Monday, 20 August 2012

Scott McKenzie dead, but the flowers will never wilt

Today's news is that Scott Mckenzie, whose buoyant 1967 single San Francisco made Californian Hippy Culture the thing to aspire to, has died at age 73. I hope he had flowers in his hair to the last.

1967 was a special year for all who lived through it. Sunshine and sex were the major themes of a year in which an awful lot was overturned. The events of that year wrong-footed the Older Generation. They recoiled in shock and perplexity. I well recall visiting Padstow in Cornwall with Mum and Dad, and encountering some cheerful and gaily-clad young people with flowing hair, handing out flowers with a message of peace and goodwill on their lips. Mum drew me away as if they were lepers. Yet they were an amazing sight in that little town, and I felt my parents had deprived me of a one-chance-only connection with a freer, inspirational existence. I made do with the music.

I had just begun to take serious notice of contemporary pop songs - I was fifteen in 1967 - and especially what was being sung about. A lot of it was incomprehensible, part of the Big Unknown that I thought would be revealed only when I Had A Relationship. But some of the stuff in the charts was easy enough, and I could enjoy it without guilt or confusion. I had started to cut out and keep the printed pop charts in Dad's Daily Express, sticking them into a notebook. I still have that teenage relic. Here is the weekly article for 15 August 1967 (click on the photo to enlarge it): 

By my halidem, Scott McKenzie is Number One! And Welsh Boyo Tom Jones is Number Two! And look at the rest: The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Dave Davies (of The Kinks), The Tremeloes, The Alan Price Set, The Turtles, The Mamas and The Papas, Amen Corner, Desmond Dekker, The Monkees, Otis Redding, Pink Floyd! Great names of Pop. What a roll call, missing only The Beach Boys, The Who, and The Rolling Stones. What a summer to live through. Admittedly the silken ballads of Easy Listening were much in evidence too: The Johnny Mann Singers, Anita Harris, Vikki Carr, Engelbert Humperdinck, Nancy Sinatra. But, you know, I liked those as well, and still do. They were as much part of the scene as the rest.

I used that notebook for three or four years more, soon acquiring the definite habit of listening to Alan Freeman's Sunday afternoon slot every week without fail, and taking careful notes. Here is the page for 17 August 1969, two years later:

Another classic list: The Equals, The Move, The Marmalade, Billy Preston, Donovan, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder again, The Plastic Ono Band, Robin Gibb (of The Bee Gees), and at Number One, The Rolling Stones! Wow. And with them people like Jim Reeves, Zager and Evans, Elvis Presley, Cilla Black, and Clodagh Rogers. I remember drawing the line at the time at Jim Reeves, but I did really like Cilla. She is well-represented even today on my phone, with several songs of hers to listen to and enjoy.

You'll notice that, at the age of seventeen, a tendency to tidiness and analysis has emerged. Those blue arrows. The precise details for new entrants to the chart. I now think this was all symptomatic of a solitary person with not much else to do, the kind of person who had long ago retreated into their shell, their bomb-shelter, listening to the outside world, imagining what it could be like, but not part of it. Not yet. Once I left school - having done my full sentence, with no remission - I went straight into a job, and found an enticing new adult world beckoning. In time I stopped keeping lists of what was in the charts.

But I never forgot Scott McKenzie.


  1. I got three months off my prison sentence of education and spent the summer of '67 in Canada and America with relations.

    The summer of Sergeant Pepper, music of the summer of love..., and they already had colour TV. Three months of endless sunshine and music before returning to gloom, the light programme and the greyness of school!

  2. Oh I remember it all very well too but the summer of love didn't last long did it? Think of all that's happened since.
    I was wondering how many of those artists you would have been able to remember without your little notebook Lucy. It's funny how we forget them and when I hear old songs being played I try my best to remember who is singing. Sometimes I get it right!

    Shirley Anne x

  3. I didn't know that he'd died. His vocals on S/Francisco are sublime.
    There was indeed a wealth of great popular music in the 60's.
    And on the recently released 'cellarful of motown' cds, some that, inexplicably, was never released at the time !
    Yeah Cilla was good - Not a great singer, but superb at interpreting songs in her own unique way.
    I still draw the line at 'Gentleman' Jim Reeves - Too insipidly soporific for my liking.
    Then there was Hendrix and The Doors, and Bowie and E/John both began their recording careers in the late 60's.
    I love Lesley Gore's 'You Don't Own Me'.


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