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5th August 2010
Spiritual hit singles in the UK, 1967-71
by Mike Scott

I know it seems hard to believe, but there was a time in pop music when spirituality was sharply fashionable. The period ran roughly from the release and global TV broadcast of The Beatles' All You Need Is Love in June 1967 to the five weeks spent at number one by George Harrison's My Sweet Lord in early 1971. These two records effectively bookended an era where to spiritually enquire was a serious and crucial part of being a participant in pop and rock'n'roll music.

This was the era when the counter culture was established, when individuals explored eastern mysticism and western mysteries alike, when the holistic musical Hair broke records on Broadway, when the Beatles went to stay in the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram – sparking international interest in meditation - and when the musical articulation of universal love became so all-pervading it even trickled down into even the most hack conveyor-belt areas of pop.

That many of the musicians of the time managed to make records with a potent spiritual charge shouldn't be surprising. Artists like The Beatles, Pete Townshend and Donovan were authentic seekers. And in the atmosphere their efforts wrought, ethnically spiritual records by gospel, Indian and African musicians managed to be hits too.

Those were powerful times; spiritually potent records like Oh Happy Day, Ain’t Got No/I Got Life and Instant Karma were played on national radio – which, in those pre-choice days the whole country listened to - every couple of hours. These were records that could change people, affecting not just our emotions but our consciousness. These and numerous other holistic singles seasoned the airwaves and, for a sweet season or two, sent a collection of radical ideas about compassion, unconditional love and the sacredness and interconnectedness of all life into the minds of a not-yet irredeemably cynical public. This was a wonderful thing.

There had been spiritual records on the charts before 1967 and would be again after 1971, of course. I've even made a few myself. But never did they hit in such numbers or with such a sense of being part of a prevailing mood or movement.

I mark All You Need Is Love as the start of the crucial period because it was at that moment that the interest in spirituality which had been building in the counter culture finally went mainstream - and because there were no real spiritual hits in the years immediately prior. The Beach Boys' God Only Knows came closest, a song not about spirituality but which, by virtue of its grace and perfection, touched spiritual heights, which is a very different thing. Cream's I Feel Free and The Beach Boys' Good Vibrations are essentially love songs. The Byrds' 8 Miles High and Mr Tambourine Man are about drug realisations.

I see My Sweet Lord as the end, because the spirit of the 60s, which had spilled over powerfully into 1970, the year the Woodstock movie was a worldwide hit, was on the wane from early 1971. In the first months after My Sweet Lord's tenancy at number one, a new breed of musical godlings colonised the British charts - Marc Bolan, Rod Stewart, Elton John & Slade, later Bowie & Roxy Music - and none of them carried the spiritual impulse. The wind had changed. A few authentic spiritual hits yet lingered in the early 70s’ charts – Cat Stevens’ Morning Has broken, The Who’s Let’s See Action, John Lennon’s Happy Xmas/War Is Over, but they were in lonely contrast to the prevailing mood of pop, and represented a last flickering of the spirit of the 60s.

Here's my list of records from that remarkable time, mid 1967 to early 1971, all British top 40 hits, nine of them number ones*, that qualify as authentic spiritual hits:

Spiritual hit singles in the UK, 1967-71

Songs in bold are those that sincerely, and with a discernible spiritual ‘charge’, transmit holistic principles, including:

1) spiritual knowledge

2) compassion

3) universal or unconditional love

4) the sacredness of life

5) the interconnectedness of all life

6) alignment with the sacred

7) a sense of spiritual ecstacy or rapture

8) authentic spiritual enquiry

Songs in plain font do one of the following:

a) express spiritual ideas but without specific potency or ‘charge’

b) express other ideas, often complementary to spirituality (ie optimism, wonder, protest), and were part of the overall mood of activism and consciousness-expansion.

July 1967 All You Need Is Love*
The Beatles
1, 3, 6, 7
July 1967 (If You’re Going To) San Francisco*
Scott Mackenzie
Aug 1967 Let’s Go To San Francisco
The Flowerpot Men
Sept 1967 The Hole In My Shoe
Oct 1967 San Franciscan Night
The Animals
Oct 1967 There Is A Mountain
1, 5, 6, 8
Nov 1967 Love Loves To Love Love
Feb 1968 What A Wonderful World*
Louis Armstrong
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
June 1968 The Hurdy Gurdy Man
Sept 1968 Hey Jude*
The Beatles
1, 2, 3, 5, 7
Sept 1968 The Weight
The Band
Oct 1968 With A Little Help From My Friends*
Joe Cocker
1, 2, 5
Nov 1968 Ain’t Got No / I Got Life
Nina Simone
1, 4, 6, 7
Dec 1968 Atlantis
Feb 1969 If I Can Dream
Elvis Presley
2, 8
May 1969 Aquarius / Let The Sun Shine In
5th Dimension
4, 5, 7
May 1969 Everyday People
Sly + Family Stone
May 1969 Oh Happy Day
Edwin Hawkins Singers
6, 7
June 1969 Something In The Air
Thunderclap Newman
June 1969 In The Ghetto
Elvis Presley
2, 5
June 1969 Sanctus
Troubadours Du Roi Bandouin
6, 7
July 1969 That’s The Way God Planned It
Billy Preston
1, 3, 4, 6, 7
July 1969 Give Peace A Chance
Plastic Ono Band
July 1969 Babarajagal (Love Is Hot)
Donovan / Jeff Beck Group
Aug 1969 Good Morning Starshine
Aug 1969 Marrakesh Express
Crosby, Stills & Nash
Sept 1969 Hare Krishna Mantra
Radha Krishna Temple
1, 6, 7
Oct 1969 He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
The Hollies
2, 3, 5
Oct 1969 Wonderful World, Beautiful People
Jimmy Cliff
Nov 1969 Melting Pot
Blue Mink
Dec 1969 With The Eyes Of A Child
Cliff Richard
Dec 1969 Reflections Of My Life
Jan 1970 Let’s Work Together
Canned Heat
Feb 1970 Instant Karma
Plastic Ono Band
1, 7
Feb 1970 Bridge Over Troubled Water*
Simon & Garfunkel
2, 3, 7
March 1970 Let It Be*
The Beatles
2, 3, 5
March 1970 Everybody Get Together
Dave Clark Five
March 1970 Spirit In The Sky
Norman Greenbaum
April 1970 Govinda
Radha Krishna Temple
1, 6, 7
April 1970 The Seeker
The Who
May 1970 Everything Is Beautiful
Ray Stevens
1, 4
May 1970 Abraham, Martin And John
Marvin Gaye
May 1970 Question
The Moody Blues
May 1970 What Is Truth
Johnny Cash
1, 5
July 1970 Reach Out And Touch
Diana Ross
2, 3
Aug 1970 Love Is Life
Hot Chocolate
Sept 1970 Our World
Blue Mink
Oct 1970 Woodstock*
Matthew’s Southern Comfort
6, 8
Oct 1970 Heaven Is Here
Julie Felix
1, 4, 6, 7
Dec 1970 Heaven Help Us All
Stevie Wonder
2, 5, 7
Dec 1970 Amazing Grace
Judy Collins
6, 7, 8
Jan 1971 My Sweet Lord*
George Harrison
6, 7, 8

Special mention: See Me Feel Me / Listening To You by The Who, one of the most spiritually-charged pieces of rock music ever, released as a UK single in Oct 1970, but inexplicably not a hit. Fulfils 1, 2, 6, 7 & 8.