The present pop charts may be a bit shite but in terms of consistency they make perfect sense, there’s loads of pop, a bit of rap and a very specific type of production that makes everything sound very processed.
Not so in the early 70s, the Beatles had split, no one knew where pop was heading and the charts were wide open. A couple of weeks back I wrote about Clive Dunn’s novelty hit ‘Grandad’. Following that single there were hits from George Harrison and early sightings of Rod Stewart and Slade, there was also reggae from Dave and Ansel Collins as well as soul from the Tams and Dianne Ross, the year would end with another novelty hit from Benny Hill.
At the time I was just becoming really interested in music, the charts were a good education, there was no choice, we only had the radio and only one channel which consistently played pop music, you either listened or didn’t.
In among this smorgasbord of different sounds the charts featured a slightly bonkers single in the shape of desiderata by Les Crane.
Unlike today there was no Wikipedia, we knew nothing about Les or his song, it sounded a bit weird and hippy. That was another trend of the early 70’s, there was a surprising tolerance towards spirituality which would soon be put on hold for a couple of decades.
In fact, Les Crane was an American TV presenter big enough to rival Johnny Carson, neither meant a lot to us in the UK so Crane had a clean slate to impress us. Desiderata itself was a prose poem by Max Ehrmann dating from 1927 and was taking on a life of its own as a kind of alternative Lord’s Prayer especially from the 60’s onwards, it’s origins as a piece of writing from an Indiana lawyer had been largely forgotten.
As an easily influenced 12 year old, I’m sure the single had some sort of influence on me, I can probably recite the words (with a bit of prompting) today, it taps into meditation and mindfulness which are more relevant than ever today in a country that seems to be at war with itself
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender,
Be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others –
Even the dull and ignorant, they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons – they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
For always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career –
However humble, it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is.
Many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially do not feign affection, neither be cynical about love.
For in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
It is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the council of the years,
Gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune,
But do not distress yourself with imaginings –
Many fears are borne of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe.
No less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
Keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be careful. Strive to be happy.
It’s hard to believe but people bought this record in barrow loads, presumably they weren’t all acid casualties from the 60’s, to hear these ideas on the chart show on a Sunday teatime was really quite radical in a quiet placid way