In 1968, An Open Letter addressed the era’s troubled times, with maximum squareness

In 1968, An Open Letter addressed the era’s troubled times, with maximum squareness

For years, The A.V. Club has delved into cinematic history’s dustbin with Films That Time Forgot, but far more records are released every year than films. If cinema has a dustbin of forgotten films, music has a giant dumpster. In Albums That Time Forgot, we examine records few people would remember.

Artist: Victor Lundberg

Album: An Open Letter

Label: Liberty Records

Wait, who? A former announcer/reporter who ran a company that made radio and television commercials, Victor Lundberg was born in 1923, which made him the perfect age to be flummoxed by the counterculture that exploded in the late ’60s. In 1967, he couldn’t take it anymore, so he wrote a spoken-word track called “An Open Letter To My Teenage Son,” addressing the Vietnam War, the counterculture, and religious faith. The track became an unlikely hit, selling a million copies in a month and landing on Billboard’s Hot 100—even breaking the top 10—for six weeks. (A full-page ad in the November 11, 1967, issue of Billboard proclaims “An Open Letter To My Teenage Son” sold more than 250,000 copies in two days.) Liberty Records realized the demand for this kind of square-jawed hectoring, so An Open Letter followed in 1968, expanding to 10 spoken-word tracks Lundberg’s thoughts on the Vietnam War, flower power, racism, censorship, religious fundamentalism, and more. He’s a big proponent of the war, witheringly dismissive of the counterculture, but surprisingly liberal on matters of censorship and religious fundamentalism. 

From the liner notes: There aren’t any to speak of, aside from a box on the back cover. Lundberg does more than enough talking to make up for it, though.

Key tracks: “An Open Letter To My Teenage Son,” obviously, because it started the whole phenomenon. Lundberg’s voice drips with reverb as “Battle Hymn Of The Republic” plays underneath, leading to a big finish where he addresses what would happen if his son burned his draft card. “I would remind you that your mother will love you no matter what you do—because she is a woman. And I love you too, son. But I also love our country and the principles for which we stand. If you decide to burn your draft card, then burn your birth certificate at the same time. From that moment on, I have no son.” Naturally, the singers reach “His truth is marching on!” just as he reaches those last couple sentences. Those lines got all the attention when “An Open Letter” came out, apparently overshadowing the fantastic sexism of what precedes them. Lundberg might as well have said, “Your mother will love you no matter what because she’s weak-willed, as all women are.” 

Lundberg gets extra bitchy in “To The Flower Power,” which is full of zingers like “‘Make love, not war,’ you say. From where a lot of people your age are sitting, it doesn’t appear that the North Vietnamese want to kiss them.” He doesn’t stop there: “If you ever should, heaven forbid, convince the majority of this country to embrace your policy of ‘make love, not war,’ it would be only a matter of time before the Communists would be telling you to make all the love you want—right after a 10-hour dig in the salt mines.” Listeners can practically hear the smirk on his face as he says, “So long as you do not keep me from my barber, I have no quarrel with your long hair or beards. As long as I’m not required to spend any time in an enclosed area with you, the same goes for your body hygiene.” To Lundberg, the counterculture amounted to nothing more than a bunch of simple-minded freeloaders taking for granted how much the Red Menace imperiled their freedom. Love it or leave it, basically: “Consider this: There must be an uncharted island somewhere, covered with flowers and void of soap and razors. So please, be my guest.”

Other tracks attempt a little more artistry, like “In The Slime Of Vietnam,” which is a letter “from a soldier who died today” that follows an A-B-C-A rhyme scheme. “A Man’s Hands” is an impressionistic look at a man’s work, with the end of each stanza going off the rails: “A man’s hands / Building his home / Raising a flag / Petting a dog / Burning a flag.” Or “Shaking his friends’ hands / Saving a life / Digging a grave / Picking tomatoes.” Huh?

The pro-Vietnam vigor closes out the album in a pair of tracks, one a de rigueur attack on the counterculture called “To The Destroyers,” but the penultimate one, “My Buddy Carl,” is another letter purportedly from a dead soldier, this time to his congressman, that’s a cringe-inducing reflection on racism. Carl and his pal worry, with all the hate on Earth, that heaven may be segregated. So he asks his representative to introduce a bill to integrate heaven. For good measure, it ends with “His truth is marching on!” over blaring horns, because you might as well use “Battle Hymn Of The Republic” again. 

Can easily be distinguished by: The literal cover shot of a written letter.

Sign it was made in 1968: All the talk of the counterculture and Vietnam couldn’t possibly be more ’60s, man.

More Albums That Time Forgot