As I was growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the southwest Chicago area, the groovy popular music of that freedom-loving era became very important to me. Today, during these dark authoritarian freedom-stifling days in America, that music is even more important to me. I return to the feel-good music of those better days again and again to escape the maddening modern times and to relive my happy childhood memories.
I remember around 1970, when I was 10… The teenaged guy next door to my family's house had a rock band, and they would often practice at his home. But all they ever seemed to play, over and over, was Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World." It became rather funny to hear—and a running joke in my family… That kid's band is at it again: "Jeremiah was a bullfrog. He was a good friend of mine. I never understood a single word he said, but I helped him drink his wine. And he always had some mighty fine wine…." One night, after they had learned a few more songs, the band treated the block to a backyard concert. I recall that I enjoyed it, but the only song that I remember from their performance is "Jeremiah was a bullfrog…"
The first song that I ever took special notice of and really liked was "I Think I Love You," the big hit for David Cassidy and the Partridge Family in 1970. I thought that was a very cool and catchy song. My sister and I always watched both The Partridge Family and The Monkees TV shows. Those shows are still fun for me to watch, and I still enjoy the music. Happy, innocent, silly fun.
Also when I was about 10 or 11, I was in a school play at St. Albert the Great, a Catholic elementary school in southwest suburban Burbank. It was some kind of play about food. I had to dress up like a potato and deliver my one line to a cute little blonde girl dressed like an apple. The line was "You are the apple of my eye." I was extremely embarrassed to have to say that flirty, corny line to that cute little girl. A year or two later, that line came to my mind again when I heard the Stevie Wonder song "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." The song had the lyrics "You are the sunshine of my life, That's why I'll always be around, You are the apple of my eye, Forever you'll stay in my heart." I liked that song, and it made feel better about that embarrassing play.
I was fortunate to have cool parents who also liked music. In the late 60s and early 70s, my mom often took me and my sister to the radio station WLS (AM 890) in downtown Chicago. That was the most popular AM station back then for the top rock and pop songs—"The Big 89," "The Rock of Chicago." My mom was a friend of Joel Sebastian, the afternoon DJ with a smooth sexy voice and a special appeal to housewives. My sister liked the evening DJ, Chuck Buell, the favorite of all the teen girls, probably because of his Davy Jones haircut. I liked the morning DJ, Larry Lujack, who was the young, irreverent, shock jock at the station. We would go to WLS and watch the DJs from the public viewing room while they were on the air. Then they would come into the viewing room and chat with the public for a while. It was all fun and interesting, and I'm sure it strengthened my love of the great rock and pop songs of that amazing era. I recall that a couple of my mom's favorite songs from that time were "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison (an upbeat feel-good song) and "MacArthur Park" by Richard Harris (an epic sad song).
I also recall that my dad had the hots for both Tina Turner (when she was still with Ike) and Cher (when she was still with Sonny). He enjoyed all kinds of music, from Mozart to Gershwin to even a little Led Zeppelin. But the WLS song that he especially liked was the reggae-tinged "Montego Bay" by Bobby Bloom.
During my teen years in the mid-1970s, I was introduced to country music by the friend and roommate of my aunt—a good-natured, easy-going hillbilly woman from southern Illinois named Betty. I have always said that Betty was my favorite relative—though she was not actually a relative. Betty liked the old traditional country singers like Ernest Tubb, Little Jimmy Dickens, and George Jones. Her car always had a pile of 8-track tapes with that kind of music, which I also came to love. That music soon led me to discover the rebellious rock-influenced "outlaw" country music of that era, such as Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., and Jerry Jeff Walker. The songs of those country artists—from the greatest, most creative era of country music—remain my all-time favorite songs of any kind, and Waylon, with his independent-minded free-spirited outlaw attitude, remains my main musical hero.
My family had a number of personal connections to some of the great 60s and 70s bands that came out of the Chicago area. My dad worked in the machine shop with Peter Cetera Sr., the father of the singer Peter Cetera from the brassy rock band Chicago. My dad also worked in the machine shop with a guy who had been with The American Breed, which had a big hit with "Bend Me, Shape Me." My sister briefly dated the drummer from Chicago while she worked as a waitress at a club owned by the band. In the late 1970s, my guitar teacher was John Curulewski, who had been an original member of Styx. He played guitar on their first few albums, quitting right before they reached the status of rock gods. Tommy Shaw replaced him. John was a cool guy. I remember how he had a funny habit of sticking his guitar pick on his forehead while he talked to you. He even came over to the house one time to give me a lesson, and he met my mom, whom he amusingly called "mom."
In the late 70s and early 80s, me and my best friend Ron used to drive around listening (on 8-tracks and cassettes) to everything from Cheap Trick (another Chicago-area band) and Elvis Costello to ABBA and CCR to the Beatles and Buddy Holly to Waylon Jennings and Charlie Daniels. Ron was the biggest Beatles fan I ever knew (he was devastated when John Lennon was shot and killed). I liked the Beatles but was never a huge fan. I was more upset when John Bonham of Led Zeppelin (the greatest rock band of all time) choked to death on his own vomit.
When I was in my 20s in the 1980s, my musical interests expanded beyond rock and country—into blues, jazz, classical, and various other genres. I like just about all genres of music, but only certain artists and songs within each genre. In the early 1990s, when I was in my 30s, I formed my own country-rock band, singing lead vocals and playing rhythm guitar. We played mainly oldies, at small local events like birthday and block parties. My musicianship abilities are rather limited, but I was enthusiastic and I had a lot of fun. I quit the band in 2000, after which the other guys hired a more talented replacement and achieved a little more success playing in local bars. Here are three songs that I think we did pretty well when I was with the band: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrwVpDcm91o
Yes, music—especially the music of that gloriously free and creative 60s-70s era—continues to be vitally important to me. I do not think that this music appeals to me only because it brings back happy memories of my youth. Rather, I firmly believe that rock, pop, and country music were at their creative best in the 60s and 70s, as was most of American (and Western) culture. That only makes sense, because the 60s and 70s were the time when America itself was at its best and when the United States reached its peak of freedom and liberty. It has been all downhill ever since. About a year ago, I wrote an essay for Intellectual Conservative expanding on this view: https://www.ajsmuskiewicz.com/downloads/freedom-of-1970s.pdf
My Playlist of Positive Songs
As I noted before, in these current dark, depressing, dictatorial, un-free, and un-fun times in America, I need that old music more than ever. I need it to keep my sanity and to keep from getting so depressed that I’ll want to move to the moon or kill myself.
So, in my continuing efforts to fight my chronically bad mood of recent years, I have created a lengthy playlist of what I consider to be feel-good, uplifting rock, pop, and country songs, mostly from the 60s and 70s. The list also includes a few of my favorite feel-good songs from earlier decades, going back to Cab Calloway in the 1930s. (As far as I’m concerned, good music has been mostly dead since the early 80s, with a few exceptions.) I wonder what you think of my playlist selections: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLu992IsaOaQixFyP_Ep8aMA2aD2YSTds0
By the way, I do like certain dark, angry, rough recent music, as I explained in a recent IC essay about metal music: https://intellectualconservative.com/articles/metal-escapism-as-mental-strategy-in-maddening-times However, I wanted to focus my new playlist on uplifting, happy, positive vibes from earlier, better times—because I really need that in my life right now. I have to stop my recent psychological sinking. Most of the songs in this playlist I remember from my childhood or teen years, and I have included them not necessary because they are my favorite songs from that era, but because I like the memories and the feelings that they give me.
I know that most conservatives today like to blast the 60s and 70s as a time of drugged-out hippies, decline of traditional values, and/or inflation, high interest rates, and “malaise,” but those right-wing accounts do not tell the whole story. Nor do the left-wing Marxist-slanted accounts of that era's events that dominate the history books. You have to have been alive and aware back then, as a regular middle-class person (not a hippie, druggie, radical, or intellectual), to understand what the times were really like. I was very young, but I remember. There was a general sense of individual freedom, liberty, and openness back then, partly growing out of the liberal social movements of the 60s and 70s, including the Sexual Revolution, but partly also from an overall positive zeitgeist that existed. That was before the freedom-loving liberals of that era turned into the rigid authoritarians and bureaucrats of today. That unfortunate transformation began as the Leftists assumed and amassed power in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, perverting the original hopeful, joyful hippie message of freedom into strict, suffocating rules and regulations that permeate all aspects of existence for everybody.
The original hope and joy of the 60s and 70s was reflected in the music of the era (as well as in many of the movies and TV shows). Listening to that music helps to replace my dark negative 2020s feelings with the bright positive 1970s feelings that I still remember. How can you not feel joy listening to the songs in my playlist by the Bellamy Brothers, Glen Campbell, Olivia Newton-John, ABBA (which created an almost magically infectious sound), CCR, Steve Miller, Joe Walsh…? How can you not feel groovy listening to The 5th Dimension, The First Edition, Jefferson Airplane, Sonny and Cher…? How can you not get uplifted by "Here Comes the Sun," "My Sweet Lord," "Spirit in the Sky," and Tom T. Hall's "Me and Jesus"? How can you not laugh at "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road," "Tiptoe Through the Tulips," "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet," and "Smokin' in the Boys Room"? How can you possibly feel any happier than by listening to the country tunes of early Ronnie Milsap, Mickey Gilley, or Buck Owens, or the Ragin' Cajun Doug Kershaw, or the funky groove of Tony Joe White's "Polk Salad Annie"? And has there ever been a cooler, happier video than Rod Stewart's "Hot Legs"?
I could easily expand my playlist with two hundred or three hundred additional songs if I gave it a little more thought. (I'm thinking of a few right now.) But these are the tunes that came most quickly to my mind when I thought about it for just a few days.
Glad I Was Alive Then
As I previously indicated, I believe that you have to be at least my age (born in 1960) to truly appreciate the wonderful zeitgeist of individual liberty, hopefulness, open-mindedness, and "organic" genuine tolerance of 1960s and 1970s America. It is a stark contrast to the depressing zeitgeist of repression, fear, close-mindedness, and artificial mandated “tolerance” of 2020s America. I am very glad that I was born when I was, so that I was able to experience some of the 60s and all of the 70s—an era when there was a flowering of real freedom and open-mindednesses in America and the West. Because of when I was born, I was also able to witness the greatest accomplishment of humankind in history—the Apollo moon landings. I will always cherish my memories of watching those awe-inspiring events on TV. They led me to pursue a career in science. And they made me feel proud to be an American. That national pride is long gone, replaced by a profound disgust at today's America and Americans.
Contrast the music of the 60s and 70s with the music of today. The most popular songs today seem to be preachy political rants by black hip-hop prophets of "social justice," weak whiny tunes by white asexual pajama boys, or overly sexualized pornography by female pop tarts—or other forms of crap. These are the products of a decadent race-obsessed and sex-obsessed culture in America and the rest of the West. In the 1970s, Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton-John, Stevie Nicks, and Debbie Harry all managed to be very sexy and popular without twerking around in their underwear on stage, surrounded by a bunch of slutty dancers. Since the early 80s, thanks to the pioneering artistry of Madonna, being an exhibitionist stripper slut has apparently been mandatory to become a female pop star.
Anyway, despite my conservative old-man rants is this essay (please also see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbWWFIG_UMg ), I hope you like my playlist of positive songs from a better, freer time that I remember. The songs make me feel happy. I hope some of them make you feel happy, too. Fortunately, YouTube has not yet banned happy music as “racist,” "sexist," or "homo/transphobic."
My Hope for the Future
My main hope is this: Perhaps sometime in the distant future, the 1960s-1970s spirit of freedom, liberty, love, joy, and open-mindedness will be reborn in America and the West. If that ever happens, it will surely not happen until long after I am gone. But maybe future generations will be able to experience the good vibes that I remember from my youth.
In the meantime, until I die, I will prefer to live in the past with my music and memories.
About the author:
The author, A.J. Smuskiewicz, may be an angry old man today, but at least he knows what it was like to live in a truly free country. If you are younger than him, you probably will never know what that is like. So listen to the music and learn from it.