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Michael Sigman

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Did The '60s End 'Too Late'?

Posted: 05/29/2012 2:01 pm

For me, the 1960s called it a decade at 4pm on May 10, 1971 -- give or take an hour.

Driving home to "Lawn Guyland" the day after graduating from Bucknell U. in Lewisburg, PA and blasting progressive rock station WNEW on the radio, I was struck by one of those other-worldly, pull-over-to-the curb musical moments. (I was crossing the Triborough Bridge at the time, so I didn't actually pull over, but you get the idea.)

I'd hoped for a track from the Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Beach Boys, Byrds or any of the other rock & roll bands I'd been obsessed with since ninth grade, when the Fab Four launched the British invasion.

Instead, a raw but decisive female voice sang out, "And it's too late baby, now/It's too late/Though we really did try to make it/Something inside has died/And I can't hide/And I just can't fake it."

The singer and writer (with Toni Stern) of this breathtaking breakup song -- in which it's the woman who has the courage and self-possession to move on -- was Carole King, co-writer with then husband Gerry Goffin of a string of '60s pop masterpieces including, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (Shirelles), "Up On the Roof" (Drifters) and "Natural Woman" (Aretha Franklin).

"It's Too Late" -- which would soon soar to No. 1 and remain there for five weeks -- was just one of the 12 superb tracks comprising Tapestry, King's second solo album, which, in retrospect, was a key element in the '60s/'70s transition and which has sold over 25 million copies.

The heartfelt, stripped-down stories King told in Tapestry stood athwart the new decade saying "No!" to Yes and other bombastic prog-rockers. James Taylor was her male singer-songwriter counterpart, but it was the woman who inspired the man -- Taylor's cover of Tapestry's "You've Got A Friend" (which he reportedly called "the greatest song ever written") rose to No. 1 just a week after "It's Too Late" ended its five-week reign at the top.

Tapestry wasn't merely the most popular album of 1971; it was the No. 2 seller the following year, behind Neil Young's bountiful Harvest and ahead of Don McLean's dreckish American Pie and Cat Stevens' hit-and-miss Teaser and the Firecat. The only rock record to crack the top 5 was The Rolling Stones' Hot Rocks, a mere compilation of previous Stones' best-sellers.

A few days after my Triborough epiphany, I started work as a cub reporter for Record World magazine, where I was paid $85 per week to receive tons of free records and concert tickets, attend lots of parties and acquire a comprehensive collection of rock & roll T- shirts, also at no charge.

Those days inspired dozens of theories about the passing of the most important cultural and musical decade of all time -- at least to us narcissistic 20-somethings.

Then and now, of course, the meaning resides in the head (and ears), of the beholder. I asked my former Record World colleague Gregg Geller, who as an A&R man would later sign such '70s rock & roll/singer-songwriters as Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and John Hiatt, for his take.

"For me the '60s ended at a volcanic performance by Jerry Lee Lewis at Steve Paul's The Scene in the Spring of 1969, to this day the single best live show I've ever seen," he said. "He demonstrated to me once and for all-time that you could indeed trust somebody over 30 -- to deliver great music with passion and energy. I guess you could say I learned to move forward by looking back."

Another one-time colleague, journalist Will Swaim, was nine on December 31, 1969. But the '60s lasted another six years for him, until a friend -- in his bedroom with the curtains drawn -- removed and casually tossed an album onto his unmade bed. The first track of the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bullocks, Swaim said, "Changed everything. In 'Holidays In The Sun,' John Lydon sings that he doesn't want the typical English vacation: He wants to go to Germany -- to see the concentration camps, the Berlin Wall and the communists on the other side of that Wall. The entire album offered a solution to what I saw as the the failed idealism of 1960s: Better to believe in nothing than to be humiliated for believing in anything and then failing. Commitment to higher ideals was for kids and hippies. Cynicism was king. For me, at least, the 1960s ended with the birth of postmodern irony."

Of course, words can't convey the meaning of a moment, let alone a decade. My Laurel Canyon house gives me a more concrete manifestation of the sunset of the '60s and the dawning of the '70s. A few blocks up the hill is Carole King's former home, whose comfy-cozy living room is immortalized on the cover of Tapestry. A five-minute walk in the other direction leads to the very, very, very fine digs, circa 1969, of Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell, consecrated by Nash in the CSN favorite, "Our House."

All Things Must Pass, George Harrison reminds us in his 1970 solo album, released just a few months after the breakup of the Beatles, another '60s-ending milestone. But some things, including those enlightened beings we call "cats," transcend all time and space. Carole King's feline companion Telemachus graces the cover of Tapestry; Nash/Mitchell, as everyone knows, had "two cats in the yard."

When did the '60s end for you? It's (Never) Too Late to weigh in.

 

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