Friday, 20 January 2017

1967 - the year the world started turning from black & white to colour

In the office the younger staff were ribbing Russell and me about our age - they think that as youths, we were into Glenn Miller and the Stranglers. Pause for reflection, in this the fiftieth anniversary of 1967, a year where everything changed, the harbinger of those changes - popular music.

Now, the time that had elapsed between Glenn Miller disappearing into the English Channel and the Stranglers forming was a mere 30 years; over that time popular music had witnessed the demise of big band, the birth of rock'n'roll, the Beatles, psychedelia, funk, heavy metal, disco and punk. In the 40 years since punk rock exploded on the scene, other than the emergence of hip-hop towards the end of the 1970s - nothing new really happened. Popular music today sounds derivative, stale.

Fifty years ago, Jimi Hendrix's Hey Joe was in the UK Charts, bringing in a totally new sound; a revolution rather than an evolution. Yes, rock'n'roll had happened a decade earlier, the Beatles had taken America by storm in 1964 - but here was something fresh, a sound that would usher in profound social change.

The charts were changing, fifty years ago. Acts like Val Doonican, Jim Reeves or Frank Ifield were still crooning away, but the sound of electrically amplified guitars to the fore, cranked up and distorted was starting to dominate record sales. Fifty years ago today, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Cream, the Troggs, the Kinks were all in the Top Twenty.

[Incidentally, the story of 1967 in music is nicely legendised in Richard Curtis's film, The Boat That Rocked, reviewed here.]

Changes that society is still coming to terms with today, were happening.

London was beginning to swing; the so-called 'Swinging Sixties' began in 1966 as the Mod movement morphed into something more sophisticated; a more flamboyant look, longer hair for young men, psychedelia and a Cause - the peace movement protesting against America's escalation of the Vietnam War.

I was nine, ten at the time, these events were happening on the periphery of my awareness, delivered nightly on black and white TV, 405 lines flickering; it was on the radio that the revolution would make itself noticed in suburban Hanwell. For 1967 was the year that the BBC Light Programme became BBC Radio 1, playing pop and rock, and BBC Radio 2, playing more sedate forms of popular music.

Carnaby Street fashions took a few years to reach London's outer fringes; colour television and colour photography were technological novelties for the very rich, but they now they began to feel within reach.

New opportunities were opening up, having emerged from post-war austerity, the media was brighter, with colour supplements in the Sunday papers. And cars were available in ever more garish colours, though bright orange would have to wait until the 1970s.

And London itself was looking less drab. Ten years on the from Clean Air Act, the soot and grime was being sand-blasted off the facades of buildings, revealing a younger, fresher capital beneath.

It was a year, when, as a small child, I could clearly feel that my world - as opposed to the drama seen on TV news - was improving rapidly.

The modern era was fast approaching.

Watching a TV documentary about the 1970s with Moni in England over Christmas, she remarked that the 1970s looked quite modern but with retro cars; clothes worn by young people then would not look out of place today, in the way that 1950s clothes would.

That tipping point occurred in 1967.

Watching today's grim spectacle of Trump becoming enthroned as the world's [second] most powerful man makes me realise that the Ascent of Man has been marked, and will continue to be marked, by downward slopes, regressions towards ages when baser instincts triumphed.

This time three years ago:
Rain on a freezing day (-7C)

This time four years ago:
Jeziorki in the snow

This time five years ago:
Winter's slight return

This time six years ago:

This time seven years ago:
Pieniny in winter

This time eight years ago:
Wetlands in a wet winter

1 comment:

Jacek Koba said...

My most intimate inkling of 1967 in the World of Hope is through the photographs of my father, pictured against sensuous Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Buicks and Chryslers in a lush suburban Chicago street – the city where he had slaved in a steelworks so that he could come back and start a better life in Poland. The pictures and the reality diverge: the cars were probably financed by car loans, much as the houses in the background were mortgaged. My father’s smile was fake – the anguish of a migrant worker torn between the uncertain promises of the New World and the familiar anxieties of a home several thousand miles away.

I often dig around this time to uncover things that might shed some light on who I am, where I come from, why I am here. I was born a year later. The last Time magazine before I was born and the first after I was born carry some stories that have not aged a day nearly 50 years later: defecting Catholic priests, mixed couples strolling through Central Park, Chicago’s Old Town and San Francisco’s North Beach, and some that are as whimsical as they are dystopian in their predictions of the future “In the not too distant future, the earth will teem with 6 billion inhabitants (v. 3.4 billion today). And if the industrial designers' gloomier prophecies are correct, the scene is hardly worth waiting for. As a warning of what the year 2000 might be like, Milan's 14th Triennale of Decorative Arts and Industrial Design first shocks its visitors with a scary picture of a littered and dehumanized world. A barricade of abandoned appliances—TV sets, washing machines, dishwashers and refrigerators—bars the entrance to a main salon. Dismembered traffic lights blink bleakly up a...”. The free preview ends tantalizingly with an ellipsis.

The Time essay: “On seeking a hero for the White House” opens with “The age cries out for greatness in the White House. The trouble is …”

Glenn Miller – great! But when I walk though the underpass at Warszawa Śródmieście, I slow down to savour the sweet local, European and Klezmer notes emanating from the clarinet and the trombone and think: Benny Goodman. They made America great (just then).