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The first time ever I heard this tune

My father in-law says it most poignantly: “Music is the bread of the soul”. Music is central to religions, it links people, connecting them to their roots, their friends, their country, their football team,  their memories, their aspirations.  What happens when we hear a song that we recognize and love? We are flooded with feelings, of love, of loss, of regret, we are spiritually uplifted, we forget our pain, we dance through our suffering, we are young again, happy again,  connected with anyone who is listening, or has ever listened to the same song, singer, genre. What kind of songs do we love? Often, the ones we know, the ones that were sung to us by people that we love. The songs that we once danced to. The songs that are connected to places we remember (to paraphrase John Lennon).

But for any song that we love, there is always the first time we ever heard it. What causes us to fall in love with a new song? For the most part, we find it easier to like a song that is similar to songs we already know and love.  The safest way to produce a popular tune is to write one that is ‘just like’ what you know, but a bit different in some appealing way. To jumpstart this process, you can start the song with the bridge (middle part) so that when you get to the middle of the song, you’ve already ‘heard’ it before (a Beatles ploy, check out “She Loves You” for one famous example).

I remember the first time I heard Andrew Lloyd-Webers’ music of the Phantom of the Opera in 1990. I wasn’t blown away. To be frank, I didn’t think much of it at the time.  Perhaps it was too different initially to my own personal ‘juke box’ of beloved songs. But with repeated listenings I eventually fell in love with the music of the night.

I also remember the first time I heard a Beatles record. It was with my friend David Rose, in Ottawa, in his basement. I have a vivid visual memory of the scene. What else do I remember from 1964? Not much. The Beatles must have made quite an impression on me, if not immediately, then soon after. I quit playing classical piano, and insisted that my piano teacher, Sandra Coupal, teach me pop music, mostly Beatles hits.

Where does the music of the sixties come from?

Popular musical styles evolve over time. Present music derives from past music. Songwriters are influenced by what their predecessors have written and what their peers are writing. The Beatles as singers, for example, were influenced by Elvis who was influenced by Sinatra and Dean Martin who were influenced by Bing Crosby who in turn was influenced by Al Jolson.  Musicians lean on riffs and phrases that they have learned from others (for example, saxophone students still leave jazz schools with the sixty year old licks of Charlie Parker). Songwriters use age-old frameworks to write popular music. When Mama Cass made “Dream a little dream of me” a hit with the Mamas and Papas in the mid-sixties, it sounded like a sixties tune, although it had been written in the early 1930s.

If music followed a linear course (like a torpedo), it would be easy to follow and explain how styles change and morph. But it is very complicated. The Beatles’ singing was not only influenced by Elvis, but by the Everly Brothers, Little Richard, and many others. Writers and musicians are usually influenced not by one musical style, but by many.  Popular sixties music has roots in blues, swing, jump blues, classical music, gospel, folk, and country just to name a few. So how should we begin?

Since we are discussing the sixties in terms of the ‘evolution of the revolution’, let’s start out by having a look at the folk protest song movement.

We now transport ourselves back to the US in the early sixties. The mecca of folk musicians is Greenwich Village in New York. Young Bob Dylan (originally Robert Zimmerman) is there, writing and singing mildly anti-establishment songs (Blowin’ in the Wind comes immediately to mind).  By 1963 Dylan is still much more successful as a songwriter than a performer. His guitar playing, harmonica and voice are a distant second to his penmanship. His songs are being covered amazing vocalists such as Peter, Paul and Mary (a trio assembled by Al Grossman, who is, as it happens, Dylan’s manager).

Dylan is himself a product of the folk movement, a disciple of Woody Guthrie who is the penultimate protest writer/singer in America. Ironically, Woody’s “This Land is Your Land” is widely considered a fiercely patriotic hymn. That’s because we tend to stop after a couple of verses. Go down further and you’ll find:

“…as I went walking I saw a sign there

and on the sign it said “No Trespassing”

but on the other side it didn’t say nothing

that side was made for you and me…”

and then…

“In the squares of the city in the shadow of the steeple

by the relief office I seen my people

as they stood there hungry I stood there asking

is this land made for you and me?”

Guthrie, Dylan’s muse,  talks about the ills of capitalism, fences, trespassing and freedom, and the poverty lines of the thirties.  Dylan follows suit.

And so, legend has it, in late 1963 Dylan sits down to write what he considered to be the anthem of the protest movement, “The Times they are A-changin'”.

“Come mothers and fathers, throughout the land.

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand,

Your sons and daughters are beyond your command.”

If this isn’t a call to arms, then what is? For me, this is a turning point, the starting gate of what will soon become, if not the social revolution, then at least the musical revolution.

Meanwhile, that same year, the Beatles are conquering the UK (“Please please me”, “I want to hold your hand”, “From me to you”, “She loves you”). North America and the rest of the world will soon fall as ripe, easy prey to the ”fab four” and the onslaught of the British invasion. More than anything or anyone else, the music of the sixties, and the evolution of the revolution are Dylan and the Beatles, the Beatles and Dylan.

Folk Protest Music, meet the Rock Beat

In February 1964, the Beatles arrive in America for their first three historic appearances on the Ed Sullivan show. The rock beat becomes almost a sine qua non for having a pop hit.  And with it, electric guitar, strong base line and drums. Another warning sign for traditional folk music.  As Dylan sang “You’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone”. Or to paraphrase Duke Ellington “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that rock beat.”

Dylan himself got the message, going rock at Newport in 1965 and cooperating on the Byrds hugely successful jingle jangly rock cover of his own “Mr. Tambourine Man” which went to number one on the charts, far surpassing his own version.  Tom Wilson, the legendary producer who produced the acoustic Dylan version, apparently got the message (as we’ll soon see ).

I think the most telling story in this regard is that of Simon and Garfunkel’s rise to success.   In 1964 the vocaliferous duo debuted nationally with their LP with Capitol Records “Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m.”  It’s a beautiful folksy record, including many covers of famous folk and gospel songs and some of early Paul Simon originals.  However, their record is released into a market that is already grooving to and craving for the two/four beat of the rock wave.  The Everly Brother style vocals are lovely, the harmonies sensational, Bleecker Street’s lyrics are enchanting. Still the record is perceived as ‘old school’ and fails. It is dated as soon as it is released. The last track of the first side of the record is the acoustic version of “Sound of Silence” which also goes nowhere.

Paul Simon, despondent over the LP’s sad fate,  goes to Europe where he hangs out, appears in coffee shops and meets his seventeen year old muse Kathy. Unbeknownst to him (thus goeth the legend),  Tom Wilson decides to convert “Sounds of Silence” into a far from silent rock version. Wilson leaves the acoustic first verse exactly as is, but then suddenly inserts electric guitar, driving bass and drums onto the original track (there are some minor difficulties fitting the rock beat into the folk rhythm, but let’s not be jazz police).  The song subsequently becomes a big number one hit, flipping the switch from “failure” to “on the way to stellar success”. According to the story Paul Simon was initially unaware of the pop version’s burgeoning success and only subsequently flew home from Europe. They quickly release a new long playing (LP) record,  named “Sounds of Silence”, (the track is now the first on the record) full of great original songs, and Simon and Garfunkel now go on to conquer the world.  Ironically, in subsequent concert appearances (including Central Park in 1981), they appeared to prefer the acoustic version of the song (truer to the meaning of the song, I agree), rather than the rock version that rescued them from near oblivion. We’ll return to Paul Simon (and Leonard Cohen) in the third chapter.

Origins of Rock Music

So where the heck did rock music come from? You might say that it evolved from rock and roll but that would lead inevitably to “where did rock and roll music come from?”.  As I explained in the previous chapter music is always evolving. Once in a while a ‘paradigm shift’ occurs, leading to a brand new thing.  The emergence of the Beatles is one such ‘paradigm shift’, after all they were a revolutionary band.  So in order to describe the evolution of rock music, we need to start earlier. The question is how much earlier?

We could (and perhaps should) start centuries back with classical music, the genius of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and people so supertalented that we listen to their music centuries after they wrote it, and as they wrote it. The notes, the musical scales, chord changes and harmonies that are used in rock music can be traced all the way back to their music, and even further. So although Mr. Bach, if he were reincarnated today might not dig rock and roll music, he would be able to take the sheet music of McCartney’s “Yesterday” and play it within a minute or two. Furthermore, he would understand the basics of the melody, harmony and rhythm. Check out Toccata and Fugue in D minor, organ (attributed to Bach) to get an inkling of how close classical music can be to modern pop.

Also, we tend to forget that much of what we call classical music was, in its hayday,  actually dancing music.  Minuets, in which the basic count is four, waltz and mazurka in which the basic count is three, and so on. I am most intrigued by the European folk dance, the ‘polka’, in which you hop on one foot, and then on the other.  So if you hop around, once on one leg, then on the other, you will note that the second and fourth beat get a boost, an accent.  Think of it as one TWO three FOUR. This is what rock and rollers call the ‘back beat’,  perhaps thinking that it is something new.  But if we can’t absolutely trace it back to the polka, then we should be able to link it to gospel, the blues, cakewalk, swing and other styles from long ago.

This back beat is so characteristic of most sixties rock music that for me at least, is one of the important aspects of rock and roll and most rock hits of the sixties and beyond.  So that you know what I mean, let’s take a line from “Honky Tonk Woman” and clap our hands on the 2 and 4 (indicated by capital letters).

I met THE ginSEL barROOM queen IN memPHIS

Once you get the hang of that, the rhythm of rock music becomes clearer. (I should mention that sometimes we clap our hands twice on the 2, something known as double back beat).

If this isn’t initially clear, then please listen to the beat on your favorite rock songs. Of course we can also identify these beats on old blues, swing music, jump blues, rhythm and blues, gospel and other styles that led to rock and roll and then on to rock music. Many of these styles also owe their roots to African rhythms.

The birth of rock and roll is often credited with Bill Halley & His Comet’s “Rock around the clock” (1954) which met with great success a year later after it appeared on the movie “The Blackboard Jungle”.  As with most famous mainstream rock and roll bands, the musicians were white. Of course, they were copying to a great extent music which was common among African Americans (and even the name “rock and roll” is apparently African American slang for something you do in the haystack).  And of course the most famous performer in this genre became  Elvis Presley.  Some of his African American sounding numbers including “Jailhouse Rock” and “Hounddog” were actually written by two white Jewish folks, Lieber and Stoller, who became famous by emulating the music of their African American brethren.  Should we blame them?


The Beatles

The Beatles came of musical age in the fifties, listening to a wide variety of sounds, rock and roll in particular. Paul McCartney also grew up on music of the swing era, and recently released a CD reflecting his love for songs of the thirties and forties (Kisses on the Bottom). But in addition to all the musical styles we have mentioned, the youngsters were also in love with a particular style that the Americans had long forgotten. This style, called skiffle was a musical melange from the twenties incorporating bass slapping jazz, country and blues.  It had been largely forgotten in the US, but Lonnie Donegan reincarnated the style throughout Britain following the Second World War, to the extent that most fifties bands in the UK played skiffle music. And indeed Paul and John’s first band was a skiffle band. “Act Naturally” is a Beatles song that pays homage to this style.  Here is a link to a rare interview with 13 year-old Jimmy Page (who professed his dream of being a cancer researcher, but went on to be one of rock’s greatest guitarists) playing in a skiffle band.

That skiffle-influenced style might help explain why the Beatles’ early music appeared new to the US audiences, but it does not explain their success in the UK in 1963. After all, in the fifties there were, according to reports, between 30,000 and 50,000 skiffle bands, most playing electric guitars which had become popular and inexpensive.

If I knew the exact reason for the outstanding success of the Beatles, I would gladly tell you. Some think it was their professional level. They were a very ‘tight sounding band’ indeed.  The Beatles played on and off in Hamburg for over two years before they started their British run. They played six days a week, gigs lasting for six or eight hours. They played covers from all the hip styles around at the time, often copying other rock and roll artists (this is not uncommon, after all Billy Joel was a professional copycat in the sixties before developing his own musical persona).  Their musical polish, as explained by author Malcolm Gladwell, was unrivalled following the tens of thousands of hours they had performed together before making it big.

Some credit the Beatles’ success with their unique producer, Brian Epstein. Brian led a troubled life. He was a homosexual in an era in which coming out of the closet was practically like facing death. He had dreams of becoming an actor, but returned from London to his native Liverpool to run the music arm of his father’s retail enterprise.  At some stage Brian heard of the Beatles, who had returned to the Liverpool scene, and became enamored with them (perhaps more enamored with John than the others, but that is the stuff of legend and innuendo). After some meetings and negotiations, Brian became their manager. He had never managed a band before, but had sufficient retail clout in the music business to get Decca to produce a demo for them (albeit on the first of January, 1962).  The Beatles had no problem recording a whole set in one go. These, the so-called Beatle Decca Recordings are available and we can listen to them with a lot of hindsight. The folks at Decca ( in particular) turned down the group, dissing guitar bands, and took a lot of flak for it. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest mistakes in rock music history. However, to be fair, the Decca recordings were not all that good, and one would have had to be a genius to predict their success. Which Epstein apparently was.

Epstein also cleaned up their act. No more jeans and t-shirts and sloppy performances in Liverpool bars. They adopted Hamburg hair and clothing styles and began their march to success.  After Decca turned the Beatles down, Epstein cajoled EMI to produce a record.  This brought them into the hands of another genius, George Martin, who, coming from a varied music background, yet terribly open-minded, and eager to establish his pop music credentials, helped make the Beatles SOUND like the Beatles.

But what I’m thinking is that the Beatles must have been just as open-minded letting Martin lend his production artistry. After all, it was not customary for emerging rock bands to hire string quartets (let alone orchestras), and to weave classical music into the rock beat.  When George Harrison turned them on to Indian music, the Beatles didn’t say no, but rather ended up embracing it, travelling to India and back.

As many other bands, the early Beatles were a cover band. They covered rock and roll songs that they loved, such as “You really got a hold on me”, and “She’s got the devil in her heart (originally He’s got the devil in his heart)”, “Twist and Shout”, “Roll over Beethoven”, “Rock and Roll Music”,  “Anna, go to him”. In some instances, the reason we know that these songs ever existed is because the Beatles covered them. Otherwise they might have faded into rock and roll oblivion.  The forgotten originals have their own unique flavor (check out Alexander’s version of Anna, go to him).  And how many of us recall that “Till there was you” is actually a Meredith (a guy) Wilson song from the musical,  “The Music Man”.

In 1963 the Beatles began to hit it big with their first number one singles in the UK, “Love me do”, and “Please please me”. Many were to follow. The original popular self-written Beatles songs had relatively simple (dare I say inane?) lyrics, starring “I want to hold your hand”, and “She loves you”. Their early tunes were also simple, but soon they began developing a style of their own. In 1964 the Beatles started to write really amazing stuff, and then hit their stride in 1965-6.  During this time they were peripatetic: writing, rehearsing, recording, playing in movies, and performing.

The songwriting partnership between McCartney and Lennon became more and more of a sham, with either of the two geniuses largely responsible for a particular song.  McCartney generally wrote the more melodic tunes, with the more innocuous and innocent lyrics. According to the legend, their meeting with Dylan during his visit to the UK in 1964 had two major effects: their introduction to the drug scene and Lennon emulating Dylan by beginning to write lyrics based on more personal experiences and feelings and even sounding more nasal in his singing style.

Simon and Cohen – The Poet Singers of the Sixties

“There are two approaches to music.  One is “Man I’m a musician and I got nothin’ to do with politics. Just let me do my thing.” And the other is that music is going to save the world…I think that music’s somewhere in between.”  – Joan Baez


Why should we be comparing the music of Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen? After all, they are such different individuals. Leonard Cohen was an adult at the beginning of the sixties, 25 years old, as compared to Paul Simon’s youthful 18. Leonard Cohen had an established career as a leading Canadian writer of poetry, and to some extent fiction. (One of his poems even appeared in the Anthology of English Literature that I studied in high school in Ottawa in the late sixties, alongside Dylan Thomas, William Wordsworth, and other luminaries).

And yet, there is surprisingly much in common between these two geniuses. Both had childhood bands. Paul Simon and his singing partner Art Garfunkel had already had a rock and roll hit back in high school, “Hey Schoolgirl”, which had gained them local prominence.  Leonard Cohen also had a professional band, the Buckskin Boys, which performed covers on the local Montreal circuit. Both recorded with Columbia Records. Both have had incredibly long performing and writing careers. Both re-invented themselves. Both were receptive to foreign musical styles. Both have a penchant for writing sad songs. Both are Jewish.

Simon and Garfunkel have kept their original Jewish names for most of their performing careers (they did spend a stint as  “Tom and Jerry”).   There have been so many musicians and writers in the US who started off with Jewish names and changed them to blend in, so to speak, with the Gentile world, starting with Al Jolson (originally Asa Joelson), Irving Berlin (Israel Baylin),  Harold Arlen (Hymie Arluk), Carole King (Carole Klein), Mama Cass (Ellen Naomi Cohen) and many more. Having said that, there is a huge difference in the Jewishness of Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen. Practically none of Simon’s songs deal, at least directly, with any Jewish themes or motifs. I remember as a youth the scandal that Simon and Garfunkel caused by performing on the eve of Yom Kippur, flaunting the wishes of the Jewish community.

Leonard Cohen, in contrast, was and remains very Jewish. Leonard Cohen’s father and grandfather were prominent in his synagogue and in the Jewish community in Canada, and Leonard’s persona is infused in Jewish liturgy. In a recent performance in Israel, he spread his fingers and chanted the prayer of the cohanim (priests), straight from the Jewish prayer book, and in the original East European accented Hebrew of his synagogue in Montreal. Although Cohen has flirted with other religions and mythologies, became an ordained Buddhist priest, and even spent a bit of time with scientology, his Jewish roots are super strong and his writing reflects this.  “Who by fire, who by water…” is taken directly from one of the most important prayers of Ashkenazi Jews during Yom Kippur”.  I could cite the song “Sacrifice of Isaac”, “Halleluja” and many more which are based on biblical stories.

Both Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen are heavily influenced by the surrounding Christian culture and religion. In their first LP, Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m., Simon and Garfunkel sing the Christian spiritual “Go tell it on the mountain”, and on their album “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”, they close with the Christmas hymn Silent Night sung over a simulated recorded news broadcast speaking about escalation of the war in Vietnam and other sad events of the summer of 1966. And Leonard Cohen for his part dedicates the second verse of Suzanne to his own take on the life of Jesus.

Indeed, as far as sex is concerned, Simon tends to be much more circumspect. Paul Simon does, once in a while dare to write a line such “I watch as her breasts gently rise gently fall”. And occasionally a double entendre as in Duncan’s “underneath the stars, just thanking the Lord for my fingers, for my fingers”. His hero in “The Boxer” admits visiting hookers out of loneliness, but without the details. Leonard Cohen has no problem with being sexually direct and explicit.  In the famous Chelsea hotel encounter (ostensibly about another famous sixties icon), he writes “giving me head on the unmade bed”. No double entendres there. Cohen can also be abstruse: in his early song “Sisters of Mercy” (one of my absolute favorites of that era) he writes “It won’t make me jealous if I learned that they sweetened your night. We weren’t lovers like that and, besides, it would still be all right.”

Another point worthy of consideration is the openness of both these songwriters to styles from afar. There is the legend that Cohen developed his unique musical style after several guitar lessons he took with an itinerant Spanish guitarist in Montreal (who later apparently committed suicide). Simon, for his part, rebooted himself by travelling to South Africa and adopting its rhythms, music and vocals (Graceland album).

Most importantly, in my mind, are the elements of alienation and loss that are evident throughout the writing of both these sixties heroes.  The alienation and loneliness of Paul Simon are poignantly expressed in “Bleecker Street”,  “I am a Rock”, “Sounds of Silence”, “Leaves that are Green”, “The Boxer”, “Duncan” and so many of his other songs. “Slip sliding away”, which comes later in his career, is particularly painful.

Leonard Cohen also writes of displacement in many of his songs, usually in a romantic context.  Alluding to the song “Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye”, Cohen writes on the album cover “I am in the wrong room. I am with the wrong woman.”

There you have it. Two wandering and wondering Jews. One keenly aware of his Jewish roots and tradition, one in spite of his lack thereof.

Romantic songs of the sixties and the amazing women who sang them


This is admittedly an incomplete list of romantic songs of the sixties, and a dozen or so of the amazing female singers (and sometimes songwriters) who are outstanding, in my estimation.

We will start our list with Carole King (born Carole Klein) who wrote a string of sixties hits, mainly with her partner of that time Gerry Goffin (who has just died, I am sorry to say). Their song “Will you still love me tomorrow” was a huge hit for the Shirelles, and for Carole herself when she started to perform  her own songs a decade later  (on her spectacular LP, Tapestry).  The lyrics are quite risqué for a 1960 song: “Is this a lasting treasure? Or just a moment’s pleasure?”  I think that there was this double standard that allowed African American bands to sing songs directly related to sex, whereas the white bands were more circumspect until about 1965.

Next on my hit list is none other than Cass Elliott (a.k.a. Mama Cass), who like Carole King, was also Jewish, and also changed her name to make a name for herself (Cass was born as Ellen Naomi Cohen, can you believe?).  Cass, overweight and not what you might call a ‘sheyna meidaleh’ had trouble breaking into the Mamas and the Papas, despite her amazing voice in both timbre and range (compare to Michelle Philip, who had the looks, and so restricted a voice that she rarely).  Ironically Mama Cass’ most famous song was recorded when the Mamas and Papas were on their way to breaking up, and it is not at all a sixties song. It’s a cover of a 1931 epic, “Dream a little dream of me”.  Mama Cass indeed sang many of the Mamas and Papas great hits. How sad to have lost her talent at such a young age. The legend that she died of choking on a ham sandwich appears to be completely false.

Judy Collins is my third choice. Beautiful, musically gifted, educated, refined, she helped define the music of the sixties and seventies by her choice of songs. She cast her musical net wide, discovering the likes of Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Tom Paxton and others. When Judy Collins covered your song, you were on your way to fame and glory. No wonder that everyone assumes that “Both Sides Now” was written by her (nope, by Joni Mitchell, next on our list).  Judy’s relationship with Steven Stills is immortalized in  “Judy Blue Eyes Suite”, (Crosby, Stills and Nash in the late sixties).  It’s still one of my all time favorites. Judy ended up having a difficult personal life, but remains very ‘sixties’ to this day. When I wrote her a message on FB that I am teaching a class on music of the sixties, she sent me the following message:

Do what you love and keep to your dream, pray for peace and forgiveness, go forward look back but don’t stare, and keep a journal. Always keep a journal. Love, Judy”


Joni Mitchell, one of the greatest Canadians ever to make a name for themselves on the music scene is also responsible for the prophetic “Big Yellow Taxi” (yes, the Counting Crows version is a cover from the distant past) and the epic “Woodstock”.  I am not a great fan of her singing voice, but that is strictly a matter of taste.

Grace Slick who helped the band “Jefferson Airplane” take off, is our next heroine. Don’t be tempted into thinking she was just a pretty face. Grace was an ace musician, writing the songs that were huge defining hits for the band (Somebody to love, and White Rabbit).  Jefferson Airplane was one of the first important psychedelic bands, and although Slick didn’t share the sad fate of Joplin and others, much of her subsequent life was also spent dealing with abuse issues.

Janis Joplin’s life was cut down at the age of 27. She was an amazing singer, not blessed by great looks, and not even by a great voice, but by her great presentation of a song, her blues influence and her unique singing. Check out her ability to make the Gershwins’ “Summertime” sizzle, and of course two of her most famous songs, Me and Bobby McGee (admittedly a cover, but what a cover) , and Mercedes Benz.

In contrast to Janis, Marianne Faithfull  may had depended more on her good looks (and relationship with Mick Jagger and others Stones members) to make it big.  Nevertheless, “As tears go by” is an eternal classic, written by the Stones, but given to her. She made it her own.

Skeeter Davis was another singer who made it big with one hit, “The End of the World”. Skitter was big in the country music circuit, but her success in crossing over to mainstream pop was limited to this one song. But what a song!! On a personal note, I prefer the Herman’s Hermits cover.

At the same time, Brazilian Astrud Gilberto was making it big with the “Girl from Ipanema”.  She wasn’t what you would call a professional singer, but happened to be in the right place at the right time (married to Joao Gilberto).  There was something in her natural (untrained) voice, accent and looks that captivated listeners around the world.

And now we want to thank and acknowledge a host of African American singers who helped make the sixties a great musical era. Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Roberta Flack and so many others.  Diana Ross and the Supremes fought tooth and nail with the Beatles through much of the sixties, sometimes toppling them from the charts, sometimes being toppled. In 1968, the Supremes hit “Love Child” hit number one and displaced “Hey Jude”.  Love Child is a well-crafted song in which the narrator (a young woman) is dissuading her boyfriend from having unprotected sex, to avoid creating a ‘love child’, as the narrator herself was as a child. The Supremes were favorites of the conservative TV icon Ed Sullivan, and they sang this song on the show. Although Ed was anything but prejudiced, I doubt whether the powers that be would have allowed white performers to sing the same song.

Joan Baez is better known for singing protest songs rather than romantic songs, but in my mind two relationship-related renditions of hers are worth mentioning. The first is the Civil War song “The Cruel War is Raging”, and the second Dylan’s “Don’t think twice, it’s all right.”


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