Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now
- Get Together by Chet Powers
The history of music often goes hand in hand with the history of the times in which it is played. When the drums of war beat, our music often takes a patriotic turn. When the doves of peace begin to fly more freely, the songs we sing tend to reflect our feelings of optimism and hope. Today’s song is one that has come to symbolize the mood of a nation during that most hopeful of times that has been dubbed The Summer of Love in the late 1960s. The song is “Get Together” by The Youngbloods. However, the story of this song is such a complex and contradictory affair that letting it be simply known as an anthem for peace seems somewhat lacking in scope. So, thanks to my online pal, rawgod, here is the story of one of the 1960s most iconic songs which, if a song could possess a Facebook status, would list itself as “ it’s complicated ”.
There is nothing simple at all about the story of today’s song. For starters, even the name is a muddle. The song was written by a man whose legal name was Chet Powers. However, Powers had visions of becoming a music star so he changed his name to Dino Valenti. As Valenti, he moved in with actress Edie Sedgwick (who you may remember was Andy Warhol’s “It Girl” for a while). One of the reasons that Powers changed his name was because he had a criminal record. Seeking a fresh start in a new business, he became Valenti. One of the first songs he wrote was titled “Get Together”. Like many aspiring songwriters, his initial hope was merely to peddle his song and realize as much profit from selling it as he could. The Kingston Trio was the first group to buy his song. They renamed it “Let’s Get Together”. It charted but not very well. Powers sold the song several more times. Each time he did, the purchaser would tweak the name slightly. In the end, this same song has been called “Let’s Get Together”, “Get Together”, “Let’s Come Together”, “Everybody Get Together” and so on. Regardless of who was singing the song, it never really caught on and never even became a Top 40 hit for anyone. So, in the end, a man with two names wrote a song with as many as a half-dozen names, with no combination of names or song titles achieving much success….and we are just getting started telling the story of this song.
Like many things in life, a thing is just a thing unless someone decides it is more than that and assigns it a value. For example, a diamond is just a glass-like crystal that really should merit no greater attention than any other crystal that populates the earth the world over. Yet, somewhere along the way throughout history, someone decided that a diamond was more than just being a crystal-like piece of glass. Someone declared that it had great value and, just like that, this piece of glass became very special. The same principle applies to being a songwriter. There is only monetary value in having a songwriting credit if, in fact, the song is generating income because it is selling well. So, as the 1960s rolled along, Chet Powers found himself holding the songwriting credit to a song that wasn’t worth that much because it wasn’t charting. No one who bought the song and released it made money from “Get Together” or whatever else they happened to call it at the time. There are many songs written each year that collect more dust than they do pennies in accounting ledgers. “Get Together” by Chet Powers was beginning to look like it was going to be one of those songs, too. But, then a funny thing happened that is a complete contradiction. Charity, religion and capitalism combined to make “Get Together” the hit song that it became.
Back in the 1960s, as a condition of their broadcasting licenses, television stations had to designate a certain block of time each week as being free of charge to be used by local service groups and national charities to create public service announcements. So, our story takes a twist in 1969, just as the Summer of Love was officially ceasing to be a thing anymore. An organization of Christian ministries was given television time to promote something called, “Brotherhood” week. As part of their public service announcement, those in charge of “Brotherhood” week used the song, “Get Together” (as recorded by The Youngbloods) as background music. I am not sure what it was about that advertisement but it struck a chord with audiences who happened to be watching it on TV. Suddenly, the Christian ministries were flooded with calls about the song. They, in turn, directed the calls to radio stations and to the record label of The Youngbloods band. Now, two years prior, The Youngbloods had recorded and released “Get Together” and had no success of note with it. The band had moved on to newer material by the time that executives at their record label called with the news that the song was on the rise and that the band needed to get back out there and promote it while it was hot. So, The Youngbloods re-released “Get Together”. This time out, the song became a Top Five hit and became the anthem of the anti-war, peace and love Hippie movement that we all know today.
Getting back to Chet Powers, as he discovered the hard way, holding the songwriting credit on a song that isn’t selling makes that credit relatively worthless. So, Powers focussed on performing and for a while was a member of a fairly important band called QuickSilver Messenger Service. But even then, luck was not to be his. Powers ended the decade of the 1960s by being arrested three separate times for drug-related offenses. He was sentenced to a ten-year term in a Folsom Prison. It was while he was in prison that his song, “Get Together” was getting its boost from the Christian ministries TV spot. Suddenly, Chet Powers was a money-making commodity in the eyes of record executives. The record label got their legal team involved and soon a deal was struck that would see Powers’ sentence reduced to merely being on parole. The price for his release was that he had to sign away his songwriting credits to the company. So, Powers signed away his song and walked away from prison. He saw none of the profits that came from “Get Together” now that it had become a hit song. Later in his life, he was asked if he harboured any regrets about relinquishing the rights to the song. He replied that his freedom was more important at the time and that he always believed he could write another hit song and then he would reap the rewards that were meant to be his.
***(As an aside, while in Folsom Prison, Powers met a member of Johnny Cash’s band, when the Man in Black appeared there to play and record Live At Folsom Prison. As part of Powers’ plea agreement to have his sentence commuted to being merely on parole, he had to prove he was still “a working musician”. So, Powers asked Johnny Cash’s crew if they had any songs they could sign over to him so he could show the parole board that he was actively writing. He was given one song. That song was called, “Hey Joe”. Once released from prison, Powers sold the only song he now owned the rights to an aspiring guitarist and singer named Jimi Hendrix. “Hey Joe” became the first hit single for Hendrix and helped launch his illustrious career.
One of the reasons that “Get Together” was chosen as the soundtrack to the “Brotherhood” week PSA was that the lyrics had a zen-like religious air about them. That those same lyrics came from the pen of a man with multiple criminal convictions should give us all pause to reflect on the nature of how we race to judgment to pigeon-hole them as being good people or bad people. At the core of our essence, we are all multi-hued and complex creatures. We possess our own unique strengths and weaknesses. We inspire and we disappoint ourselves and others by our actions or lack thereof. And yet, we are still human and, as such, are we not deserving of love and peace and happiness, too? I am just speaking for myself here but I don’t buy into the notion that “Get Together” is a Hippie song or that its true worth is as an anthem for that moment in history known as The Summer of Love. For me, being accepted for who I am….flaws and all….is an essential part of me being able to live. Period. The message of “Get Together” is universal in scope. So when I listen to the words of a song that encourages people to smile at one another and to come together in a state of harmony well, that sounds like a philosophy of life that I endorse. It also sounds like a tonic for what ails our world right now.
Here is one final piece of trivia about “Get Together” that is completely on point with the contradictory nature of every aspect of this song and its history. It is generally agreed upon by all who listen to “Get Together” by The Youngbloods, that it is a lovely, peace-affirming composition. And yet, the very week after the Twin Towers were felled in New York, Clear Channel Communications Company (now called IHeartRadio) issued a list to all affiliates across America, of songs that it felt were inappropriate to be played in the wake of such a tragedy. The list contained 165 song suggestions. One of those 165 banned songs was “Get Together” by The Youngbloods. Some of the songs were banned because, like “Rock the Casbah” by The Clash, they spoke to events that closely resembled those that had transpired on that September morning in NYC so executives deemed the continued playing of them to be potentially triggering for listeners. But others, such as “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Get Together” by The Youngbloods were banned because it was believed that on September of 2001, it was the wrong time to be playing songs about happiness, peace and racial harmony. The war drums were beating once again and songs about the resiliency of America and of New York City, in particular, were the ones given official approval to be aired on repeat. At the time, the banned list was one of the biggest attempts at censorship by the broadcasting industry. I am sorry to say that that list of banned songs seems almost quaint compared to the book banning fervour that has gripped the US these days. On a separate but related note, I can recall reading stories about the Jewish Holocaust that tell of imprisoned poets and teachers and musicians working surreptitiously to continue to keep their culture alive by sharing stories and songs with their fellow prisoners, even as the conditions of life deteriorated all around them. When asked how anyone could sing in such conditions, the answer always given was that through songs and stories, Hope was kept alive and that under such dire circumstances, Hope was as essential for life as oxygen and food. To me, any song that speaks of brotherhood and love is a song worth singing; especially during the worst of times like those of 9/11.
Thank you, rawgod, for nominating this song. It is a timely reminder that our world should be, could be and needs to be a kinder, more caring and compassionate place for everyone. To everyone reading these words, have a wonderful day. Thank you for being here. Your presence warms my words and makes this space better. For that I am grateful.
The link to the video for the song, “Get Together” by The Youngbloods can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Youngbloods can be found here.
The link to the website for Chet Powers/Dino Valenti can be found here.
***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com