If 1966 was the year that music gained brightened hues, than 1967 was when everything went technicolor. This is the year most associated with "flower power," Haight-Ashbury, and the rise of the counterculture. Monterrey Pop put acid rock and psychedelia on the map, the Vietnam war was in full swing, and race riots nationwide gave the Civil Rights Movement an ugly aftertaste. The "generation gap," shorthand for an increasingly widening cultural and sociopolitical wedge between young and old, further polarized American culture.
Even though I declared '66 the best for music of this particular decade, '67 was quite sublime in its own right. It was a year of unforgettable debuts (The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead) and sudden goodbyes (Billy Strayhorn, John Coltrane, Woody Guthrie, Brian Epstein, Otis Redding). For those of us that weren't alive during the Summer of Love this is where "Classic Rock" was conceived, similtaneously coexisting yet breaking away from Motown, bubblegum pop, free and Latin jazz, and British blues. Politics and drugs aside, 1967 was a staggering year for music, opening the floodgates to an unrivaled variety of sound.
BEST ROCK ALBUMS:
1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles. The most scrutinized and over-analyzed album in rock history, Sgt. Pepper's is an piece of art best appreciated without reading any critics' dissertations first. Don't let theories taint the experience, listen to this with fresh ears. Only after that can you debate the Ringo vocal on track #2, whether certain songs have aged better than others, or the real meaning of the mesmerizing "A Day in the Life." If you want to understand the essence of pop music, this is a good place to start.
2. The Velvet Underground & Nico, The Velvet Underground. Recorded over two days in late 1966, the Velvets were originally the hired soundtrack artists for "producer" Andy Warhol's surrealist road show. The end result of their recording debut --with German model/actress Nico shoehorned in on additional vocals-- is the most unique and distinctive rock recording of its time. The unit of Lou Reed, Stering Morrison, John Cale, and Maureen Tucker were masters of their art: tangled guitars, lyrics of literary fatalism, and a sense of nihilism never heard on record before.
3. Are You Experienced?, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Arguably the most important instrumentalist in American music of the past half-century, the Seattle-bred electric guitarist hit the ground running on his major label and headlining debut. From the moment you hear the first strains of "Hey Joe" you know you're in for something special, transcendant almost. Considering that the entire original Experience lineup is now deceased, perhaps acid-blues of such majesty was meant to be savored.
4. The Doors, The Doors
5. Forever Changes, Love
6. Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles
7. Axis: Bold as Love, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
8. Disraeli Gears, Cream
9. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Pink Floyd
10. I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You, Aretha Franklin. The best straight-up soul album of all time? Quite possibly. The leadoff track "Respect" is a song that radio played to death (and still does), but like my #1 album pick her signature song requires a naked ear to feel the urgency and force of her voice. The rest of I Love You is top notch though not quite as earth-shattering; if Aretha were the last word in gospel, I'd attend her church.
11. The Who Sell Out, The Who
12. Something Else By, The Kinks
13. Strange Days, The Doors
14. Flowers, The Rolling Stones
15. Again, Buffalo Springfield. Personnel issues prevented this album from being as unified as their fine debut a year earlier, but from a songwriting standpoint this is a major leap in maturity for all involved. Neil Young is the breakout star here, taking lead on the Stones-ish "Mr. Soul" and the poignant, veritably haunted "Broken Arrow."
16. Younger Than Yesterday, The Byrds
17. Days of Future Passed, The Moody Blues
18. Surrealistic Pillow, Jefferson Airplane
19. John Wesley Harding, Bob Dylan
20. Procol Harum, Procol Harum. A session band that turned legit on the strength of one brilliant song, Harum's debut full-length is an entertaining meld of psychedelic, blues, and classic influences. "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (the aforementioned hit) and its luscious, swirling organ sets the tone, yet its commercial success overshadows an entire album's worth of fascinating proto-prog-rock. The Bach-influenced track "Repent Walpurgis" is a lost '60s gem.
BEST JAZZ ALBUMS:
1. The Real McCoy, McCoy Tyner. Struggling as an artist but growing as a pianist and composer, Tyner's first Blue Note session is his unfiltered vision of hard bop. With saxophonist Joe Henderson anchoring the proceedings, Tyler punctuates his dutiful soloist with crashes of 88-key thunder. If Tyner's other '67 release Tender Moments is more cerebral, than The Real McCoy is its feisty cousin.
2. Miles Smiles, Miles Davis
3. Wave, Antonio Carlos Jobim
4. Schizophrenia, Wayne Shorter
5. Sorcerer, Miles Davis
"You Keep Me Hangin' On," Vanilla Fudge
"Dear Mr. Fantasy," Traffic
"Incense and Peppermints," Strawberry Alarm Clock
"I Had To Much To Dream (Last Night)," The Electric Prunes
"Talk Talk," The Music Machine
"Wear Your Love Like Heaven," Donovan
"Gimme Little Sign," Brenton Wood
"Western Union," The Five Americans
"Him or Me, What's It Gonna Be?" Paul Revere & The Raiders
"The Happening," The Supremes
"Silence is Golden," The Tremeloes
"Sunshine Girl," Parade
"It's a Happening Thing," The Peanut Butter Conspiracy
"Fat City," The Sons of Champlin
"The Letter," The Box Tops
"Never My Love," The Association
"Society's Child," Janis Ian
"Pretty Ballerina," The Left Banke
"Underdog," Sly & The Family Stone
"Friday on My Mind," The Easybeats