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Top 5s: What America watched and listened to in the summer of '69

Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda from Columbia Pictures'

Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda from Columbia Pictures' "Easy Rider" in 1969. Credit: Everett Collection/Columbia Pictures

Here's what America was watching and listening to during the summer of 1969.


1. IN THE YEAR 2525 (Zager & Evans, RCA) Not everyone was comfortable with the technological advances of 1969. This bleak portrait of the future (“In the year 4545, ain’t gonna need your teeth . . . You won’t find a thing to chew”) was in the middle of its six-week run at No. 1 for the one-hit wonders.

2. SPINNING WHEEL (Blood, Sweat & Tears, Columbia) In another weird bit of technophobia, the rockers declared, “What goes up, must come down.” Blood, Sweat & Tears believed in the power of cycles rather than progress. And, of course, the importance of riding a painted pony.

3. GOOD MORNING STARSHINE (Oliver, Jubilee): The North Carolina pop singer benefitted from good timing, as his version of the song from the Broadway musical “Hair” captured the more romantic appreciation of space travel, from “The Earth says, ‘Hello’ ” to the nonsense (alien-speak?) chorus.

4. CRYSTAL BLUE PERSUASION (Tommy James & The Shondells, Roulette) The laid-back groove and acoustic guitar riffs made “Crystal Blue Persuasion” a bit of a departure from James’ driven, psychedelic rock hits like “Crimson and Clover.” That was on purpose, James has said, seeing as the song was about his religious conversion and not, as many believed, about crystal meth use.

5. WHAT DOES IT TAKE / TO WIN YOUR LOVE (Jr. Walker & The All Stars, Tamla) The dreamy slice of soul driven by saxophonist Jr. Walker stood out at the time, with its extended instrumental intro and Walker’s lengthy solo. Its simplicity was also a major part of its success.



ROWAN & MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN (NBC) Beginning as a one-time special the previous fall, "Laugh-In," became the monster that took over prime time by that summer, with comedy sketches, antic energy, and plenty of catchphrases that entered the language (and stayed): "Sock it to me!" "Here come da judge." "You bet your bippy."

GUNSMOKE (CBS) "Gunsmoke" was well into late middle age by this point — it had launched in 1955 — but had lost no vitality, or at least few viewers, although in the spring of 1969 had been unseated by "Gomer Pyle, USMC for the No. 2 position, and then went on to unseat "Gomer Pyle" by that fall.

BONANZA (NBC) Americans may have been looking to the moon in the summer of '69, but on TV they were looking to the past, with westerns still the most popular format, and with "Bonanza" still a huge favorite.

MAYBERRY R.F.D. (CBS) After Andy Griffith walked away from his long-running hit the year before, CBS launched this spinoff with a new lead, played by Ken Berry, and most of the same old gang, still living in the quiet, rural, gentle never-Neverland of Mayberry.

FAMILY AFFAIR (CBS) With Brian Keith and Sebastian Cabot, this was about a Manhattan bachelor (Keith) and his manservant, Mr. French (Cabot) and the three children who were abruptly put in their care — cue to weekly comic situations about adult men woefully inadequate to the task.



MIDNIGHT COWBOY This downbeat drama about a male prostitute (Jon Voight) and an ailing con artist (Dustin Hoffman) became an unlikely summertime hit, earning raves from critics and tantalizing audiences with its seedy subject matter. It remains the only X-rated film to win the Academy Award for best picture; Oscars also went to director John Schlesinger and the once-blacklisted screenwriter Waldo Salt.

TRUE GRIT One of Hollywood’s last traditional Westerns featured John Wayne in one of his last great roles. For his performance as the hard-drinking, half-blind U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, Wayne, at the age of 62, won his first and only Academy Award for best actor. The Coen brothers remade the film in 2010 with Jeff Bridges in Wayne’s role.

CHASTITY Making her film debut in the summer of 1969 was a popular singer known as Cher. Alessio de Paola’s drama cast her as a hippie runaway, but writer-producer Sonny Bono (then Cher’s husband) said the character represented women’s conflicted feelings about their new “independence.” The film tanked so badly that Cher would stay away from movies for more than a decade.

THE WILD BUNCH Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece, released in mid-June, featured a classic Hollywood cast — William Holden, Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien — but this Western was probably not what their fans expected. Shockingly violent, with unpretty notions about sex, morality and survival, “The Wild Bunch” troubled some critics and came home empty-handed at the Oscars. Today, it’s widely considered one of the greatest Westerns ever made.

EASY RIDER Few films captured the contradictions of the counterculture like this one. Its plot: Two hippie bikers use the proceeds from a cocaine deal to fund a soul-searching road trip. The movie’s pro-drug attitude, hard-rock soundtrack (Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf) and zonked-out stars (director Dennis Hopper and his co-writer Peter Fonda) made it a cross-generational must-see, and a touchstone for future filmmakers. It was released July 14, two days before the launch of the Apollo 11 mission.



1776 Could there have been a more appropriate play to win the 1969 Tony for best musical? In a year that celebrated American milestones, “1776” looked back to the nation's early days in a show that put to music a creative if not entirely accurate vision of the events leading to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. A staple in regional theater, the show was revived on Broadway in 1977 and only recently a new production, to be directed by Dianne Paulus ("Waitress"), was announced to tour nationally before opening in New York in 2021.

HAIR The rock musical had been running for more than a year at the time of the moon landing, and The 5th Dimension's single "Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In" was number one on the Billboard pop singles chart for six weeks that spring. The groundbreaking, irreverent show set in the context of the Vietnam War shocked on numerous accounts. The language was far rougher than Broadway audiences were accustomed to, and much of the plot involved a young man evading the draft. And then there was that infamous nude scene in which most of the cast shed their clothes during a demonstration set in Central Park.

OH! CALCUTTA! Speaking of nude scenes . . . and still holding the title of longest-running revue in Broadway history, this compilation of erotic sketches, put together by British drama critic Kenneth Tynan and written by some lofty theatrical names including Samuel Beckett and Sam Shepard, opened in June 1969. But the writers didn't give the show its notoriety — that came from the fact that the production was performed almost entirely in the nude.

HELLO, DOLLY! David Merrick opened this classic in 1964, but when interest started flagging a few years later, he came up with the idea to switch to an all-black cast. Pearl Bailey starred, along with Cab Calloway and the show was going strong during the summer of '69, though Bailey had some health problems that forced her to miss a number of performances. It eventually closed in 1970, but she was back in a revival in 1975.

PEER GYNT While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were making history, folk singer Judy Collins was exploring new worlds of her own. She made her acting debut alongside Stacy Keach, Olympia Dukakis and Estelle Parsons in this production at the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park, playing Solveig, a young woman who draws the lusty attention of the title character.


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