joined the record collection over at Augie’s apartment where we would get drunk on Friday nights. Both Jagger and Richards were becoming accomplished song writers and four of their compositions on this LP were ascribed to their pseudonym ‘Nanker/Phelge.’ I particularly liked The Spider and the Fly and The Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man.
At the beginning of my senior year at Tam I was struck by the fact that most of my friends were running around organising which colleges they were applying for. Witnessing this activity brought the shortcomings of my parents’ attitude towards my education into sharp focus as I wondered why I wasn’t involved in this exciting looking process. But involved I was not and simply looked on as a spectator.
I did, however, do something terribly exciting at the end of my time at Tam High in the summer of 1965. I went to sea as a messboy on a Norwegian tanker called the Torvanger.
To be continued. In Part 3: Going to sea changes my life…