Boomers Greeted 1969 With Hope and Trepidation

Fifty years ago, in January of 1969, the country was still reeling from the previous year. 1968 would forever be remembered as a tumultuous year, marked by violence, assassinations and an escalation of the war, mixed with hopes of peace and prosperity. A new president was elected and about to be sworn in, but his very presence divided the nation, in no small part along the Generation Gap of young and old. Television, the national highway system and an expanding economy all led to a widening of the Gap. This gave rise to the opening of the first The Gap retail store in 1969, in San Francisco, California. The store catered to boomers with a limited, but highly discounted, inventory of clothing that would appeal to the boomer generation; chief among the items was Levi’s jeans. Blue jeans had become the de facto uniform of the Boomer Generation. Jeans represented a break from the constraints of earlier generations, and exemplified the freedoms cherished by boomers to do what they wanted, when they wanted, dressed as they wanted. While not every boomer was in the streets protesting “Tricky Dick” in their blue jeans, the mistrust boomers had for the incoming president, especially when it came to Vietnam, turned out to be well warranted.

Here are some of the events that marked that month, fifty years ago:

January 5: The Space Race continued to heat up with the Soviet Union launching two space probes to Venus within a few days of each other, Venera 5 and Venera 6. The intention was that both crafts would arrive at Venus one day apart in order to cross-calibrate data collection of the planet’s atmosphere and surface before being disabled by heat or crushed by pressure. Venera 5 descended at a faster rate than Venera 6, broadcasting data for only 53 minutes, thus dooming the main goal of the mission.

January 12: Led Zeppelin released their first album in the United States. Featuring songs with titles like, Dazed and Confused, Good Times Bad Times and Communication Breakdown, boomers were immediately on board.

January 14: Lyndon Johnson gave his final State of the Union address before Congress. He only had one week left in his presidency, so it turned out to be his farewell speech to the people of the United States. He highlighted some of his accomplishments during his five-year tenure, including the passing of the Voting Rights Act (1964) and the creation of Medicare (1965). He mentioned that the unemployment rate, as 1969 began, was sitting at 3.3% and spoke of his hope for peace in Vietnam. He also spoke about the need for Social Security to keep up with the times, and urged a raise of “at least 13%” for the nation’s seniors on the program. Johnson also mentioned that though a new administration would be taking over, it did not mean a dismissal of the issues and challenges that faced his administration. On that front, he wished his successor well on behalf of the American people.

January 15: The Soviet Union launched Soyuz 5 with the intention of docking with Soyuz 4, which was launched a few days earlier, and in orbit. The spacecrafts were manned and became the first ever to dock in space. Cosmonauts on board became the first ever to transfer from one craft to the other via a spacewalk before both vehicles headed back to Earth.

January 20: Richard Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th President of the United States.

January 22: An assassination attempt on Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev failed. An army deserter, Victor Ilyn, fired shots at Brezhnev’s motorcade, killing a driver and injuring several cosmonauts who were riding with Brezhnev in the motorcade. Ilyin was captured and, while facing the death penalty, was declared insane. He was placed in solitary confinement in a mental hospital for twenty years.

January 26: Elvis began recording what turned out to be his comeback album at the American Sound Studios in Memphis. Among the songs that became hits from the sessions were, Suspicious Minds, In the Ghetto and Kentucky Rain.

January 28: A massive oil spill from an off-shore well occurred off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. It caused the closing of the harbor as oil leached onto the beaches. It was the first oil spill that was ever given coverage on TV as images of sludge-covered seals and sea birds reached into homes across the country. Historians say this event galvanized the people of the state and marked the beginning of state — and later, national — environmental legislation. The disaster inspired Senator Gaylord Nelson (Democrat, Wisconsin) to create the first Earth Day in 1970. Long a proponent of conservation issues, Senator Nelson wanted Earth Day to be a grass-roots effort by the people, with the goal of making the nation’s city, state and national governments aware of environmental issues.

January 30: The Beatles gave their last public performance on the roof of Apple Studios in London. After a few songs, including Get Back and Don’t Let Me Down, noise complaints from nearby office buildings brought the police to the roof to shut the impromptu concert down. The 42-minute show was filmed and recorded with two eight-track machines in the basement, five floors below, and became the basis of the Let It Be film and album in 1970.

Nixon was sworn in as president, the Space Race was going full tilt, and the Vietnam War raged on. The Beatles played on a rooftop, and Led Zeppelin hit the shores of the U.S. Fifty years ago, the month of January was a momentous beginning to what would prove to be yet another historic year in the lives of boomers.

What event from January of 1969 looms large in your memory, boomers?

Some Boomers Got Christmas Greetings from the Beatles

Before the dawn of the internet and social media, celebrities relied on fan clubs as a more personal way to connect with fans. For publicity agents, they became an adjunct to the teen and celebrity magazines of the era and presented a steady audience that would be the first to buy whatever their client was selling. In return, the fan club members received autographed photos and often got first notice of upcoming film and music releases, public appearances, and sometimes, special visitations from the celebrities at annual meetings.

As soon as the Beatles became popular in England, their fan club cropped up. It was run out of the London offices of Brian Epstein’s company, NEMS Enterprises. NEMS managed the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and other bands at the time. Members of the Official Beatles Fan Club had access to publicity photos and info on the Fab Four that was unavailable elsewhere. In 1963, Tony Barrow, the press officer for NEMS, suggested the band record their thanks and holiday greetings on a flexi-disc that would be distributed to the fan club members. The idea was accepted with the intent that the recording pay for itself through fan club membership fees, though as part of the Beatles’ marketing, NEMS was prepared to accept the cost in exchange for fan goodwill.

Barrow wrote a script for each of the boys to read after the recording session that produced I Want to Hold Your Hand in October of 1963. It became obvious that the words read by John, Paul, George and Ringo were not their own as they fumbled through the script, ad-libbed and generally made fun of the whole process. Though the holiday message was intended to be a one-time release, it was a hit with fans, so NEMS continued to produce one every year through 1969.

1964 was the year the Beatles conquered America, but the Christmas message the band recorded in late October arrived too late to be distributed to the newly-minted U.S. Beatles Fan Club. Consequently, U.S. fans received the 1963 package that year as part of their $2.00 annual membership fee. The U.S. club members received soundcards instead of flexi-discs; boomers recall soundcards as the cardboard disc promotional items that were often adhered to the back of cereal boxes. Sound quality was hardly a concern with these items intended to be tossed after a single play.

By 1965, the band warmed up to the idea and gained control of the content. Their annual holiday messages got more elaborate, and some years featured new songs written for the occasion.

In 1966, the band recorded their message as a concept show that took its basis from the English pantomime musical comedy shows they saw at Christmastime when they were kids. Christmastime Is Here Again, was a new song recorded the day after the release of Magical Mystery Tour for the 1966 fan package. For the first time, some fans grumbled at the changes that were taking place in the bands’ sound, that culminated in the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band seven months later. While some girls didn’t like the new direction, more boys joined the club that year.

The band had officially broken up by Christmas of 1970, though the Fan Clubs remained in existence through 1972. Apple Records was looking for a way to thank loyal fans after the break up. Several ideas were put forth, but it was decided that fans would receive an LP as a parting gift that contained the Christmas messages recorded from 1963 to 1969.

In 2017, Apple released a CD box set of the Christmas messages, including reproductions of each year’s artwork, printed matter and remastered sound.

Mister Boomer and his siblings were never much for joining fan clubs. The only fan club Mister B belonged to was for Soupy Sales. His sister flirted with the idea of joining a Bobby Sherman fan club, but settled for a wall poster. Nonetheless, the Beatles had a big presence in the Boomer household. Brother Boomer brought home Beatles 45 RPMs and albums as soon as they were released. In fact, the first package of 45 RPMs the family bought had a Beatles record in it (I Feel Fine backed with She’s a Woman). It was the only record visible in the label-sized cellophane window of the 10-record package.

The first that Mister Boomer heard of the Beatles Christmas messages came from his transistor radio. One year, Mister B thinks it was 1965 or ’66, a local radio station played the fan club message on the air. After that point, he recalls hearing several stars of the time — including the Beach Boys — relaying Christmas greetings on radio bumpers, those short breaks between records and commercials.

How about it, boomers? Were you an official Beatles Fan Club member who received the annual holiday message package? Do you still have them now?