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Top 11 Flower Power Songs
“The hippies wanted peace and love. We wanted Ferraris, blondes and switchblades.”
— Alice Cooper
The return of spring is a good time to look back at flower power, the hippie movement of the ‘60s that incorporated psychedelic music, Day-Glo posters and mind-bending drugs.
During the Summer of Love, shirts, dresses and VW Bugs were covered with flowers. Flower children handed out flowers at anti-war protests while wearing flowers in their hair.
Well, the flower children have all wilted but the music of the flower power era endures. So turn on and tune in to our Top 11 Flower Power Songs.
If we’ve missed any of your favorites, let us know in the Comments section below.
11. San Franciscan Nights by Eric Burdon and the Animals
In the summer of 1966, the Animals decided to break up at the end of their U.S. tour. That August front man Eric Burdon visited San Francisco, where he soaked up the flower power scene at the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom. Burdon’s experiences on an unseasonably mild night inspired him and a new generation of Animals to write San Franciscan Nights.
Burdon’s idyllic description of a city where “walls move, minds do too” had a hidden motive: to undermine support for the Vietnam War. “The Love Generation helped the anti-war stance in the States,” Burdon told Songfacts. “It certainly turned a lot of soldiers’ heads around, making them wonder why they had to be out fighting a war when back home their girlfriends were frolicking around and it caused a lot of anguish on that level. Maybe it helped politically with the so-called enemy. I’m not sure.”
San Franciscan Nights by Eric Burdon and the Animals
10. Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys
The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations was released in 1966, a departure from the band’s favorite themes: cars and surfing. With music by Brian Wilson and lyrics by Mike Love, the song pioneered the use of the theremin synthesizer in pop music.
“This was before the Summer of Love, but there were definitely psychedelic rumblings on the West Coast,” Love told Uncut. “I felt Good Vibrations was the Beach Boys’ psychedelic anthem or flower power offering. So I wrote it from that perspective. The track itself was already so avant-garde, especially with the theremin, that I wondered how our fans were going to relate to it. How’s this going to go over in the Midwest or Birmingham? It was such a departure from Surfin’ USA or Help Me Rhonda.”
Wilson recalled in The Beach Boys: The Definitive Diary of America’s Greatest Band on Stage and in the Studio that he first heard of vibrations from his mother. “I didn’t really understand too much of what it meant when I was just a boy. It scared me, the word ‘vibrations.’ She told me about dogs that would bark at people and then not bark at others, that a dog would pick up vibrations from these people that you can’t see, but you can feel.”
Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys
9. Eight Miles High by the Byrds
When the Byrds released Eight Miles High in 1966, some radio stations banned it for advocating drug use. Co-writers Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby insisted that the song was really about the band’s flight to London during a 1965 British tour.
“I started writing a poem that didn’t have any music,” Clark told Toronto’s CHUM radio in 1978. “And the poem had words to it like ‘Eight miles high, and when you touch down, you find that it’s stranger than known.’ I was into it because I was writing about a trip we had just done to England and the culture shock going over there and being very famous and having to live up to that. So I just came up with a couple of chords to play the poem to Roger and David with… it ended up the three of us collaborating on the song and that became Eight Miles High.”
But in 1985, Clark admitted to writer Domenic Priore that Eight Miles High “was about lots of things. It was about the airplane trip to England, it was about drugs, it was about all of that… It was inclusive because during those days the new experimenting with all the drugs was a very vogue thing to do, so people were doing all that at that time. All that was kind of in the poetry. But it has meanings of both. It’s partially about the trip and partly about drugs.”
Eight Miles High by the Byrds
8. Groovin’ by the Young Rascals
The Young Rascals, a name they hated and later shortened, was a rock band rooted in R&B when they recorded Groovin’ in 1967. Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler didn’t want to release the song that featured a relaxed Afro-Cuban vibe. It was New York DJ Murray the K who heard the tune in the studio and intervened with Wexler.
“To tell you the truth, they didn’t originally like the record because it had no drum on it,” singer Felix Cavaliere told Goldmine. “We had just cut it, and he came in the studio to say hello. After he heard the song, he said, ‘Man, this is a smash.’ So when he heard that Atlantic didn’t want to put it out, he went to see Jerry Wexler and said, ‘Are you crazy? This is a friggin’ number one record.’ He was right, because it eventually became number one for five straight weeks.”
Uplifting songs like It’s Wonderful and A Beautiful Morning would follow as the Rascals’ music continued to celebrate the beauty of nature. “Groovin’ has a real meaning for me,” Cavaliere told In Magazine in 1968. “You see, Groovin’ was a ‘spring song.’ It was another dimension besides just music. There were sound effects and everything. We were trying to create a ‘sound atmosphere’ so that a person could feel he was in the environment of a groovy Sunday afternoon listening to the song.”
Groovin’ by the Young Rascals
7. Incense and Peppermints by the Strawberry Alarm Clock
Incense and Peppermints was a psychedelic rock tune that topped the charts in 1967. The Strawberry Alarm Clock intended it as an instrumental, the B-side to the novelty song Birdman of Alkatrash. “The producer however, Frank Slay, really liked that track and said, ‘It really should have lyrics. Why don’t you guys try to write something to it?’” bassist George Bunnell told Classic Bands.
When the band failed to come up with anything, Slay called the songwriting team of John Carter and Tim Gilbert. “Frank Slay was a publisher besides being a producer, and he had a couple of other writers, these guys who were in another band called the Rainy Days,” said Bunnell. “They had actually had a title Incense and Peppermints but no lyrics to it. So Frank Slay said, ‘You know that title Incense and Peppermints? I want you to write a set of lyrics to it and use this music.’ He sent them the track of the music. So they wrote the lyrics and sent it back and that was it.”
The band tried but failed to deliver a satisfactory lead vocal. The producer asked Greg Munford, a singer who had happened by, to record the track. “Greg Munford happened to be in the studio because he was there doing his own thing. He was kind of like one of those guys who could play all the instruments and write and sing all the parts. A real talent. And so, they had him sing it. He sang the track that is actually the record… He was in the band as long as it took him to sing the song.”
Incense and Peppermints by the Strawberry Alarm Clock
6. Get Together by the Youngbloods
Get Together, the Youngbloods’ anthem for love and brotherhood, was written by Chet Powers (Dino Valenti) of Quicksilver Messenger Service. The Kingston Trio first recorded the tune in 1964. Jesse Colin Young of the Youngbloods later heard the song at a New York City club.
“It was a Sunday afternoon and I had stopped in to the Cafe au Go Go,” Young recalled in the Classic Rock Music Reporter. “I walked in and there was an open mike and a fellow named Buzzy Linhart who had a quartet called the Seventh Sons, and he was singing a song called Get Together and I was struck by it. This was a song written by Dino Valenti. I ran backstage and said, ‘Buzzy, write the lyrics out for me because I’ve got to sing it.’ I must have memorized the melody but he wrote down the lyrics on a piece of paper and I had watched him play it on guitar. But yeah, that was a momentous day for me. I took it into rehearsal for the Youngbloods the next day. Most of the songs I had written myself, but I knew Get Together was a game changer… a life changer for me.”
Released in 1967, the Youngbloods’ version barely made a dent in the charts. But after the song was used in a public service announcement by the National Conference of Christians and Jews in 1969, Get Together became a Top 10 hit.
Get Together by the Youngbloods
Get Together by the Kingston Trio
5. Woodstock by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Though Woodstock became the signature song of the iconic festival, its writer Joni Mitchell remained dry in New York City that soggy weekend in 1969. “The deprivation of being stuck in a New York hotel room and not being able to go provided me with an intense angle on Woodstock,” Mitchell said in Joni Mitchell: Shadows and Light. “I was one of the fans. I was put in the position of being a kid who couldn’t make it.
“Woodstock, for some reason, impressed me as being a modern miracle, like a modern-day fishes-and-loaves story. For a herd of people that large to cooperate so well, it was pretty remarkable and there was tremendous optimism.”
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young performed at Woodstock and later recorded a hard rock version of Mitchell’s song that reached number 11. Stephen Stills sang lead vocals and played the memorable guitar riff that opens the song. “I was trying hard to think of something to write about the festival,” Stills told NME in 1970. “We told Joni of our plans and I kept working out some ideas. Just as I was on the verge of getting it together, Joni came over and played us her song. She got there first, I said I couldn’t top it.”
Woodstock by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Woodstock by Joni Mitchell
4. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) by Simon & Garfunkel
In 1967, many people knew The 59th Street Bridge Song as the infectious debut of Harpers Bizarre, a California pop group that reached number 13 with the tune. But the song was written by Paul Simon and appeared on Simon & Garfunkel’s 1966 LP Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Though never a hit for the duo, it became one of their best-loved tunes.
At a Tufts University performance in 1966, Simon explained how the song was written. “I spent most of the year 1965 living in England, and at the end of that year in December, I came back to the United States, The Sound Of Silence had become a big hit, and I had to make this adjustment from being relatively unknown in England to being semi-famous here, and I didn’t really swing with it. It was a very difficult scene to make, and I was writing very depressed-type songs until around June of last year. I started to swing out of it, I was getting into a good mood, and I remember coming home in the morning about six o’clock over the 59th Street Bridge in New York, and it was such a groovy day really, a good one, and it was one of those times when you know you won’t be tired for about an hour, a sort of a good hanging time, so I started to write a song that later became The 59th Street Bridge Song or Feelin’ Groovy.”
The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) by Simon & Garfunkel
The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) by Harpers Bizarre
3. Mellow Yellow by Donovan
When Mellow Yellow was released in 1967, Donovan’s lyric about an “electrical banana” fueled the belief that smoking dried banana peels would deliver a psychedelic high. Donovan recently told NPR that a few years ago Country Joe McDonald admitted that he’d started the urban legend.
“He said, ‘Well, man, in San Francisco 1966 what we thought was we’d put the band on the back of the truck and we’d go down to an old yard I know and it has all these carnival floats that they threw away. And we found this giant banana and we put it on the truck and we started up the band and we drove down through Haight-Ashbury playing the music, advertising a gig. But just to make sure that people knew we were coming, we announced to the press that you can get high smoking bananas.’ And he said, ‘That would’ve been the end of it, but that Friday you released the single Mellow Yellow.’”
In 2011, Donovan told NME what Mellow Yellow was really about. “Quite a few things. Being mellow, laid-back, chilled out. ‘They call me Mellow Yellow, I’m the guy who can calm you down’… So it’s about being cool, laid-back, and also the electrical bananas that were appearing on the scene – which were ladies’ vibrators.”
Mellow Yellow by Donovan
2. White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane
Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit uses imagery from stories like Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass to describe a psychedelic drug trip. Grace Slick, who wrote White Rabbit, said in her autobiography Somebody to Love that “in part the lyrics allude to the hypocrisy of the older generation swilling one of the hardest drugs – alcohol – known to man, but telling us not to use psychedelics. Well, how about their medicine chests?”
White Rabbit became a Top 10 hit in 1967 despite a ban by some radio stations for its drug references. “Our parents read us stories like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz,” Slick said in Rolling Stone. “They all have a place where children get drugs, and are able to fly or see an Emerald City or experience extraordinary animals and people… And our parents are suddenly saying, ‘Why are you taking drugs?’ Well, hello!”
White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane
1. San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) by Scott McKenzie
In early 1967 producer Lou Adler and John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas hoped to stage the Monterey Pop Festival. The residents of that California city were concerned about the impact of thousands of young people during the three-day event. “During this time I figured that we ought to do a song which was really written to the young people who, obviously, were coming to California that summer, and would really descend on Monterey if this pop festival happened,” said Scott McKenzie in a joint interview with Phillips.
San Francisco would become the anthem for the flower power movement during the Summer of Love. “The idea was that they would come in peace to the pop festival – which they did,” added Phillips, who intended to sing the song himself. McKenzie recorded the song, Phillips said, because “I was asleep in the corner and you snuck in and sang the vocal.”
“When I recorded that song,” said McKenzie, “some friends of mine, all who happened to be initiated by the Maharishi and were meditating all over the place, went out and picked wildflowers in Laurel Canyon and wove garlands of flowers and I wore them on my hair and sang the song.”
San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) by Scott McKenzie
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