The Sounds Of A ’60s Summer

There was the ever-present throb of fans, because no one had air conditioning.  Square fan units that fit into the bottom of a window that you could yell into and have your voice emerge, chopped and distorted, on the other side.  Rotating fans that whirred from side to side, with streamers tied to their wire covers blowing in the breeze.  Standing fans in the corner that sent air circling around the room.  They didn’t make the air any cooler, but they helped the “circulation.”

Screen doors creaking open and slamming shut with a bang as kids came and went and exasperated Moms said:  “In or out?”  Baseball cards attached to bicycle frames with a clothes pin that were strummed by the spokes of the rear wheel and made a bike sound like a motorcycle.  The hum of riding lawnmowers, as the neighborhood Dads cut the grass on their acre-sized lots.  The fat from cheeseburgers sizzling on hot charcoal.

And, as the evening arrived and shadows grew long, boxy Zenith and RCA radio units were turned on.  The sounds of ’60s music floated out the open windows through the screens into the humid summer nights as the adults gathered on patios and kids ran around, waving sparklers or catching lightning bugs or playing flashlight tag.  Martha Reeve and the Vandellas and Dancing in the Street.  Frank Sinatra and Strangers in the Night.  The early Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Four Seasons.  Dionne Warwick and Petula Clark.  And, most of all, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, whose music perfectly captured the ’60s summer mood.  Happy, bopping music, light and upbeat, infused with optimism, as the adults talked quietly and laughed about last night’s Tonight Show or reenacted one of the bits from the latest great Bill Cosby or Bob Newhart comedy album.

When bedtime came, the beat of fans was still there, accompanied by the chirping of crickets and the buzz insects in the sultry air.

Where Have All The Horn Bands Gone?

The other day I was driving, listening to the radio, and heard Chicago’s Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? It’s a great song and it got me to thinking:  Where have all the horn bands gone?  That is, why aren’t rock bands that feature trumpets, and slide trombones, and saxophones popular any more?

There was a time in the late ’60s and early ’70s when horn bands dominated the airwaves.  On the FM rock stations, you had bands like Chicago and Tower of Power.  On the AM dial, you had acts like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and Blood, Sweat and Tears.  There also were many songs where horns were prominently featured, like All You Need Is Love and Penny Lane by the Beatles and Pink Floyd’s Us and Them.

I liked the horn bands because they had a different sound.  It was a bit crisper, a bit cleaner, and a bit brighter than the sound produced by the standard four-man band with two guitars, bass, and drums.  It was a great change of pace, and now that sound seems to be totally gone from popular music.  Why?