One of the best musical finds I've run across recently is a CD series put out by Rhino Records called "Love is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-70." It's basically a eighty song compilation featuring the type of music (folk, psychadelic, protest, even country-western) that came to be synonymous with the "San Francisco Sound" that helped transform American music. The most famous bands from that period include "The Jefferson Airplane", "Country Joe and the Fish", "The Grateful Dead", "Santana" and performers like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick and Jerry Garcia. All were part of a time of great urban changes in America, where young people flocked to California (especially San Francisco) looking for a new life and a fresh start and maybe a revolution. Most didn't find it, and some people wound up disillusioned or dead. But most crossed some kind of personal Rubicon and this period became part of a separate identity from the epic militancy of the times coming out of the military industrial and consumerist America. Even if the world wasn't turned upside down the freedoms this place at the edge of a continent unleashed helped set the stage for a less puritanical America. The seeds of this movement in music and style help bring the fruits of greater tolerance in the larger society--from different ways of looking at the spiritual world to questioning the role of money and power from the Establishment, an entity that lost some of its hold on the youth in society thanks to consumerism, a seemingly unending South East Asian war and the racial and sexual awakenings of a generation.
The bad parts--the hard drugs and the rise in unhealthy cults of violence and total control---were there as well, but no movement for the better has ever been without its violent pariahs and false leaders.
The first song featured in the set of three here is from a group ironically titled "The Great Society". It was the first band Grace Slick was a part of before she came to The Jefferson Airplane. The song here was of course made famous by the latter group but there is something more earthy about this original rendition.
From Wikipedia: "Slick's music career started in 1965 in San Francisco when she and then husband Jerry Slick formed their own band, influenced byThe Beatles as well as by a performance by the freshly-formed Jefferson Airplane at The Matrix and who, Slick realized, maintained an impressive revenue in comparison to her earnings as a model while having fun performing. Grace and Jerry Slick and Jerry's brother Darby Slick and other friends named themselves The Great Society after the social reform program of the same name, beginning during the autumn of 1965 and by early 1966 becoming a popular psychedelic act in the Bay area. By the summer of 1966 The Great Society was recording, releasing one single in San Francisco, a precursor to the future Jefferson Airplane success "Somebody to Love", which was written by Darby. Grace provided vocals, guitar, piano and recorder and co-wrote a majority of the band's songs with her brother-in-law."
Below--Grace Slick (AKA, "The Acid Queen", "The Chrome Nun") and her "Airplane" crew.
The next one comes from 1967. It's by a cheery melody by a group called The Sopwith Camels that constituted their biggest hit. Forty five years later, in July of 2012, many of the same band members reunited for a gig that was covered by The San Francisco Examiner:
"If you look at any vintage 60s concert poster, particularly with bands from the California coast, The Sopwith Camel were on the bill as part of what would come to be known as the San Francisco Psychedelic Ballroom Bands. The original Sopwith Camel was the name for a British fighter plane used in World War I. The unusual name was perfect for the band to adopt.
"The band released their first album in 1967 on Kama Sutra Records and their first single, “Hello Hello” found the Top 10 Billboard spot, marking what the band says is “the first national hit out of San Francisco psychedelic band scene.”
“Postcard from Jamaica” was also the title of their second single, and it brought on an East coast tour with the Lovin’ Spoonful, playingthe college circuit primarily. A third single, “Saga of the Low Down Let Down,” was the single from the album of the same title, which concluded their contract obligations to the Kama Sutra label.
From Wikipedia: "Michael Stewart formed We Five after graduating from Pomona Catholic High School and attending Mt. San Antonio College. He was the brother of John Stewart of the Kingston Trio and came from Claremont, California. When Michael was a student at the University of San Francisco in 1964, he formed We Five as a quartet, although it soon added another member. The group played adult rock 'n roll, pop jazz,Broadway show tunes, and Disney tunes. Stewart did all the arrangements, which ranged from "My Favorite Things", in a style which reflected Bach, to Very Merrily Un-birthday. He put in several additional hours working on arrangements after the five band members worked together for five or six hours each day.
The ensemble played acoustic guitars, electric guitar and bass and sang multi-part harmonies. The original quintet line-up, which grew out of a band called the Ridgerunners, included:
- Michael Stewart (Baritone-Bass, 5-String Banjo, 6-String Acoustic Guitar, 9-String Amplified Guitar)
- Beverly Bivens (Low Tenor to High Soprano, Rhythm Guitar)
- Jerry Burgan (Tenor, 6-String Acoustic Guitar)
- Peter Fullerton (Tenor, Acoustic & Fender Bass)
- Bob Jones (Baritone-Tenor, 6-String Electric Jazz Guitar, 12-String Electric Guitar).