"The words are just as important as the music," an incredibly young-looking Bob Dylan says about halfway through "Echoes of the Sixties," a two-hour retrospective to be aired tonight at 9 p.m. on Channel 4.
Sometimes, in fact, the words seem more important than the music in this richly jumbled extravaganza billed as "a musical journey through the decade." It features, along with The Beatles, Jose Feliciano, Donovan, Frankie Valli and others, such non-musicians as Hubert Humphrey, Richard Daley, Gloria Steinem and Barry Goldwater.
Old newsreel footage is more abundant and presumably less expensive and less tangled in copyright than filmed or videotaped music of the '60s. That may explain why the show includes Goldwater's famous statement that "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" and Steinem's remark that "If men could get pregnant, abortion would bea sacrament." The music sometimes get buried in the political and social context - which includes a clip of Richard Nixon and Billy Graham singing "Good Bless America."
Musically, the show provides generous snippets of The Beatles, too much Gerry and the Pacmakers, and enough Donovan, Jose Feliciano, the Four Tops, the Searchers, Frankie Valli and Dionne Warwick, tiny fragments of the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Steppenwolf, Simon and Garfunkel, Iron Butterfly and others. But the show will bring no joy to fans of The Who, Otis Redding, Randy Newman, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Richie Havens or dozens of others.
The '60s were perhaps the richest decade in the history of popular music, and two hours could hardly do justice to the music without trying to throw in discussions of drugs and Carnaby St. fashions, a tour of Liverpool, surfing scenes and a survey of rock festivals from Monterey to Woodstock to Altamont. The result is once-overlightly with, fortunately, a few memorable moments.