Scott McKenzie: The death of the nice guy who sang a song that will never die.

Scott McKenzie (1939-2012)

San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair) the wonderful Librarian titled and wonderfully atmospheric song will always the the memorial to a nice American pop singer called Scott McKenzie who died on Saturday.

The year was, of course, 1967 and it was the Summer Of Love. It was the year when some people really did put flowers in their hair and many thousands more thought about doing it and wished they had. It was the year that a lot of young homeless people descended on a down-at-heel suburb of San Francisco where a colony of counter culture “drop-outs” were experimenting with living a non-materialistic, make-love-not-war, philosophically anarchist lifestyle. The huge crowds that arrived in the small conclave that was Haight Ashbury soon turned it into a media cliche and an organizational and sociological nightmare.

Coach trips for shocked and curious toursits were soon organized to show an older generation what seemed to them to be a frightening and threatening if not mildly silly phenomenon but, believe it or not, there was a moment when people thought the World was going to change.

It did a bit but not as much as some of those original “hippies” wanted.

It caught the public’s imagination though and you didn’t have to be a hippie to be, well, a hippie. You could just like the idea of the clothes, kaftans and sandals, and the hair, just beginning to grow long, you could be attracted to all that talk about recreational drugs or be drawn to the thought of “free love.” You could do most of those things whilst also doing a normal job, studying conscientiously at college or daydreaming as you did the housework in respectable suburbs all over the Western World. Others did it for real – there were success stories and casualties too but it has left its mark even if the movement as a whole went the way of all fashions and trends to become ridiculed and pigeon-holed as just another kitsch chapter in cultural history. They don’t want to live in the news but I know, for a fact, of some of the original hippies whose “communes” arevstill function hidden away from salacious news hounds all these decades later.

San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair) didn’t come out of Haight Ashbury, Scott McKenzie wasn’t an anarchist counter-culturalist, he was a nice guy from Los Angeles contracted by a record label to sing a song written by John Phillips of Los Angeles band, The Mamas & The Papas. It was, undoubtedly an example of the recording industry jumping onto the latest band wagon but, hey man, it worked.

It really is a wonderful song and, against all the odds and probably contrary to the record labels expectations, it really did capture something of the spirit of those times. OK, it is slightly soppy and sentimental, it makes claims that it couldn’t substantiate and, I suspect, didn’t know what it was talking about but it caught the public’s imagination in a way that more hard-core and “authentic” songs like the San Francisco band Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” could never muster. It was, in the end, a great pop song that did what all great pop songs do, it opened its arms to all and in the mildest and least controversial way possible, turned everyone on a little. We can still listen to that gentle lyrical melody with its yearning sense of hope and wonder, the simple imagery of those  flowers in the hair and the optimistic and anthemic sense of a new dawn, we can still listen to it and wish that some of those things could really come to pass.

So thank you Scott McKenzie – love and peace, man.

4 Comments

  1. I confess to a pang on learning of McKenzie's death the other day. "San Francisco" was emblematic of what was the fantasy of The Haight (a phenomena McKenzie and John Philips were no part of).

    The real music of the hippies and the Haight, centered around performances at the Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore West. Here Janis Joplin let loose a wail that made the hair stand on end, the Grateful Dead held court, and Grace Slick with her incredible vibrato wasn't singing "Somebody to Love" with a nuclear family in mind.

    Pennebaker's film "Monterey Pop" from the Summer of Love is an eye-opener revealing mostly the reality of the music and the cultural milieu from which it sprang for those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

    Still, "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) is one of those tunes that evokes an entire childhood growing-up in the 60s for me.

  2. I knew I read it somewhere before…LOL
    Oh well, it gave me the opportunity to remember Janis Joplin whose own death I never quite got over.

  3. LOL – it was well worth saying Brian….I still miss Janis Joplin too.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: