As musical trends go, it was a well-kept secret. It never rose to the level of a boomlet, let alone a phenomenon. Not enough of it was produced even to fill out the three tabs of iTunes Essentials: Basics, Next Steps and Deep Cuts. Let’s face it: When you’re talking about conservative folk songs from the 1960s — they’re all deep cuts!
And now they’re all in one place! For the attic rummagers among us, nostalgic fans of the golden age of conservatism, there may be no better Christmas gift than “Freedom Is A Hammer: Conservative Folk Revolutionaries of the Sixties,” a new anthology CD issued with a handsome booklet by the Omni Recording Corp.
The chutzpah! Here the open-minded listener will find twenty-nine tracks of Kingston Trio chords married to Goldwaterite rhetoric. The artists who were bravely blowin’ in the wind — or, more aptly, tiltin’ at windmills — were a trio of aspiring folkies from different parts of the country, each bristlin’, bristlin’ at the hegemony the New Left exercised in those years over politics, media, and music.
A slender, smiling brunette who sported dark lipstick and resembled Annette Funicello, Janet Greene was a children’s TV host from Ohio who headed for Los Angeles. In a news conference at the Biltmore Hotel in October 1964, Miss Greene was introduced by two anti-Communist crusaders, Dr. Fred Schwarz and Herb Philbrick, who boasted of having “taken a leaf out of the Communist book.” In their eyes, the co-optation of folk music, then the exclusive province of lefty songbirds and troubadours like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, was nothing short of a tactical masterstroke. “You’d be amazed,” Philbrick marveled to the reporters, “at how much doctrine can be taught in one song.”
Miss Greene debuted two original compositions, “Fascist Threat” backed with “Commie Lies.” Listening to the remastered recordings, which occasionally veer outside the confines of pure folk, one is struck by the incongruity between the throwback production values — think “Bobby’s Girl” by Marcie Blaine — and the jarring messages they were created to deliver, themes popular music had never before embraced. “I think I’ll take a little quiz,” Miss Greene sings cheerfully, sounding like Connie Francis, “and find out just what fascism is.” By song’s end, she has her answer:
Destroy the government with lies,
Seize control and centralize
Very shortly you will see
A fascist state monopoly
The gravest fascist threat you see
Is the Communist conspiracy
Vera Vanderlaan was a guitar-strummin’ newlywed living on a farm in Vermont when she decided to join the counter-counterculture. Blessed with beautiful dark hair, prominent eyebrows and cheekbones, and a quavering tenor, Vera Vanderlaan actually looked and sounded a bit like Joan Baez, the conservative folkies’ bete noire. She also dressed the part of the Lovely Senorita, her long-skirted dresses adorned with Southwestern floral designs running down the sleeves, the whole ensemble topped off by an acoustic guitar that seemed twice her size. One of Miss Vanderlaan’s songs would eventually be covered by Tiny Tim. In “Let’s Pretend,” released on her 1968 LP “Torch of Freedom,” Miss Vanderlaan scornfully adopts the naive mindset she believed to be governing ‘60s liberals:
Let’s pretend the wars in Asia are not as they appear.
All countries have some problems; why should we interfere?
In late 1967, Miss Vanderlaan and fellow songstress Bunny Kop made the local papers, complete with Associated Press wire photo, when they serenaded volunteers opening a Reagan for President office — without the Gipper’s official sanction — in Concord, New Hampshire. There they performed another Vanderlaan composition, which bounces along in the vein of “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain,” entitled “Modern Paul Revere“:View Entire Story
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