People around the world heard and loved music from Detroit in 1967 because of a complicated time of upheaval. This led to a huge change in the city’s musical culture that people all over the world heard and loved. That year, as the city’s most famous group, the Supremes, split up and Motown tried to deal with the fallout of the greatest girl group ever, Detroit faced the biggest challenges in its history. Race, poverty, and police corruption were just some of them. My book, Detroit 67: the Year that Changed Soul, talks about the many different cultures in 1967 and how the city’s music scenes dealt with the Vietnam War, social change, and civil rights. Here are some of the books that helped me better understand that time in American history.
Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides (Doubleday)
At Missouri State Penitentiary in April 1967, prisoner James Earl Ray broke out of the prison. Ray was in a prison bakery van that took him out. Beautifully written, this book is about Ray’s journey across the deeply divided southern states. Ray’s paranoia and bigotry grow into full-blown megalomania, which leads him to Memphis, where he kills Martin Luther King, Jr. A brilliant thriller that combines the personal journeys of two different men is bolstered by interesting social history.
The Algiers Motel Incident by John Hersey (Knopf)
Four young African-American boys were killed by Detroit police at the Algiers motel during the 12th Street riots that took place in 1967. Hersey, a professor at Yale who had just won the Pulitzer Prize for his book on Hiroshima, packed up and left the leafy world of academia to visit the city’s still-smouldering streets. Hersey’s book still has a lot to say today, and anyone who supports the Black Lives Matter movement should read it to understand why.
Dispatches by Michael Herr (Knopf)
He called Dispatches “the best book I have ever read about men and war in our time.” As a result, Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket were both influenced by this book. Even though it was written in the 1970s, it takes us back to the height of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. Even today, it is still one of the best books about war. It has war reportage, battlefield drama, and a lot of heartbreaking tragedy in it.
Where Did Our Love Go – the Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound by Nelson George (Omnibus)
I think this is the best book ever written about Motown and the rise of the best African American music company ever. It’s full of information and passionate about the subject. Nelson George puts all of his knowledge of soul music to good use. Other books about Motown don’t focus as much on gossip and scandal, but this one is more interested in the circumstances that led the Supremes and Marvin Gaye to become big stars and how they came to be known around the world. You can’t go wrong with this one!
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe wrote a kaleidoscopic novel about LSD and social change in 1967. It tells the story of author Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters as they spread lysergic acid all over the country. This is one of the best books about the counterculture. It’s a great mix of observational journalism and hallucinogenic outrage.
Guitar Army: Rock and Revolution with the MC5 and the White Panther Party by John Sinclair (Process)
If Tom Wolfe had written the book he thought he should have written but didn’t, this classic from the Detroit underground would have been a hit. Guitar Army was written by John Sinclair, who was the manager of the notorious Detroit band MC5 in 1967. It’s more angry than the Kool-Aid Acid Test and more violent than Motown, but it’s also a lot of fun. Sinclair’s book is a great source of information about Detroit’s music scene.
The Medium Is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan (Ginko Press)
Another book from 1967 that changed how we think about technology and communication. A big influence on Wired magazine, it predicted things we take for granted today, like the rise of participatory media and user-created content, before they were even popular. It manages to put together big ideas in a small, easy-to-understand way.
Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion by Robert Gordon (Bloomsbury)
A powerful look at the history of Stax, one of the best soul labels in the United States. People who live in segregated communities in the deep south and the strange synergies between soul and country music make up the book.
Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser (Pavilion)
Ali’s life draws a lot of attention from biographers, but Hauser’s short and well-researched book is one of the best. In 1967, Ali publicly criticized the Vietnam War, which led to him being banned from boxing by the sport’s conservative elite. The book doesn’t become a hagiography. It’s always honest about Ali and his changing motives, even as he joins the Nation of Islam and faces a hostile media.
Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of America by Suzanne Smith (Harvard University Press)
This history of Motown isn’t afraid to be academic and analytical. It doesn’t use any easy cliches and says that Motown was an important but ultimately flawed time in black capitalism. There is a lot more to the story of Detroit, but Smith always keeps the infectious rhythm of her subject. She looks into the tense battles inside Detroit’s car assembly plants, but always with her subject.
11/22/63 by Stephen King
Assassination! It’s fun to go back and forth in time! It’s Stephen King! 11/22/63 is about Jake Epping, a high school teacher who finds a time portal that can take him back to 1958. He makes it through, and then goes on a dangerous mission to stop JFK’s assassination. Stephen King does a great job (as one would expect) of capturing the 1960s in this book. In typical Stephen King style, the plot keeps you interested all the way through.