Two weeks ago, I went to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. It was the first museum I visited for a bigger trip and I couldn’t have been more excited. Not only was I in London, I was going to the V&A to see a special exhibition they had. On what? Well, music, of course.
The exhibition was called You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 and is currently running now through the end of February 2017. Using the music that defined the era as a common thread, the exhibition was a look into how the fashion, politics, technology, and revolutions of the time influenced our culture, our music, and the world we know today. This wasn’t just some nostalgia trip for the baby boomers and hipsters. This was an intensive cultural exploration and at a period that still resonates with the public consciousness of the present.
The exhibition was incredible. Music was the focus of the exhibition, so visitors were issued personal headsets that piped in tunes depending on where you were. The song that would play was a reflection of whatever items in the collection you were looking at and enhanced the experience not just on an entertainment level, but bordered on something larger and more meaningful.
The collection featured amazing items such as rock memorabilia. Various guitars, articles of clothing, and other personal effects from music legends were proudly on display. There were also other aspects that elevated the musical experience. In one room, it was designed to resemble a field at a music festival. There were large pillows and got to relax and watch a giant screen depicting Woodstock footage. As someone who doesn’t enjoy large music festivals, relaxing on AstroTurf in a climate-controlled building was perfect for me.
In other areas, politics and revolution were the focus and included posters, books, and other items integral to the promotion of counterrevolutionary thoughts and actions. These items were used to promote various minority groups and encourage a more inclusive society. John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s “Bed Peace” signs were on display as well as the first gay men’s magazine to feature full-frontal male nudity and pamphlets distributed by the Black Panthers. Nostalgia has a tendency to distort everything with rose-colored glasses, and we tend to forget the violence and blood that was spilled to get where we are today. The music of the time reflected that as well.
When I finished touring the exhibition, I perused the gift shop. I’m not much of a gift shop person, but I looked around. There were shirts and posters for the collection, but what really caught my eye was a record. The V&A had issued a 2-LP album with tracks curated for the exhibition. It was a bit pricey and I was wondering how I could get it back to the U.S. without damaging it, but I then saw there was a CD version. Though I am pro-vinyl over CD, the CD collection was three discs and had a lot more songs and was cheaper. Plus, I could easily put it in my suitcase. It made perfect sense.
When I got back to Chicago and was unpacking in my apartment, I put the CD one. There were a lot of songs I knew as well as some that were new to me. As I was playing it, “The Rain, The Park, & Other Things” came on. Oh, I thought, I love this song! I hadn’t heard it in years. And where I first heard it is kind of funny. It was the soundtrack to a dream sequence Jim Carrey experiences in a scene in 1994’s Dumb & Dumber when he fantasized about a woman he is crushing hard on. Outside of the context of that film, I really like the song. It is fun, happy, and really catchy.
What happened next blew my mind. I was looking at the tracks and I see “the Cowsills” listed for “The Rain, The Park, & Other Things.” For years, I had always thought the song was by the Turtles. I was unintentionally misappropriating the song for years. For someone who claims to know a lot about 20th century pop music, this managed to slip through my fingers. I just couldn’t believe it.
Naturally, I had to learn more about the Cowsills, a band that was otherwise unknown to me. Basically, the Cowsills was a family band containing a bunch of brothers and sisters from Rhode Island and were the real-life inspiration for the Partridge Family. They had about a dozen or so singles, but none were familiar to me.
Regardless, the Cowsills (not the Turtles) truly struck gold in 1967 with this infectiously sweet pop bubblegum treasure. “The Rain, The Park, & Other Things” isn’t the type of song that sparks a revolution or challenges the status quo, but it serves a purpose. It is fun and it makes me incredibly happy when I listen to it. While flowers and a girl in the park are not the stuff of a great protest song or revolution anthem, the fact this song instills pure joy is revolutionary in itself. It takes a lot of power to put a smile on someone’s face and, sometimes, that’s all the revolution and rebellion you need in this world.