September 26, 2020

From the Vaults: London 1967


     During the summer of 1967, I was making the transition from Jr. High to my freshman year in High School.  Little did I know that events taking place across the pond in London during the first six months of that year would have such a profound effect on me.  The wheels really started turning in the latter half of 1966, but the fruit that would fall from London’s musical tree began dropping fast and furiously in the first six months of 1967.  

     The big name bands that we now associate with 1967 were in the process of forming, breaking up, reforming, or just hitting their stride in the fall of 1966.  The Who were typical of the bands in the ‘just hitting their stride’ mode although there were periods where they seemed to be ready to join the ‘breaking up’ category.  Their seemingly happy go lucky drummer, Keith Moon, had been in the band some 18 months by November of 1966, but for some reason he kept looking for a new gig.  Moon was insecure and positive he was going to be bounced from The Who.  Guitarist Pete Townsend blamed Keith’s ‘paranoia’ on the copious amount of drugs and alcohol he was consuming.  Moon was newly married and his wife Kim was decidedly in a family way, but it didn’t keep the mercurial Moonie from living his normal, party around the clock lifestyle.  The Who seemed to be like a pressure cooker with no safety valve simmering on the back burner waiting for enough heat to build up enough to cause a serious explosion.

     One telling event that lit the fuse on the powder keg of musical creativity that came out of 1967 London took place in May of 1966 and Keith Moon was at the center of it all.  It seems Moon had an enduring fondness for surf music.  Moonie couldn’t sing on key to save his soul, yet he convinced the other members of The Who to let him take the lead vocal on their cover version of Barbara Ann (with the others harmonizing loudly enough to cover up his off key singing).  Keith found out that one of the Beach Boys touring musicians, Brian Johnston, would be in London checking out the local music scene.  Fan-boy Moon showed up and offered to guide him around swinging London town.  It is to Moon’s credit that he knew about Johnston being in the Beach Boys.  Johnston’s biggest contributions to the band were made when they were touring.  The Beach Boys never toured in the British Isles and not being credited on their albums made Johnston a rather well kept secret, but not to erstwhile surf music fan Keith Moon.

     Moon ushered Johnston around the clubs and introduced him to the scene.  Johnston was staying at the Waldorf and was surprised one evening when Moon, all of 19 years old at the time, rounded up John Lennon and Paul McCartney to drop by and meet a real Beach Boy.  After the usual rounds of drinks, card games, and conversation, Johnston asked if anyone would like to hear the new Beach Boys album he had brought with him.  When their own revolutionary album Rubber Soul was released near the end of 1965, Lennon and McCartney had opened the door for a new era where albums would become more like works of art than just a cash grab assembly of a band’s singles.  The Beatles were fans of Brian Wilson and Phil Spector and were no doubt anxious to hear what new sounds were coming out of California.  In this case, what they heard was Brian Wilson’s masterful Pet Sounds, (which had been inspired by The Beatles’ own 1965 masterpiece, Rubber Soul)As Lennon and McCartney listened to Wouldn’t It Be Nice?, God Only Knows, and Caroline, No, Paul remembers thinking, “Oh dear me, this is the album of all time.  What are we gonna do?  God Only Knows is the greatest song ever written.” 

     The listening session with Johnston spurred McCartney to go home and write Here There and Everywhere, a song that would come out on The Beatles’ Revolver LP three months later.  Revolver was the precursor of the biggest album release of 1967, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (which McCartney has repeatedly confirmed, “was inspired by Pet Sounds).  Surf music fan Keith Moon may have acted as the catalyst in this case (by putting The Beatles and Brian Johnston in the same room to listen to Pet Sounds), but Moon didn’t particularly like the record.  Always a purest at heart when it came to surf music, Keith described their new direction as, “Just one big drag.  I don’t get a thing out of what Wilson’s doing now.  He’s cut the pop song up into one big clinical thing.  It’s all bits of tape stuck together.  None of it really means anything.”  Most of England must have agreed because Pet Sounds sold rather poorly in Britain.  The Beach Boys previous work (five top five albums and three top singles in the United Kingdom) had some Brits ready to transfer the crown of ‘most important band in the world’ from The Beatles to the Beach Boys.  When they moved away from their tried and true hit formula, the Beach Boys record sales in England faltered and The Beatles retained their crown.

     Before Johnston returned to the United States, he got to experience what can only be described as the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ of the British music scene.  The ‘best’ occurred when Moon brought Johnston around to the set of the popular Ready Steady Go! TV studios so they could do a live interview with the Beach Boy.  With Entwistle along for the ride, they had some drinks, popped some pills while hobnobbing with the other acts on the show, and completely lost track of the time.  Eventually, they made it to The Who’s gig at the Ricky Tick club only to find Daltrey and Townshend already playing their set with the rhythm section from the opening act filling in.  The Who’s bassist and drummer were three sheets to the wind and angry by the time they displaced the faux back line.  Daltry and Townshend already had a head start in the angry department so by the band’s instrument smashing finale, things got out of hand.  The ugly end came when Moon was smashed in the head with one of Townshend’s guitars as the curtain closed.  As Johnston told the story in Tony Fletcher’s book Moon, “I don’t know what sparked it off.  I just remember watching from the side of the stage and all of a sudden . . . they got in the biggest fight I’ve ever seen.  Guitars are swinging, everybody’s just in a frenzy.”  When Johnston left for America the next day, he recalled thinking, “The concert was one of the best things I’d ever seen, although maybe God Only Knows was more fun to do.”

     Moon and Entwistle resolved that they had had enough of the ‘Rog and Pete show’ and were going to leave the band.  Moon had already courted the drum throne in The Animals and The Nashville Teens, but nothing had ever come from these overtures.  By the end of 1966, Jeff Beck came calling and added his voice to the conversation, soon to be joined by other not yet household names like Rod Stewart, John Paul Jones, and Jimmy Page.  Beck had joined Page in The Yardbirds at Page’s invitation and when the lineup gelled with both playing guitar, the band cooked.  Beck soon grew tired of the tour grind and bolted during a North American tour.  In November of 1966, he began working on solo material.  After a chance meeting at a pub, he had invited Moon to join him at a session with pianist Nicky Hopkins, bassist John Paul Jones and his old guitar slinger friend Jimmy Page.

     Lacking a singer, the only track that showed potential from this two day recording session was the instrumental Beck’s Bolero.  While this performance has been widely heard on Beck’s album Truth, the drums are credited only to ‘you know who.’  After adding the scream at the break between the acoustic opening to the thrashing second half (yes, that was Moon screaming), Moon smashed his cymbal so hard that it knocked over the main drum mic.  With the drums now pushed to the background and the cymbals thrashing in the foreground, it wasn’t the greatest recording, but the track did convince Beck that he wanted Moon in the band.

     The only other drummer with the same potential as Moon was Johnny Mitchell but by this time Mitchell had been rechristened ‘Mitch’ and was working with an imported American guitarist that everyone was soon to know.  Beck admits that he tried to pry Moon from The Who, but once he found a singer in Rod Stewart, he was forced to move forward with drummer Mick Waller (who wasn’t a bad choice, he just wasn’t Keith Moon).  Page had also been impressed with Moon at the Beck session and he too tried to lure the drummer and Entwistle into his new post-Yardbirds band.  When The Who rhythm section decided to stand pat, Page had to ‘settle’ on a lineup that included John Paul Jones (from the Beck sessions), and the relatively unknown Robert Plant on vocals and John Bonham on drums.  Beck has mentioned that what they had achieved quite accidentally was the template that would become Led Zeppelin.  We are pushing the story a bit here as Led Zep wouldn’t release their initial album until 1969.  Let us get back to our 1967 timeline.

     Strangely enough, both Moon and Mitchell hailed from Ealing and even though Moon thought of drummers as a fraternity of brothers in the music business, he really didn’t like Mitchell.  Mitchell had worked at Jim Marshall’s drum store (yes, the same Jim Marshall that gave us the fabled line of Marshall amplifiers).  The frequent jams held at the store made Mitchell a known quantity.  His jazz background made him a different drummer than Moon, but he could be just as powerful as Moon.   When The Jimi Hendrix Experience ended up signing with the same label as The Who, there was some angst around Who-ville;  someone else was trolling their musical territory.  Even though The Experience were the new kids on the block, they received more label support than The Who and therefore broke in America in a big way.  The Who’s initial releases on this side of the pond made barely a ripple.  The Who would just have to wait their turn to make a splash in America.

     In the summer of 1967, I found myself being called to rehearse with a band of my sister’s classmates (recent high school graduates) who went by the name The Self Winding Grapefruit.  The previous December, they had drafted me (as an eighth grader) to play with them at my sister’s Christmas Party held in our basement.  When summer arrived, if their drummer didn’t show up to rehearse (which apparently happened quite often), they would call me.  At one of these rehearsals, Mike McKelvy (who would eventually play in the fabled Marquette / Ann Arbor band Walrus) stopped by with the first Hendrix album, Are You Experienced?  When he dropped the needle on Purple Haze, I nearly fell off the drum stool.  McKelvy had just returned from California with the album but suffice to say, as soon it was available locally, I had a copy and Mitch Mitchell became another one of my drum instructors.  The Who would eventually crack the US airwaves with their single I Can See For Miles, making it the only Keith Moon entry in my practice routine.  By then, I had already gone bonkers for Mitchell, John Densmore (The Doors), and Hal Blaine (the ace session drummer who played on a lot of the hit singles released in those days).  There were a lot of talented drummers around for me to learn from in 1967.

     The summer of 1967 was truly an amazing summer for music.  Little did I know that some of my best drum rehearsal albums were a direct result of these interacting musical moments in London.  Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, The Beatles dropped Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the world.  Would they have written this masterpiece if Keith Moon had never introduced them to Bruce Johnston?  Perhaps.  The Who were relatively unknown in America in 1967 save their package tour opening for Herman’s Hermits and their atypical Who single Happy Jack that had stalled at number 22 on the charts.  Moon and The Who would chart their own course and become innovators in their due time (Tommy, Quadrophenia, Who’s Next), but helping set off the explosion of music that came out in 1967 is still a pretty neat part of their legacy.  

     The Who weren’t totally excluded from this momentous summer in the States.  Their rise up the record charts in America was kick started by their appearance at the fabled Monterey Pop Festival in June.  The Who weren’t keen on following Hendrix in the concert order.  Relieved at winning a coin flip ensuring they would go on before him, The Who made sure that they played their  best instrument smashing finale as a sort of calling card (though playing rented equipment left much to be desired in their live sound).  London indeed made an impact on the summer of 1967 on both sides of the pond and The Who did their part to help it along.  The music that blasted from radios in both the US and the UK would eventually become the foundation of what we know today as Classic Rock Radio.

Top Piece Video – Okay, 1967 was not so long ago we didn’t have color TV . . . but B&W was still just starting to give way to that marvel of the age….big screens would come later!