In May 1967 Spring was giving way to summer in the Northern Hemisphere… and not just any old summer, it was to be the Summer of Love. The Flower Power Generation was all set to take over the world.
In America, planning for the Monterey International Pop Festival was in full swing, with Andrew Loog Oldham, who was about to vacate his position as The Rolling Stones’ manager, producer Lou Adler, and John Phillips of The Mamas And The Papas meeting to put the final touches to the most ambitious festival ever held. In the UK, on 19 May, The Beatles were at Brian Epstein’s London home in Belgravia for a press party launch for what would be their eighth studio album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Over the next couple of weeks, the British music press was full of reviews and track-by-track analyses of the album prior to its release on June 1. “Whether it’s their best yet I wouldn’t like to say after one hearing,” said Allen Evans in the New Musical Express. He points out that the album took five months to make, having been finished at the end of April, and implies that it may all have been a bit over the top.
While The Beatles were partying at their manager’s house, the soundtrack to The Sound Of Music was at No.1 on the British album charts – as it had been for much of the last two years. It was replaced by Sgt Pepper on the NME charts on 3 June, because of the enormous advance orders for the LP; such were the sales figures that the album made No.26 on the same week’s UK Singles Chart, and went to No.21 on 10 June.
The singles chart was dominated by The Tremeloes’ ‘Silence Is Golden’, the B-side of an old Four Seasons hit. Storming up the charts was Procol Harum, who made No.3 with ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’, and would get to No.1 the following week. On the UK bestseller list, Traffic’s debut single, ‘Paper Sun’, made the Top 20, showing that new sounds were the coming thing.
However, don’t think for one minute that the record-buying public had fully embraced beads and kaftans. Though The Summer Of Love had just begun, other big hits on the charts included Engelbert Humperdinck, The New Vaudville Band, The Dubliners, Vince Hill, Topol, Herb Alpert and Frank Sinatra, with his daughter Nancy.
Another sign of the changing times was Jimi Hendrix, who was in the Top 10 with ‘The Wind Cries Mary’. Four days earlier he had played a “potted” version of ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ at the Saville Theatre, with Paul McCartney and George Harrison in the audience. Two weeks later, he was wowing audiences at Monterey and establishing his reputation back home in America, helping to take The Summer Of Love stateside.
Also on the bill that night was Denny Laine, late of The Moody Blues, and a future member of Wings. Producer Tony Visconti, who had recently arrived in London from New York, was there. “I wrote five string arrangements for Denny Laine, who played them at the Saville Theatre,” he recalled. “Jimi Hendrix was also on that bill and Denny Cordell grabbed me backstage, saying, ‘Visconti, come, you must see this.’ Hendrix poured lighter fluid on his Stratocaster and threw a lighted match on it – so that’s why two members of the Fire Brigade were standing in the wings, one with an axe in his hands and the other with a fire extinguisher. The audience went berserk and I was just horrified. It would take me years to save up for a Stratocaster.”
There was live music at clubs, pubs and ballrooms right across London and the whole of the country. At the Marquee, in the week Sgt Pepper was released, there was the “New” Spencer Davis Group, Stevie Winwood having departed to form Traffic, as well as Savoy Brown Blues band. Elsewhere in the capitol gigs were being staged by artists as diverse as Georgie Fame, Jose Feliciano, The Jeff Beck Group (featuring Rod Stewart, and Ronnie Wood playing bass), Fairport Convention, Del Shannon, Tony Bennett with Count Basie, and Blossom Dearie holding court at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. If you had been anywhere near Spalding in Lincolnshire, on England’s east coast, the previous Bank Holiday Monday, you would have caught Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Cream, The Move, Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band and Geno Washington at Barbeque ’67.
In memory of an amazing time, we’ve collected together images that help tell the story of this week in 1967: The birth of the Summer Of Love.
The Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th-anniversary reissue here.