Sunday, 28 June 2015

"Chinese wrestler's jockstrap cooked in chip fat on a greasy day" - and other hippy ditties

It about to get very hot here in London - the temperature could be in the 90s by the end of the week, and the fans (the air circulating devices rather than worshippers) will be blowing up a storm in the Grønmark household. For some odd reason, when the temperature gets that high I tend to start listening to hippy music, which I always associate with summer - perhaps because intense heat renders me less judgmental and allows me to ignore the spectacular goofiness of most of the lyrics. Here's a selection of tracks from the late '60s that will be helping me weather the impending inferno. I'll start with the song which mentions the Chinese wrestler's jockstrap, whose lyrics are definitely a cut above the competition  (although the music isn't) - Roy Harper's "Nobody's Got Any Money in the Summer":

If you were a music-mad teenager in 1968, you might actually remember that, mainly because it was on CBS's wildly successful "underground music" sampler, The Rock Machine Turns You On, which sold for a mere 15/- (75p) - dead cheap for them days. The next track comes from the same ground-breaking album - The Byrds' fabulously dippy but terribly appealing "Dolphins Smile":

Back to England for the next offering, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound's "Kites", from 1967, which I have always adored:

Like just about everyone, I didn't get to know Nick Drake's music until years after his records were first released in the early '70s. Pity. It's hard to think of a better song for a hot summer afternoon than the gorgeous, haunting "River Man":

It would be eccentric to compile a list of hippy songs and not include Grateful Dead. Here's the lovely "Ripple" from "American Beauty" - composed under the influence of red wine in a London hotel room:

Before a friend (a regular commenter on this blog, as it happens) introduced me to the delights of Crosby, Stills & Nash's first album, I'd already fallen for the second track on it, "Marrakesh Express", released as a single in 1969. It's by no means the best thing on the album (it's too Graham Nash-influenced for that), but it's just so damned sunny, and still cheers me up:

Of all the songs in this list, the lyrics to "San Francisco Nights" are undoubtedly the most risible, naive and just plain wrong. That it should have been performed by the diminutive, snarling, pock-marked, tough-as-old-boots Geordie blues shouter Eric Burdon seems almost sacrilegious. And yet there's no record that reminds me so strongly of what 1967 felt like (at least, for an innocent, drug-averse 14-year old):

Buffalo Springfield now, and a Neil Young classic, "I Am a Child" - the musical equivalent of a cooling breeze on a day of heat:

Now for what is possibly the greatest hippy anthem of them all - Norman Greenbaum's sublime "Spirit in the Sky":

Love, now, and "The Castle":

I despise everything about the film Easy Rider - apart from the soundtrack, especially the last number on my list, the beatiful, sun-drenched "Wasn't Born to Follow":

Now, with my reputation for exquisite musical taste in absolute tatters, I will close this post and wish all Londoners good luck for the horror ahead. 


  1. No,your reputation continues on.Good post-very evocative.

  2. Ah...Kites. An excellent single from a one hit wonder band, which apparently they hated as it was untypical of their repertoire. Well, change your repertoire then. Confident in their own judgement, the boys turned down the opportunity to record some songs offered to them by stand-in pianist Reg Dwight. A change of name worked for him, so they followed suit and transgressed into bearded prog-rock outfit Gentle Giant. I had the misfortune to see them at that point in the Greyhound Croydon along with about 10 other people, who are quite likely also tinnitus sufferers these days.

    Great post. It's a pity that Fresh Garbage by Spirit didn't make the cut!

    1. Kites: John Bayliss and I listened to Kites over and over and again on my parents' Ferguson Minigram; it was enchanting but we thought it slightly soppy, desperate as we were to be seen to be mature, manly teenagers.
      Eric Burdon's San Francisco Nights however was really meaty stuff in our callow view.
      Splendid selection Mr Gronmark - you are on top form with this compendium.

    2. Thank you, Riley. Oddly enough, I always assoctate "San Francisco Nights" with a party at Bayliss's place - no idea why.

    3. perhaps you were there...

  3. Glad it brought back memories, John Jones.

    As for you, ex-KCS - funny you should mention it, but "Fresh Garbage" was in and out of the list like a burglar with OCD.

    And thank you for clearing up the mystery of why Simon Dupree and His Drug-Addled Syncopators' other stuff was so disappointing in comparison with this gem. I vaguely remember the name Gentle Giant, but, given your helpful description of them as bearded prog-rockers, I've decided not check the band out on Spotify.

  4. When the back of my neck's all dirty 'n' gritty I never find any meaning, deep or otherwise, in White Bird.

  5. Am I alone in hysterical laughter whenever I hear the 1957 original of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face?

    1. I suspect the answer to your question is yes, you are the only one who reacts in that way. I will admit I don't like Peggy Seeger's version - original or otherwise. Johnny Cash's version, on the other hand, is pretty damned impressive:

    2. Good reason to believe her version is original – according to Wikipedia, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face is a 1957 folk song written by British political singer/songwriter Ewan MacColl for Peggy Seeger, who would later become his wife, to sing".

      Her version reminds me of Dr Lehrer's diagnosis of the problem with folk singing.

    3. Oh, now I see - yes, she does sound as if she's doing that folk-singer's acute earache thing - i.e. a hand clamped to one ear with the facial features contorted.

      Never heard the Lehrer - brilliant! - especially

      "We all hate poverty, war and injustice -
      Unlike the rest of you squares"

    4. Tom Lehrer was, actually is at an advanced age, a very smug git but he did have a marvellous gift for social observation and his folk song pastiche was one of his very best. I bought a couple of his cds on amazon recently - tip-top. Look at Victor Borge also tip-top