Music reviews for the music of 1969.
1. The Beatles: Abbey Road (10/10)
2. King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King (10/10)
2. Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Everybody Knows this is Nowhere (10/10)
2. The Grateful Dead: Live/Dead (10/10)
Before this album was released, I suspect much of the world didn’t realize what the Dead actually sounded like. Read the full review.
5. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica (10/10)
Unlike anything I’ve ever heard (up to this point).
6. Tim Buckley: Happy Sad (10/10)
7. The Soft Machine: Volume 2 (10/10)
8. Led Zeppelin (10/10)
If Truth is the point at which British Blues begins to turn into Heavy Metal, this record, in many ways a blatant copycat of Truth, is the point when that process is complete. Yes, they’re still playing the blues sometimes, but it’s slower and louder than ever before in Britain – louder than Truth. Only Blue Cheer in the States had played slower and louder earlier, and Blue Cheer still had enough psychedelic effects to confuse you as to what you were listening to. (Also, this band is a lot more accomplished than Blue Cheer.) When they aren’t playing blues, they sometimes play fast, loud rock with virtually no precedent in British rock music – Hendrix without the effects but faster and more primitive. And then they indulge in folk, just like Jeff Beck.
The result is a clear dividing line between what came before and what comes after. You can justly quibble with calling Truth metal. You can maybe quibble with calling Blue Cheer metal. But you can’t quibble with Zeppelin being called metal. (Unless, of course, you’re one of those people who think NWOBHM invented metal, or Sabbath did on their third record, or whatever, the former of which is idiotic – it’s called the “New Wave” because it wasn’t first – and the latter is revisionist – music evolves slowly.)
Obligatory mention that Page stole many of his riffs and melodies from other songwriters and his act of pretending he can’t remember doesn’t fool anyone. Also obligatory mention that Robert Plant stole the vast majority of “his” lyrics in the early years from blues songs.
9. The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin (10/10)
I think it’s safe to say that this is the greatest country rock album of all time. It’s considerably more “rock” than The Byrds’ more famous effort the year prior and, perhaps more importantly, it’s not just rockier versions of traditional country songs, but original material, written as country and rocked up. It’s a blueprint for other bands, one of which notably became extremely famous by copying these guys and removing the rough edges.
Anyway, if you own one country rock album…
10. Credence Clearwater Revival: Green River (10/10)
11. Miles Davis: In a Silent Way (10/10)
12. Led Zeppelin II (10/10)
13. Pharaoh Sanders: Karma (10/10*)
14. Julie Driscoll, Brian Auguer and the Trinity: Streetnoise (10/10)
15. Credence Clearwater Revival: Willy and the Poor Boys (10/10)
16. Fairport Convention: Liege and Lief (10/10)
17. Fleetwood Mac: Then Play On (10/10)
18. Nick Drake: Five Leaves Left (10/10)
19. Deep Purple (10/10)
20. The Incredible Kaleidoscope (10/10*)
22. Frank Zappa: Hot Rats (10/10)
22. Johnny Cash: At San Quentin (10/10)
23. Dmitry Shostakovitch: Symphony No. 14 (9/10)
I have taken some time getting to know Shostakovitch and, on the whole, I have found him a little underwhelming, I guess because of his allegiance to the past. And I know I am coming at his symphonies backwards, by listening to the second last one first, but…
This is awesome. I am impressed by his amalgam of some pretty traditional melodic ideas with some (relatively!) radical approaches to tonality, scoring and, particularly, the form of the symphony itself. (I do not know if he was this radical in his earlier symphonies.) And, without the proper context, I must say that I listen to this as a pretty remarkable work. Not necessarily a life-changer, but among the better symphonies (I have heard) from the sixties. It’s hearing something like this that makes me want to invest more time in a composer.
24. The Velvet Underground (9/10)
A drastic left turn away from their noisy, in-your-face sound to something mostly softer and mellower, with suggestions of power pop and indie pop and naive rock and that kind of thing. It turns that Lou Reed is a really good songwriter and can write all sorts of styles. It turns out this band is more versatile that you might have expected, attempting both pop and the avant garde on the same record.
This is likely a much better point of entry than the first two records, and it’s also a strong set of songs (including some of Reed’s very best of his career). And it is mostly very different from the earlier albums, which feels like artistic growth even if it’s less revolutionary. But it’s just not as pathbreaking or as important as the first two.
25. Fairport Convention: What We Did on Our Holidays (9/10)
This is the record that made me a Fairport fan so I have a really hard time being objective about it. To me, the whole thing is wonderful from the beginning to the end.
The problem with that view is twofold: There is definitely some material here that qualifies as filler. It might be very pleasant filler but it’s hard to argue that “The Lord Is In This Place” is much other than filler. The other issue is that there is still the odd trace of the old band, specifically on “Book Song,” which has sitar and backmasking and reminds you that it’s 1968.
But otherwise, I love this record. It contains some of Denny and Thompson’s best material and it contains definitive cover versions of some supposed throwaway songs from some major songwriters. I suspect it’s not quite deserving of this high a ranking, but I can’t help myself. (Also, it helped launch the new English version of folk rock, so that must count for something.)
26. Credence Clearwater Revival: Bayou Country (9/10)
Gone are the psychedelic touches that marred the debut album for some people. So yes, the band double down and commit to their sound, sounding like basically no other (white) band on the planet at this point in time.
And I love this record and I could listen to it over and over again, because I love CCR.
But the material is spotty after the hits and the record feels padded out by “Keep On Chooglin'” – a song I actually don’t mind but is pretty indicative of the way they put out records, three short LPs in 1969 instead of two longer ones.
Yes, this is more clearly “swamp rock” than the debut but I don’t think the substitution of 8 minute jam for psychedelic sound effects is as great as the critics make it out to be.
Still a great record.
27. The Allman Brothers Band (9/10)
28. The Rolling Stones: Let it Bleed (9/10)
29. Amon Duul II: Phallus Dei (9/10)
What initially feels like a series of nearly formless psychedelic jams with everyone doing their own thing soon reveals itself to be one of the fundamental early documents of Krautrock (the earliest?) and a huge, huge influence on later musicians, particularly post punk bands (The Fall, for example) and indie rock bands (Stereolab).
What’s perhaps even more shocking is that the music that was left off the record is just as path-breaking, perhaps even more so. (Though obviously nobody got to hear it, unless they did those tracks live.)
Basically, they take the concept of a “freak out” and add new and different things to it, from music and cultures that had virtually zero impact on British and American psychedelia. There’s really not much out there like this. And though I think they improved as a band – they learned to include the odd song, for one thing – this is still remarkable, forward-thinking music.
PS: What a great album name.
30. Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking (9/10*)
31. The Who: Tommy (9/10)
32. The Kinks: Arthur (9/10)
33. Santana (9/10)
34. Les McCann, Eddie Harris: Swiss Movement (9/10)
The myth-making goes to hilarious extremes in the liner notes – with the writer denying the band had ever played together before this date before then detailing how they played together before the date – but that’s something that’s quite common to jazz (and to music in general) and this band still sounds fantastic for a band that hadn’t rehearsed much – and which was tackling a song they just learned that day.
McCann’s band brings the soul jazz and Harris (and Bailey, to a less extent) bring the modern sensibility. This is a strong record because the marriage of two sounds is so strong. I’m not sure I’d like McCann much without Harris, as he’s pretty traditional – though his band is really “soulful” for lack of a better word – but Harris is a forward-thinking player (at least relatively) and he makes this much better than your average soul jazz date.
Regardless of how this show came together, it’s a good show.
35. MC5: Kick out the Jams (8/10)
If you’re like me, you came to this because you read about it as a seminal step towards the creation of punk music. But listening to it many years later, it’s hard to see that. These guys are not a punk band in any way (except maybe politically); their music is louder than what would become punk, it’s more bluesy, it’s more competent – it doesn’t have a lot in common with the Dolls or Jonathan Richman or the Ramones. It doesn’t have much in common with the Stooges even. I think its role in the development of the genre has been a tad overstated. (Sure, later punk bands were political, but that was British punk not American punk.)
But the obsession of categorizing this record as “proto punk” obscures what it is: an excellent, dirty, hard, live rock album that what was about as loud and sloppy as rock music got in October 1968. This is a band that plays with a ton of energy and they’re okay if they’re not the most professional sounding band (even if they can actually play).
And yes, they did mostly get rid of jamming, which was a thing that was becoming a problem in 1968 and would continue to be a problem in coming years.
36. Led Zeppelin: Don’t Mess with Texas [Bootleg] (8/10)
This is a pretty strong but very early show featuring excellent versions of material from the debut, including a medley, and a couple covers as well (though obviously some of the “originals” are also covers…). Speaking of the medley, the (very brief) version of “Susie Q” is particularly bizarre (in a good way).
Everyone is one their game and the show is generally quite good. It’s a festival slot apparently, so it’s not like they play forever, but that brevity actually serves them well, as there is no insanely long and unnecessary Bonham solo, for example.
37. Crosby, Stills and Nash (8/10)
38. The Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa (8/10)
This is the first Dead studio album to come after the ridiculous mindfuck that was Anthem of the Sun. This is much more representative of the Dead as a band – and, with hindsight, we can say especially as a band in the studio – but it’s far less interesting as a record than Anthem of the Sun. That’s not to say it’s bad, not at all. It’s just not crazy and life changing.
In retrospect we can view it as a transition from the psychedelia and avant rock of their early records to the country and roots of the next year. But for the most part it is better than such a description would suggest – not to mention not particularly psychedelic – though I must be listening to the remix.
The songs are, mostly, very strong. The one exception is “What’s Become of the Baby”, which is too long even though it’s a neat little experiment (for its time).
Not their best.
39. Mauricio Kagel: Ludwig van (8/10)
Ludwig van is supposedly the score to a film he made in 1969, but I have also read that it’s an unrelated piece of music with the same name. This being Kagel, either is possible. It starts out very impressionistically, which is not something I associate (exactly) with Beethoven. Voices and other instruments come in on the later movements and by the third movement, some of the music is more recognizable as classical or romantic (though it’s blended together with more avant garde ideas and in very modern ways). I don’t know that it works as a tribute to Beethoven. It does work as a provocative piece of music, breaking down our ideas of form.
40. Led Zeppelin: The Dancing Avocado (8/10)
This is an entertaining early show that mostly works in my mind, save maybe the obligatory drum solo. 5 songs in an hour, which is ridiculous but (mostly) works. They are firing on all cylinders, even during Jones’ equipment trouble, when they just ad lib a jam thing (taking the track, which they never did in studio, to nearly 20 minutes). “Killing Floor” makes you wonder why they didn’t credit “The Lemon Song” to its composers when they are recorded it for the second album later in the year. But as someone else said, details details.
Everything is well done and only the drum solo is too long. Very enjoyable stuff.
41. Silver Apples: Contact (8/10)
This feels like a step back from their debut. The presence of the banjo really grounds the music in more recognizable tradition and the songs which contain banjo do feel far less unique than the rest of their material.
And at least one of these songs feels like a demo, though it is an amusing one.
It’s still pretty damn unique music and Simeon’s songs are good enough that it doesn’t just feel like some weird experiment. (Also Simeon and Taylor are good enough and everything is musical enough.)
I still quite like this record but it’s not the landmark that the debut was. It’s more for people who listen to the debut and like it enough to want to listen to more of the band.
42. The Byrds: The Ballad of Easy Rider (8/10)
43. Jack Bruce: Songs for a Tailor (8/10)
44. Johnny Winter: Second Winter (8/10)
45. Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline (8/10)
46. Jefferson Airplane: Volunteers (8/10)
47. The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper (8/10)
Good live version of Super Session. Read the review. .
48. Jethro Tull: Stand up (8/10)
49. Johnny Winter: The Progressive Blues Experiment (8/10)
50. The Flamin Groovies: Supersnazz (8/10)
51. Bee Gees: Odessa (7/10)
A unique combination of baroque pop and country pop. Read the review of Odessa.
52. Scott Walker: Scott 3 (7/10)
Just the first hints of what would come twenty five years later. Read the review of Scott 3.
53. Blind Faith (7/10)
54. Canned Wheat Packed by the Guess Who (7/10)
55. Blondwyn Pig: Ahead Rings Out (7/10)
56. Cream: Goodbye (7/10)
Yes, the live tracks are excellent. The studio songs are more consistent than Wheels of Fire. But this is still a flawed, half-assed record
57. Pink Floyd: Ummagumma (7/10)
58. Family: Entertainment (7/10)
59. Pink Floyd: More (7/10)
60. Led Zeppelin: Gladsaxe Teen Club (7/10)
This first ever TV appearance is pretty solid. The whole thing is pretty straight-ahead given, I would assume, they had to keep it short as this was a TV special.
The audience is hilariously uninvolved.
There are much better later shows, but it’s fun to see the band at a really early stage of their career (this occurred prior to the release of the debut).
The orgasm bit is funny if you’re male and don’t think about the groupie stories.
61. Dusty Sprinfield: Dusty in Memphis (6/10)
A little too much pop, not enough soul. Read the review of Dusty in Memphis.
62. The Guess Who: Wheatfield Soul (6/10)
“I gotta do it to a duck on a two ton truck and fade away like Ron Rene. Alright.”
63. The Beatles: Yellow Submarine (6/10)
Yellow Submarine needs a bit of a disclaimer: it is not really a Beatles album per se. It was released to coincide with the animated children’s film of the same name and it only included four “new” Beatles songs in addition to Martin’s film score and two previously released hit singles. The reaction to the album was so poor that the Beatles themselves – who had little to do with the album release – came very close to releasing an EP with just the “new” material and the as-yet-unused “Across the Universe,” but it never came out – though it was mastered, which shows how serious they were. So while this is clearly the worst Beatles studio album ever – surely more than any of the botched American releases I didn’t cover in my book – it isn’t really a Beatles album.
Note: In 1999 this was “re-released” as a “songtrack” with a completely different track listing just to confuse the hell out of all of us.
Martin’s score isn’t all that interesting in terms of film scores – though I guess it is above average for ’60s film scores. I used to have a thing for “March of the Meanies” when I first heard this album in my teens, but I have long since gotten over it. The two previously released singles are, in my mind, two of their weaker singles and so really the only value at all for anyone interested in this must be found in the “new material,” which was merely a collection of pre-White Album outtakes, and as such the music is completely out of step with where the Beatles were going – especially where they were going in January of 1969, when this soundtrack was released.
“Only a Northern Song” was the other song Harrison wrote for Sgt. Pepper but which wasn’t included on the album, possibly because of its lack of tunefulness – or perhaps because the other Beatles got his joke. It has regularly been derided as one of the worst Beatles songs ever. One such reason is because it is supposedly about how the Beatles are now making weird music but we should all forgive them for it. It seems far more likely that the song – its lyrics and its music – reflect Harrison’s dissatisfaction as a member of the Northern Songs publishing company. As such I think it deserves a little more thought despite its awkward avant-garde-ness. Harrison was letting everyone know that it didn’t matter what he did, he would still only get his little share of the royalties. Apparently the group responded by not including the song on an album for two years. It’s still not catchy.
“All Together Now” is a song recorded in May 1967 during the earliest sessions for what eventually became the “Magical Mystery Tour” double EP and album. McCartney wrote this in the vein of “Yellow Submarine,” probably as a way of trying to convince the band they should embark on another one of his concepts – one that was to be far less successful than the first. It is pretty weak but it marks the production debut of McCartney, apparently, so that’s neat for those of us who care about such things.
“Hey Bulldog” is for me the stand-out outtake. Recorded as a possible B-side for “Lady Madonna” – along with “Across the Universe” – in the winter of 1968 it shows the Beatles decisively abandoning psychedelia – save the barking – to focus on the finer things in life, such as riffs. The song features one of the more memorable Beatles riffs – along with “Day Tripper” and “Birthday” and a few others – but this one is notable for being written on a piano. It’s a hard-rock song recorded at the time when they were known worldwide for psychedelic pop music. Some credit should probably go to McCartney for a co-write since he came up with the barking. Some claim that this session was the last time all four Beatles had fun recording a song. It’s really under-known because it got dumped on this pseudo-album, and that’s a shame. One of my personal favourites.
“It’s All Too Much” stands out as the other notable song on the “EP hidden in an album,” though personally I don’t think it is as strong as “Hey Bulldog.” Like “All Together Now” it was begun in spring 1967, but unlike that song it was finished that summer, during the miscellaneous sessions that eventually produced Magical Mystery Tour, though it was left off that release. The song is highly referential as it both quotes the pop standard “Sorrow” and features a trumpet quote of a baroque march. It makes use of extensive feedback – especially in the intro: compare this feedback to the feedback of “I Feel Fine” of less than 3 years earlier. I have heard all three guitarists credited with that contribution. The Beatles Bible says Harrison and Lennon but Allmusic says McCartney; and honestly it sounds a little like McCartney. It’s a nifty albeit long and somewhat directionless piece that is unlike anything else of Harrison’s The Beatles released. (A few of Harrison’s compositions were similar but were never released or were altered before release.) This is the short version of the track, apparently, and it ranks among the five longest songs they ever recorded.
Even if this music had been released as an EP, it still would have been a disappointment. To my mind “It’s Only a Northern Song” and “All Together Now” are the kinds of things I would have been into on Anthology but that’s about it. To me, a single with “Hey Bulldog” and “Across the Universe” – or, to be fairer, backed with “It’s All Too Much” – would have been a better idea, especially had it been released between “Lady Madonna” and “Hey Jude”. And this release also leads me to wonder what a different Magical Mystery Tour album-proper might have been like had it included “It’s All Too Much” and something like “Carnival of Light” instead of past singles. But this kind of thinking is hardly productive and doesn’t lead anywhere but to regret for someone else’s decisions. This album is what it is: the only completely inessential thing the Beatles ever produced.
64. Dillard and Clark: Through the Morning, Through the Night (5/10)
It’s like the band just fell off a cliff: The songs are weaker (many more are covers). They seem far more concerned with revivalism than being pioneers: much of the music is old-timey in the same way that Kaleidoscope attempted, only Kaleidoscope were way better musicians and they interspersed their old-timey ditties with other music that was actually good.
But I am being a bit too harsh. There are a few good songs. And there’s a great-if-too-safe cover of “Don’t Let Me Down”, one of my favourite Lennon songs. But really, this barely sounds like the same band.