Scott McKenzie, singer of flower power pop, dies aged 73

Hippies at a 1960s "gathering" in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park (file pic) McKenzie's hit San Francisco became an anthem of the 1960s counterculture movement

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Scott McKenzie, who sang the 1960s hit San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair), has died aged 73.

The singer was a close friend of Mamas and Papas star John Phillips, who wrote and produced the San Francisco track.

Released in May 1967, it became a global hit and an anthem for the 1960s counterculture movement.

"I am amazed at how San Francisco continues even now to evoke dreams in the hearts and minds of people all over the world," McKenzie wrote in 2002.

He was found by a neighbour in his home on Sunday afternoon. His death was confirmed by another neighbour, Victoria Byers.

She told the BBC he had been in and out of hospital recently after falling ill with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disease affecting the nervous system.

"I think he had a heart attack this most recent time. He was in the hospital," she said. "They did not want him to leave the hospital, but he wanted to be in his house [when he died]".

Born Philip Wallach Blondheim in January 1939, the singer, songwriter and guitarist grew up in North Carolina where he lived with his grandparents while his widowed mother worked in Washington DC.

As a teenager, he met Phillips and formed a doowop band called The Abstracts. The band moved to New York and became The Smoothies, where they played on the club circuit and recorded two singles.

It was at this stage in his career that he changed his name, after complaints that Blondheim was unpronounceable, and comments by comedian Jackie Curtis that he looked like a Scottie dog - hence Scott.

Festival inspiration

With the rise of folk music in the 1960s, he and Phillips approached banjo player Dick Weissman and went on to form The Journeymen. The trio recorded three albums, before breaking up in 1964.

Phillips went on to form the original The Mamas and Papas and is credited with writing a memorable body of songs that chronicled the personal and social upheavals of the decade.

McKenzie declined an invitation to join him in favour of becoming a solo star, but the two remained close friends.

San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair), penned by Phillips and featuring him on guitar, was McKenzie's only significant hit.

Inspired by the first Monterey Pop Festival, which organised by Phillips and Lou Adler, among others, it was reportedly recorded with McKenzie wearing a flower garland and friends gathered on the floor to meditate.

It soared to the number four spot in the US Billboard 100, and number one in the UK.

McKenzie released two solo albums, before dropping out in the late 1960s and moving to Virginia Beach, after struggling with the pressures of fame.

'Summer of love'

Over the course of his career, he dedicated every American performance of the track to Vietnam veterans, and in 2002 sang at the 20th anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

He returned to music in the late 80s when he replaced first Denny Doherty, and then an ailing Phillips, in a touring version of The Mamas and the Papas.

He also co-wrote the Beach Boys hit Kokomo.

"Never before or since, with the exception of rap, has popular music contained such sheer poetic and social power," wrote McKenzie on his website in 2002.

"Even at the end of the decade, when so many of us had lost hope, when the summer of love had turned into a winter of despair, our music helped keep us alive and carry us forward into a world we had hoped to change.

"And so it still does."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    San Francisco is and always has been one of my great all time favourites.
    Scott will be sadly missed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    I still listen to his great song/anthem and indeed to 60's/70's music all the time & even though we have progressed in every way in how we live, not so regards the music. A science report was published this year after much research that says songs today all sound the same, have no great chord structure, the melodies are bland & the instrumentation is mainly to make loudness.


  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    I have a copy of SF which reminds me of my childhood and the experience of growing up in the 60's. Sadly I know little of the man himself. His passing means another peice of the living echo of those times is gone and I offer my condolances to his family and friends. His recording still takes me back to those treasured times and will until the time of my own passing. RIP Scott McKenzie.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    I was paralysed with Guillain Barre Syndrome in 1999 and it is a horrible illness, particularly in people of advancing years. I managed to get back sufficient mobility to be able to walk, but there is not a day goes past when I am not aware of the legacy. Still, I am luckier than Scott and at the age of 75 lucky to still be here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    How did we get from there to here? Those of us who lived in that era can not believe what has happened to our vision. Shame on all of us who gave up too soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Its strange hearing people talk about how the culture of love, community, and changing the world is dead. Turn off your tv, computer, phone, etc. and get out into your communities - there are still lots people working for a better world! If you're wondering where the idealism of your youth went, ask yourself what are you doing to make the world a better place? The song lives on . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    Flower-power ... love and beauty and tolerance, and an end to war and greed and hatred. That era was short-lived but memorable - do you think that perhaps we might get back to the garden some day? I would like to think so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    In this summer election season of right wing fascism in the US that resembles Hitlerian racial propaganda against president Obama Americans are in need of a sane alternative. McKinzie and the entire anti-corporate establishment movement of the his time needs a rebirth to counter the fanatical Tea Party & Guns dementia that has gripped parts of the US electorate. The People vs Evil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    126. jason
    >>>this thread is about a man who died who once wrote a lovely song about people with flowers in their hair,

    Jason, You should probably read the story more carefully. He didn't write it.

    As for the troll, well, I think as the record has lasted the better part of 50 years and still gathers new fans, it can look after itself against angry brainless nobodies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    102. Lord Drainlid
    >>>... ageing former hippies ...consider any criticism of the 1960s as almost sacrilegious in their need to preserve their delusional memories.

    Can you quote examples? I don't remember any instances. Like any decade the 60s had high and low points. The only difference was that the 60s was when our species' fixation with youth really got serious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    I grew up with this song ... it's sad to hear he died. nevertheless, thanks for the memories.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    End of an era.
    I am glad I lived through the 60s and 70s, and songs from such greats typified the era.
    How come society today is dead set on turning its back on happiness and optimism.
    Flower Power was powerful and it was also harmless. Unlike today where envy and anger has permeated GB thanks to Govts divorced from the reality of citizens.
    Everyone knew the words to his great songs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Cannot help contrasting San Francisco's hope, joy and comradeship with the present conservative culture of royalty, war, military marches, flags, patriotism, unemployment, disability benefit cheats, council housing insecurity, lazy workers, oppressed business owners, private monopolies bullying individual customers of banks and penny post.... But, there is an answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    This is such sad news.
    I remember San Francisco being played on Juke Box Jury in 1967 - and the comments being 'What even men have flowers in their hair, we can hardly believe that'! - The beginning of Flower Power - miss those days and now we lose another flower child -
    RIP Scott

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    If your going to San Francisco beautiful melodic song & voice to match.
    It reminds me of my first girl friend in the sixty's .
    She dumped me after my Mum ironed my flares the wrong way.

    Thanks for being part of that time Scott.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Very sad news. I was a teenager in the sixties and have always wanted to visit San Francisco, mainly because of that song. Never made it unfortunately.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    I can't wait for the BBC series, "Sanitise the Sixties".

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Apparantly Scott had never been to San Fransisco when he recorded the song, but makes no odds - it's beautiful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    The summer of love, the beginning of the homeless youth movement. Thank you Scott.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    All things come to an end, as painful as they are. I was lucky enough to have experienced the whole Flower Power time. His song along with a number of others will always be associated with the youth of those times breaking away from the so called demands of society in those days. It was an Anthem that almost everyone knew from the first chord.
    May you rest in peace & thanks for the memories.


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