Back in the mid-‘60s, a guy named Chet Powers wrote a song called “Let’s Get Together”. It was originally recorded by the Kingston Trio in 1964 but would become one of the best known “hippie anthems” of the ‘60s.
A version of the song was included on the Jefferson Airplane’s debut album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, released in 1966.
But in 1967, the version that is most notable was released by the Youngbloods (featuring Jesse Colin Young) retitled simply “Get Together”. It was released as a single that year and stalled at #62. But upon its re-release in 1969, it rose all the way up to the peak chart position of #5. The popularity of the re-release was tied to the song being used in a PSA for the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Maybe we need to bring it back again!
Powers was going by the stage name Dino Valenti as a member of the San Francisco’s Quicksilver Messenger Service. Drug busts landed him in Folsom Prison, so he wasn’t on the band’s first couple of albums until he was able to rejoin in 1970. While in prison, he needed some cash for his legal defense so in 1966 he sold the rights to “Get Together” to Frank Werber who was the colorful manager (and Holocaust survivor) of the Kingston Trio. I don’t know if it is true, but I’ve read his price was $100! Werber’s royalties certainly far exceeded that. The bad move by Powers brought the whole story full circle.
I had this idea to write a post that featured a few of my favorite rock songs with a Latin flavor. But not the obvious ones performed by Latin artists like Santana. As I listened to them, I realized I didn’t have the technical expertise to properly describe them. Were they Samba, Rhumba, Bossa Nova? How do you tell the difference?
I strive for factual accuracy in these posts (though I’m sure I’ve made mistakes) so I gave a list of my selections to my high school friend, Dan D, who has a DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) and teaches courses in trumpet, Chamber Music, Music Theory and The Beatles. I asked Dan for help. Here’s what he had to say:
So I gave a listen to these (songs) with your question in mind. The Samba, Rhumba, and Bossa Nova all share similar characteristics and each one of these works are not completely defined by the Latin genre – they are Latin-infused rock tunes. The genre not closely identified in any of them as rhumba. The conga sound is prevalent in any of them. For rhumba, the Beatle cover of “Mr. Moonlight” by Roy Lee Johnson fits that bill. Samba and Bossa Nova are closely allied. Often, the Bossa Nova is associated with jazz idioms. I could identify a jazz flavor in the Guess Who and Steely Dan tunes but it is not really that strong to differentiate. So with all that said, I am most apt to describe these tunes with a Samba flavor. Whew! A long, winding answer!
Thanks, Dan! So here are a few tunes I like that are loosely tied together through “a Samba flavor.”
“Undun” was the B-side to The Guess Who’s “Laughing.” Written by Randy Bachman, it reached #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969. (“Laughing” rose to #10.) In an interview with Ear of the Newt, Bachman was quoted saying “I remember the joy of hearing that (“Undun”) on the radio, figuring ‘Wow, a song with more than three chords,’ you know, ‘with lyrics that don’t rhyme.’ “
He goes on to describe the inspiration for the song came when he learned about a woman who went into a coma after taking some bad acid at a party he attended in Vancouver.
“Sunlight” comes from one of my favorite Buried Treasure albums – Elephant Mountain (1969), by The Youngbloods. Lester Bangs endorsed the album in his review for Rolling Stone. Written by Jesse Colin Young, “Sunlight” is an ode for a special woman.
Have you seen the sunlight pouring through her hair Felt her warm mouth on you in the summer’s air Running in a field of brown Laughing rolling on the ground Smiling as she pulls you down That’s the way she feels about you
Three Dog Night, who in their early days were masters at finding great songs to record, covered “Sunlight” on their 1970 album Naturally.
Steely Dan’s “Only a Fool Would Say That” (1972) has often been interpreted as a dig at John Lennon’s utopian worldview as professed in “Imagine.” This position was recently described in an article in Far Out, by Sam Kemp.
I’m not sure I buy into Kemp’s thesis. Steely Dan’s lyrics are always cryptic and subject to varied interpretations. To me, it’s a cynical knock on hippy idealism more generally.
Wait until the very end of the song where you can hear laughter and someone utter the phrase “Jiji, solamente un tonto lo mencionara”, “Only a fool would say that” in Spanish!