The summer of 1968 was one of the strangest, and most awkward for me. I think it would have been much easier if we hadn't moved around so much, but we did, and that was the problem. Our latest move found us buying a house in what was once considered an upscale neighborhood called "Rockwood". I wasn't really comfortable in this neighborhood as I was used to the lower and middle income levels of Southeast Portland. Rockwood was, (and still is), very near Gresham, Oregon. I was about to enter the eigth grade, and the whole summer of '68 felt strange and very uncomfortable.
At this time, downtown Gresham was only about 2 city blocks with many vacant storefronts. I used to frequent a record store that also served as an art supply store. I often loaded up on sketch pads and pencils in order to draw my many Beatle pictures.
During that summer I took an immediate interest in Funny Cars, Stock Cars, Rails, and Top Fuel Dragsters. I cut out magazine pictures, and bought a large poster of a dragster which hung on the wall in my room. I loved all the radio commercials for the races out at P.I.R. (Portland International Raceway), and built a few dragster models. Soon after that I became wild about the Jeep CJ5 as our neighbors across the street had one and took me my first a four-wheeling adventure.
Funny car photo courtesy of www.draglist.com
One day in June I sent away for one of the newest Matchbox Cars using a coupon from the back of a cereal box, and took nearly 2 months to arrive! It was the Honda motorcycle. Very sadly, 1968 was the end of my Matchbox period as I was rapidly outgrowing them. It was a sad day indeed when I finally had to admit that I'd outgrown these cars. I did try to hang onto my Matchbox car craze, but it eventually faded away from me.
However I did get a Matchbox Motorway set which proved to be mostly a failure; it was a great idea, but in practice the set didn't work well. The basic principle was a spring that ran under the tracks just below the groove. Foil stickers were applied to any matchbox car that had the space to hold it, and a plastic pin would feed into the spring.matchbox motorway The cars would be pulled around by the spring. However, this didn't work out well at all, and the first models of this set, (I don't know if they improved or not), were a complete bomb. Naturally, the spring had problems consistently travelling around the track.
The Beatles' White Album
There just plain ain't enough bandwidth on the world's servers to describe what this record meant to me. This amazing 2-record set was a culture unto itself; Picture me at 13 years of age coming to delightful terms with this mysterious LP. Though packaged in plain white, The White Album represented a dark side of the Beatles that even I, during the time, could not put into words. For me, they'd always been easy to understand. However, with the release of this abstract two-record set, they went from young guys with grins n' guitars to men with wives, individual attitudes, and quite possibly, secrets. This album was more like a club. In order to join this club, you had to have been faithful to the boys during the years.
It took a month's worth of taking care a newly seeded lawn to make enough money to buy The Beatles' White Album. In 1968-69 I was the go-to kid for yard work in our neighborhood. My first introduction to the White Album was through piped in speakers in my best friend's basement room. There in the purple glow of black light, listening to "Back in the U.S.S.R.", for the zillionth time, I knew I had to have it. The record was expensive: $7.95 at Fred Meyer, and that was the best price in town. I soon developed my favorites, and before long "Dear Prudence" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" were like personal anthems. The 8x10 glossys and the iconic poster were just extra benefits. This was in the summer of 1968.
"Get your motor runnin'... Head out on the highway... Lookin' for adventure... and whatever comes my way.
After the last year of listening to easy pop hits (at the time referred to as "bubble gum"), my musical tastes took a radical turn when I first heard a band called Steppenwolf. Naturally, their first blockbuster that soon became a world-changing standard in rock and roll history completely transformed me! "Born to be Wild" was my first introduction to the band.
My brother, who had just gotten out of the Navy and was married, visited us one day and came into my room to give me a listen to this new band he discovered called "Steppenwolf". Almost immediately Steppenwolf moved up in rank for me to share an equal level with The Beatles. So far, no band came close to that.
I'd gone from groovy harmonies and 3-minute AM hits to heavy-hitters and power chords. The groaning keyboard and pre-heavy metal guitar work was complimented only by the growling vocals of John Kay. Steppenwolf's first album with the unique foil-wrap cover was played more than any of my Beatle albums. I even loved every single track on the LP just as I would a Beatle album. To this day, I still love each and every track on it.
Their second LP titled "Steppenwolf The Second"continued the foil-wrap tradition in a series of blue tones and a posterized photo of the band. It featured the hit "Magic Carpet Ride" that also became super-popular. Some of the entire LP was questionable, and not as good as the first, but I listened to it all faithfully. Sadly, with their third release Steppenwolf at Your Birthday Party" was only marginal with just a few great tunes. They exploded the charts yet again with "Rock Me", but I soon began to realize that their albums were becoming hit-and-miss.
"Hey Jude, don't make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better. Remember to let her into your heart, Then you can start to make it better."
"Hey Jude" was released on August 26th, 1968, toward the end of summer. Back in the day I always considered summer to be over on September 1st. "Hey Jude" was a ground-breaking monster hit for The Beatles, and topped the charts even though it carried a running time of 7:11 minutes! This was unusual for hit singles, though earlier in the year, "MacArthur Park" beat Jude's time by ten seconds coming in at 7:21. When talking about Steppenwolf in my paragraphs above, both "Born to be Wild" and "Hey Jude" went on to be, and live today, as unforgettable and iconic rock and roll hits. Like em or not, both songs changed the world for the better.
In 1968, both "Hey Jude" and "Magic Carpet Ride" were singles that I'd worn out so badly they needed to be replaced. I bought two more copies of "Hey Jude" because I wasn't sure that it would ever be included on an album, and I wanted backup copies just in case. And speaking of albums, the summer of 1968 was the year that I began switching from 45s to full albums.