So here goes…
…but first I’m going to subvert the rules a bit further with a few necessary statements of the (maybe) obvious.
The #50yearsoftunes game starts, quite sensibly, at 1965. My collection, with a couple of dozen exceptions, starts maybe five years earlier and I feel the need to point out a couple of outliers which predate the parameters of this activity:
– ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ – either my first or second favourite Dylan album depending upon which way the wind is blowing (the other is coming up). An incredible, simple, collection of folky, acerbic brilliance.
– Motown – certainly in its early days never known for the albums per se – rather the brilliance of single after single after single, a good deal of which were released in the early sixties. Collectively, the best pop music ever produced.
Furthermore, the period 1965-69 gave birth to an extraordinary amount of wonderful music which will never really be regarded in album terms if for no other reason than a lot of the bands never lasted long enough to make one. The 1960s garage/psych scene produced some incredible stuff which sadly at the time rarely made it out of its home postcode, let alone town, county, city or state. My introduction to this goldmine was through a gift of the Nuggets and Pebbles box sets – which are absolute treasures. If you don’t know them, yet enjoy the likes of Ezra Furman, Jeffrey Lewis, Hooded Fang and Sonic Youth I highly recommend you check them out.
Anyway, to business…
My 1965 choice is Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to Sergio Leone’s ‘Per qualche dollaro in più’ (which would be released in as ‘For a few dollars more’ in 1967). Morricone’s soundtrack output over the late 20th century is awesome in all senses, yet I don’t think ever improved on that which he produced for Sergio Leone’s films. This is one of my favourite pieces – stirring, thrilling, evocative, magical…
It says something of my love for the above that it won out over Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ – both of which are stellar…
…again though, have played a little with the rules here to cater for that issue, with an album released in 1998, albeit a live album of a concert that took place in 1966: Vol. 4 of Dylan’s Bootleg series – ‘The Royal Albert Hall Concert’. Which actually took place at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester – the infamous gig at which Dylan introduced the UK to his ‘electric’ tendencies. The performance of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ that evening, preceded by the shout of “Judas”, is I think the greatest piece of popular music ever committed to tape. Duly heckled, Dylan turns to the band with the instruction “play it fucking loud” – the power and raw intensity with which such an important song is delivered is just spine-tingling. Truly a seismic shift in modern popular music:
Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence’ and The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’ get a very honourable mention for 1966 too.
Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ received very little commercial success upon release but is now justly recognised as one of the great psychedelic pop albums. It is beautiful from beginning to end. In addition, ‘Alone Again Or’ is up there as one of the great opening album tracks:
As mentioned previously, when I started this review, I was attempting to select a favourite single song from each year and this was 1967’s choice – so special it gets a place here too…White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane – an elemental transposition of Alice in Wonderland to the dark truth of the late 60s and Grace Slick with maybe my favourite ever female vocal:
In keeping with my Dylan case – Tim Buckley’s ‘Dream Letter: Live in London 1968’ – a BBC recording not physically released until 1990. For the spotters out there an interesting session in itself, where financial and contractual difficulties prevented Buckley’s regular musicians from travelling to the UK with him – instead he is supported by guests including Danny Thompson from Pentangle. The album presents a stripped back set of some of Buckley’s greatest songs and the recording is near-perfect.
Again similar to Like A Rolling Stone, above, in that I believe the version of Pleasant Street is one of the single greatest things I have ever heard and ever will. It certainly contains the greatest segue into a cover ever attempted:
Another instance of a very close second for 1968 – Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks – which, coincidentally, contains the song ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’, a live cover version of which would confirm my love of Jeff Buckley, which in turn would introduce me to the music of Buckley Snr.
Almost as if on cue, The MC5’s ‘Kick Out The Jams’ appeared in February 1969 to maybe foretell and then certainly stride on by the death of the Summer of Love. Woodstock would come and go in August and then in December events at Altamont would signal the end of the hippy age for good. The MC5 though burst forth from blues-driven 60s garage and psychedelia with a righteous anger and energy, underpinned by strong political messages, which would pre-date the official ‘birth of punk’ by some seven years. The album – full of raw aggression, hope and promise – has proven influential right up to the present day across both social and musical movements.
On a related note, the other contender for 1969 was indeed the Woodstock film soundtrack, but I figured that bending the rules a little too far, being essentially a (n amazing) compilation. And it would have been too hard to pick a track. Although Richie Havens singing Freedom, which can be found elsewhere on this blog, would probably have won out…