It was 50 years ago today … when thousands of young people descended on the Monterey County Fairgrounds in California for the first real pop festival. Woodstock two years later may have been bigger, but Monterey was first, and arguably better. Judge for yourself as for the next three days, And And! And: the Ultimate Guide to Band Names will be featuring all the artists, in the order they performed, where available illustrated by a clip of their Monterey performance.
This young woman, filmed by DA Pennebaker for his groundbreaking film Monterey Pop (1968), sums up the emotions of the time pretty well as 100,000 or so young people, with or without flowers in their hair, headed to northern California for an event that would define an era – and, it turns out, preserve it perfectly as a half-century-old time capsule.
Being a young lad in faraway England at the time, I wasn’t at Monterey. So if I’ve got anything wrong, please correct or clarify in the comments below. I’d particularly like to hear memories from anyone who was lucky enough to be there.
Understandably a little nervous, the accomplished sunshine poppers kicked things off on Friday night with the suitably anthemic Enter the Young, followed by this terrific version of their first big hit, Along Comes Mary, featuring the King of the Rock Recorder, Terry Kirkman (whose wife had chosen the band’s name by running her finger down an alphabetical list; they narrowly avoided becoming The Aristocrats).
They may not look that cool, but they sounded cool enough, and still do. (The Avalanches, who know how to sample a good sunshine pop band when they hear one, agree.) After performing Windy, a big hit from their excellent album Insight Out, The Association went home to LA, traded in their matching-suits-and-ties for kaftans, and recorded their 1968 masterpiece, Birthday.
Largely unknown then, and almost completely forgotten now, The Paupers (formerly The Spats) were a psychedelic pop outfit from Toronto whose best song was the single Magic People. Drummer Skip Prokop went on to form Canada’s answer to Chicago, Lighthouse. No one seems to have filmed or recorded the half dozen songs they performed at Monterey, but they can be heard in the background of this audience footage.
Back in Chicago, Rawls had sung with the great Sam Cooke in The Teenage Kings of Harmony. His other gospel groups included The Holy Wonders, The Highway QC’s, The Chosen Gospel Singers and The Pilgrim Travelers. Having survived a horrific car crash (he was initially pronounced dead at the scene) in 1958, he enjoyed success as a solo R&B artist in the 60s, performing such hits as Love is a Hurtin’ Thing and Dead End Street at Monterey. Sadly unfilmed, he was in fine voice, as you can hear on this superb, if melodramatic, performance of Tobacco Road.
Later known for making two fine albums with her husband, John Martyn – and her impeccable delivery of the lines “Good morning Mr Leitch, have you had a busy day?” in the middle of Simon & Garfunkel’s Fakin’ It – English singer-songwriter Beverley Kutner, once of The Levee Breakers, performed Sweet Joy, Sweet Honesty, and Picking Up the Sunshine.
Not the first name people associate with Monterey, the rock’n’roller performed his cover of Chuck Berry’s Memphis (a No 2 US hit in 1964) and eight other songs. Berry had lost his own chance to play it, or anything else, at Monterey when he asked to be paid to appear – everyone else except Ravi Shankar played for free. (Rivers, by contrast, had actually put money into the festival.) Michael Lydon, who wrote the first contemporaneous account of the festival for Newsweek, felt he “stayed on too long”. Rivers, who will be 75 in November, stayed on for another 50 years and is still performing today.
Eric Burdon and The Animals
The white English boy with a blues voice dredged from the gravel at the bottom of the River Tyne, and his new version of The Animals, opened their impressive set – appropriately enough – with San Franciscan Nights. Hey Gyp and Gin House Blues followed, then a version of Paint It, Black that delighted the audience, which included Brian Jones (a ubiquitous figure over the weekend, even if he did not perform).
Simon & Garfunkel
Introduced by festival main man John Phillips, the polo-necked twosome brought proceedings to a close at around 1.30am on Saturday with Homeward Bound, At the Zoo, For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, The Sound of Silence, Benedictus, Punky’s Dilemma, and of course The 59th Street Bridge Song, which pretty much summed up the first day of the festival.
Feelin’ groovy? I hope so. Tomorrow: Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, some great blues bands, and lots more.
For a magisterial overview of the Monterey Pop Festival, with far more detail than I have room for, follow the thread started by WilliamWas on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums
Trailer for the restored and reissued 2017 version of the Monterey Pop movie (personally supervised by DA Pennebaker, now aged 91)
Interview by Maria Garcia with Pennebaker
Anatomy of a Love Festival, Robert Christgau’s long essay written in July 1967 for Esquire magazine
Last modified: September 16, 2017