Time Has Come Today (1967)
The Chambers Brothers
It was recorded in 1966, heyday of The Beatles, the lavishly romantic Lovin’ Spoonful, the dawn of The Grateful Dead, and a radio dial crowded with everything from Motown and the Monkees to Frank Sinatra, Folk music and gushy string-heavy instrumentals. It was a mishmash musical year at the turning of the tide.
Released in 1967 off the album, similarly though not identically named, (The Time Has Come), the song, in a heavily abbreviated version, struggled to a position just bubbling under the Top Ten on the charts. But there was something in it that gripped its audience from the beginning.
Only The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” from the same period can challenge the innovative flourishes that The Chambers Brothers flung down. “Time” was unleashed – there’s no other word – upon a young world that can be best described as Animal House Goes Trippin’.
“Time Has Come Today” in its fully 11-minute glory
On some levels, it is indeed a frat house party anthem. That status would only grow when it was re-released in 1968 in an 11-minute version (the actual album track). When you listen, you can almost see the last of that era’s togas swirling, bodies glistening, bouffant hairdos deflating and can sense the shifting of sexual codes.
You also feel the teeth-gritting, eye-pupil dilating, hallucinatory tone of the moment emerging fully into golden, melting sun rays and off-kilter gloomy shadows. A page had positively been turned by 1968.
When it was issued, “Time Has Come Today” was a then-unlikely mix of a deep-grooved bottom of inner-city soul chugging along with avant-garde psychedelia. There were tempo changes and distortion effects, not to mention some downright weird treatments of the vocals, which rise and fall like surfacing and diving dolphins. The bass line is irresistibly danceable. There were doubled up cowbells keeping “time.”
There is a beautifully understated acid guitar that periodically barges in and asserts it itself. That lead guitar fully flowers in a legendary live performance at the Filmore East in 1969. Howling, screaming, the gnashing of teeth – the expression “freak show” whacks you in the head when you hear it. The version embodies the 1960s precisely. Nothing about the decade is left unsaid. (Watch and listen to it in the Video Library.)
There is a contemplation of both cosmic time and the changing of the times that young people were living out front and center. It captured and put on vinyl the whole whirling tenor of the period.
“Time” shares many devices with other landmark Funkadelic songs, although it tacked to the lighter side of the sub-genre, celebratory, whereas its sister songs – like the grimly unflinching “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” by the Temptations and “War (What Is It Good For?)” by Edwin Starr – treated with deeply serious social themes.
Musically, such songs traded on the merging that took place between primarily all-white, LSD-infused Hippiedom and the grit of inner city black street culture, its sorrow and its pity. It really found its feet just as anti-war protests began merging with black power movements, women’s rights actions and rising environmental consciousness.
The lyrics of “Time Has Come Today” rough out the hybridized feeling perfectly:
I might get burned up by the sun (Time)
But I had my fun (Time)
I’ve been loved and put aside (Time)
I’ve been crushed by the tumbling tide (Time)
And my soul has been psychedelicized (Time)
The song is the soundtrack under the centerpiece scene in the devastatingly powerful anti-Vietnam War film, Coming Home. In it Bruce Dern, plays the husband of Jane Fonda, who is having an affair with John Voigt, a paraplegic grunt-turned-into anti-war activist. The emotionally wounded – perhaps shell-shocked – Dern is coming home to nothing except his own inner pain and a lost way of life.
Vietnam was a war with many heroic acts, but no heroes. For anyone even slightly brushed by the war, wherever one stood on the issues there was never a typically traditional “coming home.” It hangs over the United States 40 years after war’s end. The Coming Home scene with “Time Has Come Today” blaring and hammering in the background depicts all the lunacy, anger and chaos of the era, how individual lives as well as a nation’s collective life were ripped apart by an absurd conflict.
Yet “Time” retains a devilish joy, a fiddle-while-Rome-burns aura. It’s remarkable how it fits so firmly into history.
The Ramones do an admirable cover of the song, as do Steve Earle and Sheryl Crow in duet. (Both in the Video Library.)
Yet the utter uncontrollable wildness of the moment – the “time!” – cannot be recreated, as good as those covers are musically. The sense of freedom, of the skyrockets having been set off, of the unique mixture of exuberance and desperation, were here and gone in a few swift heartbeats.
Of course, the following is repeatedly said about much bigger songs by, for instance, The Beatles and Dylan, but truly the likes of The Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today” will not pass our way again soon.
You might have to wait an eternity.
- The Chambers Brothers started out, believe it or not, as a Folk quartet. They worked Los Angeles coffeehouses, making a fairly strong impression.
- They attended a recording session of Bob Dylan’s when he first “went electric,” in 1965 and the brothers quickly changed direction themselves.