In addition to being one of the most history-defining decades of the 20th century, the often tumultuous 1960s were also among the most exciting years. So much was going on that it was almost dizzying. It was a time of social upheaval and rearranging.
Being a man with an interest in all things musical, my first focus is on the music of that era, but especially 1967 since that was the year of the Detroit riot.
The story itself is appropriate since the Michigan Chronicle is going into the celebration of its 75th anniversary and in the process recalling events and people within that time frame.
THE PUBLIC was introduced to one of the most endearing recording duos of all time — veteran Marvin Gaye and relative newcomer Tammi Terrell. (Real name: Thomasina Montgomery). Whosever idea it was for this partnership was right on target.
Those hits, spanning from 1967 to 1969, have lost none of their appeal, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Your Precious Love,” “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “If This World Were Mine,” “You’re All I Need to Get By,” “Keep On Lovin’ Me Honey,” “What You Gave Me” and “Good Lovin’ Ain’t Easy to Come By.”
Nineteen-sixty-seven was also pivotal for Aretha Franklin in that she was elevated — and no one complained — to the position of Queen of Soul, a title she has retained ever since.
Indeed, in 1967 Franklin scored very big with seven of her best songs: “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” “Do Right Woman-Do Right Man,” “Chain of Fools,” “Dr. Feelgood,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Baby I Love You” and her signature song, “Respect.”
That run of hits alone is almost enough to make Franklin a legend.
SOMETHING strange was going on at Motown involving the company’s premier act, the Supremes. There had been issues with Florence Ballard and it all came to a head in 1967 when Berry Gordy Jr. decided he wanted her out of the group. Her replacement was Cindy Birdsong, formerly of Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles.
That was also the year Motown changed the group’s name to Diana Ross & the Supremes. The hits continued — “Reflections,” “In and Out of Love,” “Love Child,” etc. — but far more often than not, the Andantes (Louvain Demps, Marlene Barrow and Jackie Hicks) sang on the records rather than Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong.
The peace, love, “flower power” movement was going strong, ironically right alongside the protest/rebellion movement. The first rock mega-event, the Monterey Pop Festival, took place June 16-18. In addition to rock acts the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Big Brother & the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin), Eric Burdon & the Animals, the Jefferson Airplane and others, the festival included R&B from Otis Redding and Booker T. & the M.G.’s and jazz from Hugh Masekela.
There was a big “love-in” at Belle Isle, with hippies, music (“psychedelic” and otherwise), wildly colored clothes, food, smiling faces and more. It was fun. (There was probably pot smoking too, which many considered “groovy.”)
ALSO IN 1967, the public got its first taste of the very unusual, almost ethereal voice of Aaron Neville. He had a huge hit (No. 1 R&B, No. 2 Pop) with “Tell It Like It Is.”
No one could resist the thumping beat and groove of “Jimmy Mack” by Martha & the Vandellas. Before the year was out, Motown had altered the group’s name to Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, knowing that Reeves was going to complain about rival Diana Ross now getting front billing. As Martha Reeves & the Vandellas the famed trio had their last Top 10 hit, the catchy “Honey Chile.”
There was another Motown name change in 1967, with the Miracles becoming Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.
James Brown was, of course, by this time firmly entrenched as Soul Brother Number One and the Hardest Working Man in Show Business. (“The Godfather of Soul” title came a little later.) Brown hit especially hard in 1967 with “Cold Sweat.”
A great line from that song: “I don’t care about your past, I just want our love to last.”
Also generous with the funk that year was the great Wilson Pickett, who had a No. 1 hit with “Funky Broadway.”
MEANWHILE, the iconic Jackie Wilson had one of the biggest and most loved hits of his career (it too was No. 1) with “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” It is interesting to note that even though this was not a Motown record, the Funk Brothers played on it and the Andantes did the background singing.
Sadly, we had to say farewell to jazz legend John Coltrane, author/playwright Langston Hughes, early actress Nina Mae McKinney, composer Billy Strayhorn and soul superstar Otis Redding.
Among the biggest movies that year were “The Graduate,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Dirty Dozen” (featuring Jim Brown), “Valley of the Dolls,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” (starring Sidney Poitier) and a pair of James Bond movies, “Casino Royale” and “You Only Live Twice.”
UNFORTUNATELY, the Vietnam War was still going strong and there was a growing amount of protest, along with an ever-increasing sense of defiance, particularly on the part of college students and other young people.
Three years later, Edwin Starr asked a powerful question: “War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”
That is still true, just it has always been and always will be.
For a few days in Detroit in 1967, Detroit too was, in a way, engaged in war. I will never forget driving home from a get-together in Inkster, and as we drove down the freeway, seeing smoke and debris in the sky. It was scary.
Another chilling, unforgettable sight: a tank (yes, a tank!) rumbling down the street I lived on, Fischer between Warren and Moffet on the east side. It was like a dream (a nightmare) — and I had no idea tanks were that large.
After the riot, White flight from Detroit accelerated dramatically, eventually followed by Black flight. And there are those who believe the riot had quite a bit to do with Motown Record Corp. moving west — first Berry Gordy Jr., Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and others, then the whole company.
But I, for one, still remember 1967 for its upsides, and there were more than a few of those.