I know. It’s hard to go to any music or pop culture site without seeing some reference to the 40th anniversary of Woodstock in August. But I’m actually going to talk about something other than the festival itself — the soundtrack to the documentary film, Woodstock.
I couldn’t tell you today which came first for me, the soundtrack or the film. If I were a betting man, I would say the soundtrack. After all, the movie, released in late March 1970, actually had “graphic nudity” and “profanity” (shocking, just shocking!!!). In the town in which I was born and raised, that sort of thing could keep a movie out of a theater for years, rendering it drive-in fare, at best. Besides, since it was rated “R”, I was still a year or two shy from getting into the movie (and the same attitudes that could have kept the film out of the local theater meant it also enforced the ratings system).
I do know, though, that I had the three-LP album fairly soon after it was released in May 1970. I mean we’d all heard about Country Joe and his “Fish cheer” (you know, “Gimme an F, Gimme a U,” etc.). Likewise, the words Hendrix and “Star Spangled Banner” astonishing. Just those two things alone would be enough to piss off parents and what more could a teenage boy want from an album? And while I’m sure there were plenty of other reasons, thoughts like those led to the album hitting number one in the nation 39 years ago this week. That’s quite a feat for a three-LP set (although one George Harrison would duplicate within six months with All Things Must Pass).
With greater perspective, though, it was a worthy investment. I understand the argument some have made that the acts at Woodstock weren’t big deals at the time. They were either artists on the way up or who had recently passed the peak of their careers. But even if you accept that, so what? Who cares that no one had heard of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young? Who cares that Country Joe and Arlo Guthrie may have been passing their peak? Who cares that Joe Cocker and Santana each had only one album to their credit (with Santana’s being released the same month as the festival)?
The fact is there’s plenty of good music on the soundtrack. In fact, looking back there are very few weak cuts on the LPs and picking which are and which aren’t is going to depend entirely on taste. And, yes, I did eventually see the movie. More than once, in fact, and have owned it on DVD for a number of years. And, no, the “graphic nudity” and “profanity” did not scar me for life — or at least any more than I was already.
This is the second time we’ve ever played in front of people, man, we’re scared shitless.
Stephen Stills, Woodstock, August 18, 1969