Monday, May 16, 2011

The Other Side of the 1960s or "This Is My Country and I Know that I'm RIGHT"

Randall Stephens

There was another side of the turbulent 1960s and 70s era. New conservatism and membership in the Young American for Freedom gained steadily after 1964. The "silent majority" became a slogan for all those Americans who had enough of tear gas, long hair, and endless protests. Yet in the popular imagination this seldom registers. Host a 1960s party and see who comes dressed up as a John Bircher. Who else will arrive sporting beehive wigs and flattops and carrying "Get US Out of the UN" signs or wearing "AUH20" buttons. The popular history of the sixties, still, has probably been told too often in a prescriptive rather than a descriptive fashion. Even historians perhaps have sided with the young marchers who shook their fists at "the man."

However, recent trends in history are starting to change these perceptions and the way of telling the story of the 1960s and 70s. See for example the insightful books that have appeared in recent years on grassroots conservatism, the rise of the new right, and evangelical conservatism:

Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (W. W. Norton, 2010)

Jefferson R. Cowie, Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (2010)

Daniel Williams, God's Own Party: The Making of the
Christian Right (Oxford, 2010)

Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New
American Right (Princeton, 2002)

Kevin M. Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton, 2007)

Matthew D. Lassiter, The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South (Princeton, 2007)

Bruce J. Schulman and Julian E. Zelizer, eds., Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s (Harvard, 2008)

Joseph Crespino, In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution (Princeton, 2009)

Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan (W. W. Norton, 2009)

David T. Courtwright, No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America (Harvard, 2010)

Donald T. Critchlow, The Conservative Ascendancy: How the GOP Right Made Political History (Harvard, 2007)

I've been tooling around with the idea of making a compilation of conservative country/folk songs, sorta anti-protest numbers, that express the other, fightin' side of the 1960s and 1970s. The criteria does not have to do with the quality of the music, but with the tone of the message. Do the lyrics call for flag-waving, god-fearing, patriotism and support for the local
police? Does the singer lament the state of America's cities and shout down the feral hippies running shoeless through the streets clutching their bongs and incense sticks? Long, long before the Tea Party raised its collective complaint and before Lee Greenwood made grammarians sick with lines like "And I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free," others were charting out a conservative protest genre.

So, here's what I've got so far. (Thanks to Scott Hovey for some wonderful suggestions). This is only a start! There's so much more out there.

Merle Haggard - The Fightin' Side Of Me (1968)

Merle Haggard - Okie from Muskogee (1969)

Jimmy D Bennett - Sapadelic (197?)

Don Hinson - The Protest Singer (197?)

The Goldwaters - Down in Havana (1964)

Up with People - Which Way America? (1966)

Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama (1974)

Robin Moore and Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler - The Ballad of The Green Berets (1966)

11 comments:

LD said...

I would add "The One on the Right is on the Left," recorded by Johnny Cash, which is a tongue-in-cheek sendup of "activist" folk music.

Here's a link to the Wikipedia page:

The One on the Right Is on the Left

Randall said...

That's a great song!

I remember hearing that in the car over and over as a kid from my parent's cassette deck.

Anonymous said...

Any post from "Listener Greg" on the fantastic WFMU blog is of historical interest (natural disaster ballads, etc), but the posts entitled "Keep America Beautiful, Get a Haircut" have some great counter-counterculture songs for listening and download.

One example: http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2011/03/keep-america-beautiful-get-a-haircut-part-5.html

hcr said...

Can I add to the books, as well as to the songs? Mary Brennan's Turning Right in the Sixties is a smart, short look at how the right regrouped after the Goldwater campaign. I found it insightful, and really readable.

And as for Lynryd Skynryd, I actually teach this clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHsDa9_HSlA

when dealing with this very issue. The Confederate flags are striking in this, as is the sheer size of the crowd.

mcheathem said...

Larry Norman's "The Great American Novel" offered a cutting critique of American liberalism from the "Jesus People" angle.

Randall said...

Great suggestions.

The WFMU blog is amazing.

Adam Parsons said...

A few others to check out:

"Dawn of Correction" by The Spokesmen - a send-up of "Eve of Destruction." More a defense of liberalism than a conservative piece strictly speaking, but still worth looking at.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ce-kNe9grzY

Anything by Janet Greene:
http://www.conelrad.com/greene/index.php (Conelrad has lots of Bircher music - see also The Goldwaters).

From the Jesus People angle, My Poor Generation by the All Saved Freak Band:
http://www.mp3upload.ca/track/all-saved-freak-band/my-poor-generation

Anonymous said...

For a comprehensive list of political country music songs, check out Dan C. Carter's _Don't Get Above Your Raisin'_, which also has an excellent discussion of the politics of popular music in chapter 8.

Blackleg said...

Autry Inman's "Ballad of Two Brothers" is essential listening:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAknKH2mPpg

Gabriel said...

Listening to a few of these songs, I am struck by the common note of defiant obstreperousness in many of them!

On the subject of Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee," a song I love, I've heard two interpretations. One is that he is making a similar argument to "Fighting Side of Me." The other is that he is being tongue-in-cheek about the "okie" and poking fun at this character too. I wonder what others think?

Thomas Ruys Smith said...

As it happens, I've recently completed an article that examines the use of country music by both conservatives and the counter-culture in the late 1960s. It touches upon "Okie From Muskogee" too. Let me know if you'd like to see a copy.

As for "Okie", I think Haggard realised early on that it would serve him well never to pin its meaning down too carefully, and it certainly spoke to different groups in different ways. The hippies liked it as much as anyone else, as the numerous cover versions attest.