Uplifting Music for a Dark Time: “Let’s Live for Today” brightens Vietnam Era
The Vietnam War was one of the darkest periods in world history. It is estimated that more than 2 million civilians and more than 60,000 U.S. soldiers and 250,000 Vietnamese soldiers were killed during the war between 1954 and 1975. At the height of the war, in the mid to late 60s, there were more than 500,000 U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, facing constant fear of death and destruction. To find hope and comfort during those ominous conditions, many soldiers turned to music. The popular songs of the time gave the soldiers a chance to escape to a place beyond the war. One of the tunes that struck a nerve with the troops in Vietnam was “Let’s Live for Today” by The Grass Roots– a song about taking it “nice and easy”, living in the moment, and not to “worry about tomorrow”.
Before the Grass Roots: “Let’s Live for Today” hits in Italy and the UK
The history of “Let’s Live for Today” began in Italy. The song was written by David Shapiro and Italian lyricist Mogol. Additional English lyrics were drafted by Michael Julien. The song was originally recorded with Italian lyrics, titled “Piangi Con Me” (translated in English as “Cry with Me”). Shapiro was also the guitarist and singer in a band made up of English expatriates called The Rokes. The Rokes became popular in Italy re-doing American pop hits in Italian. In 1966, the Rokes released “Piangi Con Me” as the B-side to a single released in Italy. The song became the biggest hit in Italy for the Rokes, and the plan was made for the group to re-record the song in the UK with English lyrics. The first title for the English version of “Piangi Con Me” was “Passing Thru Grey”, but the song’s UK publisher, Dick James Music, did not like the new title, and assigned one of their staff writers, Michael Julien, to do a re-write. It was Julien who transformed the song into “Let’s Live for Today”.
Before the Rokes could release their version of “Let’s Live for Today” they were beaten to the punch by a British-based group called the Living Daylights. While traveling through the UK, “Let’s Live for Today” performed by the Living Daylights was heard by American record producers P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, who brought it back with them to the U.S. believing it was a hot recording prospect for their assembly of musicians they named The Grass Roots.
The Grass Roots: A War-torn Band
The Grass Roots, formerly the 13th Floor, were formed in Los Angeles in 1965. In 1966, a Sloan and Barri composition “Where Were You When I Needed You” peaked at #28 on Billboard Hot 100 for The Grass Roots, but two subsequent singles by the group “Only When You’re Lonely” and “Tip of My Tongue” stiffed.
The band was still looking for their breakthrough hit in 1967 when they received the news that their bass player (Kenny Fukomoto) was drafted for duty in the Vietnam War by the U.S. Army. After an extensive search for Kenny’s replacement, the band found bassist Rob Grill, who became their lead singer. The addition of Grill was followed by the delivery of “Let’s Live for Today” by Sloan and Barri, and The Grass Roots finally had the tune that would establish them as one of the most successful American pop bands of the late 60s.
“Let’s Live for Today”: A Hit on the Charts and a Favorite for the Troops
The Grass Roots had just signed a record label deal with Dunhill Records when they got the news about Fukomoto being drafted. Although Kenny wasn’t a member of the group when they recorded “Let’s Live for Today” he felt a sense of gratification and joy when he heard it on Armed Forces Radio while overseas in Vietnam. Lead guitarist & back-up vocalist Warren Entner remembered speaking with Fukomoto when Kenny returned home from duty. Kenny told him about the euphoria he felt when he heard “Let’s Live for Today” in Vietnam, and how his fellow soldiers would sing the song at the top of their lungs. “He said that the song really connected with the troops in Vietnam”, Warren recalled. Entner and his bandmates were pleased to know that their music resonated with the soldiers, but “Let’s Live for Today” was an anthem for millions around the world.
Following the success of its first translation in Italy, “Let’s Live for Today” rocketed to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #5 on the Cash Box Top 100, in 1967. It rose to #9 in New Zealand, #3 in Canada, and #1 in South Africa. Sloan and Barri’s instincts did not fail them. The tune was the breakout smash that The Grass Roots were in need of. Just as it had been revised in various iterations in Europe, “Let’s Live for Today” was modernized in the studio for The Grass Roots to maximize impact with an American radio audience. The recording of their version of the song included the most technologically advanced sound audio equipment, evolving from a 4-track to an 8-track, to a 16-track.
The Grass Roots: Where are They Now?
Entner sang the “1-2-3-4” count off that sets up the “Sha la la la la la- live for today” chorus in The Grass Roots recording, which has become the most famous version of the storied tune. After leaving the band in 1975, Warren transitioned into artist management, navigating the careers of high-profile rock acts Quiet Riot, Faith No More, and Rage Against the Machine, among others.
Lead singer Rob Grill passed away in 2011. His revered vocals powered thirteen Top-40 hits for The Grass Roots from 1967 through 1972.
Upon returning from his army service in Vietnam, Kenny Fukomoto earned a fine arts degree, continued to write & perform music, and became a restauranteur in Northern California.
The Grass Roots to The Office: Creed Bratton’s Rock n’ Roll Experience
One of the original members of The Grass Roots was Creed Bratton who played the character ‘Creed’ in the highly rated sitcom The Office. Creed was fired from the band in 1969 after an infamous performance at the Fillmore West where he dropped acid and was incapacitated. Creed admits that not only did he drop acid before the band went on stage, he also dropped his pants, and sat on the front of the stage trying to explain to the audience the meaning of life. Creed considers that episode his “quintessential 60s rock n’roll experience”.