Barry McNamara  |   Published June 11, 2019

With a Little Help from Their Friends

Soundtrack of the ’60s welcomes alumni from Classes of Classes of 1959, ’64, ’69 and ’74 back to campus for Golden Scots Celebration.
  • Monmouth President Clarence Wyatt, left, and Dwight Tierney ’69, right, flank Class of 1964 alumnus Tom Ulmet.

When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed anybody’s help in any way … And now my life has changed in oh so many ways.
– The Beatles

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College’s Class of 1969 was so much younger than today when it arrived on campus for the start of their freshman year in 1965. As they did, The Beatles’ “Help!” was at the top of the Billboard singles chart.

One of those class members, Dwight Tierney, went on to a groundbreaking career in the music industry as one of the co-founders of MTV Networks.

Last weekend, Tierney joined several of his Monmouth classmates for a 50-year reunion gathering as part of the College’s annual Golden Scots Celebration. In all, more than 140 alumni and guests were on campus for a weekend full of special events, informative programs, a Saturday night dance, and formal and informal class reunions, also including the Classes of 1959, 1964 and 1974. Included for the first time was the Friday lunch event A Taste of Monmouth, featuring four local dining establishments.

“The success of this weekend is a true testament to our great alumni,” said Associate Vice President of Development and College Relations Hannah Maher. “The reunion committees and their classmates work for nearly a year, alongside Maeve Reilly, our associate director of reunion and parent giving. So many of the sessions and events were their ideas, and it was fun for our team to make them come to life. Having a focus on their era, and the music that defined it, was a special treat throughout the weekend.”

Along with Monmouth College’s president, American historian and music aficionado Dr. Clarence Wyatt, Tierney led one of the weekend’s programs, “Long Live Rock ’n’ Roll.” The hour-long discussion centering around the 72 songs that reached No. 1 between the fall of 1965 and the summer of 1969 could’ve easily lasted several hours more, as Tierney, Wyatt and the Golden Scots in attendance talked about The Beatles, protest music and the personal impact of the music from that era. To listen to the playlist, click here.

It was 52 years ago …

Tierney said a Beatles album released midway through his time at Monmouth changed everything for him.

“One of our classmates, Greg Alms, was always listening to interesting music,” recalled Tierney. “One day, I walked by his room, and what he was playing just stopped me. It was Sgt. Pepper’s (Lonely Hearts Club Band). I watched my life change right in front of me. It was this visceral change that I felt. I thought, ‘I’ve got to get involved in music someday.’”

What made The Beatles’ eighth album different, said Tierney, was that it was a “concept album, created to stake an emotional position.”

And Tierney was just one of many for whom the album made a major impact.

“Jefferson Airplane was just getting ready to release an album,” said Tierney. “But after Sgt. Pepper was released, they threw their album out and started over. The result was Surrealistic Pillow, which included ‘White Rabbit,’” and which catapulted the group to international fame.

Beatles at the top

The Beatles reached No. 1 with eight different songs during the time the Class of 1969 was enrolled at Monmouth. They also had the longest-tenured song at No. 1 with “Hey Jude,” the overall No. 1 song of 1968, which held the top spot for nearly two months. Songs by The Beatles held down the No. 1 spot for a total of 24 weeks during the four-year period, double the next-closest artist or group, The Monkees.

The song that replaced “Help!” at the top of the chart was Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction,” which began with the lyrics: “The eastern world, it is explodin’/Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’/You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’.”

Music like that, said Tierney, was different from the saccharine love songs of a more innocent time.

“I remember early in my time at Monmouth, there was an event that was billed ‘featuring live music,’” said Tierney. “I was pretty excited about it, but it turned out to be the Si Zentner Orchestra. I remember telling my mom about it, and she said, ‘Oh, they’re lovely, aren’t they?’ What we saw as Monmouth students was the end of an era in music, and the start of a completely different era. People started to experiment. You saw the evolution of folk music and meaningful music with cultural views on race and the war in Vietnam. Music was becoming more thoughtful, going beyond ‘You broke my heart and I’m going to kick my dog.’”

Said Monmouth emeritus professor Lee McGaan, who was a member of the College’s Class of 1969: “I don’t think Frank Sinatra made music that changed society or was about people going on marches. For me, ‘Eve of Destruction’ is bookended by ‘(Four Dead in) Ohio’ (the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song about the Kent State shooting in 1970). I was in grad school in Ohio at the time. When I hear that song, I feel the same way I felt then – it carries the same emotional resonance.”

A new chapter for rock

Wyatt said rock ’n’ roll had a birth of sorts just a few weeks before the Class of 1969 matriculated at Monmouth, when Bob Dylan performed his first electric concert at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25, 1965.

“The way I think of rock ’n’ roll began when Dylan plugged in,” he said. “That’s when rock ’n’ roll became real.”

The draft also figured into the music of the late-1960s.

“My sons had an open highway (to their future),” said John Mason ’69. “But we had the draft. My lottery number was 30-something, so I knew I was toast.”

Although No. 1 songs were the focus of the discussion, others from the era were mentioned, including 1965’s “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs, which “was played at every college dance for the next four years,” recalled one member of the Class of 1969.

Another classmate brought up 1968’s “Abraham, Martin and John” by Dion.

“I remember hearing that song for the first time and just looking out the window, listening to those words,” she said of the melancholy song that mourns the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.

To See More …

Check out more nearly 2,000 from Golden Scots Celebration on Flickr.

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