August 1968: The Rascals Rock the Nation with "People Got To Be Free"

The Rascals
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The Rascals rocked differently.

The blue-eyed band lived by two unique rules in the world of rock music -  they refused to tour on segregated bills, and they also made sure that at least one of their supporting acts was a black musical group.

READ MORE: Songs of Black Lives Matter: Nina Simone, "To Be Young, Gifted and Black"

The New Jersey boys behind the rock quartet began as a soul outfit before they signed with Atlantic Records. They hit the jackpot with a string of hits that began with their cover of The Olympics' "Good Lovin'" in 1966 and continued with their 1967 signature, harmonica-loving single "Groovin.'"

By the late summer of 1968, the Rascals returned to the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 chart, but this time, they marched along to a different beat - one that resonated across the nation. Following the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Rob F. Kennedy, Eddie Brigati and Felix Cavaliere penned the lyrics to a song that called for unity and peace through an upbeat, fired-up tune. 

READ MORE: Stevie Wonder: "Systemic Racism Can Have An Ending"

"You should see/ What a lovely, lovely world this'd be/ Everyone learned to live together/ Seems to me/ Such an itty bitty thing should be/Why can't you and me learn to love one another?"  The Rascals' co-leaders kept the song's politics in check with its simplified, encouraging message that promised "the train of freedom" was just a minute away.

Amplified with warm bluesy guitar licks and bright horn jabs, "People Got To Be Free" addressed a grieving American nation with a song of hope and it went straight to No. 1 by August 17, 1968 for a 5-week chart reign. This marked the Rascals' last chart appearance, concluding September 21 as Jeannie C. Riley took over for a brief No. 1 appearance with "Harper Valley PTA."


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