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Children behave

Sunday 6/25/23

An avowed love for what one could call a quintessential piece of bubblegum rock might suggest we’ve paid a call on the 1960s and our enthusiastic advocate is a fourteen-year-old girl, or else the time is now and we’ve chanced upon an older citizen of this Republic doing what they sometimes do, having a weekend drive with the oldies station reminding them of how it used to be.

I am neither a former Tiger Beat reader who had her first kiss in the time of Blonde on Blonde, nor do I take Sunday drives backed by the tunes of yesteryear, but I am someone who finds vast stores of mystery and wonder in the likes of what is typically summarized as mere bubblegum pop with Tommy James and the Shondelles’ “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

The song was released as a single in January 1967, backed by “Gone, Gone, Gone,” having been cut at Christmastime the year before in hopes of starting the new one off right. These were huge years of change for rock and roll, with the 1967 campaign now standing in history as the most obvious.

1965 brought with it volume and assorted experimental forays that went beyond songwriting and song-performing for the additional overhaul of sonic-textures as musical canvases were sliced, carved up, rusticated into controlled abstractions that became, if anything, more emotionally representational.

The zeal for experimentation was lashed further on in 1966, with the best in rock bridging the gap between the populist and avant-garde spheres, and the primal crudity of garage music added to the brew lest a growing musical culture start taking itself too seriously.

1967 would be the explosion year of what had been set up for detonation by the previous two; Sgt. Pepper will happen and the first Jimi Hendrix record, backed in the ranks by the West Coast coterie of lysergic progressives.

If you could think of ways to capture an idea, a vibe, a chunk of the zeitgeist in song form, then you were welcome to do so and apt to find admirers and a representative audience, size varying, of course, on whether you were the Rolling Stones, Moby Grape, or the Creation.

A song like “I think We’re Alone Now” would have been seen as regressive; a cut meant to “only” scale the pop charts, not blow minds already in the process of expanding.

It was a track for the constituents of the youth market; your younger sibling living through her era of junior high dances and early crushes, when parts of one's corner of existence start to feel verboten, but in piquant fashion that invites further, though guarded, study, and not the older brother who has commenced his experiments in the imbibing of cough syrup while listening to the Jefferson Airplane in this, his final summer before senior year.

And yet, the song is every bit the protean masterwork of the imagination as “Strawberry Fields Forever” or any leaf that one may care to pluck from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, a darkling ode of the perpetual here and now—in the timeless sense of linked human experience—harkening back to a strange, crazy dawn when what would eventually be known as this thing called fire wasn’t understood, and still a person was able to recognize and act on a desire to be with another.

* from "Louder in the Verses: The Revelatory Mystery of 'I Think We're Alone Now'"/Write to the Beat: Rock and Roll in Words and Words in Rock and Roll (Criticism)


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