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April 8, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO (BE SURE TO WEAR FLOWERS IN YOUR HAIR)

SCOTT McKENZIE

PRODUCED BY LOU ADLER & JOHN PHILLIPS/WRITTEN BY JOHN PHILLIPS

COLUMBIA/JULY 1967

UK CHART: 1

 

One of the top-selling singles of the Sixties, San Francisco was written to act as a theme for the first 'rock festival' - The Monterey International Pop Music Festival. The festival organiser was John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas, and he gave this song to a friend of the group who'd had several misses in the Hot 100. Scott McKenzie came and went with this one hit, but that's fitting as the song is a time capsule to optimistic early-1967 (it knocked All You Need is Love from the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic). So McKenzie is embalmed in the "Hits of the 60's" compilation market and movies such as Forrest Gump have used it to signify the peace movement.

 

The song ushered in the image of San Francisco as a utopian paradise, with it's live scene featuring Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company and The Grateful Dead. At the tail-end of the sixties, Francis Ford Coppola would setup his American Zoetrope studios in the city, to bring the spirit of the times to cinema; Zoetrope's staff included Walter Murch would follow Coppola on to The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now - in which Coppola brought Vietnam and the music that the youth listened to together. 

Francis Ford Coppola (at the top of the ladder), Walter Murch (with pitchfork) and their American Zoetrope colleagues.

 

It's easy to imagine how exotic San Francisco made America sound; acoustic guitars, bells and chimes combine with McKenzie's smooth voice to build a mental image of sunshine, beautiful young people and progress - the Summer of Love in 3 minutes and pressed on vinyl. Monterey Pop was a success, but world events would inspire a darker hue to pop culture's great works of 1968. The Beatles released their primary-colour hidden mini-masterpiece Magical Mystery Tour in December 1967, the following year brought Revolution and The Beatles. The youth brought to San Francisco turned to heavy drug use, from LSD to Heroin. A visiting George Harrison and Patti Boyd were disappointed in not finding a spiritual haven that had been pictured through the music and hype and instead were asked if they wanted people to score for them.

George Harrison and Patti Boyd at Haight-Ashbury, August 1967. Magic Alex (blonde hair, left of Harrison) and Derek Taylor (moustache, right of Boyd), members of the Fabs inner circle, look on.

 

The last word to Scott McKenzie, speaking in 2002, he reflected that 'one thing is certain: the new pop music that emerged from those times was indeed wonderful. Never before or since, with the exception of rap, has popular music contained such sheer poetic and social power. Even at the end of the decade, when so many of us had lost hope, when the summer of love had turned into a winter of despair, our music helped keep us alive and carry us forward into a world we had hoped to change. And so it still does'.1

 

An Italian release of the single with endearing art and a very poetic hype blurb; 'original version of the hymn of the hippies, the children of the flowers'. 

The French blurb translates as 'Known as "The Voice of Flower Power", he became the leader of San Francisco's "hippies" who oppose the power of beauty, youth, poetry and melody. flower power in a word - to the other "power", those raw forces that agitate the world. He seems to be doing it quite well, since, after the United States, he is No. 1 in England, Holland, Belgium and Germany, and is on the point of becoming in France.' San Francisco only reached 93 in the French charts, but did become an anthem to the youthful revolt across Europe in 1968, including the Prague Spring.

 

References

1 James Meikle, (2012, August) retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/music/2012/aug/20/scott-mckenzie-dies-san-francisco.

 

 

 

 

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