1967 is one of the most legendary years in all of music history, and for good reason. Nearly every single band who made a mark during that year was innovating in one way or another, having been inspired by the Beatles, Beach Boys, and Rolling Stones (to name a few) groundbreaking work in previous years. Specifically, the Summer of ’67 is extraordinarily famous as new, joyful and experimental music blossomed all around the world. Since the Beatles paved the way for the British Invasion, London had become “swinging London,” where bands like Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, and Jimi Hendrix were making their mark, while state-side, San Francisco became a hub for the relatively new psychedelic/hippie movement on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, where the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and the Mamas and the Papas were all making waves during The Summer of Love. Rock and roll was in full swing, and its sound was changing to reflect changing cultural norms. Recreational drugs, most notably LSD and marijuana, were especially popular at the time in both San Francisco and London, and the music that came out of these cities were made by and for younger generations reflected these new, drug-influenced times.
The mainstream was now being fully dominated by these same younger generations buying singles and LPs, and a result, more and more bands were getting airtime on the radio and their chance at the top. One of these bands was The Association, a six piece band from California who are instantly recognizable for their harmonies, simple jangly melodies influenced by the Byrds, and of course, the use of a flute. The Association were one of the biggest mainstream bands during 1967, and they had the #1 song at the height of the Summer of Love: “Windy” which hit #1 on July 1st, 1967 and stayed there for four weeks, until it was knocked off by the Doors’ “Light My Fire.”
Compared to other bands at the time, The Association were much, much safer and less experimental than many of their counterparts, falling squarely into the sub-genre of psychedelic pop known as “sunshine pop,” which is exactly as light and airy as its name would suggest. While bands like Floyd and the Beatles were tinkering in the studio, using unusual techniques like backwards guitars, tape loops, and overdubs that would influence generations to come, bands like the Association were making fun, light, pop music that could be consumed without much of a second thought.
Because it wasn’t meant for further thought besides “I’m happy, the music is happy, let’s lay in the sun and do some drugs,” “Windy” is actually hard to describe in terms of its lasting influence. During their time, The Association were arguably the most successful sunshine pop band; there were thousands of imitator bands creating songs in the same vein hoping to get their chance at the top, some of which were pretty bad, leaving only a select few that get any play today. Outside of the fans of the genre, I’m not sure how many bands and artists were listening to the Association and thinking that they were breaking as much ground as many comparable bands of the era – because they weren’t.
By 1968, the Summer of Love had ended, the drugs had shifted, and the world was a much, much different place than it had been only 6 months prior. Psychedelic music had reached its peak of popularity, and a back to basics approach to recording had been adopted by both the Beatles and Stones, driving more bands towards bluesy guitar sounds, which left the light and cheery harmonies of the Association far behind as nothing but a relic of better times.
Despite the band being synonymous with the peak of psychedelia, the Association is just too light for my musical tastes, which often overlap heavily with the mid sixties and the Summer of Love. It’s hard to be compared favorably against The Beatles, after all. That’s not saying that “Windy” or any of the Association’s hits from 1966-1967 were bad – just try feeling down when the ending of “Windy” hits, how it builds via some bongos and an increased tempo, then the flute/piccolo comes back in and it just becomes nothing short of a sunshiney-poppy-romp. But, when you’re comparing “Windy” to the other music of the time, it just doesn’t stick as being important, or frankly, as good, and therefore, it gets relegated to the Time Life Music sets, not the Library of Congress.