It’s Countdown Saturday! Let’s look at news and popular culture headlines in Detroit for March 20, 1969.
This week in 1969, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird reported to congress for the first time in his new role. He offered “little hope for an immediate reduction of US manpower in Vietnam. “Now is not the time to be talking about troop withdrawal,” he told reporters after his appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee. 540,000 Americans were on the ground in the divided nation.
Eastern Airlines announced that it would begin testing metal detectors to combat the growing rash of hijackings. Just a month earlier, passengers on a Newark to Miami flight thought a hijacking was funny business when Candid Camera host, Alan Funt, happened to be on board. It turned out to be no joke.
Detroit Police Commissioner Johannes Spreen blamed mild weather for a 12.2% increase in the crime rate during the first two months of the year. Homicides remained at 56, but robberies increased by 48% to 2,457. Interchanges connecting the Chrysler and Fisher freeways were predicted to be completed by summertime. A Madison Heights teacher lost his job for allowing the White Panthers to pass out handbills in his classroom that contained their political philosophy and “obscenities.”
The Fed set the prime interest rate for small business at 7.5%. And ads were still running in both the Detroit News and Free Press thanking readers for their patience during the 9 month 1968 newspaper strike that ended in August. Back then, the Freep had a circulation of 540,000. There was no USA Today, no Internet, and Television news had yet to stake its claim as a major source of local news coverage.
A “big screen 18″ Zenith portable black and white TV” was being advertised at just $129.00. Sportcoats at Montgomery Wards were on sale for as low as $20.00. A gallon of Glidden latex wall paint cost $5.98. K-Mart‘s Easter Sale advertised a “Package of 15 45 rpm records you missed” for just 73 cents. We can only imagine what the titles were from that “cut-out” bin. Farmer Jack was advertising rib roasts for 79 cents a pound. A two pound can of Maxwell House coffee cost $1.15.
Bettelou Peterson welcomed Al Morgan to the afternoon news shift on Keener with Vincent Smith joining the morning news team from Oklahoma City. “Don’t expect a change in format at Keener with the new owners but do expected a renewed fight for the rock audience now that the station’s future seems to be nailed down.”
Bob Hope announced that he would do five television specials for NBC in 1969, including his signature shows for troops and a Christmas extravaganza. Bill Kennedy‘s afternoon movie on Channel 9 was 1947’s “Suddenly it’s Spring” starring Paulette Goddard and Fred MacMurray. Tony Bennett was appearing at the Masonic Auditorium. The Love Bug, Oliver, The Lion in Winter and Monterey Pop were among the feature films in theaters this week in 1969.
Ann Landers advised a distraught fiance who received a letter from her GI love intended for another woman to keep the faith and say nothing, because that other person obviously got the letter intended for Ann’s troubled correspondent.
The Countdown Saturday Top 5 – March 20, 1969
5. Galveston – Glen Campbell: We took a deep dive on this Jimmy Webb classic earlier in the week. The tune was popular with cover artists. Rolling Stone noted, “recordings of “Galveston” had sold six million copies, having been cut by 27 different artists, from fellow country star Faron Young to jazz great Dizzy Gillespie.” (Video)
4. Do Your Thing – the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band: The best performer of 9 chart singles for the second iteration of Charles Wright‘s 103 Street Rhythm Band, a moniker given the unit by Los Angeles producer and Keymen Records owner Fred Smith in 1967. The Ohio Players released a version of the song on their 1981 album, Ouch! (Video)
3. Dizzy – Tommy Roe: With the Wrecking Crew as backup, Dizzy is often tagged as a follow-up to the Atlanta, Georgia native’s 1966 hit, “Sweet Pea,” although the latter sold more copies and ranked higher than its predecessor. Roe is considered one of the early progenitors of the upbeat bubblegum sound. (Video)
2. Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In – The 5th Dimension: This tune from the Rock Musical “Hair” got the Bones Howe treatment. The producer, also famous for helming hits by the Mamas & the Papas and Elvis Presley, tapped Bill Holman to write the backing tracks with the Wrecking Crew performing. Keener was ahead of the nation on this Fifth Dimension classic, which spent 6 weeks atop the Billboard charts later in the spring and became one of the biggest records of 1969. (Video)
1. Time of the Season – the Zombies: Written by keyboard ace Rod Argent and recorded at Abbey Road Studios in August 1967, this one became a surprise hit on this side of the pond, seven months later. It is often represented as a psychedelic classic, featured in films like 1969, Awakenings, A Walk on the Moon, and Riding the Bullet, all of which depict the year, 1969. It was the band’s third US hit, following “She’s Not There” in 1964 and “Tell Her No” in 1965. The Zombies were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. (Video)
1961: At United Recording in Hollywood, Ricky Nelson recorded ‘Hello Mary Lou.‘ The Jordanaires overdubbed background vocals on March 22.
1964: George Harrison escorted teen star Hayley Mills and her mother to a midnight charity benefit showing of the film ‘Charade‘ at the Regal Cinema in Henley-on-Thames, England.
1965: U.S. President Lyndon Johnson ordered 4,000 soldiers to protect Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights marchers in Alabama.
1967: The English fashion model nicknamed ‘Twiggy,‘ known for her thin (twig-like) frame and short skirts, arrived in the U.S. for a one-week stay.
1969: After days of looking for a suitable, legal place, John Lennon married Yoko Ono in the British Consulate Office at the Rock of Gibraltar in Spain, a piece of land still owned by the English and described by Lennon as being necessarily ‘quiet, friendly, and British.’
1974: Former NBC News anchorman Chet Huntley died of lung cancer at the age of 62.
1976: Heiress Patricia Hearst was convicted of armed robbery for her role in the holdup of a San Francisco bank by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army.
1989: After 37 years with the program, Dick Clark announced his intention to discontinue hosting ‘American Bandstand’ on ABC-TV.
1991: A jury in Los Angeles awarded Peggy Lee $3.8-million (later reduced to $2.3 million) in videocassette profits for her singing and songwriting in Disney’s animated classic ‘Lady and the Tramp.’ Lee had been paid only $3,500 for co-writing six songs and providing the voice for four characters in the 1955 film.
1994: Humorist/columnist/author Lewis Grizzard died of heart failure at the age of 47.
1996: Nelson Mandela divorced his second wife, Winnie, after 38 years of marriage and two children.
1999: The only Legoland theme park outside of Europe opened in Carlsbad, California, 35 miles north of San Diego.
Happy Birthday to:
(1906) Ozzie Nelson (d. 1975)
(1908) Sir Michael Redgrave (d. 1985)
(1922) Carl Reiner (d. 2020)
(1922) Jack Kruschen (d. 2002)
(1922) Ray Goulding (d. 1990)
(1928) Fred Rogers (d. 2003)
(1931) Hal Linden
(1937) Jerry Reed (d. 2008)
(1950) Carl Palmer
(1950) William Hurt
(1957) Spike Lee
(1958) Holly Hunter
Today’s Quote Worth Re-Quoting: “Life is like a piano. What you get out of it depends on how you play it.” ~Tom Lehrer
One for the Road: The Flirtations underrated hit “Nothing But a Heartache” had already peaked on Keener but was still a big listener favorite this week in 1969. It was a failure when first released nationally in late 1968, but the record company gave it a different B-Side and a second chance in early 1969. The New York based trio, consisting of Lestine Johnson and sisters Ernestine Pearce, Shirley Pearce also filmed one of the first music videos, in of all places, Tintern Abbey in the Wye valley of Wales, in a format that would become standard when MTV launched years later.
Thanks for listening!
Host and Producer – Rock and Roll Revisited
Author: Motor City Music – Keener 13 and the Soundtrack of Detroit