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That Girl Could Sing (The Hippie Years)

Cher was the first hippie woman to appear in our UK TVs. Her and the oddly creepy Sonny Bono sang their smash hit-to-be “I Got You Babe” on the must-see “Ready Steady Go” in 1965. Even the Stones wore suits in those olden golden days. Sonny & Cher, with their furry waistcoats and stripy flared pants had an otherness about them which, together with the cutesy, syrupy declaration of love duet, made them appealing. My mum, an antedeluvian 32 years old, was shocked by the lack of effort shown by these American scruffs. Six weeks later, with the record a worldwide sensation, she went out and bought it !

My best friend and I had no such doubts about Cher. It may have been her Armenian, Irish, German, Cherokee forebears. It may have been that astounding combination of eyes and cheekbones. We were 12 years old and thought that she was something else. We were too young to know exactly what that something was. Sonny and Cher had other hits, “The Beat Goes On” is really the only one of comparable merit. The couple made a movie which bombed and they headed for the nightclub circuit. They returned with a hit TV show, re-invented as a musical comedy act. We never saw this in the UK. Examining the evidence around the Net, it looks like the worst thing ever.

Cher had a long successful career ahead of her after her divorce from Sonny. It’s not the so-so movies , (I love “Come Back To The Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean”), the terrible music, the “naked sex slave in chains” image she had, that prevents me giving this any serious consideration. It is more the progressive surgical adjustments to her beautiful face which left her with the expression of a surprised mannequin. I understand the pressure on a female in the public eye to maintain a youthful appearance but Cher had a head start on most of them. The efforts she has made to suspend any ageing process has made her, in my eyes, more than a little ridiculous.

That old man says it. The youngsters whose records we love. The Mamas and the Papas were established enough by 1967 to release their ripping yarn of a song about how the folkies became pop stars “Creeque Alley”. With the success of “California Dreaming” (surely a better hippie anthem than the dirge “San Francisco”) and “Monday Monday” the  quartet’s pure, natural and surprising harmonies had made them the biggest band in the USA.

It is the two beautiful women that draws the eye in this and any performance by the Mamas and Papas. Mama Cass was the powerful lead voice and can genuinely be described as charismatic. She was funny, a style paradigm for the wonderful earth mothers I knew in later years and she was loved. Her solo career was a strange mix of the rock and roll life and cabaret (shooting heroin before a disastrous Vegas debut). She died aged 32 during a sold out run of shows in London. Michelle Phillips was the most beautiful woman in America, possibly the first time in the 20th century that this title was not held by a movie star. She combined California cool with a sophistication found in the great French beauties of the day. After an 8 day marriage to Dennis Hopper (wow!) she did make films. It is for her contribution to this group she is remembered. I find it difficult to watch the others, she is luminous.

Of the men, Denny could sing and John Phillips (husband of Michelle) was the leader. John was the prime mover of the Monterey Pop Festival which brought the “love crowd”, as Otis Redding called them, to public attention.He also wrote the afore-mentioned hippie dirge “San Francisco”.  The band’s success was not maintained as drug and personal issues split the four members. Phillips made some notable solo music but is more remembered for addictions and allegations of what I will call “bad craziness” and leave at that. In 1971 a short lived reunion produced an LP which includes the wonderful track “Shooting Star”. check this out to hear how good they could have been had they endured.

Oh yes, “morning maniac music…it’s a new dawn”. I have not listened to the “Woodstock” soundtrack for a long time. This reminds me why I was not the biggest fan of Janis Joplin. From the first hit singles, “Somebody To Love” & “White Rabbit”, Jefferson Airplane had been our band and Grace Slick the poster girl of the San Francisco music explosion. The Airplane made a lot of music and, by 1969, were rock superstars. Grace’s powerful voice and presence were central to the sound. We did not see a lot of the band in the UK and it was the sound that was important. She did look good in the photos though. The 1969 LP “Volunteers” was our anarcho-hippie manifesto for a different way of living. Naive yes, but it was it was this naivete, imagination and a sense of possibility that made life so vibrant and colourful in those times.

In 1970, just 17 years old, I crept off to a rock festival, (I told my Mum…not my Dad). It was my first opportunity to see the music that had been the soundtrack of my youth. In quick succession Santana, The Mothers of Invention, Led Zeppelin played outstanding sets but it was Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane who I really wanted to see. It was the early hours of Monday morning before they appeared. The organization of these early festivals can be kindly described as “loose”. The crowd had thinned out, wrapped in a blanket against the chill I was able to walk right up to the stage. I was tired and dirty and this was what I had been waiting for. I only had eyes for Grace (and a spectacular liquid light show). The set was cut short by inclement weather, as we lurched back to search for our car “Volunteers”, which they had not played, drifted from the PA across the festival site. I did not mind missing out on the full set, Grace & I had had our moment.

I do not listen to Jefferson Airplane or Starship too often these days. In August of this year a friend from my university days unfortunately died. At his funeral  two of his beloved Starship tracks were played as part of the service. It was a fine memory of a man who loved their music and loved life. Graham, this version of “Somebody To Love” is for you.


About loosehandlebars

Experience has taught me wisdom, thank god I've got some life left I'm getting out of serfdom, my soul has stand the test. I need nothing to be a man because I was born a man and i deserve the right to live like any other man.

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