With the 40th anniversary of Woodstock and the moon landing in the rear-view mirrors of our minds, this month's musical lovefest drops down on 1969. It's difficult to find fault with the waning days of the '60s --Altamont notwithstanding-- if only because so many major acts were running on all cylinders. It was the last great year for Motown and all things psychedelic, the first great year for hard rock and the singer-songwriter era, and AM radio bubblegum was at its apex. Alas, this year was jam-packed with so much good stuff that I couldn't squeeze it down to ten songs and ten albums, so this month I decided to double up.
1. Abbey Road, The Beatles. The Fab Four's last studio effort --and their penultimate release as a band-- is a case example of brilliance under duress. There was little questioning the fact that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison were barely on speaking terms at this point, with Ringo Starr at the eye of the storm. The album itself is a continuation of the themes set by The White Album and strongly foreshadows the entire band's varying solo careers. Several ideas, including the "Sun King" medley on Side B, feel unfinished or half-hearted yet mesh well together. Harrison steals the show, however with two of the finest songs he ever wrote, "Something" and "Here Comes The Sun."
2. Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin. Where the first album was 45 minutes of compelling, hard-charging acid-blues, the sequel found Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones moving towards a sound that would be distinctly their own. "Whole Lotta Love" sets the tone and it never lets up.
3. The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground. Of the Velvets' four proper albums this is arguably my favorite. They're all masterpieces in their own right, but there's something about their third full-player that I keep coming back to. Most rock historians judge this album as the one that single-handedly turned folk-rock upside down, an argument that's hard to dispute; it's a mostly acoustic affair flavored by the nihilistic weirdness of the Velvets' first two efforts. Purists often deride Doug Yule's presence on the disc (he replaced founding member John Cale) but he only factors on two tracks; Lou Reed is the undisputed star here.
4. Tommy, The Who
5. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Neil Young
6. The Band, The Band
7. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin
8. Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire), The Kinks
9. Let It Bleed, The Rolling Stones
10. Willy and the Poor Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival. In this day and age, a band releasing two new studio albums in one calendar year is unheard of. In 1969, CCR released three LPs, and third of that bunch rivals Cosmo's Factory as one of their strongest efforts. The beautifully haunting "Effigy" notwithstanding it's also their breeziest album, 30+ minutes of country-blues-rockabilly fun.
11. In a Silent Way, Miles Davis. If there's an album in the legendary Davis oeurve that parallels The Beatles' Rubber Soul as a turning point in the artist's style and dynamic, this is probably it. Muted and ambient, In a Silent Way was a farewell of sorts to the bebop-tinged jazz that put Miles on the map and the beginning of a hard push into avant-garde and the fusion sound that dominated his early-70s work.
12. In The Court of the Crimson King, King Crimson
13. Nashville Skyline, Bob Dylan
14. Blind Faith, Blind Faith
15. Santana, Santana
16. Unhalfbricking, Fairport Convention
17. Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago
18. Karma, Pharoah Sanders
19. Volunteers, Jefferson Airplane
20. Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. Upon listening to this album for the first time, one could call this double-LP a bizarre, unlistenable mess; after all, it's five "musicians" that can barely play their instruments as a white Howlin' Wolf imitator recites stream-of-consciousness poetry. Then you peel away the layers; the sound was orchestrated to be abstract, the arrangements carefully scripted and manicured by Beefheart himself, Don Van Vliet, and his partner in crime Frank Zappa. A highly influential album in the punk/new wave era, not as a literal musical starting point but as a catalyst of do-it-yourself experimentation.
BEST SINGLES (AM RADIO/TOP 40)
"Dizzy," Tommy Roe
"Suspicious Minds," Elvis Presley
"Sweet Caroline," Neil Diamond
"In The Year 2525," Zager and Evans
"(Theme from) Hawaii Five-O," The Ventures
"Tracy," The Cuff Links
"One," Three Dog Night
"You've Made Me So Very Happy," Blood, Sweat & Tears
"Polk Salad Annie," Tony Joe White
"Get Together," The Youngbloods
BEST SINGLES (R&B/BLUES/PSYCHEDELIC)
"Get Ready," Rare Earth
"Baby It's You," Smith
"What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)," Jr. Walker & The All-Stars
"Compared to What," Les McCann and Eddie Harris
"Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In," The 5th Dimension
"With a Little Help From My Friends," Joe Cocker
"Spirit in the Sky," Norman Greenbaum
"Touch Me," The Doors
"Space Oddity," David Bowie
"Pictures of Matchstick Men," Status Quo
Finally, for next month's annual musical salute, I was thinking of doing a people's choice. I'd like to cover the year 1999, but I've only listened to five or six albums from that year (not counting the Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys CDs that my sister nearly played to death). Feel free to PM me your suggestions.