In the movie Bob Roberts (1992), writer/director/star Tim Robbins had some fun with the notion of a Republican senate candidate who doubles as a right-wing folk singer, and regales his followers with protest anthems like “Drugs Stink” and “Times Are Changin’ Back.” That the concept seems intrinsically absurd points to the perennial dearth of musical inspiration on the right. Few conservatives would bother to deny that, ideology aside, the lefties have all the best tunes.
And yet, amid all the progressive sentiment that dominated the pop charts in the 1960s, a few lonely voices cried out against the prevailing trends and released singles denouncing the perceived permissiveness and anti-Americanism of the young. Some of them were substantial hits.
What follows are five of the most notable counter-counterculture records of the ’60s, in ascending order of tackiness.
5. Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, “Ballad of the Green Berets” (1966)
There’s no getting around this one, which sat atop Billboard’s Hot 100 for five weeks and has become a much-referenced artifact of its time, covered by the likes of Kate Smith, Duane Eddy, and Dolly Parton.
Even though it’s a straight-up patriotic song that doesn’t address the counterculture directly, it’s hard not to hear it as a deliberate response to the protest songs then being proffered by long-haired commie pinko bed-wetting types. Sadler’s exercise in bombastic tedium also prompted an answer song called “Ballad of the Yellow Berets,” credited to one D. Dodger. (Actually, it’s a young Bob Seger.)
4. Neil Diamond, “The Pot Smoker’s Song” (1968)
Although he sang the praises of “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “Red, Red Wine,” Neil Diamond had a less sanguine attitude toward the Weed With Roots In Hell. Hence this foolish ditty, which appeared on his much-ignored third album, Velvet Gloves and Spit.
The spoken bits are supposedly by real drug addicts from Phoenix House, a rehab center in New York, though I have to wonder if the first guy is just putting Neil on. (“I used to shoot acid in my spine.” Huh?) Apparently the message didn’t take, as Neil Diamond received a summons in 1976 for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and was sentenced to a six-month rehab program.
For more in this dubious vein, listen (if you dare) to Sonny Bono’s nearly 8-minute acid rock cautionary tale, “Pammie’s On A Bummer.” The man really could not sing at all. Not even a little.
3. The Spokesmen, “Dawn of Correction” (1965)
What could be worse than Barry McGuire’s hack protest anthem “Eve of Destruction,” you ask? How about an inspirational, thoroughly risible answer song that apes McGuire’s fashionable vocal rasp and re-writes his lyrics for maximum uplift? At least they didn’t follow McGuire’s lead and attempt to rhyme “China” with “Alabama.”
Amazingly enough, these guys have actual songwriting chops. John Medora and David White, who co-wrote “Dawn of Correction,” also collaborated on “At the Hop” for Danny and the Juniors and “You Don’t Own Me” for Lesley Gore.
2. Victor Lundberg, “An Open Letter to My Teenage Son” (1967)
This right-wing mind-roaster actually made the Top Ten and won Victor Lundberg, an obscure radio newscaster from Grand Rapids, Michigan, a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording. The single was a local hit before being picked up for national distribution by the ominously named Liberty Records, after which it became one of the fastest-selling singles in Hot 100 history and landed its perpetrator on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The record, which touched off a flurry of answer records, is notable for its non-ironic use of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as well as its memorable closing lines (“…if you decide to burn your draft card, then burn your birth certificate at the same time. From that moment on I have no son.”) You might want to have a bucket handy.
1. Art Linkletter, “We Love You, Call Collect” (1969)
When even camp-trash auteur John Waters finds a record irredeemably tasteless, it gives one pause.
Diane Linkletter, youngest daughter of smarmy media personality Art Linkletter, jumped to her death from the sixth floor window of her Hollywood apartment on October 4, 1969. The following day, Waters hastily improvised a short film called The Diane Linkletter Story to test out a new camera, but even this gesture pales in the bad-taste sweepstakes to the macabre “tribute” single released by her father the following month.
Art Linkletter publicly blamed Diane’s death on LSD, and claimed to donate the profits from this record to various anti-drug crusades. Although he no doubt found it convenient to put the blame on an acid freakout, his daughter’s death was almost certainly a suicide. There is no evidence that Diane had taken LSD that day, and an autopsy found no drugs of any kind in her system. For its part, the Grammy Awards maintained the rigorous standards of excellence they displayed in 1967 (see #2) by awarding this self-serving sobfest an award for Best Spoken Word Recording.