Tuesday Tunes 31: Sixties Albums

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…

Tuesday Tunes 30: Sixties USA

 

For the past couple of weeks I’ve promised to do a set of songs from the US, and that time has come. American pop and rock music has undoubtedly had a massive influence on music here, and I thought it only right that I should focus this week on artists and bands who were important to many here, not just to me. Whilst making my choices I was struck by how much my musical tastes were ‘growing up’ in the sixties, from simple pop music to what I know as rock music, which is my staple diet for listening. It is no coincidence that from about 1969 onwards I rarely bought singles, preferring to go for the longer listening experience offered by albums, and my seventies choices will reflect that. For now, though, I thought I’d begin with a couple which I think show how my tastes were subtly changing, starting with this one:

I did find a live version of that from the Ed Sullivan Show but the owner has banned it from being shared: spoilsport! This was the opening – and title – track on the Byrds’ debut album, which was released in 1965, a month or so after the single. The album reached #6 in the US and #7 in the UK, and the single was #1 in both countries. To us, they were a little bit different, exotic almost, and I instantly fell in love with that jangly guitar sound. That has been a big feature of music I’ve enjoyed over the years: I’ve written here before about how big a Tom Petty fan I am, and he is one among many who have carried on that tradition.

My next choice this week is from a band who had a couple of years’ head start on the Byrds, having released their first album in 1962. They were very prolific: a month after Mr Tambourine Man was issued, they released their ninth album in a little over three years. Their early days had a number of classic surf music singles, and I’ve had real difficulty in making a choice of just one of their songs. For no other reason other than that I loved it at the time and bought the single, I’m going with this one:

I’ll happily accept that this isn’t the most obvious choice, but hey – I’m making the decisions here! The song was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, and was a conscious revisiting of their original surf sound, which they hadn’t used since 1964. By 1968 the band were beginning to decline in popularity in the US but still sold loads of records here: this one only reached #20 in the US but was a massive hit here in the UK, where it spent a week at #1 before being replaced by a bit of schmaltzy tat by the Bee Gees – you’ve never been able to trust the British public, have you!

Next up is a choice from a man who has sold over 100m records, so he clearly has something that people like! He has written many songs that have been recorded by other artists, of which this is one:

I always think it a mark of a songwriter to see who has covered their songs. In this case, the most notable cover for me is Johnny Cash’s, which was the title track of his album American Recordings III: Solitary Man. Whilst I’ve always loved Neil’s version I have to say that Johnny’s gravelly voice adds a whole new dimension to it: check it out if you haven’t heard it, I can highly recommend it. Which is more than I can say for Cliff Richard’s version but, to be fair, it doesn’t appear to have ever been released as a single or on one of his albums, so at least we’ve been spared that! The song was from Neil’s early career days, before things really took off for him, and it only reached #55 in the US. It was re-released in 1970, when it did better, peaking at #21. It didn’t make the UK charts on either occasion (see earlier comment about the British public!).

Neil Diamond wrote some songs that were hits for The Monkees. The most famous is probably I’m A Believer, but I prefer this one:

That was released as a non-album single in March 1967, and reached #2 in the US and #3 in the UK, driven by the success of their TV show. The show ran for just two series, from September 1966 to March 1968, but they managed to pack in 58 episodes in that time. It was shown here at Saturday tea time, and was enjoyed by the whole family: it made my parents laugh a lot and they even accepted that the music wasn’t bad! I think my mum had a crush on Davy Jones, if I’m honest. Incidentally, that was the first Monkees single on which Davy took lead vocal: I think they missed a trick by waiting so long, but their sales were still pretty good anyway!

I mentioned earlier that it was around the end of the Sixties that I converted to buying mostly albums, and this next choice, although released as a single, is very much an album track:

That was the second track on CS&N’s eponymous debut album, which I bought and just about wore out! To this day I still think they are one of the best ever folk-rock bands, and their music has been a big part of my listening down the years. I would have thought the song ideally suited to be a single, but it only reached #28 in the US and didn’t chart here. Graham Nash wrote it while he was still a member of The Hollies, who rejected it as not being sufficiently commercial. Given that it is a live show favourite, which they have played over 450 times, I think he may have had the last laugh there despite its lack of success as a single!

I really struggled to get the selection down to manageable numbers this week, and then realised that I hadn’t made room for my all time favourite song. I couldn’t possibly leave it out, so you’re getting six tunes this week. This is still, to me, a musical masterpiece:

The song was written by Bryan MacLean, who took lead vocal – until Arthur Lee persuaded their record company that his was the stronger voice, so they added him into the mix. I bought it as a single, but didn’t get around to the album for a few years. The song peaked at #123 in the US but didn’t chart here, though the album – Forever Changes – fared rather better here, reaching #24, compared with #154 in the US. Maybe the British record-buying public weren’t so bad after all: we were  into our psychedelic rock in those days! The album has since become a seminal work, and is often cited in those ‘best ever albums’ polls that newspapers and magazines are so keen on making up. I think it deserves all the kudos it has received.

Thats it for this week. I hope there is at least one here that you enjoyed: preferably six, but that may be a touch optimistic. We’re in the process of being put back into lockdown, in a tacit admission by the government that things aren’t any better than they were in March. All part of life’s rich tapestry, I guess. Stay safe and well, take care of yourself and those you love.

See you next time.

Tuesday Tunes 8: Lockdown


As the main news story here over the past few days has been the Government’s ‘new’ guidelines for what we can and cannot do at present, this seemed as good a time as any to make ‘lockdown’ the theme for Tuesday Tunes. Those of a nervous disposition may like to look away now: this piece contains some criticisms of our leaders!

I had thought I might give you a brief rundown of the new guidance but it doesn’t seem very clear: every time a government minister says something about it they are either correcting something someone else has said or are immediately contradicted themselves. Government by chaos. This bears all the hallmarks of our Prime Minister: lurking behind him is his eminence grise – Dirty Dom – who becomes ever more dictatorial, and then they trot out the Prime Clown to make the pronouncements. For those who haven’t seen them, they basically amount to ‘wiffle waffle, piffle paffle, hrmph.’ And we now have the perfectly clear ‘Stay Home’ slogan replaced by ‘Stay Alert.’ What?

A brief summary: on Sunday evening Johnson commandeered the tv screens to make a statement. Except that he didn’t: anyone hoping for a live broadcast would have been disappointed to learn that it was pre-recorded, presumably so that the producers could edit out the inevitable cock ups. Mind you, his cabinet ministers shared in that disappointment, as the whizzo 50 page booklet that they were due to discuss in Zoom cabinet had apparently already been sent to the printers. If he doesn’t even trust his own cabinet, what chance is there for us poor plebs? But good news: there was to be a slight relaxation of the lockdown rules. People who could go to work should do so. But not by public transport. We would now be allowed to meet with one family member (pick between Gran and Grandpa, folks) but only outside at two metres distance, of course. But it was ok to have a carer or cleaner in your home, just not your relatives. Oh, and he forgot to tell us that this wouldn’t all be starting until Wednesday, and one of his sidekicks had to be wheeled out for an instant correction. Asked yesterday by a teacher why it would be acceptable for her to be in a classroom full of children, but not for her to see her own grandchildren, he didn’t have an answer. And that is just the tip of the iceberg – a confusion of Titanic proportions.

At times like this there is only one thing for it: music! I’ve picked two tunes for this week which, by their titles alone, are good complements to this week’s theme. That they are both from favourite artists of mine, and that their lyrics speak of being apart from people or being restricted in what we can do, is a bonus! First up is the late, great Warren Zevon. His slightly gravelly voice may not be to everyone’s taste, but he wrote some great tunes and his lyrics are often masterful. See what I mean from this:

That was on his seventh studio album, Transverse City, and the harmonica and harmony vocals are by Neil Young – Warren may not have set the charts alight but he had a very loyal following and fellow artists knew just how good he was: there are many cover versions of his songs, a particular favourite of mine being Poor Poor Pitiful Me by Linda Ronstadt. The novelist Carl Hiaasen was a big fan, and often featured snippets of Warren’s lyrics in his books: they became good friends right until Warren’s passing in 2003. Hiaasen’s books, like Warren’s lyrics, are full of larger than life characters: I guess, in Warren’s case, that is the product of his upbringing as the son of a Mormon mother and a father who worked for a notorious LA mobster. He once wrote a song called My Shit’s Fucked Up – it’s not hard to see why!

As I said earlier, this week’s second tune is also from a favourite of mine. It’s a Bob Dylan song, but I think the Byrds did it better – as they did with many of his songs. Their version was on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, which was the only one of their albums to feature the late, great (secondary theme here) Gram Parsons. It has since become recognised as the forerunner of what we now know as country rock, and led to Parsons and Chris Hillman leaving the Byrds to form the Flying Burrito Brothers – I still play both bands’ albums to this day. As a Tuesday Tune for lockdown, it is hard to find a better message than this:

Parsons left the Byrds during a UK tour in 1968, which gave him more time to hang out with his friends Mick Jagger and Keith Richard/s. If you’ve ever wondered where the Rolling Stones’ country influence came from, on tracks like Country Honk and Faraway Eyes, Gram’s your man!

To wrap up this week’s selection, a serious note. I don’t think I was being too disingenuous in my description of the state of guidance here in the UK, and it worries me that things are that unclear. This is vitally important, and is something that has to be got right. I’ve been critical of Johnson et al in their early complacency and lack of response to Covid, and they have to be decisive now: lives have been lost, and more depend on it. There has been a spike in infections in Germany since they eased their regulations last week, and I am fearful of that happening here.. Stay alert (whatever that is supposed to mean), be safe, and take care. Till next week….