The intriguing progress Rock & Roll started displaying as soon as The Beatles busted out in 1964 hit an ecstatic, elastic, multi-colored peak three years later. Any existing rules were incinerated as the pop song busted well beyond its two-minute structure, guitars were regularly muscled aside to make room for Mellotrons and sitars, and love songs were often sidelined for tunes based on Joyce’s impenetrable Ulysses or ditties about gnomes named Grimble Crumble. The LP officially displaced the single; stereo started doing the same to mono, making way for the ritual of consuming high-concept albums through headphones…possibly while under various influences; and bland band portraits plastered onto jackets no longer sufficed. In other words, Rock & Roll became art with a vengeance in 1967.
Harvey Kubernik pays tribute to the auditory and visual arts of ’67’s revolutionary music in his new book 1967: A Complete Rock Music History of the Summer of Love. That title is actually misleading unless one regards 1967 as twelve months of summer—and the Californians Kubernik favors probably did. The book is actually a month-by-month chronicle from January through December, dropping details about the year’s major music releases, festivals, innovations, main characters, and attitudes in stand-alone chunks. The book is also something of an oral history, as Kubernik’s own observations are more than supplemented with old and new commentary from the likes of Andrew Loog Oldham, Mary Wilson, George Harrison, Barry Miles, Michelle Phillips, Pete Townshend, Lou Reed, Roger McGuinn, Ravi Shankar, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Ram Das, Ray Manzarek, and many others. There is little effort to link the multitudinous topics, but that’s to be expected when dealing with a year that was probably a puzzling jumble of disconnected ideas and events for a lot of its participants. You know what they say about people who remember the sixties.
A coffee table book at heart, 1967 supplies a vibrant lot of images from pop’s most imagistic year, though some of the year’s phantasmagorically rendered album covers would have made for an even more kaleidoscopic visual experience. Kubernik should still be commended for covering the vinyl within the sleeves as thoroughly as he does—referencing the obvious (Sgt. Pepper’s dominates the June topic along with the Monterey Pop Festival) and the more regularly overlooked (The Hollies’ Butterfly, Donovan’s A Gift from a Flower to a Garden, Captain Beefheart’s Safe As Milk, the Stones’ Between the Buttons, etc.) in kind. The one inexplicable oversight is his failure to even mention The Who Sell Out, my personal pick for the finest album of pop’s finest year. Maybe Kubernik has a hole in his memory where that album belongs because he had a little too much fun in ’67.