June 3, 2023

Rock ‘n’ Roll and the founding of a college

Although 1967 was known for the “Summer of Love” marked by the Monterrey Pop Festival with the American debuts of Jimi Hendrix and The Who, the fall of that year was important in the history of NCC. On October 2, the doors were opened to 404 students along with six deans, 15 instructors, and 29 staff and faculty in the rudimentary facilities on the north end of campus.

In this year of “counter-culture,” bands like The Doors, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Pink Floyd released their debut albums. Communications professor Dr. Rebecca Dean recalls the first time she heard the Doors single “Light My Fire” on the radio.

“It was one of those long summer nights and the sky was so red. This song came on and it was longer than the usual pop song – everything about it, the cheesy organ, the deep voice of [Jim] Morrison, a relentless, sexual beat.”

Contrasting the music Dean grew up with before that, the song left her and her mother speechless in the car they were riding in at the time.

The radio DJ from Charleston, WV paused for several moments after playing the single, apologizing to the audience, introducing the audience to the band out of Los Angeles.

“Sorry people for the air space, I just needed to catch my breath.”

Dean said, “The Doors. There was a sense that this was poetry, not just to music, but symphonic. As far as I am concerned, they launched symphonic rock ‘n’ roll.”

1967 was the year, according to Dean, that no one could diminish popular music. Rock ‘n’ roll was now an instant classic.

With Jimi Hendrix’s debut album, it was a complete diversion from the contained choreography and music of Motown and connected to the roots of the Deep South with songs like “Red House” and “Highway Chile”.

“His guitar. If George Harrison wrote ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ his just screamed and wailed. Pentecostal, almost like midnight in the garden of Good and Evil,” Dean said.

Meanwhile, history professor Dr. Michael McGovern was a freshman at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Maryland in 1967 as a band known then as Tom and Jerry had come to campus.

“It was a rainy Sunday and my roommate tried to convince me to come to this free concert in the gym for a duo called Tom and Jerry,” McGovern said. “I declined to go at the time.”

Four months later, McGovern saw the group, who had changed their name to Simon and Garfunkel, in New York City.

The music of 1967 helped shape a generation of students here at Northampton that would witness the events of the Vietnam War, and eventually, events such as the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the election of the first African-American president.

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