Da Nang, Vietnam
(thanks, Jeremy Couture)
The 1960s were perhaps the most turbulent decade in the history of America, if not the world. Social upheaval and counter-culture were the words of the day and the shock of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War echoed from the Far East to the Upper East Side. In 1967, the Summer of Love began in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, and quickly spread from sea to shining sea. The hippies promoted free love, gender equality, and communal living, as well as a healthy suspicion of the government, rejecting consumerism, and vehemently opposing the Vietnam War.
What the North Vietnamese called the Resistance War Against America, the conflict that stretched for 20 years (between 1955-1975) was perhaps one of the blackest and bleakest moments in American military history. It is also the only physical conflict the United States hasn’t won since the founding fathers declared independence from Great Britain in 1776. The US government viewed involvement in the regional conflict as a means to prevent the spread of communism, which had already managed to take a strong foothold in China, the Soviet Union, and closer to home in Cuba. The war effort was part of a wider containment strategy (supposedly) with an aim to steamroll the domino effect of communist states across Asia and the world.
While the soldiers fought overseas, back home musicians and common citizens took to the streets to protest what they believed was a no-win situation in what was formerly known as French Indochina. America was split down the middle and millions of people viewed the war as a wasted effort – pointless in fact, as there was no exit strategy, nor anything to be gained from US presence in Southeast Asia. 20/20 hindsight proves the hippies were correct. In addition to the psychedelic rockers and American folk artists, popular Motown style groups hopped on board, and it was during the height of the Summer of Love when the very successful songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland contributed one of their most famous songs.
Hai Van Pass, on the border of Da Nang, Vietnam
(thanks, Margrethe Store)
Originally recorded and performed by Diana Ross and the Supremes, "Reflections" is a perfect example of psychedelic rock and the counter-culture movement’s effect on the Motown sound in the latter half of the 1960s and shifting into the 1970s. This tune was the very first Motown record to incorporate the use of synthesizers in the arrangement, obviously influenced by Pet Sounds
(the Beach Boys), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
(The Beatles), and similar acts of the time. The lyrics nostalgically refer to a simpler time before war and hatred ravaged the country. Camelot in the early '60s was destroyed with the assassination of President Kennedy, so it stands to reason H-D-H might’ve written the song about the previous five years hidden in a veiled allegory about the breakup of a romantic relationship.
“Through the hollow of my tears, I see a dream that’s lost from the hurt that you have caused.”
Are the Supremes singing about a relationship, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, or their own personal in-fighting? Perhaps all four mixed together. Shortly following the recording and release of "Reflections," one of the original members (and lead vocalist on "Reflections"), Florence Ballard, felt pushed to the side and thus resorted to erratic behavior, including depression, excessive alcohol use, absence from recording dates, weight gain, and a strained relationship with Diana Ross to the point that Motown legend Barry Gordy needed to replace her. Cindy Birdsong took Ballard's place, and the name of the group was altered slightly from The Supremes to Diana Ross & The Supremes. Prior to her departure, Ballard had sung on 16 Top 40 singles, including 10 No. 1 hits.
On a final note, the television show "China Beach," which was set in an evacuation hospital during the Vietnam conflict in the port city of Da Nang in Vietnam and aired between 1988 and 1991, used "Reflections" as its theme song. Given all the choices for a song place, we felt this one fit best.
Everyone longs for a simpler way of life, and in the late 1960s the current of that desire penetrated throughout every nook and cranny of the music industry. "Reflections" takes a step back and examines what was happening politically, socially, and musically within the context of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and the Supremes themselves.
~ Justin Novelli
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