1968: The Year in Music

1968: The Year in Music

by Marc Nuccio

The year 1968 produced a wide variety of songs that were top hits. These songs ranged from uplifting ballads to clear sociopolitical statements. Hey Jude, The Beatles’ chart-topping single, remained the number-one song on the charts in the United States for nine weeks in 1968. Hey Jude was a feel-good song that Paul McCartney wrote to comfort John Lennon’s son, Julian, as Julian’s parents went through a divorce. The B-side of Hey Jude, titled Revolution, served in part as The Beatles’ response to the Vietnam War. The Rolling Stones also felt the need to address the war, with the song Street Fighting Man. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote the song after a 1968 anti-war rally at London’s US embassy. “Revolution” and “Street Fighting Man” had vastly different messages, yet each song, released by the most popular rock bands of the day, conveyed the enormous impact that the Vietnam War was having on the Western world.

The Vietnam War shaped much of the year of 1968. Throughout the duration of the war, the United States spent about $168 billion on the war, and about $168,000 for each “enemy” killed. Nearly 60,000 Americans were killed during the war. This played a role in the widespread opposition to the war, both in the United States and throughout the Western world. At the United States embassy in London, a 1968 protest turned violent and led to over 200 arrests. Eighty-six people were treated by the St. John Ambulance Brigade, and 50 were taken to the hospital, including about 25 police officers. Protesters threw stones and firecrackers, as they broke through a blockade of police officers and went onto the lawn of the U.S. embassy. This protest spurred the Rolling Stones to write the song Street Fighting Man. The song described the anti-war sentiments shared by many in Great Britain, while noting that protests and demonstrations were frowned upon. The lyric “’cause in a sleepy London town, there’s no place for a street fighting man,” indicates that Great Britain did not openly welcome protests. The song’s seemingly revolutionary lyrics serve as the Rolling Stones’ response to the war.

The Beatles’ fast-paced hit “Revolution,” provided a different message than “Street Fighting Man.” This song provided a message of peace that seemed to suggest opposition to war in general. Lyrics such as “but when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out” convey the band’s distaste for violent conflict, and suggest a general opposition to the Vietnam War. The Beatles provide a more peaceful message throughout the song while decrying those who promote violence. The song references Mao Zedong in the lyric “but if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.” This link to Chairman Mao, whose revolution in China led to the deaths of more than 15 million people, suggests that those who promote rapid revolutions are harming society as a whole. Protesters against the Vietnam War would seem to fall into this category of revolutionaries. The Beatles openly oppose both the war and those protesting the war in the song, instead promoting a message of peace.

The contrast between “Street Fighting Man” and “Revolution” is indicative of two contrasting, yet thematically similar ideas that prevailed in 1968 regarding war. In “Street Fighting Man,” the Rolling Stones make their anti-war sentiments obvious. The song suggests that disruption through protesting in the streets is the best way to combat the war, despite British society’s reluctance to participate in such demonstrations. Meanwhile, The Beatles’ “Revolution” places blame on both those promoting war and those opposing war. The lyric “but when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out” is demonstrative of a general opposition to war and violence. However, lyrics such as “but if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow” suggest that those who support a revolution against the establishment are also harming society. Both “Street Fighting Man” and “Revolution” are songs that promote peace; however, the authors of the songs suggest vastly different ways of bringing about peace.

Activity Sheet: Vietnam War Protests

The Vietnam War caused conflict and division in American Society. President Johnson was torn between the increasing involvement and the protest movement that was growing rapidly. The war and the conflicts it caused were dividing the nation and causing a drain on resources that needed to be used on the Great Society Program. View the documents, and then answer the questions that follow.

Document 1: “The Department of Defense (DOD) reports that the United States spent about $168 billion (worth around $950 billion in 2011 dollars) in the entire war including $111 billion on military operations (1965 – 1972) and $28.5 billion on economic and military aid to Saigon regime (1953 – 1975). At that rate, the United States spent approximately $168,000 for an “enemy” killed.” (Source: http://thevietnamwar.info/how-much-vietnam-war-cost/)

Question: How does this suggest that the Vietnam War is draining United States resources?

Document 2: “During the Vietnam war, in order to meet its required war efforts, factories in the U.S. which used to produce consumer goods were now converted to produce military equipment. This change caused a plunge in shopping rates, thus hurting the economy. Military fund spent overseas also led to budget deficits which caused a weaker dollar, galloping inflation and increasing interest rates. Owing to the Vietnam War, American economy was brought down from its growth in early 1960s to an economic crisis in 1970s.” (Source: http://thevietnamwar.info/how-much-vietnam-war-cost/)

Question: How did the Vietnam War affect the United States economy?

Document 3: “U.S. combat losses totaled 46,463; another 10,355 died from non-hostile causes. A total of 303,704 were wounded. (The highest number of combat deaths in U.S. history was recorded in World War II, when 291,557 were said to have lost their lives.”

Draft_card_burning_NYC_1967

Question: What was the impact of the Vietnam War on American soldiers?

Document 4 Source: http://vietnamwarera.com/post/36656140606

Johnson is a war criminal

Questions: What do the signs say?  Why do these protesters feel this way about President Lyndon B. Johnson?

Document 5: Young men burn their draft cards in New York City on April 15, 1967.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draft-card_burning

Questions: What do the signs say? How do these protesters feel about the Vietnam War?

Summary: How did the American public feel about the Vietnam War? Why do you think they felt this way? [Materials borrowed from The Integrated Social Studies/English Language Arts Curriculum, Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES]

Activity Sheet: The Rolling Stones – Street Fighting Man

Directions: In the year 1968, there were increased protests in the United States in response to events during the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War shaped much of the music that was released during this time. The song Street Fighting Man, by The Rolling Stones, is their response to an anti-war rally at London’s US embassy in 1968.

Part 1:

Before we listen to the song, read a BBC article, released in 1968, about the anti-war protest at London’s US embassy. Highlight three important facts from the story, and write three notes in the margins.

marchers-protest-in-London

1968: Anti-Vietnam demo turns violent
Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/march/17/newsid_2818000/2818967.stm)

More than 200 people have been arrested after thousands of demonstrators clashed in an anti-Vietnam war protest outside the United States embassy in London. The St John Ambulance Brigade said it treated 86 people for injuries. Fifty were taken to hospital including up to 25 police officers. The mood at the rally was described as good humored. The violence broke out when the protesters marched to the US embassy in Grosvenor Square. The embassy was surrounded by hundreds of police. They stood shoulder to shoulder to cordon off the part of the square closest to the embassy.

Tensions rose as the crowd refused to back off and mounted officers rode at the demonstrators. The protesters broke through the police ranks onto the lawn of the embassy, tearing up the plastic fence and uprooting parts of a hedge. During a protracted battle, stones, earth, firecrackers and smoke bombs were thrown. One officer was treated for a reported serious spinal injury, another for a neck injury. One officer had his hat knocked off and was struck continuously on the back of the head with a stick from a banner as he clung, head down, to his horse’s neck. Labor MP Peter Jackson, has said he will be tabling a private question for answer by the Home Secretary about what he called “police violence”. He told The Times newspaper: “I was particularly outraged by the violent use of police horses, who charged into the crowd even after they had cleared the street in front of the embassy.”

 Questions

  1. What was the initial mood at the rally?
  2. What prompted the rally to become violent?
  3. Why do you think the protesters were so upset?

Part 2:

The Rolling Stones wrote this song in part as a response to the protests. As you listen to the song, read along. Three significant lyrics have been highlighted for you. After you listen to the song, answer the questions on the right regarding the highlighted lyrics.

“Street Fighting Man” by The Rolling Stones

Ev’rywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
Cause summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy

Question: Why is the time “right for fighting in the street?” What form might this “fighting” take?

But what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band
Cause in sleepy London town
There’s just no place for a street fighting man
No

Hey! Think the time is right for a palace revolution
But where I live the game to play is compromise solution
Well, then what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band
‘Cause in sleepy London town
There’s no place for a street fighting man
No

Question: What is a “palace revolution?”    

Hey! Said my name is called disturbance
I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the king, I’ll rail at all his servants

Question: Why does the author want to “kill the king?”

Well, what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band
Cause  in sleepy London town
There’s no place for a street fighting man
No

Question: Look at the chorus which is repeated three times in the song. What does the chorus tell us about how Londoners can react to the Vietnam War?

Activity: The Beatles “Revolution”

Directions: In the year 1968, there were increased protests in the United States in response to events during the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War shaped much of the music that was released during this time. The song “Revolution,” by The Beatles, is their response to the events of the war. As you listen to the song, read along. Highlight three significant lyrics, and describe what they tell us about war. One has been highlighted for you as an example. On the right column, you may take notes regarding what the lyric tells us about The Beatles’ feelings about the Vietnam War.

Pre-listening directions: The song “Revolution” by The Beatles was released in 1968. Listen to the song, and follow along on your Revolution lyrics sheet. A significant lyric from the song has been highlighted for you. As you read along, highlight three additional significant lyrics. You may take notes on the right side of the lyric sheet.

Post -listening directions: On the left side of the chart, copy the three significant lyrics that you highlighted. You will see that the first significant lyric has been included for you. Then, for each of the significant lyrics, describe (1) what the lyric means, and (2) why the lyric is significant. Use your knowledge of the Vietnam War to assist in filling out the chart.

Lyric What does this lyric mean? Why is it significant?
“But when you talk about destruction, Don’t you know that you can count me out”  

 

Lyrics: “Revolution” (by the Beatles)

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out

Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright
Alright, alright

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We’re all doing what we can

But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait

Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright
Alright, alright, al…

You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You’d better free your mind instead

But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow

Don’t you know know it’s gonna be alright
Alright, alright

Alright, alright
Alright, alright
Alright, alright
Alright, alright

 

 

 

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