documenting the optical sounds of '60s pop, Acid Punk & Psychedelia

On The Scene: Playboy magazine, May 1967

The sound of sunshine, shekels and the city

Donovan: the sound of sunshine

The curly-haired youth intones, in a quietly intense voice that makes teeny boppers sigh and hippies nod in approval, “Fly trans-love airways, getcha there on time.”

Known to the world on a first-name basis, Donovan Leitch, 21, is the minstrel of a wide-awake generation that loves its freedom and seeks to free its love.

The Glasgow-born singer-writer put aside his art-student paintbrushes at the age of 18 and set off to roam Britain with his guitar and his long-time buddy, Gypsy Dave, absorbing sunshine and folklore and celebrating both in song.

Since scaling the international folk-music charts with “Catch The Wind”, “Colours” and “The Universal Soldier”, he has graduated to the world of psychedelics and electrified, Oriental-flavoured music, “Sunshine Superman”, Donovan’s first Epic album – like its title song, a number-one seller – contained lush, mobile arrangements utilizing brass, strings woodwinds and amplified instruments from around the world.

The song evoked a sensory kaleidoscope, and despite occasionally obscure images, the themes of universal love and drugs as aphrodisiacs of the soul were clear enough. Donovan sang euphorically of “happiness in a pipe.”

His latest hit album – named for his million-selling single, “Mellow Yellow” – further extends his communion with the world around him; at various moments he is humorous, lyrical, introspective and socially opinionated (“Yourself you touch, but not too much – you’ve heard that it’s degrading,” he sings to a symbolic single girl).

Both LPs fuse elements of traditional ballads, blues, ragas, jazz and classical music; the key to Donovan’s success is that his keening melodies and flexible formats approximate the shifting moods and life textures of his time.

What’s more, the bulk of his output is simply “happy.”

Resisting critical tags such as “message” singer (“the word ‘message’ is for the older generation”), the trend-conscious Donovan has made unique contributions to the growing body of “personalized” pop music.

Now experimenting with films and stage productions designed to “engulf” the audience, the mild-mannered hit maker seems set to live his own lyric and “follow through a dream to the end.”

Considering his tender age and manifold abilities, odds are that the sunshine superman will continue to set the style for his contemporaries .

The Mamas and the Papas: the sound of shekels

Not surprisingly, the pop-music scene is involved with “sounds.” There is the surfing sound of the Beach Boys. There is the Lovin’ Spoonful’s good-time sound. There is the Detroit sound and the Chicago blues sound, and there are hard-rock, psychedelic-rock, raga-rock and folk-rock sounds.

And a while back, the scene was buzzing with talk about the newest sound – out of California. The Mamas and the Papas had just released “California Dreamin’”, their first big hit, and the word was: Dig the California sound.

Only trouble was, the new group’s roots were in Greenwich village, where it started out. If the new style needed a tag, “the sound of the Mamas and the Papas” was more accurate.

The sound is a unique blend of voices that, in the old advertising phrase, has seldom imitated, never duplicated; it belongs to them alone. “Actually,” says bearded John Phillips, baritone, songwriter, arranger and leader of the group, “I’ve always kind of thought of it as the Virgin Islands sound.”

“That’s where we worked most of it out, lying around the beach two summers ago. That was 1965. We came back in September, formed a group officially in October, recorded in November and had a hit in January.”

Michelle, John’s wife, provides the soprano that skitters around above the rest of the sound. Denny Doherty is the tenor. And Cass Elliott, Big Mamma Cass. The mother of mankind, producer Lou Adler called her. Hers is the lusty contralto belting out leads, working around with the other voices in the ensemble sections of numbers such as their Grammy-winning version of “Monday Monday”.

Living in poverty only two years ago, the Mamas and the Papas today luxuriate in Underground splendour in their Southern California superpads.

Where they used to scrounge for the bus fare uptown from the Village, they now own expensive foreign sports cars. Thanks to advance sales, their records win gold million-seller awards even before they are released.

Through it all, the Mamas and the Papas manage to keep their cool. Cass says, “Oh, yeah. We had problems. But we aren’t forcing it anymore. We worked only six weeks of concerts last year and that’s more than enough.”

On tap: more records, some television, including an hour special on NBC scheduled for September, “and a lot of groovy times.”

Simon And Garfunkel: the sound of the city

In a lot of ways, Simon and Garfunkel are weirdies. in this day of Electric prunes and Grateful dead, for example, Simon and Garfunkel use their real names. For another thing, they do their own material, their own way.

They don’t go in for freaky frills: no long hair, no way-out behaviour, no odd clothes. In concert, they eschew theatrics in favour of a straight delivery based on a rapport built up over years of working together.

Their LPs show a consistent pattern of growth that can’t be bagged: not folk, not rock, something new and different.

“It’s not really all that strange,” says Paul Simon, who is the songwriter and guitarist of the pair. “We just try to be ourselves.”

Art Garfunkel, who does the arranging (when he’s not studying at Columbia for his impending master’s degree in mathematics), agrees:

“We don’t want to get too hung up on anything.”

They both sing, of course, and at 25, with ten years experience and almost six million records behind them, they are riding high atop a wave of enthusiasm that shows no sign of cresting.

Simon’s songs – understandably, given their popularity with the teeny beats – are about the pathos of being young. He writes about growing up ridiculous in an urban environment that is seldom controllable or comprehensible.

His songs are about love and indifference and sex and absurdity. In compositions such as “The Dangling Conversation”, he cries out at man’s failure to communicate.

“I cannot feel your hand
You’re a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation”

The Dangling Conversation

Or, in a song such as “I Am A Rock”, he captures the defensiveness and self-protection that is a sorrowfully important part of life in the modern metropolis.

“I have my books and my poetry to protect me,
I am shielded in my armour
hiding in my room,
I touch no one and no one touches me.”

I Am A Rock

Garfunkel’s arrangements provide apt settings for Simon’s lonely lyrics; the finely wrought harmonies he conceives, full of unexpected turns and quiet understatement, have become the duo’s hallmark.

On stage, Simon short, playfully aggressive, commands the audience, makes it his; Garfunkel, tall lithe, caresses the crowd with his gentle voice and supple gestures.

Together they create gems of song, written by a youthful moralist and performed by a polished musical team.

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