What the world needs now Is love

jackie-de-shannon-what-the-world-needs-now-is-love-libertySomething happened in the 1960s that doesn’t often get discussed. Brotherly love became an increasingly common subject for pop music lyrics. Only rarely was this topic deemed sufficiently interesting in previous decades or centuries. What caused this shift? Several societal factors coincided and likely played a role: the explosive number of Boomer youth and further differentiation of a separate youth culture; the high profile of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. and the instantly televised, blatant inequities faced by American blacks; a reaction against the conformist, materialistic 1950s and growing interest in non-material, spiritual consciousness.

The wave can easily be discerned in the following list of top 100 hits starting in 1965, peaking in 1969, and gradually diminishing into the 90s (though never completely vanishing).

  • What the World Needs Now Is Love – Bacharach/David, rec. Jackie DeShannon (1965)
  • Aquarius – Rado/Ragni/MacDermot, rec. Fifth Dimension (1967)
  • People Got to Be Free – Rascals (1968)
  • Reach Out of the Darkness – Friend and Lover (1968)
  • Everyday People – Sly & the Family Stone (1969)
  • Get Together – Powers, rec. The Youngbloods (1969) (first recorded 1964 by The Kingston Trio)
  • Put a Little Love in Your Heart – Jackie DeShannon (1969)
  • He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother — The Hollies (1969)
  • Woodstock – Joni Mitchell (1970)
  • Peace Train – Cat Stevens (1971)
  • I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing – Cook/Greenaway/Backer/Davis, rec. The New Seekers (1972)
  • Love Train – The O’Jays (1973)
  • Holiday – Madonna (1984)
  • Rhythm Nation – Janet Jackson (1989)
  • This House – Sharrod/Sharrod/Spence, rec. Tracie Spencer (1990)
  • Why’s It So Hard? – Madonna (1992)

As with other trends, lyric interest eventually began to shift to other themes—although not displacing brotherly love entirely. Thus, as the more self-absorbed late 1970s got underway, interest shifted to escapist themes focused on dancing and going to the disco. Instead of the plight of our brothers and sisters, more time became devoted to “me.” I confess, I’m disappointed with the shift, because we haven’t attained the ambitious goal set forth in so many of those songs. The question lingers. And as much then as today, what the world still needs is love.

For additional posts that provide interesting music lists, see About Music and This Site.

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