Riot On Sunset Strip 1966 – “What Is It You Kids Want?” – Past Daily Pop Chronicles
Sunset Strip – November 1966. It was bound to happen, sooner or later. One of the largest if not the largest generations in history was suddenly coming of age. The Youth of America was now a power to be reckoned with. Rock was influencing everything from the Music business to media to clothes. It was now Youth Culture. Tremors started happening in the early 1960s, The Beatles got things rolling. Now, in 1966, those kids who were turning to High School and College age – turning to Draft age – turning to Age of independence were now in a position to demand things – and a full-on Youthquake was underway.
Advertisers, clothing manufacturers, even Detroit auto makers were thrilled beyond belief. Because Youth Culture was a viable and cash heavy thing and kids were no longer interested in looking like or being or acting anything like their parents.
And that’s where the troubles got started. And maybe the Generation Gap (as it became known) had more auspicious beginnings than the intersection of Crescent Heights and Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood at a small and somewhat rundown nightspot known as Pandora’s Box – but it certainly was the noisiest and the one event which got the most publicity at the time. One could say the epicenter of this Youthquake happened in Hollywood. The symbol of youthful dissatisfaction being the overturned MTA bus on the Strip.
But what it did was, it got people talking. The emphasis suddenly shifted from the adults in the room to the kids in the room, and the kids ran with it. But, as is the case with all social upheavals, it sparked an intense amount of resistance and most likely some good old fashioned jealousy (“why should those goddam kids have all the fun?”) from the older generation; the parents – but it occasionally got violent, as the first of the Sunset Strip protests clearly showed. It wouldn’t be the last time cops came down in full force on a bunch of teenagers and young adults. In 1966 we had The Sunset Strip Riots – in 1967 we had the Century City Police riot – and then came the rash of college campus protests, which many point as far back as the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of 1964 as the prototype for youthful protest and establishment resistance.
It was kids taking to the streets in ways and numbers they never had before – all wanting something different; different lives. The middle-class lifestyle of the 1950s suburban America was a myth. The growing disenfranchisement with the status quo – the unwillingness to follow in footsteps which were unsure themselves. The reality that war was not the way to solve things and Vietnam was not a war this generation wanted to be part of.
Music, clothes, hair – all these were symbolic elements of a generation seeking change. Change to what, it was never really made clear. But change from the established norm of your parents generation to something else was the only thing that truly mattered.
And so, this one hour radio special, part of the Second Sunday series from NBC radio originally broadcast early in 1967, seeks to answer at least some of those questions, while posing many others. There is a tone of jaundiced cynicism on the part of the Announcer and a general feeling of “what do these kids want?” pervading much of the hour. But as the days drifted into months, and the upheavals continued and spread, even the staid and somewhat detached radio and TV news anchors let their hair grow and professed a liking for The Grateful Dead.
And as was often the case with social movements; Surrender, or be Dragged.
Such was the 1960s. And 52 years after the Sunset Strip Riots? Where are they now? Who are they now?
Here is The Cool Rebellion – as it was first heard over NBC Radio, January 1967.