PIRATE RADIO – The Greatest Film of the Decade

I am not prone to hyperbole. When I was first traveling through France three decades ago, I learned not to say something was “great” if it was merely “outstanding.” I just saw a film that is not only great; it’s the best film of the past decade.

“Pirate Radio” (aka “The Boat That Rocked”) is the movie I’m writing about. It was written and directed by Richard Curtis, one of the five finest filmmakers working today (I have no idea who the other four are but I wanted some wiggle room just in case I was forgetting someone in the heat of this moment). Mr. Curtis also wrote “Love, Actually” (which he directed), “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “The Girl in the Café”, “Bridget Jones’ Diary”, “The Tall Guy” and “Notting Hill”, among many other films.

I might also add that it stars the incredible (and incredibly funny) Bill Nighy, an actor who, in my eyes and ears, can do no wrong.

Why would a guy who was a teen in the Los Angeles area during 1966 respond so heavily to a film about the importance of pirate radio, a situation that occurred only in the waters of Great Britain, a phenomenon that solely affected the populace of Great Britain and was never heard on these shores?

It’s because we in the United States (or Los Angeles, at least; I wasn’t traveling around the rest of the country back then) had a direct parallel. Underground radio, radio whose playlist was not controlled by the government, advertisers or corporate owners, began around this time. In Los Angeles it began with KFWB disc jockey B. Mitchell Reed. FM rock did not exist at the time. The Beamer played whatever he wanted. And what he wanted to play was not especially the hits of the day, the music all of the other AM stations were playing. Reed wanted to play the album cuts, English imports, breaking bands in L. A. — in other words, the music the was fresh, new and exciting, the music that no other station was playing.

The key moment in the film comes when The Count, brilliantly (as usual) played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, savors the fact that this period is the best time of his life — the peak. It is rare in life to realize that one is living in a Golden Age at the time one is experiencing that Golden Age. Realization of most Golden Ages typically comes decades later, with their auric sheen heavily burnished by nostalgia.

Like The Count, in 1967 I realized I was enjoying a Golden Age of music while I was experiencing it. In that state of elevated consciousness and recognition, I dearly craved not to miss a single musical second of this glorious time. I listened to the radio constantly, fearful that I would miss a song, an instrumental break, a lyric or any other rare musical moment that might never occur again.

I have crystal clear memories of the night an excited Buffalo Springfield burst into B. Mitchell Reed’s DJ booth, asking him to play this new song they had just recorded, “Bluebird.” It was an eighteen-minute version, now lost in space to the airwaves. The band’s enthusiasm was boundless, almost tangible. The came back night after night with that song, each version a radical departure from the one played on the previous night. Reed and Buffalo Springfield presented listeners with an intimate window into the band’s creative process.

This was a time when Music mattered to me nearly as much as Life. I would take my transistor radio to bed with me each night and stay awake as long as I could, the tiny radio jammed in my ear, my entire body and soul absorbing every precious note.

Not long after this radio breakthrough, FM rock radio began. Suddenly, there were multiple stations playing phenomenal music 24/7. It was a musical heaven here on earth. These weren’t pop stations, nor were they rock stations, country stations, heavy metal stations, hard rock stations, soul stations or jazz stations. These were GREAT MUSIC stations. The quality of the music was the only criteria for it getting on the air. There were no corporate decreed subdivisions of only one musical genre to be played. A pop song would be followed by a soul number after which something psychedelic would be played, then something country or jazz or blues or an Indian sitar raga. This cross-pollination affected the bands and, as a result, 1967 became a peak year in the history of popular music.

What can you say about a year that not only produced The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band but Magical Mystery Tour as well? That was bookended by the release of The Doors’ eponymous first LP, Fresh Cream and Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced in January and Strange Days, Disraeli Gears and Axis Bold As Love in December?

Without even dipping into the more obscure gems of 1967, that astounding year of the Monterey Pop Festival also saw: the first three Monkees albums (The Monkees, More of The Monkees and Headquarters); three albums each by Donovan (Mellow Yellow, Wear Your Love Like Heaven and For Little Ones), Tommy James & The Shondells (I Think We’re Alone Now, Gettin’ Together and Something Special!) and Otis Redding (Otis Redding’s Dictionary of Soul, King and Queen and Live In Europe); and five (!) LPs by the ever-so-prolific James Brown & The Famous Flames (Mighty Instrumentals, Handful of Soul, Raw Soul, Cold Sweat and The James Brown Show). Sonny & Cher were nearly (one LP is a greatest hits compilation) as productive as the Godfather of Soul with five LPS released in ‘67: In Case You’re In Love, Good Times (soundtrack to their film), The Best of Sonny & Cher, Sonny’s wacky bad trip solo LP Inner Views and Cher’s solo album, With Love, Cher.

There were two albums each plus a greatest hits collection by five great artists: The Mamas and The Papas (Cass, John, Michelle, Denny plus Deliver and Farewell to the First Golden Era), Eric Burdon & The Animals (Eric Is Here, Winds of Change and Best of Eric Burdon & The Animals – Volume Two), Petula Clark (Color My World/Who Am I, These Are My Songs and Petula Clark’s Hit Parade; plus her single “The Cat in the Window”), Wilson Pickett (The Wicked Pickett, The Sound of Wilson Pickett and The Best of Wilson Pickett), and Paul Revere & The Raiders (Revolution!, A Christmas Past…and Present, and Paul Revere & The Raiders Greatest Hits featuring the previously-unavailable-on-LP 1967 hit “Ups and Downs”).

The following acts produced a mere two albums each (slackers!) in 1967: The Hollies (their psychedelic classics Evolution and Butterfly), Aretha Franklin (her sexually potent and seminal Atlantic LPs I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Loved You and Aretha Arrives, which she followed with the singles “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman”, “Chain of Fools” and “Since You’ve Been Gone”), The Dave Clark Five (5 X 5 and You Got What It Takes, plus the single “Everybody Knows”), The Association (Renaissance and Inside Out), Herman’s Hermits (There’s A Kind of Hush All Over The World and Blaze), The Electric Prunes (Electric Prunes and Underground), The Five Americans (Western Union and Progressions), The Four Tops (Four Tops Live! and Four Tops Reach Out), The Fifth Dimension (Up, Up and Away and The Magic Garden), The Spencer Davis Group (Gimme Some Lovin’ and I’m A Man), the Temptations (Temptations Live! and With A Lot O’ Soul), The Lovin’ Spoonful (The Best of the Lovin’ Spoonful, the You’re A Big Boy Now soundtrack and the singles “Six O’Clock” and “She Is Still a Mystery”), Mitch Ryder (Sock It to Me! and What Now My Love), the Small Faces (the From The Beginning collection and their first Immediate LP Small Faces), the Supremes (The Supremes Sing Motown and The Supremes Sing Rogers and Hart, plus their singles “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone,” “The Happening,” “Reflections” and “In and Out of Love”), Martha & The Vandellas (Watchout! and Martha & The Vandellas Live!), The Young Rascals (Collections, Groovin’ as well as their single “It’s Wonderful), Dionne Warwick (Here Where There Is Love, On Stage and In The Movies and The Windows of the World; plus her two-sided hit single “I Say A Little Prayer”/Theme from “The Valley of the Dolls”), Sky Saxon & The Seeds (Future and A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues), The Turtles (Happy Together and The Turtles! Golden Hits, as well as the singles “You Know What I Mean” and “She’s My Girl”) and The Kinks (Live at Kelvin Hall and the magnificent Something Else, plus their wonderful “Autumn Almanac”/”Mr. Pleasant” single). Between The Buttons and Their Satanic Majesty’s Request by The Rolling Stones (plus their “We Love You”/”Dandelion” single), the first two albums by Cat Stevens (Matthew and Son and New Masters), Linda Ronstadt’s Stone Poneys (The Stone Poneys and Evergreen – The Stone Poneys Volume Two), Peter, Paul & Mary (Album 1700 and In Japan) and Frank Zappa’s The Mothers of Invention (Freak Out! and Absolutely Free) were all released in 1967.

As if that wasn’t enough, there were the eponymous debut albums of Procol Harum, Buffalo Springfield (plus their singles “Bluebird”, “Mr. Soul” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Woman”), Moby Grape, The Grateful Dead, The Cowsills, Spanky & Our Gang, Ten Years After, David Bowie, Big Brother & The Holding Company and The Youngbloods. Other LP debuts from 1967 include Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd (Piper At the Gates of Dawn), Traffic (Mr. Fantasy), Keith Emerson’s first band, The Nice (The Songs of Everlist Davjack), The Strawberry Alarm Clock ( Incense and Peppermints), The Bee Gees (First, plus the singles “Massachusetts” and “Words”) and Scott Walker (Scott). 1967 saw the release of the last album by the Yardbirds (Little Games), Younger Than Yesterday by The Byrds, Smiley Smile by the Beach Boys, Da Capo by Love, Electric Comic Book by The Blues Magoos, Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane, Whispers by Jackie Wilson (and his hit single “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher”), Down to Earth (and the non-LP singles of that year: “Travellin’ Man,” “I Was Made To Love Her” and “I’m Wondering”) by Stevie Wonder and Days of Future Passed (which resurrected the Moody Blues).

But wait — there’s more! 1967 also gave birth to the first singles by Fleetwood Mac (“I Believe My Time Ain’t Long”/”Rambling Pony”), Fairport Convention (“If I Had A Ribbon Bow”), Van Morrison (“Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Ro Ro Rosey” and “Spanish Rose”), The Move (“Night of Fear,” “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” and “Flowers in the Rain”) Steppenwolf (“A Girl I Know”/“The Ostrich” plus their pre-Steppenwolf recordings as Sparrow) and Jeff Beck (“Hi Ho Silver Lining”/”Beck’s Bolero” and “Tallyman”/”Rock My Plimsoul”). There were hit albums by Booker T. & The M.G.’s (Hip Hug-Her), Neil Diamond (a greatest hits collection that included the ‘67 smashes “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” “I Thank The Lord for the Night Time” and “Kentucky Woman”), Ray Charles ( Ray Charles Invites You to Listen, plus his singles “In the Heat of the Night” and “Yesterday”), Dusty Springfield (Where Am I Going and the singles “The Look of Love” and “I’ll Try Anything”) and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (Away We A Go-Go and the single hits ”More Love” and “I Second That Emotion”).

Pete Townshend was telling life stories through The Who in under three minutes (with songs like “Happy Jack”, “Pictures of Lily” and “I Can See For Miles”); crisp, concise stories that would later take him double LPs to relate.

Burt Bacharach’s and Hal David’s heyday had already peaked in 1965, but in 1967 they were still on a roll with songs like “What the World Needs Now Is Love”, “The Windows of the World”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, “The Look of Love” and “(They Long to Be) Close to You”.

Top Ten charting singles in 1967 also include “Tell It Like It Is” by Aaron Neville, “Knight In Rusty Armour” by Peter & Gordon, “Winchester Cahedral” by The New Vaudeville Band, “Sugar Town” by Nancy Sinatra, “That’s Life” by Nancy’s dad, Frank Sinatra, “Something Stupid” by the two of them, “Georgy Girl” by The Seekers, “Tell It to the Rain,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and “C’mon Marianne” by Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons, “Kind of a Drag,” “Don’t You Care,””Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song),” “Susan” and “Mercy Mercy Mercy” by The Buckinghams, “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet” by The Blues Magoos, “98.6” by Keith, “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” by The Casinos, “Baby I Need Your Lovin’,” “Summer Rain” and “The Tracks of My Tears” by Johnny Rivers, “Sweet Soul Music” by Arthur Conley, “Close Your Eyes” and “Love Is Strange” by Peache s & Herb, “Release Me (and Let Me Love Again” by Engelbert Humperdinck, “Little Bit O’ Soul” by The Music Explosion and “I Got Rhythm” by The Happenings.

More ‘67 Top Tenners: “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)” by Scott McKenzie, “Tip of My Tongue” and “Let’s Live for Today” by The Grass Roots, “Come On Down to My Boat” by Every Mothers’ Son, “Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry, “Come Back When You Grow Up” by Bobby Vee, “The Letter” and “Neon Rainbow” by The Box Tops, “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” by Jay & The Techniques, “At the Zoo” and “Fakin’ It” by Simon & Garfunkel, “Shake a Tail Feather” by James & Bobby Purify, “In the Chapel in the Moonlight” by Dean Martin, “Little Darling (I Need You)” and “Your Unchanging Love” by Marvin Gaye, plus “Your Precious Love by Marvin with Tammi Terrell, “Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)” by The Hombres, “Gimme Little Sign” by Brenton Wood, “To Sir With Love” by Lulu, “Soul Man” and “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” by Sam & Dave, “Expressway to Your Heart by The Soul Survivors, “It Must Be Him” by Vicki Carr, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Everybody Needs Love” and “Take Me In Your Arms and Hold Me” by Gladys Knight & The Pips, “Back On the Street Again” by The Sunshine Company, “Please Love Me Forever” by Bobby Vinton, “Green Tambourine” by The Lemon Pipers, “Boogaloo Down Broadway” by The Fantastic Johnny C, “Woman, Woman” by The Union Gap, “Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)” by John Fred & His Playboy Band, “Bend Me, Shape Me” by The American Breed and “Skinny Legs and All” by Joe Tex.

The pop flowers of 1967 sprang from the ripe seeds of 1966.

Following the racial music barriers broken down by Motown in 1966, the Summer of Love and the Monterey Pop Festival brought the introduction and embrace of Otis Redding and the gritty hard core black soul music to a white audience.

Black music influenced white music. White psychedelia influenced black music (i.e., the Temptations’ “Psychedelic Shack”). We were all tripping together. George Harrison introduced Eastern music, sowing the seeds for the current interest in World Music, whose influence spread to Donovan, The Animals and The Rolling Stones. The Eastern sound permeated the underground here and then mainstream American pop. Every group seemed to have their eastern-influenced song or jam.

Don Kirshner recruited the finest songwriters to write songs for his group The Monkees, transplanting Brill Building pop pioneers Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Neil Diamond, Ellie Greenwich & Barry Mann to the west. Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, and session musicians (including Glen Campbell and members of Phil Spector’s legendary Wrecking Crew) were recruited to play on the records, augmenting The Monkees’ own huge talents. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band first broke through the underground with a cover of The Monkees song “Mary Mary”, penned by Monkee Michael Nesmith. “Monkee money” kept a lot of young songwriters and musicians alive.

Prior to 1967 the pop market’s focus was primarily the singles market. Underground radio changed all of that. The hip amongst the youth sneered at AM radio for only playing the short version of The Doors’ “Light My Fire”. On FM you could hear the full 5:17 version. Spearheaded by The Beatles, who insisted that their LP songs be every bit as good as their singles, other groups took noticed and applied the same craft and care to their album cuts.

Although “Pirate Radio” is about a Great Britain event, its metaphors and energy clearly transcend the geographical limits of borders and oceans to apply and affect us Yanks.

I urge any of you music fans out there to drop everything and rush to see “Pirate Radio.” To badly paraphrase a Beatles lyric, the rush you make will be equal to the rush you take from this great film.

30 Responses to “PIRATE RADIO – The Greatest Film of the Decade”

  1. Tom Ortega says:

    You jolted me to 1968. I arrived to the Los Angeles area. I house sat for my uncle that first summer (rent free).
    I was at my first real job as closing bus boy, evening shift. Every night I’d get tipped by the waitresses $20 in quarters. Every morning I’d drive to the local department store and bought albums for $1.99 each. I bought most of those ’67 releases.
    My first concert: The Association (nice)
    My second concert: The Jimi Hendrix Experience (MIND-BLOWING).

  2. Bill says:

    It’s probably redundant to add that the soundtrack to “Pirate Radio”, this love letter to 60s pop music, is phenomenal. It powerfully begins and ends with The Kinks, and has one of my favorite contemporary singers, Duffy, performing a new version of “Stay With Me Baby” (although I prefer the heartbreaking Lorraine Ellison original as well as the raw and searing Terry Reid cover version; Scott Walker did a great version with The Walker Brothers, too) over the credits.

  3. Norm says:

    I hope I’m not going off on too much of a non-music tangent here, but is this the same pirate radio run out of the Maunsell sea forts?
    Those forts have always struck me as impressive, weird, almost nightmarish things….very cool.

  4. Bill says:

    Hi Norm,
    The “Pirate Radio” (or, as it was titled in the UK, “The Boat That Rocked”) story is loosely based upon a number of vessels anchored in international waters just outside of England’s jurisdiction, but primarily it’s based upon the ship/station Radio Caroline. Factual liberties were taken (this isn’t a documentary) to heighten the drama and comedy within the film’s story. The names were changed as well.

    Here’s a bit of reality, though, some of which (the first line of the next paragraph) is in the film, that deals with your question: Radio Caroline joined with pirate radio rival Radio City to broadcast from a WWII marine fort off the Kent coast, seven miles (11 km) from Margate. Radio Caroline then withdrew from the deal when it was heard that the British government intended to prosecute those occupying the forts.

    In 1967 the Marine Offenses Broadcasting Act was indeed passed in an effort to shut the pirate radio stations down. Six weeks after the Marine Offenses Act was passed, the BBC introduced its national pop station Radio 1, modeled largely on the successful pirate radio competitor station to Caroline, Radio London.

    In the US, that Golden Era of music ended almost immediately with the assassination of Martin Luther King (1966/67/68 saw the rise of many mixed race bands; with rare exceptions that ended almost overnight with Dr. King’s tragic murder) and with the narrow formatting of musical genres on the radio (i.e., only heavy metal could be played on stations designated as heavy metal stations; black music once again got separated out and became played on stations separate from white music; “Classic Rock” stations played the same handful of popular late 60s/early 70s songs over and over again, ad nauseum, etc.) to increase corporate/station owner profits.

    The ultimate sad result is what we have today: most of the US radio stations (and major record companies) in America are now owned by a small handful of media conglomerates who could care less about music. They have no passion whatsoever for their “product,” as they call it.

    I believe the death of great radio in many ways ties into the deliberate dumbing down of America, begun in California when Ronald Reagan was governor (he took California’s public education system from first in the nation to third from the bottom before he left office) and continuing on a national level when he became President (music classes were one of the first educational cuts). The fruits finally born of those seeds were the election of that idiot prior to our current President, as well as an uneducated public allowing both Republicans and Democrats to gerrymander voting districts into partisan strongholds and severing the League of Women Voters from the Presidential Debate process so that the debates were heavily controlled by both sides and were no longer actually “debates.”

    Oh, man — don’t get me started….

  5. Norm says:

    Bill,
    What you said about the separation of music along racial/genre lines reminded me of something I read a long time ago by Harlan Ellison (I think in his Glass Teat books)
    If I remember correctly, he mentioned a game show from South America (Brazil?)that pit certain regions against each other. They were so worked up about this arbitrary competition that they didn’t pay attention to what the government was doing to them.
    Kind of like rivalries between sports teams….or misical genres (Rock vs rap vs country…etc)
    Sometimes it seems like harmless fun to pick a side and pretend it matters (ok…the Yankees really are the devil, but aside from that…) when it causes/reflects/intensifies serious real world devisions , or distracts people from the real issues….well……don’t get me started either….

  6. Bill says:

    Actually, I can indeed name a few of those other great filmmakers working today: Frank Darabont, Charlie Kaufman and Guillermo del Toro. Their best work will last forever in cinematic history.

  7. Unlike you Bill, we had terrible radio stations here in Philadelphia when I was a kid which is why I had a short wave radio set in my bedroom – the same fervor my twin, but a different situation and my solution to it shows that we both knew, just KNEW what we were experiencing as each musical high was topped by yet another. Mostly I pulled in WBZ in Boston, but occasionally, when atmospherics were right I had the indescribable thrill of reaching Radio Caroline ( I knew where it was on the dial but its output was so low that it was hard to get)
    This movie was made for us.
    As we are 60 now, I would not give up a second of 1967 to be younger.

  8. Bill says:

    In 1967, it was as if everyday was a musical Christmas for teenage ears. Note that in my Journal entry above I didn’t mention what was in the Top Forty — just the Top Ten! The charts for that year exhibit an astonishing embarrassment of riches. What I mentioned above is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

    If you graduated from high school in 1967 you were right in the exact, best musical pocket, an aligning of the musical planets as it were.

    Prior to KFWB and underground radio, I got my musical heads-ups from a kid in my junior high who was a ham radio operator. He listened to stations back east and tipped us to the cool sounds that would soon be making their way west. That was, of course, when a big chunk of the pop music industry was still based in New York, Nashville and Philly; it was Brill Building time, Big Time.

  9. Bill says:

    BTW: The soundtrack to “The Boat That Rocked” (the UK version of “Pirate Radio”) has a few more songs on it than the domestic “Pirate Radio” OST contains. “The Boat That Rocked” is longer, too. Hopefully the full, uncut version will be on the DVD release.

    After my Altman rant I’m almost embarrassed to report that Richard Curtis claims “Nashville” was a big inspiration for “Pirate Radio.” Almost…

  10. Bill says:

    Oops! “Nashville” (of which I’m not a real big fan) inspired Richard Curtis’ “Love Actually” (about which I’m totally crazy), not “Pirate Radio.”

    Slow down, Bill.

  11. Elaine Davis says:

    Hi Bill,
    I checked your site just to see if you had seen Pirate Radio and what you thought. I’m so excited to see it after reading your review. At first glance of the trailer, I thought it could either way, and need a good barometer reading on it. Naturally I turned to you. 🙂
    I moved to the Bay Area about 6 weeks ago. After not working for 9 months, the savings dwindled to the point where I had to “move it or lose it” quite literally. Stress and grief were the order of the day for months. Staying with family until I can find some work and then use what I made on the house (thankfully I did make money) to buy a loft up here and start over.
    Ah, the times we live in.
    I’m very sorry I hadn’t been to the Sunday sessions before I moved but 23 years of purging and packing took every spare moment and drop of energy I had.
    Yours is the best drawing session I’ve ever been in, and I miss it and all of you who made Sunday mornings so great.
    Best,
    Elaine

  12. Elaine Davis says:

    p.s.

    Love Actually – a film I watch over and over again.

  13. Aaron says:

    Surely Jefferson Airplane must have released something in ’67. Can’t think what it was right now. I can relate to the teenage experience of listening to the radio late at night, but the FM rock radio experience was already on by then.
    Best,
    Aaron

  14. James Latta says:

    Another thoughtful journal entry Bill. And I enjoyed this part:

    “in 1967 I realized I was enjoying a Golden Age of music while I was experiencing it. In that state of elevated consciousness and recognition.”

    That must have been amazing….to be so cognitive at that time in history. I was younger, but I knew something was happening around me that really mattered. And today, I can hear a song from that era…and be instantly transported back in time. Recalling it on my older brother or sisters 45 RPM turn-table…or driving in a car…or playing on a small transistor radio.

    I wrote to a young group of posters recently on You Tube, that I would not trade living in the 1960’s and 70’s, even if it added those years to my future, they were so astounding. For the music alone.

    Will go see Pirate Radio. Looking forward to it.

    All best,
    Jim

  15. Bill says:

    Hi Elaine,
    My Sunday figure drawing workshop group is indeed a wonderful collection of people. We miss your presence. And “Love Actually” is one of my favorite films, too. The in-the-clouds 9/11 opening blew me away and totally suckered me into watching the rest of this terrific film. The Bill Nighy rock star character in “Love Actually” seems to be a later extension of the character he played in “Still Crazy,” one of my favorite music movies of all time. It’s out on DVD, so see it when you get a chance. The music is outstanding, written by real rock ‘n’ rollers. I always show it to every musician visiting my home. In some ways, it’s the English “Spinal Tap” — but for us geezers.

    Hi Aaron,
    Check again: I listed “Surrealstic Pillow” by the Jefferson Airplane (with it’s classic double-sided hits “Somebody to Love”/”She Has Funny Cars” and “White Rabbit”/”Plastic Fantastic Lover”) in my exhaustive list. I could have also added their their November ’67 single “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil,” except that it wasn’t in the Top Ten charts of that year. If I included every great 1967 single my already long list (I got complaints from my oldest son, Andy, about its length) would have probably quadrupled in size.

    Hi James,
    I think the key moment in Pirate Radio (which I saw again yesterday with my youngest son, James) is the quiet, poignant talk on the deck Philip Seymour Hoffman has with Young Carl in which Hoffman reveals that he has realized something terrible; that he is consciously aware that this is the best time of his life.

    It’s a wonderful thing to have that awareness; it makes you savor every precious moment. But it’s also awful because you know that some day this fantastic time will come to an end.

    In that way it is like the physical beauty of a woman. The transience of that beauty is what makes it so precious and sought after. There are women who more or less beat the colossal odds against them (Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren come to mind) but, generally, the shelf life of a woman’s peak beauty is a sadly short amount of time (ask anyone in the fashion/model industry).

  16. James Latta says:

    No doubt Bill. You speaketh more truth.

    It is such a sign of time passing us by to see a truly beautiful women age. I was watching the film “Body Heat” the other night and was thinking thank goodness Lawrence Kasdan captured Kathleen Turner ( and William Hurt for that matter ) in all of her glory. At her sultry peak. These days she is almost totally unrecognizable. But back then she shone. She truly glistened. And that beauty is preserved for all time.

    Average shelf-life in Hollywood is evidently just 5 years.

    It’s like watching a great rock star at thier peak in their 20’s….or 30’s.. the energy changes. The vitality. They may still be powerful….but that raw youthful energy just dissipates. As it does for all of us.

    But I have found what replaces youthful vigor….is a wisdom that is actually pretty compensating. Knowing yourself. The awareness. The depth of soul. A knowingness.

    I’ve decided I will become more Warlock..Merlin-like as I age. Or become Santa-like…in his off-season. And if life gets tougher…? more like an evil White Fu Man Chu. This will take the edge off aging. lol. As I terrorize the youthful. lol.

    In the meantime art…books….food….music…movies….laughter each day. My cup runneth over.

    : )

  17. Bill says:

    Hi James,
    You bring up something that has concerned me over the past decade or two: the rather unforgiving nature of rock ‘n’ roll. There is no problem (well, maybe not “no”) growing old if you play country music, the blues, jazz, classical music — almost any other musical genre one can name. Rock ‘n’ roll seems to be only allowed to be played (successfully) by the young.

    Of course there are a few supergroups whose depth of catalogue help them to defy the almost overwhelming odds against them (The Who and the Rolling Stones come immediately to mind) but, overall, your shelf life as a rock ‘n’ roll musician is pretty damn short. Even the aforementioned groups mostly stick to material they created in the 60s and 70s (thirty to forty years old music).

    I’m in no way immune to this prejudice. I brought my kids to “classic rock” concerts and was creeped out by some of the gigantic facial blow-ups of the aging performers. I also lamented that the energy in many cases was missing, that energy the bands had when I saw them “in their prime.” The improvisation of their youth was often missing, too, their shows tightly structured to fill a precise time slot.

    There have been exceptions. My family and I saw Felix Cavaliere of the Young Rascals perform an astounding concert at Walt Disney’s Pleasure Island in Orlando. Although he looked like someone’s grandpa, Felix’s music was as fresh and as inspired as any I’ve ever heard.

    When I bumped into Robert Plant at Amoeba Records, we talked about this for a little bit. I complimented him on his country-ish record with Alison Krauss. Robert grinned and replied, “Yes; now I can act my age.”

    I have such mixed feelings about this. As a graphic artist and painter I don’t get this same prejudice (although I certainly encounter it as a screenwriter in Hollywood — but that’s a whole other can o’ worms). My fan base seems to just keep growing as my skills and talents mature. Why can’t it be the same for rock ‘n’ roll? Why, in my gut, do I still feel like rock ‘n’ roll is the domain of the young, even though that genre has been around for over fifty years? Why do I have difficulty embracing the sight and sounds of old rockers when I don’t have that same problem with Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Luciano Pavarotti or Buddy Guy?

    Part of it may have to do with the general nature of musical creativity. With obvious exceptions like Mozart and Beethoven (and Lennon & McCartney), studies have been done that show composers throughout history tend to have two hot years, after which their muse pretty much deserts them. A prime example of this is John Fogerty (I love his new CD of covers, by the way). He wrote and recorded 90% of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s hits in 1969 and 1970. John still came up with some gems after that, but the three LPs from 1969 (yes, John wrote and recorded three LPs in one year!) and the two from 1970 (the band split in 1972) contain nearly all of the songs fans demand to hear at his current shows. Look at the Creedence discography; there is a shocking abundance of great material that was created by John in those two years.

    The big exception to the non-acceptance of aging rockers is Keith Richards. It seems the older he gets and the rougher he looks, the more we love him. I think that’s because Keith has never tried to appear younger than he is. He has embraced his age with the same spirit he celebrates with his old blues heroes, god bless him.

    Mick Jagger, on the other hand, seems to be chasing that ever-elusive zeitgeist of youth. I cringe when I watch him on stage now. Is that fair? Why shouldn’t a 66 year old man be able to prance around on stage like a banty rooster? Why the hell not? Well, perhaps it’s because Mick doesn’t really seem to accept or embrace that he’s 66. His hair dye is the first evidence of that.

    I feel like I should have some final point that wraps this all up, but I don’t. For me, this subject is all still heavily cloaked in ambivalence, a murky push-pull I still might be pondering decades from now should I be so lucky to live that long.

    Thoughts, anyone?

  18. Bill says:

    Hi James,
    You bring up something that has concerned me over the past decade or two: the rather unforgiving nature of rock ‘n’ roll. There is no problem (well, maybe not “no”) growing old if you play country music, the blues, jazz, classical music — almost any other musical genre one can name. Rock ‘n’ roll seems to be only allowed to be played (successfully) by the young.

    Of course there are a few supergroups whose depth of catalogue help them to defy the almost overwhelming odds against them (The Who and the Rolling Stones come immediately to mind) but, overall, your shelf life as a rock ‘n’ roll musician is pretty damn short. Even the aforementioned groups mostly stick to material they created in the 60s and 70s (thirty to forty years old music).

    I’m in no way immune to this prejudice. I brought my kids to “classic rock” concerts and was creeped out by some of the gigantic facial blow-ups of the aging performers. I also lamented that the energy in many cases was missing, that energy the bands had when I saw them “in their prime.” The improvisation of their youth was often missing, too, their shows tightly structured to fill a precise time slot.

    There have been exceptions. My family and I saw Felix Cavaliere of the Young Rascals perform an astounding concert at Walt Disney’s Pleasure Island in Orlando. Although he looked like someone’s grandpa, Felix’s music was as fresh and as inspired as any I’ve ever heard.

    When I bumped into Robert Plant at Amoeba Records, we talked about this for a little bit. I complimented him on his country-ish record with Alison Krauss. Robert grinned and replied, “Yes; now I can finally act my age.”

    I have such mixed feelings about this. As a graphic artist and painter I don’t get this same prejudice (although I certainly encounter it as a screenwriter in Hollywood — but that’s a whole other can o’ worms). My fan base seems to just keep growing as my skills and talents mature. Why can’t it be the same for rock ‘n’ roll? Why, in my gut, do I still feel like rock ‘n’ roll is the domain of the young, even though that genre has been around for over fifty years? Why do I have difficulty embracing the sight and sounds of old rockers when I don’t have that same problem with Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Luciano Pavarotti or Buddy Guy?

    Part of it may have to do with the general nature of musical creativity. With obvious exceptions like Mozart and Beethoven (and Lennon & McCartney), studies have been done that show composers throughout history tend to have two hot years, after which their muse pretty much deserts them. A prime example of this is John Fogerty (I love his new CD of covers, by the way). He wrote and recorded 90% of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s hits in 1969 and 1970. John still came up with some gems after that, but the three LPs from 1969 (yes, John wrote and recorded three LPs in one year!) and the two from 1970 (the band split in 1972) contain nearly all of the songs fans demand to hear at his current shows. Look at the Creedence discography; there is a shocking abundance of great material that was created by John in those two years.

    The big exception to the non-acceptance of aging rockers is Keith Richards. It seems the older he gets and the rougher he looks, the more we love him. I think that’s because Keith has never tried to appear younger than he is. He has embraced his age with the same spirit he celebrates with his old blues heroes, god bless him.

    Mick Jagger, on the other hand, seems to be chasing that ever-elusive zeitgeist of youth. I cringe when I watch him on stage now. Is that fair? Why shouldn’t a 66 year old man be able to prance around on stage like a banty rooster? Why the hell not? Well, perhaps it’s because Mick doesn’t really seem to accept or embrace that he’s 66. His hair dye is the first evidence of that.

    I feel like I should have some final point that wraps this all up, but I don’t. For me, this subject is all still heavily cloaked in ambivalence, a murky push-pull I still might be pondering decades from now should I be so lucky to live that long.

    Thoughts, anyone?

  19. James Latta says:

    True again.

    BB King. Bo Diddley. Chuck Berry. All blew me away in concert. But only certain mainstream rockers can pull it off like they do. Don’t know why it is that way.

    Bruce Springsteen in 1978 ( I was 16 ) was like a man possessed. Now he is still a total powerhouse in his 60’s. Like a Farmhand on steroids. But that youthful electric energy has mutated. The speed and rawness is gone. The edge. Same with U2. Powerful as ever. But the pure energy has mutated.

    That fairly recent Led Zeppelin reunion performance was astounding however. They had ripened it seemed with age. More akin to the blues performers.

    The 80’s performers are the saddest to me. As youth was part of their overall image it seemed. Seeing the once gorgeous Martha Davis of the Motels get heavy or the once sexual Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons age…not inspiring at all.

    With gifted “artists” like yourself…you reach a level…where you become a living legend. Your legacy stretching back through so many decades. You become respected elder statesmen. Like the greats before you. Wyeth. Pyle. Waterhouse. The reverance remains and builds as new generations come to discover you. You share something with the great novelists. Whose legacy only grows greater with age.

    With Rockers…it can often seem like they are trying to re-live the past. Perhaps it is because they marked a moment in time with their own youthfulness? Those landmarks of sound were more “biological” in nature. As their voices, their bodies, their movements, their facial expressions, their eyes…were all part of the performance.

    Interesting to consider.

  20. Tom Ortega says:

    The term “Rock & Roll” is sexual in it’s origin isn’t it?
    The most successful performers have built their stage personas on a sexual visual image besides their distinctive talent. It just doesn’t work (attract) the same when the same when the skin starts sagging.
    In my opinion, Eric Clapton was a powerhouse in his youth, innovative through the middle years, and will continue to be a force in his elder years. He never really pursued sexual image like Jimi Hendrix.
    I have to believe Hendrix, with all his talent would of had a hard time aging gracefully. Would it of affected his creativity? So much was tied to the sexual connotation.

  21. Bill says:

    Hi Tom,
    Yes; the very term “rock ‘n’ roll” was originally slang for sex.

    I think you touched upon a very important point: sexuality has always been a huge component of rock ‘n’ roll. That goes a long way towards explaining why the sight of aging rockers can be so disturbing. The music itself is often an expression of sexual potency, so its effectiveness is increased if delivered by someone in their physical and sexual prime.

    I can’t believe I missed that. I know that in my youth, the quickest way to cure a sexual dry streak was to join a band.

    When Clapton was in Cream he was God to his male audience. But to the females out there he was one of the ultimate sexual totems. Eric is much more low key in that area now.

    I think Hendrix would have forged a similar path. I watched him getting tired of the showy sexual gymnastics of his act. He knew he could revert to them at any time to get a big rise out of his audience. His music composition kept getting more sophisticated, however. The leap from Are You Experienced to Axis Bold as Love to Electric Ladyland is phenomenal, especially when considering how short a time span that was. I think the unbelievably rich aspects of his playing and composing were already showing great signs of expansion beyond being just the wild sexual guitar god that got him so much attention in his early years.

    Jimi was a musician’s musician. I think that, like Miles Davis, he would have been accepted by the public no matter what direction his musical muse took him. He was unique; he was a musical genius.

  22. James Latta says:

    Having just watched an 84 year old B.B. King on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert 25 ( I remember seeing him at 17 years old, 30 years ago ) I have to agree with you Bill…Hendrix would still be blowing minds in his later years, if he was still around.

    Really depends.

  23. Tom Ortega says:

    I saw the Hall of Fame, just like James, and there was a part in Jeff Becks performance where he introduced Buddy Guy. Jeff says, more or less, this is what Hendrix would of been doing.

    Yeah, I can see this as a logical prediction.

    He would have to struggle through Disco and the New Wave music dominance, but like Clapton, he would touch Reggae. Blues would of been the focus his music with a little Cosmic Spaceman debris floating around, too.

    Bill you also reminded me that Electric Ladyland was his production studio. People who have used it would probably of had some Hendrix input as they put their music together.

    Oh my god, just look at who he would of hosted!
    http://www.electricladystudios.com/History.htm
    Look under: “Cross Section of Clients Tells Classic Recording Tale”

    So the blues would of satisfied his unstructured emotional release. The studio would of satisfied his perfectionist streak and allowed him a creative collaboration link with his guests.

    Hey this discussion was fun to fantasize but also sad to realize.

  24. Bill says:

    Hi James,
    Ahhhh…B. B. King!

    One of the best live shows I ever saw was at the Shrine Exposition Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Sons of Champlin opened that 1968 evening, followed by the great B. B. King in his prime. Essentially his show was the same on that’s on B. B. King Live at the Regal. Incredibly classy. Guys were jamming their heads into his speakers to soak up every note. Mr. King totally cemented my love for the blues that night. I was eighteen that summer.

    Oh, and the headliners were The Yardbirds (with Jimmy Page). It was their last show together. I got backstage, where Jimmy told me they were splitting. I was dumbfounded. The Yardbirds were one of my all time favorite groups. They played some material that Jimmy would retain for Led Zeppelin (like “Dazed and Confused”). The show (just The Yardbirds) is available as a bootleg.

    $2.50 in advance; $3.00 at the door. Each group played two sets. It was only about a third full. In front of the stage was an open dance floor (there were no seats). You could actually dance to The Yardbirds or get as close to the stage as you wanted and just watch Jimmy perform his magic.

    That was my first of many Shrine concerts. I was immediately hooked.

    Hi Tom,
    The Buddy Guy show I saw in Atlanta was one of the best shows of my life. He made the Atlanta Symphony Hall seem like a small club. At age 73 Buddy’s still got the energy and passion of a sixteen year old. And I have never heard more precise playing in my life.

    Jimi Hendrix was always jamming, always exploring. I can’t imagine he would have stopped; it seemed like he lived to play. It is indeed very sad to ponder all of that lost potential: 39 years (and counting) of Hendrix music we’ll never get to hear. I’m doubly pissed because he died on my birthday, making September 18 from that point on a somewhat bittersweet day for me.

  25. Tom Ortega says:

    In my eyes we share some coincidences, and here are two. I have two sons 34 and 24. The oldest was born on September 18. I should make a list of the others

  26. Tom Ortega says:

    New release in March
    “Valley Of Neptune” Jimi Hendrix lives!
    http://www.jimi-hendrix.com

  27. Music was my asylum. I could crawl into the pause between the notes and twist my back to seclusion.

  28. Hi Bill…

    Those were the days!

    Best Regards

    Dennis

  29. I just saw the new movie! It is incredible! My brother just downloaded it. I want to go watch it again.

  30. Your writing has inspired me to totally change the way I write. I want to let you know I appreciate your hard work.

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