Pop music is a reflection of our society and the songs we hear echo the issues of our day. Music is a great unifier. An artist can take what exists around them and craft an arrangement the carries a special message to all those willing to listen. What we hear is a commentary and simplified idea that is relatable to us as a society. It’s not a phenomenon that is exclusive to music. It is an inherent responsibility that is carried across all artistic mediums. In essence, art imitates life both when the times are good or bad.
There is a particular social stigma with rock/pop music of the late 1960s such as the Stones, Beatles, or Kinks. Sure, all of these groups are now considered ancient history, dad rock, or whatever descriptor we can apply that dates them. To a modern listener, these songs just aren’t edgy anymore. But, we tend to forget the underlying themes of many of the classic rock radio staples of yesteryear. This was a period that immortalized excessive drug abuse. What’s that you see up there? Oh, it’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds. What are you doing over there? Oh, just waiting for the man. Though these things become exaggerated over time, it’s pretty much a safe bet to assume a song is about drugs. Can’t understand what Dylan is saying? Drugs. Simplistic, yes. But, not unreasonable. The culture was experimenting at that time and, of course, music was as well.
All contemporary music is a reflection of society. While 60s rock is characterized as being for the drug-addled hippies, let’s not forget country music. Country music tends to have the stereotype as being for the good ol’ boys; the conservative Christians. Good, down-home types who wouldn’t think twice about putting down their Bibles to pick up joint.
Pioneering cowboy psychedelia, Lee Hazlewood defies the stereotypes associated with country music artists. Hazlewood’s work during the 1960s and 70s were fueled by all the same creative juices flowing through contemporary rock/pop at the time. Conventional thinking was for the squares and it was time to open minds to strange, more psychedelic ways of thinking. Hazlewood’s rural saccharine sound was a great, and underappreciated, complement to the more popular hopheads on the radio.
However, all things must pass. With things like Vietnam, Altamont, and Charles Manson, the cultural high wasn’t going to last forever. The crash came and it came hard. “Think I’m Coming Down” is a great reactionary song to the music of the previous decade. Things weren’t groovy anymore as paranoia reigned supreme and went all the way up to The White House. Musically and thematically, this 1973 gem of a song reflects that perfectly. Thinly veiled as a song about lost love and drug abuse, Hazlewood’s baritone voice soberly deals with his own personal crash. He’s coming down. Backed by a female chorus that borders on gospel, the soothing angelic voices aid his fall back to Earth. Hazlewood is going to be ok, but he won’t be the same. No one is the same after a bad trip.
I had some fun with this song. As a child of the late 80s, I absolutely have no authority to speak on the culture and lifestyles of our parents and grandparents. But, it is a lot of fun, isn’t it? Time is a great equalizer. Problems of the past seem so far away as if we are reading them out of some great lost novel. And then there are the things we hold onto and idolize. Why are some things sacred and others are not? Who knows and who cares? Society cherry picks its history and we choose to romanticize the free-spiritedness and innovation that time brought us. Drugs or not, we all come down after riding that high. What may seem turbulent now won’t be in the future and what was cool then probably wasn’t. But, don’t worry about that. Just enjoy the trip.