Middle-aged Dick Clark tries and fails to bridge the generation gap in this odd 1967 recording.
Dick Clark was often called “America’s Oldest Teenager”, based on him hosting the music show American Bandstand from 1956 to 1989. As the show switched from merely featuring the teenage audience dancing to records to featuring live performances by music artists in the 1960s, Clark was the non-threatening paternal figure at the heart of it all, making sense of the shifting sounds of the decade and giving the show the sort of wholesome, middle-of-the-road appeal that helped ease rock ‘n’ roll out of its rebellious beginnings and into the mainstream. Clearly, American Bandstand was not remotely revolutionary in terms of the music featured – everything was very safe and very populist, and when it tried not to be everything tended to go wrong – the infamous 1967 Pink Floyd interview with Syd Barrett zonked out of his mind remains a high or low point, depending on your personal taste. But it did make strides in its own way, having unsegregated black and white kids dancing together and giving a certain stamp of respectability to music that older people still viewed with deep suspicion.
He was, therefore, perhaps the ideal man to perform Open Letter to the Older Generation, a 1967 record that is half novelty track, half oddly sincere statement. 1967 was, of course, the height of the psychedelic era and smack in the middle of the Vietnam War, and intergenerational conflict was arguably at its peak as teens turned on, tuned in and dropped out even as their parents voted for Richard Nixon and desperately hoped to turn back the clock to a simpler, more hypocritical time. Clark’s single – written, in fact, by Roy Freeman – set out to bridge the gap in the most condescending way possible, preaching to the parents that ‘the kids are alright’ without actually making any grand statements for or against the war, drugs or the growing counter-culture – which you imagine Clark probably viewed with a certain degree of suspicion himself.
Essentially, the song seems to be saying that the kids haven’t really changed that much and are just going through a rebellious stage before they settle down into marriage, good jobs and respectability. He wasn’t wrong, of course.
“Blame the kids for acid, blame the kids for pot/Blame the kids for hippies and bummer trips/Now lets just stop for a moment and think about the kids we know /You couldn’t really call them bad because it isn’t so.”
The song ends on an odd note: “America, be proud”, even though we’ve just been told about young men being sent overseas to die in foreign lands, which doesn’t seem like anything to be proud of, frankly.
“The music that you are hearing is the sound of the teens“ says Clark at the start of the record, though George Tipton’s easy listening tune is hardly the screaming edge of acid rock. Still, perhaps it made the record more accessible for the oldies. It does feel as though Clark, already pushing 40 at this point, wasn’t quite as hip to the new scene as he might be but nevertheless, this is a strangely sincere – and, of course, entirely doomed – attempt to close the generation gap and reunite estranged families.
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