All the media fascination with the 40th anniversary of The Summer Of Love has gotten me digging in my CD collection to hear some of the greatest sounds of '67. The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Aretha Franklin...so much incredible music. But one album stands head and shoulders above the rest, defining an era in a way that resonates just as strongly today as it did four decades ago. Of course, I'm talking about Elvis Presley's album, Clambake.
You thought I was going to say Sgt. Pepper, didn't you? Come on, give me a break. The Beatles' over-indulgent trifle got a little more press back then, and maybe it sold a couple more copies, but if you want to hear music that's not only of its time, but timeless, then Clambake is a must-listen.
The Summer Of Love was about turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. And what better way to do so than by going to a clambake? Elvis never sounded more anti-establishment than when he's singing "I've got this feeling to be free/I'll pick and choose the life I want and that's the life for me! Clambake, gonna have a clambake!" By using the clambake as a metaphor for rejecting society's mores, Elvis showed that he was in tune with what the kids were digging, and also appreciated good shellfish. A true renaissance man!
If you think the Beatles were more explicit than El in Pepper's drug references, listen to "Singing Tree" from Clambake and think again. The guy's so fried on acid that he's not only singing to a tree which he believes sings back to him, but he croons "Your leaves have turned from green to blue/Sometimes I think you loved her too." Like, wow! Blue leaves, tree-on-girl love ... this is some freaky stuff. "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" has nothing on this one.
Revolutionary Elvis pops up in "Hey, Hey, Hey." On the surface, it's a song about fixing up a boat. But check out this groovy verse: "We got a magic potion that will help us win/I don't know how to spell it but dip right in/Blako-oxy-tonic phosphate, it's the latest scoop/But that's all right, girls, you can call it 'Goop.'" That "magic potion"? LSD, of course. And "help us win"? More like "Help us overthrow the United States government, with violence if necessary." Why LBJ didn't take some sort of action against Elvis after hearing this track, I'll never know.
Or did he? We'll never know if the powers-that-be suppressed the album or not, but not too many would-be revolutionaries, or anyone else for that matter, heard Clambake when it was released in November of '67. It peaked at a disappointing #40 in the charts, despite the fact that it spawned no less than three charting singles. (Sgt. Pepper, in contrast, had exactly zero hits. No wonder they call Elvis "The King".) Reviews, many of them no doubt written by CIA operatives working undercover in trade papers, panned it. The Hollywood Reporter, for instance, said "Elvis can't continue for long to rely on the same...songs that have become anachronistic in the increasingly sophisticated and ever-changing world of pop music." Or, to put it another way, "If you buy this LP, you'd better watch your back, pinko."
I'd like to report that Clambake's stature has grown over the last 40 years, and it now stands alongside Sgt. Pepper as an acknowledged classic. Sadly, the government will never allow that to happen. But even though "The Big E." is no longer physically with us, his call for a psychedelic, clam-filled youth revolution endures.