I remarked last week that my record purchasing began to take a shift from singles to albums towards the late Sixties, and it therefore seems a good idea to reflect that with a post devoted to some of the albums that attracted me, as my musical tastes matured. Two of today’s choices are from bands who have featured in this little mini-series of Sixties posts – one of them as recently as last week – but the others are new to the series. They do, I think, reflect that change though.
As always, I’m starting with something that moves a bit:
An unlikely place to start, perhaps, for a band which is probably more known either for their 1965 hit single Go Now or the many slower album tracks of their prog rock days. That is actually the first piece of music – after a spoken word intro – on their third album, In Search Of The Lost Chord. This was their second concept album, after Days Of Future Passed, the one which includes Nights In White Satin – which you may have heard! The album was released in July 1968 and reached #5 in the UK, #23 in the US. This track was actually released as a single – the second from the album – but didn’t really do all that much, peaking at #42 in the UK and #61 in the US. I bought the album that year, and still love it and play it now, albeit the vinyl original is long since lost from my possession. An old school friend came to visit me a few years back, and told me that he had been listening to Moody Blues albums on the drive up here – good to know that my influence still exists!
This week’s second choice is also a quick mover, and is also probably not the most obvious track I could have chosen from its album:
The song is a track on Bob Dylan’s seventh album, Blonde On Blonde, which was released in June 1966. This was one of the first double albums in rock music, and is often given as an example of one of the best albums ever. Not bad, for the guy my Mum used to call ‘the man who can’t sing.’ The album reached #3 in the UK and #9 in the US, and spawned five hit singles, of which this was one of two which charted on both sides of the Atlantic – it peaked at #20 in the US but got slightly higher here, where it reached #16. After all this time it is still one of my favourite Dylan tracks, but much though I like Bob I have to admit that I think Leonard Cohen would have been a more deserving Nobel winner for his poetry than Mr Zimmerman. Discuss…
I mentioned the phrase ‘concept album’ in relation to the Moody Blues. They released several of that genre, but were far from alone in doing so. Many rock bands – especially those who were labelled ‘prog rock’ – did so, but one of my favourites was from an out and out rock band. The Who released The Who Sell Out in December 1967 in the UK and in January 1968 in the US: it comprised a number of unrelated songs linked by radio station jingles, of the sort the band had themselves recorded for others. This is my favourite track from the album:
You can hear a couple of the concept jingle links at the beginning and end of that clip, to give you a little context. In a rather twee comment Wikipedia remarks that the song has been ‘subject to a variety of interpretations.’ I have only ever thought there could be one, but maybe that’s just my mind – then again, the band’s discographer (Chris Charlesworth) described it as their ‘second great song about masturbation,’ so maybe I’m on the right track. In case you’re wondering, the first song in that dubious category was Pictures Of Lily. The album reached #13 here and #48 in the US. As concept albums go it was a bit of an oddity, and perhaps unsurprisingly it was the subject of several lawsuits claiming infringement of copyright, including one from the pirate radio station Radio London, some of whose jingles featured on it. Proof, if it were needed, that big business lacks a sense of humour – whilst always being able to sniff out the making of a quick buck or two!
My next song this week is from an album I’ve loved ever since it was released, and still play to this day:
The album was Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, which was released in August 1968 and was the only Byrds album to feature Gram Parsons. The album is credited with creating the genre known as ‘country-rock,’ though it wasn’t a commercial success, only reaching #77 in the US and failing to chart here. It has subsequently been recognised as one of the most influential albums ever, though. Two singles were released from it, of which this was one: it reached #74 in the US and #45 here. It wasn’t long before Parsons left the band, along with Chris Hillman, and they formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, who I recommend highly. Gram Parsons’ influence has spread far beyond his tragically short lifetime: for example, he was friends with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and is cited as an influence for some of the Stones’ country-based songs, such as Country Honk and Faraway Eyes. To round off this section, perhaps I should point out that this is actually a Bob Dylan song (yes, him again), written by him in 1967, though he didn’t release his own version until 1971.
It would be remiss of me not to include the biggest band on the planet in a selection of Sixties albums. Fortunately, I’m spoilt for choice, as all apart from The Beatles’ final album, Let It Be, were released in this decade. But that does make it hard to narrow the selection! So I decided to cheat a little:
Abbey Road was released on 26 September 1969, and this video was released to mark the 50th anniversary reissue of the album, on 26 September 2019. I think it’s rather lovely, and it just had to be my choice. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the Beatles or this song and album: suffice it to say that it is a George Harrison song, written by him while in his friend Eric Clapton’s garden, and that John Lennon didn’t feature on the original recording as he was recuperating from injury at the time. The album was, of course, #1 in the UK and the US, and in just about every other country you care to think of. The 50th anniversary reissue? Also a UK #1. In the main US chart it was #3, though it made #1 in the Rock chart. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that this video has over 35m views in little more than a year!
I’m giving you six songs again this week, as I couldn’t possibly leave out the band that became the biggest rock band in the world during the Seventies. Their first two albums were Sixties releases, though, which means I can legitimately include them here. In case you’re wondering, I’m talking about Led Zeppelin, who were probably the major influence in my taste moving towards rock music. Given that they were renowned for their hard rock, you might not be expecting this choice, though:
To my mind, that is one of the most beautiful love songs ever recorded, and I think the imagery of the lyrics is wonderful. It is the closing track to side one of Led Zeppelin II, back in the days when everything came on vinyl. The album was released in October 1969 and, unsurprisingly, was #1 both here and in the US. No tracks from the album were released as singles here (as was the case throughout their career) but in the US and the Netherlands, where I guess the band had less of a say in what happened, the opening track – Whole Lotta Love – was a #4 hit as a single. It was eventually released as a single here – in 1997! In the meantime, a cover version by CCS (a UK #13) was for some years the title music for our tv charts show Top Of The Pops. I’ve always found that slightly ironic! The album has sold upwards of 20m copies and it probably doesn’t need to be said that my Mum didn’t like it! She just couldn’t understand my excitement when a friend managed to get us tickets to see the band live: they played a series of warm up gigs at smaller UK venues early in 1971, as preparation for a forthcoming world tour, and I was among 1,300 who saw them at the University of Kent, Canterbury, one cold March evening. Stairway To Heaven was announced by Robert Plant in throwaway fashion as ‘here’s a song off our new LP.’ Happy days!
That’s all for this week, and for the Sixties – for now. One of the things which has struck me over the past four weeks is that, even by stretching these posts to six songs, I have had to leave out so much of the music I grew up with, so I may return to this era at some point. For those who follow my Facebook page (link is to the right) yesterday’s #SongOfTheDay was an absolute beauty that missed out on this series: a little bonus offering. Next week I’ll begin my stumble into the Seventies. There will be singles. There will be album tracks. And there will be a lot of music from North America. Stay tuned…