Category Archives: Times

VW Beetle – Everything You Need to Know

The Volkswagen Beetle, often referred to as the “VW Bug,” was a car that made a significant impact on the counterculture of the 1960s. In a time of political and social upheaval, the Beetle represented a symbol of nonconformity and individuality.

The VW Bug was first introduced to the United States in the late 1950s, but it was in the 1960s that it truly took off in popularity. The car’s unique, rounded shape and affordability made it appealing to a wide range of people, from college students to young families. But it was its association with the counterculture movement that cemented its place in history.

A Counterculture Favorite

The counterculture of the 1960s was characterized by a rejection of traditional values and a desire for change. The VW Bug embodied this spirit of rebellion, as it was seen as a departure from the large, gas-guzzling cars that dominated American roads. The compact size and fuel efficiency of the Beetle made it a practical choice for those who wanted to save money and reduce their carbon footprint, while its quirky design set it apart from the more conventional vehicles of the time.

In addition to its practicality, the VW Bug was also embraced by the counterculture for its versatility. It was a popular choice for hippies and other countercultural groups, who often customized their Beetles with brightly colored paint jobs, peace symbols, and other symbols of their movement. The car became a rolling symbol of peace and freedom, and its popularity only grew as the counterculture movement gained momentum. Its widespread use by the counterculture also helped to popularize car culture as a whole, paving the way for the muscle car era that would follow in the 1970s.

The VW Bug’s unique design, affordability, versatility, and association with the countercultural movement made it an icon of the era and a symbol of nonconformity and individuality. Today, the Beetle remains one of the most recognizable cars of all time, and its legacy continues to inspire new generations of car enthusiasts and countercultural activists alike.

beat up red vw beetle auto
This one was mine!

Unique Mechanicals

The Volkswagen Beetle of the 1960s had several unique mechanical features that set it apart from other cars of the era. These included:

  1. Rear-engine design: The VW Bug had its engine mounted in the rear of the vehicle, which was a departure from the front-engine design that was common in most cars of the time. This design allowed for more interior space and improved weight distribution, making the Beetle a more balanced and stable car to drive.
  2. Air-cooled engine: The Beetle’s engine was air-cooled, which eliminated the need for a heavy and complex radiator and cooling system. This made the car lighter and more reliable, as well as easier to maintain.
  3. Simple suspension: The Beetle had a simple suspension system that consisted of a beam axle and torsion bars, which allowed for a smooth ride and good handling. This design was both rugged and reliable, and it helped to keep the car’s cost low.
  4. Lightweight construction: The Beetle was built using lightweight materials, including a body made of steel and an aluminum engine case. This helped to keep the car’s weight down and improved its fuel efficiency.
  5. Flat-four engine: The VW Bug was powered by a flat-four engine, which was a compact and efficient design that made the most of the limited space available in the rear of the car. This engine was designed to be simple, reliable, and easy to maintain.

These mechanical features, combined with the Beetle’s distinctive rounded shape and affordable price, made it a popular choice among car buyers in the 1960s. The Beetle’s unique mechanicals also contributed to its reputation as a car that was fun to drive, easy to maintain, and built to last.

Tie Dye, Official Dress of a Generation

Multi colored tie dye shirts
Tie-dye shirts

Tie-dye is the unofficial uniform of the Golden Age of Rock. It wasn’t new in the ’60s but quickly became an artistic form of protest. The establishment dress in the 50s was suit and tie for men, with dresses or skirts for women. Hair was neat, cut close for men, and conservative cuts for women. Everything was orderly and symmetric. It was a great target for rebellion, and tie-dye with its bright colors and randomness was how to do it.

Tie-dye wasn’t new; it’s just a modern term for an old process. Archeologists have found remnants of tie-dye material dating back well over a thousand years. Finds have been reported in China, Japan, India, and all of the way to Peru. The earliest date back as far as the year 500 in Peru and 600 in Japan and China. With this much geographic diversity, it was probably in use long before these finds.

Rit Dye and Tie-Dyeing

Most clothing in the 60s was store-bought, and sales at the Rit Dye company were going down.  Previously, Rit was a department store staple.  Don Price at Rit came up with the idea of liquid dyes that were easier to use artistically.   He promoted the new dyes to artists in Greenwich Village and promoted several of them to bring their works to Woodstock.

tie dye swirl pattern
Tie-dye swirl pattern

There are lots of special techniques used to produce colorful patterns. All involve letting the dyes reach some of the cloth and blocking it from others. As the name implies, simply tying the cloth in knots forms basic patterns. Dye reaches the exposed parts but not the part inside the knot. Different types of knots or bunching the fabric produces different patterns. Stripes come from vertical folds, circles come from a single bunch, and marble comes from wrapping the entire garment in one big ball. Swirls and geometrics come from making a bunch within a bunch.

It was a combination of the growing protest movement in the late 60s along with a growing Indian influence that drove tie dye’s popularity.  Once started, the Rit Dye company pushed it along with a marketing campaign in Greenwich Village and recruited decorators Will and Eileen Richardson.  Their dyed fabric ideas were picked up by the designer house Halston, and the Richardsons were honored with a Coty Award for”major creativity in fabrics.”

Janis Joplin appeared at Woodstock in a Tie-dyed dress. Joe Cocker and Mama Cass wore tie-dyed clothes also.  John Sebastian was tie-dyeing his underwear.  By 1970, mainstream magazine Vogue featured model Maria Benson in a Halston kaftan.  And counterculture band Grateful Dead picked it up as their official uniform.

Flower Power – Make Love, Not War

Flower Power was a hippie concept in the mid 60s that made it’s way into mainstream American culture. The phrase is credited to poet Allen Ginsburg to express opposition to the Vietnam war, and later as a symbol of the non-violence ideology, but it was probably rooted in a 1961 Pete Seeger folk song:

Flower Power by Washington Star photographer Bernie Boston, was nominated for the 1967 Pulitzer Prize
Flower Power by Washington Star photographer Bernie Boston, was nominated for the 1967 Pulitzer Prize

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Flower Power and it’s companion, Make Love, Not War, became the antiwar slogans of the times, and were given a boost by a famous photo from the 60s shows a teenager placing flowers in the barrels of National Guardsmen rifles.  Flowers were the symbol for Passive Resistance and non violence.

Ginsburg coined the phrase in a 1965 article “How to Make a March Spectacle”.  The concept was that protestors, rather than appearing threatening, should hand out “masses of flowers” to the police, authorities, and spectators.  The protests would then seem more like street theater and become more appealing to the mainstream.

Abbie Hoffman added to Flower Power during his 1967 Workshop in Nonviolence:”The cry of ‘Flower Power’ echoes through the land. We shall not wilt. Let a thousand flowers bloom.”

And of course, John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas wrote San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in your Hair) which is known as the unofficial anthem of the counterculture movement”.

At first it was just hippies and hippie wanna-bees that wore flowers but it rapidly spread mainstream.  The late 60s saw flowers from Flower Power merged into pschedelia and flowers began showing up everywhere. Pop artist Peter Max added day glow colors to a stylized design and flowers went mainstream.

The Human Be-In

Human Be-In poster
Human Be-In poster

The Human Be-In happened on January 14, 1967 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and was a celebration of the 60s counterculture and hippie movement.

The Be-In was preceded by the Love Pageant Rally, a much smaller event in October 1966 that was staged to protest the banning of LSD, and it was a predecessor to the famous Summer of Love that which brought the hippieculture to national attention and international recognition to Haight Ashbury.

The Human Be-In was announced on the cover of the first issue of the San Francisco Oracle as “A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In.” Entertainment included Timothy Leary with his his famous phrase “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”, Richard Alpert (soon to be more widely known as ‘Ram Dass’), and poets like Allen Ginsberg, who chanted mantras, and Gary Snyder. Security was provided by The Hells Angels, and a host of local rock bands such as Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service provided the music. Of course there were plenty of drugs, Owsley “Bear” Stanley provided “White Lightning” LSD to the public.

Allen Cohen, one of the founders of the San Francisco Oracle, later commented on how it brought together philosophically opposed factions of the San Francisco-based counterculture: on one side, the Berkeley radicals, who were tending toward increased militancy in response to the U.S. government’s Vietnam war policies, and, on the other side, the Haight-Ashbury hippies, who urged peaceful protest.

Total attendance was estimated at 20,000 to 30,000, and it set the stage for the larger Summer of Love that brought people in from all over the country and made Haight Ashbury famous.

The Twist and Other New Dances

Chubby Checker doing the Twist
Chubby Checker doing the Twist

The Twist was a musical phenomenon that spread across the country in lightning speed due to exposure on television. The original recording by Hank Ballard in 1959 was hardly noticed, but Chubby Checker’s 1960 cover of it shot up to #1 on the charts, and then reached the #1 spot for an unprecedented second time in 1962.

The Twist has another unusual distinction; it was the first major dance where the couples didn’t have to touch each other. A member of Chubby Checker’s crew explained how to twist:
“It’s like putting out a cigarette with both feet, and wiping your bottom with a towel, to the beat of the music.”

At the height of the Twist craze in 1961, a club in New York called the Peppermint Lounge, feature a house song called The Peppermint Twist, performed by Joey Dee and the Starliners. The song went on to the #1 spot and re ignited the Twist craze.

Bill Haley & His Comets contributed toward the Twist craze with international hits “The Spanish Twist” and “Florida Twist”, spreading the dance craze throughout Latin America. And…one more time…The Twist was so strong that in the 80s, Chubby Checker brought it back to the charts with his band The Fat Boys!

Other 60s dances include:

The Watusi, another solo dance that was popular in the 60s. In 1962, Ray Baretto released the album “Charanga Moderna”. The track “El Watusi” reached the top 20 chart and went gold. In a 1964 TV Guide, Fred Astaire and Barry Chase do the Watusi.

The Mashed Potato was a hit for Dee Dee Sharp in 1962 and was similar to the Twist. Begin by stepping backward with one foot with that heel tilted inward. The foot is positioned slightly behind the other (stationary) foot. With the weight on the ball of the starting foot, the heel is then swiveled outward. The same process is repeated with the other foot: step back and behind with heel inward, pivot heel out, and so on. The pattern is continued for as many repetitions as desired.

The Monkey is a novelty dance, most popular in 1963. The dance was popularized by two R&B records: Major Lance’s “The Monkey Time”, and The Miracles’ “Mickey’s Monkey”, both released during the summer of 1963.

The Loco-Motion was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and recorded by Little Eva in 1962.
The song is a popular and enduring example of the dance-song genre: much of the lyrics are devoted to a description of the dance itself, usually done as a type of line dance. The song has inspired dozens of cover versions over the years, notably by The Chiffons, John Coltrane, Grand Funk, and Kylie Minogue.

The Frug evolved from another dance of the era, The Chicken. The Chicken, which featured lateral body movements, was used primarily as a change of pace step while doing The Twist. As dancers grew more tired they would do less work, moving only their hips while standing in place. They then started making up arm movements for the dance, which prompted the birth of The Swim, The Monkey, The Dog, The Watusi, and The Jerk. The Frug is sometimes referred to as The Surf, Big Bea and The Thunderbird.


60s Dress and Style

The Rock era began with conservative 50s and 60s dress. Just check out some early pictures from Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and you’ll see crew cuts on the boys and pony-tails or bouffant hairstyles on the girls. Knee length dresses were the norm for women and button down plaid shirts for men’s casual wear.

Dancing on American Bandstand
Dancing on American Bandstand
Scene from American Bandstand showing early 60s dress
American Bandstand

Note that the guys were all wearing sports coats and dress shoes. This was the norm for school dances in many parts of the country. Canvas sneakers were just coming into fashion but weren’t in fashion for a dance. Leather sneakers or athletic shoes weren’t around yet. School dances all had rigid dress codes. Jeans or skirts too short got you sent home.


Mid 60s Dress and Style

Allstar sneakers
Allstar sneakers
prokeds sneakers
Prokeds sneakers, a popular style.

By the mid-60s, fashion had done an 180-degree turn. Miniskirts and hot-pants were in for girls, sometimes paired with go-go boots. Ponytails were gone and long, straight hair was in. Granny dresses, the peasant look, and clunky shoes were all in style. Quite a difference from just a few years earlier.

Men’s hairstyles grew long and shaggy, with beards, mustaches, and sideburns. The Afro was popular for blacks of both genders. Bright colors, Nehru jackets, and turtlenecks were in style.

The Beatles hair told the whole story. Their hair was slightly longer than normal in the early 60s, a contrast to the crew cut standard. It flopped around a little bit (driving the girls crazy) as the performed. By the mid-60s it was definitely long, came down to their eyes in the front, and flopped around a lot. By 1967, they added mustaches, and by 1970 they wore their hair shoulder length and with full beards.

hippie strumming guitar
1960s hippie

Towards the end of the decade, unisex styles became popular 60s dress, with bell-bottom jeans, screened or embroidered t-shirts, and love beads being the fashion of choice. Flower, bright colors, paisley, and psychedelic themes were everywhere. And it’s tough to forget for formal wear, those big wide ties, 5 inches wide was the standard in stripes and plaid, and it made no difference what other pattern it was worn with. What were we thinking to wear one coupled with a polyester leisure suit?

Sly Stone with an Afro
Sly Stone with an Afro
Nancy Sinatra in a minidress
Nancy Sinatra in a minidress

It was clear that individual expression won out in the 60s. Teens, even from the most conservative areas, wanted to be different than their parents and dress was a big distinction. Older teens could choose their own clothes, younger teens that made up the majority of the baby boomers still had to stay within the school and parental guidelines. It made for some interesting combinations.

The Lava Lamp

Lava Lamp
Lava Lamp

The Lava Lamp is an outstanding icon of the 60s and 70s! Stoned or straight, one could sit for hours watching the slow motion bubbles from the bottom of the Lava Lamp. They rise slowly, sometimes breaking into pieces, sometimes merging with others. Once at the top, they sit for a while and then slowly sink to the bottom to start again.

Edward Walker invented the Lava Lamp based on a lamp that he spotted in a pub. He brought his new invention, called the “Astro Lamp” or Astro Light” to a Hamburg trade show in 1965 where Adolph Wertheimer noticed it and bought the American rights to the product and began to produce it as the “Lava Lite”.

The construction is fairly simple, a glass bottle filled with a clear liquid and a colored wax, sitting on a base with a light bulb. As the bulb heats the wax on the bottom, it expands, becomes lighter than the liquid, and rises. As it cools, it contracts, becomes heavier, and sinks. Once it warms up, there’s a continual flow of wax “blobs” rising and falling.

Lava Lamp and Psychedelia

Watching the slow bubbles of a Lava Lamp is relaxing, some may call it addicting. It’s easy to see how it would have extra appeal to someone a bit high.  Walker said of his lamp, “If you buy my lamp, you won’t need drugs… I think it will always be popular. It’s like the cycle of life. It grows, breaks up, falls down and then starts all over again.”

Lava Lamps have gone mainstream and are still made and available in department stores, and there is usually one on the shelf at the Goodwill Store. Their construction has changed some over the years as some of the original materials have been replaced with safer ones, but they still work the same and I still love to watch them.

Odd Stuff – Louie Louie

The Kingsmen performing. Louie Louie was their top song.
The Kingsmen performing

“Louie Louie” is one of the most famous American rock ‘n’ roll songs. It was written by Richard Berry in 1955 and has since been recorded by hundreds of different artists. Berry recorded the song with The Pharoahs in 1957 as the flip side of his recording of “You Are My Sunshine.” Although the song had moderate success, Berry sold Louie Louie to help pay for his wedding.

Fast forward to 1963 when a local band from from Portland, Oregon called the Kingsmen decided to use “Louie Louie” as their first demo recording. They weren’t happy with the results. On top of the fuzzy voice, there were several other errors, and they didn’t expect much from the results. There were many different accounts of why the lyrics were slurred, one hypothesizes that the microphones were out of place, another that lead singer Jack Ely was either horse from singing the night before, wearing braces on his teeth, or just plain hung over.

Whatever the reason, The Kingsmen souped up what was a ballad into a high energy number by adding a festive rock ‘n’ roll rhythm, a sassy guitar, background chatter, and almost unintelligible lyrics, and Louie Louie became America’s #1 party song.

They were surprised as the song was promoted by DJs in Boston and eventually became a hit. Rumors arose that the lyrics were intentionally slurred by the Kingsmen to cover the fact that it was full of profanity and contained a graphic depiction of sex between a sailor and his lady, which added to the song’s popularity.

The FBI got involved in the controversy under the Interstate Transportation of Obscene Material (ITOM) law. I guess they thought that their investigation would do some good, but after 2 years, all that they succeeded in doing was to increase the record’s sales and create an industry out of guessing what the real words were.

One can only wonder if there were any FBI agents with children, and if they realized that, even in the 60s, the best way to promote something was to try to take it away! For the record, here are the words from the FBI file:

Louie, Louie…oh yea, a-way we go
Yea, yea, yea, yea, yea
Louie, Louie…oh baby, a-way we go
A fine little girl – she wait for me.
Me catch the ship – a-cross the sea.
I sailed the ship – all a-lone.
I never think – I’ll make it home.
Louie, Louie…a-way we go
Three nights and days we sailed the sea.
Me think of girl constant-ly.
On the ship – dream she there.
I smell the rose – in her hair.
Louie, Louie…oh baby, a-way we go
Me see Jamaica – moon a-bove.
It won’t be long – me see me love.
Me take her in arms and then.
I tell her I never leave a-gain.
Louie, Louie…oh yea, a-way we go

As a side note, there evidently was some obscenity in the recording, and it totally slipped by the FBI. Reports are that, just before the second verse, about 54 seconds in, drummer Lynn Easton banged his sticks by accident and shouts the “F” word.

Summer of Love

Mural from Haight Ashbury
Mural from Haight Ashbury

The Summer of Love was the summer of 1967 and was centered in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Thousands traveled there from all over the world as the hippie counterculture movement grew in popularity. Some were hippies, many were wanna-bees, and like many other rock culture events, a lot more claim to have been there than actually were.

The beginning of the Summer of Love was actually the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park on January 14th. It was billed as “A Gathering of Tribes” and set the stage for the year. The Be-In was where Timothy Leary declared “turn on, tune in, drop out” and that pretty much described the underlying attitude. It was the first mass hippie gathering. Two young producers named James Rado and Gerome Ragni were there, let their hair grow with the rest, and captured some of the excitement in their musical “Hair” that is still being performed today.
John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas wrote the song “San Francisco” that was originally supposed to be a promotion for The Monterey Pop Festival in June, but is remembered as The Summer of Love theme. It was recorded by Scott McKenzie and became a worldwide hit:

Scott McKenzie's album that included San Francisco, the unofficial theme song of the Summer of Love.
Scott McKenzie’s album that included San Francisco, the unofficial theme song of the Summer of Love.

If you’re going to San Francisco,
be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…
If you come to San Francisco,
Summertime will be a love-in there.
The Summer of Love crowd peaked during the summer vacation season. Altogether, an estimated 100,000 hippies and others from around the world flocked to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, Berkeley and other San Francisco Bay Area cities to see what it was like to be a hippie.

Flower Power became one of the Summer of Love themes. Originating with some Haight-Ashbury children who wore flowers in their hair while selling paper flowers, the flower became a sign of peace and love, and Flower Power became the name of a political movement.

As the Summer ended, many of the attendees headed back to school. There they were seeds for the growing hippie movement. Some went the Leary way of turning on and tuning out, others went the Flower Power way of promoting love and peace through political movements.

Want to read more?  Here’s an excellent video.  

The Antiwar Movement

The peace sign symbol of the antiwar movement.
The peace sign symbol of the antiwar movement.

The Antiwar Movement was one of two major cultural shifts in progress during the golden age of rock. It grew as the civil rights movement, perhaps helped by the acceptance of Race music (R&B) into Rock and Roll was just gathering steam (read more).

At the same time, many people , including a large number of the youth of our country, began to question our country’s involvement in Vietnam. These were still conservative times, and maybe it was just that the kids were more open to questioning government authority, but it created a major division in our society.  The Antiwar Movement set up a situation where it was us (teens) against them (the establishment).

Perhaps it was because Vietnam wasn’t an official war … the government never actually declared war, and we never had clearly defined goals as in previous wars. There wasn’t a lot of commitment to fighting a “police action”. As the death toll continued to rise, teens of the 60s saw their friends get drafted, sent to Vietnam, and never return. On top of this,unlike previous wars that the country was familiar with, troops were “rotated”, brought home while the fighting was still going on, with first hand reports that the war wasn’t going well and we didn’t have a clear goal.

Early protest came mostly from the Folk side of Rock music. Songs by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were relatively mild as they introduced the seeds of protest. By the mid 60s, mainstream Rock joined in with Country Joe’s “I Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die Rag”:

Come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, don’t hesitate,
Send your sons off before it’s too late.
You can be the first one on your block
To have your boy come home in a box.
Country Joe and the Fish

By the late 60s, there were nearly half a million soldiers in Vietnam and the draft was claiming more and more guys. College campus protests arose across the country, and protest music became a lot stronger. Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead mixed their protests with drugs, creating what became known as Acid Rock. By the time of Woodstock, flag burnings on stage were common and Jimi Hendrix’ version of The Star Spangled Banner let the world know that we saw our country in a different way than the establishment.

As the war wound down, protest music faded, but the Antiwar Movement’s influence still lasts. Country music, a close relative of Rock, grew in popularity through the South as Rock antiwar tunes alienated conservative listeners. The dividing line between “Country territory” and the “Rock world” closely matches the Red State / Blue State, division in today’s politics.

The Antiwar Movement Peace Sign was borrowed from a British nuclear disarmament movement and caught on quickly in the USA.  It’s still so popular today that it has it’s own Unicode … that’s the computer code that makes letters and numbers.  The code U+262E generates ☮.  An alternative peace sign, the V Sign was borrowed from a WWII victory symbol.  It’s origin was probably an expression of desire for the war to end.  The V Sign has it’s own Unicode,U+270C which generates ✌.  Note that the V Sign for peace is with the palm facing outward.  Be careful how you use it.  Facing inward is considered obscene and insulting in some cultures.