That latter half of the 1960s was a momentous time for cultural exploration, specifically within music and art. The hippie counter-culture exploded during this time, finding a big part of its existence in protest of the Vietnam War and as well as protesting the cultural norms of the time left over from past generations. While the true hippies carried on to retain the integrity and the lifestyle, the movement as a cohesive whole had largely died by the early ’70s.
Of course, it wasn’t so simple as black and white – it wasn’t a case of ‘are you with us or are you not’. There were many offshoots from this culture and plenty of overlap. The Mod movement had some, however, it had very little connection to the culture. ‘Flower Power’ became a term that was used to describe some of the aspects of the culture; a flower became synonymous with peace, passivism, beauty, nature and anti-violence.
Flower Power had a psychedelic element to it, also implying the use of psychedelic drugs. However, it was more than just mindless drug-taking. The idea behind taking psychedelic drugs is to open one’s mind, whether it be for creativity, expansion of ideas and ways of seeing the world and general existence differently. The movement also had a big influence on sexuality and gender.
Flower Power and psychedelia didn’t just find their expression within the music though. It was also a sense of style; there are some beautiful iconic photos from over the years, specifically one picture depicting an androgynous person in a flowery dress holding up a flower against soldiers with guns. The photo says a lot in the way of describing what the Flower Power movement was all about.
Music was one of the bigger representations of the movement, however. 1967 was the year that Flower Power developed fully through the prism of psychedelia. Pink Floyd released their debut masterpiece, Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The Beatles released both Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Magical Mystery Tour. Jimi Hendrix released Are You Experienced? Love’s Forever Changes and Cream’s Disraeli Gears both came out and The Doors made their debut – and that is just scratching the surface. This is why they call 1967 the year of the ‘Summer of Love’.
Many regard The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as the quintessential summer of love record, and therefore The Beatles are regarded as the flower power band of the time. To say the least, the competition is fierce, and it is not an easy decision if one were to have to make it.
What did The Beatles themselves think about this? Ringo Starr, at least, doesn’t seem to think that his band was the quintessential Flower Power band. Perhaps there would be something slightly deluded, anyway, if one thought of their own band as the quintessential anything. Humility goes a long way, and anyone familiar with the Beatles extroverted drummer of the band, Ringo Starr, knows that he was never one to toot his own horn.
“I was getting a bit crazy there for a while because it was sounding not so much Beatles-ish but just like that flower-power period,” Ringo said. “And with that period you can’t help think about us,” Starr reminisced in an interview in Rolling Stone with David Wild. Starr would go on to name his choice for the quintessential flower power group, adding: “Personally, I always think of Procol Harum. Everyone else thinks of me and the Fabs, but I think of Procol Harum, because to me ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ is the ultimate ‘60s record.”
It is important to remember that the Flower Power movement started as an underground action. While a lot of these acts associated with the movement did find success in the mainstream, the most popular record of the ’60s Chubby Checkers ‘The Twist’, from earlier in the decade.
Procul Harum’s most successful charting single was ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, and it reached number five in the charts. The song reached number one in the UK, but as far as the mainstream is concerned, the ’60s were not characterised by the Flower Power movement, but instead the early pop of the decade. For example, The Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’ was the most successful song of the ’60s, according to The Official Charts Company.