Friday, 29 May 2015

The Culture Fix's Top 100 Albums of the 60s (Part 1 of 4)


by J. Albert Barr

After an unintentional, and very frustrating, four-month long hiatus from posting any new articles, I've decided to ease back into it by posting my personal Top 100 Albums of the 60s list. I recently compiled Top 100 Album lists of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. It was a lot of fun, because I'm an incurable "music geek", and I've always been a sucker for these kinds of lists. Instead of just listing the albums in countdown order here, I will also provide an album cover and say a few things about each album. This will be "Part 1" of my list counting down from 100-76. Here we go:


100. The Marble Index - Nico (1968)

Having been unhappy with the production, and lack of artistic control, on her now classic 1967 chamber folk debut, Chelsea Girl, Nico predominately reigned over the realization of her sophomore effort, the bleak and darkly beautiful, The Marble Index. Her newly found signature sound happened fortuitously when she purchased a harmonium (a droning pump organ) in San Francisco around 1968, and discovered upon playing it that she had finally found her own voice and sound. Unlike her previous album, Nico wrote all the songs on The Marble Index, and was musically accompanied by only John Cale, whom she famously collaborated with on The Velvet Underground's legendary debut album. Though the highlight here is indeed the unforgettable, "Frozen Warnings", the entire album is riveting in its existential intimacy, and icy, old-world, unrelentingly macabre mood. Its influence can be undeniably heard in goth-rock, the avant garde and the world music/neoclassical, goth wave of Dead Can Dance.


99. Moondog - Moondog (1969)

Well known as the eccentric (and supposedly homeless to most passers-by) "Viking of 6th Avenue", for having steadily appeared on 6th Avenue in New York City, between 52nd and 55th Street, dressed in a medieval-style cloak and wearing a viking's helmet, Moondog (whose real name was Louis Hardin) was actually a well-respected music composer, musician, poet and inventor of odd musical instruments. He wrote modern classical music with discernible jazz tinges and strange, avant garde flourishes, along with field recordings of urban street noise. This was most memorably heard on this remarkably weird and epic 1969 eponymous album. The first two tracks appeared on the soundtrack to the now classic cult film, The Big Lebowski, perhaps inadvertently introducing Moondog's defiantly non-mainstream music to Generation X, and an increasing cross-section of Millennials who have inevitably discovered the "Dudeism" of one Jeffrey Lebowski.


98. Stand! - Sly and the Family Stone (1969)

After scoring a Top 10 hit with "Dance to the Music" in 1967 and releasing two coolly received albums, Sly and the Family Stone released their commercial and artistic break-through third album, Stand!, in 1969. Its official release was preceded by the album's exhilarating first single, "Everyday People", hitting #1 in late 1968. The signature "funk sound" that aroused the 70s to "get down" was greatly influenced by this landmark album. And from a social/cultural perspective, Stand! proved significantly timely, with such politically and racially relevant tracks like the provocative "Don't Call me Nigger, Whitey", and "I Want to Take You Higher", as well as the album's other notable hit single, the soul-charged and infectious title track.


97. The "Yeh-Yeh" Girl From Paris - Francoise Hardy (1962)

Arguably the album that signaled France's very popular and highly influential "ye-ye sound" of the 1960s, this was Francoise Hardy's unforgettable debut. The album was initially released in 1962 as a self-titled album, but when finally released in the U.S. in 1965, at the height of ye-ye's popularity, it was given its apt title to, of course, capitalize on the genre's contemporaneous commercial momentum. Relatively stripped down and fairly intimate, Francoise's mostly self-penned songs were accompanied by Roger Samyn and his scaled back orchestra. Her lovely "Tous les garcons et les filles" became her signature song, and "Le temps de l'amour" was recently featured in Wes Anderson's excellent 2012 film, Moonrise Kingdom, to appropriate effect. Hardy's emotionally reserved and bashful monotone vocal delivery did not detract from its attractiveness, and has, in fact, influenced such art-rock/indie luminaries such as Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier, and Broadcast's dearly departed and missed, Trish Keenan.


96. America the Beautiful: An Account of its Disappearance - Gary McFarland (1968)

Gary McFarland suddenly and tragically died in a New York City bar in 1971, at the young age of 38, from methadone poisoning that someone (who was never caught) deliberately and stealthily put into his drink. I've often thought, perhaps foolishly, that a crazed "jazz purist" slipped him that deadly mickey, because McFarland was, to many serious jazz aficionados anyway, the "scourge of jazz music". He had composed/produced several "lite jazz" albums through the early-to-mid 60s; one, in particular, Soft Samba, featured covers of Beatles songs, among others, to a tranquilized, ascot-wearing/martini-swigging bossanova beat, where McFarland can be heard delivering a cheesy and scat-lite vocal that garnered the pejorative term: kitsch. I actually quite liked his excellent 1965 album, The In Sound. But his ultimate masterpiece (and I mean that sincerely) is unquestionably 1968's America the Beautiful: An Account of its Disappearance. With a cheeky, sardonic cynicism, off-set by a genuine sense of melancholy and lamentation, McFarland composed a brilliant, cinematic opus depicting, via relatively recent American pop cultural history through modern classical and jazz and rock fusion, the state of the country in 1968.This is an album that wholly deserves a critical and casual reappraisal. It's a cruelly underrated American classic!


95. Our Man in Paris - Dexter Gordon (1963)

A benchmark of the Blue Note label's classic period, "The Sophisticated Giant's" Our Man in Paris, which he recorded with fellow expatriates, Bud Powell and bebop drummer extraordinaire, Kenny Clarke, was a true tour de force of jazz's pinnacle decade when this golden period ruled the Beat Generation's intellectual and literary sensibilities from a musical standpoint. Running a perfection-laced 38 minutes through five undisputed jazz standards, this album holds up like a well-aged, fine French wine.





94. Song Cycle - Van Dyke Parks (1967)

Coming off the, at the time, ill-fated recordings of The Beach Boys' intended "teenage symphony to God" album, which eventually, and officially, became Smile (where he was recruited to put lyrics to Brian Wilson's unorthodox tour through American history), Van Dyke Parks' 1967 debut album, Song Cycle, was a singularly original suite of baroque chamber-pop that defied categorization for many. It impressed the burgeoning slew of rock critics who were, by then, evaluating rock and pop music as legitimate "art". and this unusual collection of songs both baffled and dazzled in equal measure. It's hard to imagine great, experimental/lounge/chamber-pop acts like The High Llamas, Jim O'Rourke or Lambchop, without this left-of-center gem.


93. Scott 4 - Scott Walker (1969)  

The inimitable Scott Walker, initially, achieved pop-star status with The Walker Brothers, especially in England, where, at one point, their fan-base was as big as that of The Beatles by 1966. But Walker soon became disillusioned with fame and adulation, so after The Walker Brothers' early 1967 album, Images, was released to ever more frustrating levels of artistic compromise for Walker, he left the band to go solo. His first three solo albums all hit the U.K. Top 10, with Scott 2 (which features his gorgeously masterful, "Plastic Palace People") actually hitting #1. Gradually writing more and more of his own stunning, baroque songs with these releases, amongst his many Jacques Brel covers (whom he became enamored of in 1967), by the time he recorded Scott 4, he had discarded with doing anyone else's songs, and recorded the whole album with his own original songs. However, he decided to revert back to his real name, Noel Scott Engel, as the album credit, and, consequentially, it flopped commercially. This career misstep resulted in his not scoring another charting album until 1984's Climate of Hunter. Regardless, Scott 4 is generally seen as one of Walker's best, if comparatively unknown, albums, even appearing in Robert Dimery's 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.


92. Wheels of Fire - Cream (1968)

Cream were indeed riding "high" on the crest of the wave that was the psychedelic movement in rock by 1968 as rock's first great power trio. But that wave pretty much crashed in more ways than one by year's end. Their previous album, Disraeli Gears, was an instant classic, and spawned the huge hit, "Sunshine of Your Love". Wheels of Fire was released as a double-album: one record was studio tracks and the other featured all live tracks. The album would prove to be the band's first and only #1 album on Billboard's Top 200 chart, and it produced two hit singles in "White Room" and the live "Crossroads", which would be Cream's third and final Top 40 hit.


91. Freak Out! - The Mothers of Invention (1966)

As rock's original court jester and its greatest satirist, Frank Zappa's brilliantly experimental, ''way out there'', and defiantly uncommercial music debuted in 1966 with his wonderfully wayward band, The Mothers of Invention. Freak Out! was quite a head-turning and mind-blowing debut, and was even one of the first double albums (Dylan's Blonde on Blonde preceded it by a few weeks). Despite its surface weirdness and tongue-in-cheek performance, this album was a flaming arrow of reality that hit its many targets dead-on, with both conservatives and liberals being in the same line of fire. And to think, Zappa and Co, were just ''warming up''...the towering snowbanks of hypocrisy, so to speak.

90. With the Beatles - The Beatles (1963)

Their earlier '63 debut album, Please Please Me, had made The Beatles a seemingly overnight sensation in their native U.K. By the time their sophomore effort, With the Beatles, was released they had racked up three #1 singles, and just missed the top spot with the debut's title track. The second album, with its now iconic black 'n' white cover, had not released any official singles in the U.K., but two of the album's tracks - ''All My Loving'' and ''Roll Over Beethoven'' - became minor hits in the U.S. the following year when The Beatles finally broke in the world's largest music market. George's ''Don't Bother Me'' was his first song contribution to a Beatles album, and ''It Won't be Long'' was a particular highlight on this exuberant, and sometimes downright lovely (see ''Till There Was You'' and ''Devil in her Heart''), early Beatles album.


89. The Times They Are a-Changin' - Bob Dylan (1964)

Before controversially ''going electric'' two albums later the following year, ''his Bobness'' recorded and released this, his second best folk album. The title track is a well-known classic and anthem of 60s cultural and social change (although it's been unfortunately, and sadly ironically, appropriated by corporate advertising, once or twice), while the rest of this politically-charged album is chock full of acoustic barbs, via militaristic hypocrisy (''With God on Our Side''), social outrage against racism and misdirected violence (''Only a Pawn in Their Game''), the economic perils of a dying mining town (''North Country Blues'') and the tragic consequences of segregation (''The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll'').


88. Something Else - The Kinks (1967)

Ray Davies and The Kinks' ''golden age'' is generally agreed to have started with 1966's Face to Face and culminated with the refreshingly (for them) successful 1970 opus, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. The three albums released between the aforementioned ones are pretty much the band's ultimate masterpieces, despite all three failing commercially. Chronologically, the earliest release, Something Else, did manage to break the Top 40 in the U.K., stalling at #35, but only peaked at a paltry #153 in the U.S. This was cruel and unusual punishment for a band consistently delivering some of the best written, musically realized and socially conscious material that deserved to be mentioned among The Beatles', The Stones', and CCR's of the world. By the end of the 60s The Kinks couldn't get arrested, at least commercially, until, finally, Lola Versus Powerman... performed well in America in 1970, especially thanks to one of the band's biggest hits, ''Lola'', hitting the Top 10. Something Else was a truly superlative collection of well-crafted songs from start to finish, supremely highlighted by, quite simply, one of the greatest songs ever written, ''Waterloo Sunset''.


87. Silver Apples of the Moon - Morton Subotnick (1968)

As the first electronic music album ever commissioned by a record company (Nonesuch Records) and released, Silver Apples of the Moon is truly a monumentally groundbreaking album. Though there were certainly earlier examples of electronic music experimentation, such as Pierre Schaeffer's innovative musique concrete back in the late 40s, Subotnick's remarkable electronic experiments resulted in the recording and commercial release of Silver Apples of the Moon as a complete, 31-minute album; its two, compositionally amorphous, sides are simply titled ''Part A'' and ''Part B'', respectively. It would, subsequently, go on to directly influence 1970s sci-fi movie and television soundtracks. And is still cited as a considerable influence and inspiration to this day.


86. At Folsom Prison - Johnny Cash (1968)

By the late 60s, The Man in Black was fighting a drug addiction, and his music career had taken a hit, commercially, when an idea he had a few years back was finally green-lit by his record company in 1967. The novel idea was, of course, to perform a couple of live concerts at a maximum security prison, with the inmates allowed out of their cells to sit as an audience as Johnny Cash, himself, performed directly in front of them on a small stage with his band. He had performed before at a prison, such as Huntsville State Prison in 1957, which was received well by the inmates. But the Folsom Prison appearance would be the first to be recorded for release purposes. He was also joined by his wife, June, as they played two one-day shows there; one in the morning and one in the afternoon. What followed was a very loose and thoroughly entertaining couple of shows, particularly the earlier performance, which made up most of the subsequently released live album.This album would become critically acclaimed and restore Johnny's commercial fortunes as well, not only on the country charts, but on the pop charts too. In fact, the album was so successful that Cash recorded another live prison album the following year, At San Quentin, and it was an even bigger success, hitting #1 on both the country and pop charts.  


85. Tommy - The Who (1969)

Purportedly, the first "rock opera" (although The Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow was released several months before The Who's conceptual opus, at least in the U.K.), Tommy was an instant sensation on both sides of the Atlantic by the end of 1969. It was one of the most ambitious rock albums ever produced at the time, and continues to be highly revered to this day; some even suggesting that it's better than Who's Next, but I'm not one of those "some". No doubt, Tommy is a great album, for the most part, and it deserves its place within rock's pantheon of important albums, but I do think it may be just a smidgen overrated, hence its relatively low placing here.


84. The Band - The Band (1969)

Coming off their spectacular 1968 debut album, Music From Big Pink, and basically inventing "roots rock" in the process, The Band followed it up with an album almost as good, featuring two of their most beloved and most played songs on classic rock radio: "Up on Cripple Creek" (their lone Top 40 hit on Billboard's singles chart) and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", which, of course, Joan Baez had a big hit with in 1971. With its eponymous title and earthy-brown frame encasing a striking, daguerreotype-style, photo of the band's five members, "The Brown Album" was a loose concept album that focused on historical themes of Americana, particularly dating back to the Civil War era. And Levon Helm's deep and dusty, southernly-marinated vocals were born for this kind of material.


83. I Never Loved a Man Like I Love You - Aretha Franklin (1967)

The album that made her a star, and initiated her rise as the "Queen of Soul", I Never Loved a Man Like I Love You is still generally considered Aretha Franklin's finest album. Though, by far, the album's most famous song is indeed her incredible rendition of Otis Redding's "Respect" (which she historically claimed for a feminist anthem), the album truly earned its right to be called a classic with such stunners as "Soul Serenade", "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man", Sam Cooke's "Good Times" and "A Change Is Gonna Come", the title track, and even two rousing numbers that she, herself, co-wrote: "Dr. Feelgood" and the straight up rocker, "Save Me". Surprisingly, at the time of its release, one music journalist criticized the album's instrumentation and production for not being "loud and polished enough", but time certainly proved him wrong, no doubt. Who could possibly not be blown away by these songs when they were so sensationally dominated by those glorious pipes of Aretha's?


82. White Light/White Heat - The Velvet Underground (1968)

Distortion-laced to the max, with songs describing a transsexual under the knife, a suspensive female orgasm, a humorously morbid story of a botched gift-giving, an amphetamine experience, and naughty sexual references throughout - with plenty more distortion smoking the place out, The Velvet's beautifully ugly second album did not improve their practically non-existent record sales to be sure. But it became a big influence on the punk movement that happened less than a decade later, and on experimental rock, in general. John Cale left the band after this album to go solo and produce records, such as The Stooges' debut the year after leaving The Velvet Underground, and Patti Smith's landmark debut, Horses, in 1975.


81. Crosby, Stills and Nash - Crosby, Stills and Nash (1969)

This debut album from one of rock's best known and beloved "supergroups" is rather important for more reasons than just its marvelous collection of songs; a few of which are firmly set in our culture's collective consciousness a la classic rock radio, such as "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" (a song Stephen Stills wrote for folk stalwart, Judy Collins), "Marrakesh Express" and "Long Time Gone". Two of the albums most beautiful songs, David Crosby's "Guinnevere" and Graham Nash's "Lady of the Island", were both written about Joni Mitchell, whom Nash was dating at the time, but David was still smitten with less than secretly (Nash didn't seem to have a problem with that, man, as was the "free love attitude" of the times, brother). But what really set this album apart from most others had to do with its pointed cultural and social impact, and what changes it initiated, unwittingly or not. It was tellingly released at the end of May in 1969. The "60s revolution", as it were, was all but dead, and by the end of that year/decade came the final, symbolic (and tragically, literal) death-blow at the Altamont Free Concert on Dec. 6, 1969 when eighteen year-old, Meredith Hunter, was fatally stabbed by a Hell's Angel member, who was working concert security. The ill-fated concert was rife with bad vibes and barely contained restlessness, from the get-go, from the 300,000 mostly young spectators, and the dozens of Hell's Angels foolishly hired to "police the concert".

Crosby, Stills and Nash's debut album became a smash-hit, selling in excess of four million copies, but more importantly, it sparked a sea-change in the sound, tone and attitude of popular music that would ultimately trigger the roots rock (along with The Band, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers) and singer-songwriter movement of the early 70s, as well as help form what would become the cocaine-cloud of the "California sound", Laurel Canyonism, drug-addled, new-age hedonism, and a collective inward retreat into self-therapy through crushingly confessional and stripped-down songs and lyrics that were a, directly or not, response and reaction to the utter debacle of the complete failure that was the 60s cultural revolutionary attempt, and its ensuing sense of existential uncertainty and dread,...until Star Wars came along and gave us all a political, philosophical and cultural lobotomy so we could cope with our now meaningless lives enough to perpetuate an emerging and unrelenting capitalist and consumer agenda that would own the 80s and beyond.  


80. 1968 - France Gall (1967)

This little known album, especially here in North America, is a thoroughly impressive and eclectic collection of mostly psychedelic, French pop songs, filled with artistic panache and sophisticated execution. As far as I can tell, 1968 was a direct response to The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album. France Gall was one of France's biggest pop stars in the 60s. She scored many a hit single, from her break-out 1963 hit, "Ne sois pas si bete" (when she was just 15 years old), "Jazz a gogo", "Poupee de cire, poupee de son", to her consummate ye-ye classic, "Laisse tomber des filles", "Baby Pop", "Attends ou va-t'en", to her infamous Serge Gainsbourg-penned smash, "Les Sucettes" (featuring a notorious double-entendre on fellatio about a young girl who enjoys devouring candy suckers, which demoralized the still teenaged, and utterly unwitting, Mademoiselle Gall). 1968 is replete with excellent songs, each with their own sound, mood and personality, delivered with nubile verve by the then 20 year old France Gall. Her singing voice wasn't as good as her ye-ye rival, Francoise Hardy, but there is no denying the considerable quality of the material on display here, and its seeming artistic ambition. Not surprisingly, two of the highlights from this stellar album are Serge Gainsbourg's "Nefertiti" and "Teenie Weenie Boppie" (a song about LSD).


79. Safe as Milk - Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band (1967)

Fans of the delightful 2000 film, High Fidelity, might recall that this very album was the object of one enthusiastic music geek's desire, at John Cusack's character's vintage vinyl record store, but was denied, in the end, by proud music snob, and store employee, Barry (who was hilariously portrayed by Jack Black). Safe as Milk was Captain Beefheart and Co.'s debut album. The album flopped commercially, although it was generally well-received by music critics; and John Lennon was a fan, apparently. The album evinces a distinctly, left-of-center Delta Blues influence with odd time signatures, some surrealism, and even displays a little soul, particularly on "I'm Glad". It's now regarded as a "hipster classic" of sorts, and a definite precursor of what was to come for the band and its leader, especially two years later.


78. Fifth Dimension - The Byrds (1966)

The Byrds' third album was quite a transitional one for them. To begin with, it was the first album recorded and released after the departure of key member and songwriter, Gene Clark, who left before the album was finished, and it represented one of rock's first forays into the, then new, "psychedelic sound". One of Clark's songs, the now classic "Eight Miles High", immediately exemplified this new sound that would become all the rage in 1966-67, particularly. Because of Clark's departure, both Jim/Roger McGuinn and David Crosby were compelled to write more material for the band. McGuinn's Dylan-flavored "5D (Fifth Dimension)" (despite no longer featuring Dylan covers) and "Mr. Spaceman", as well as Crosby's "What's Happening?!?!" showed they could come up with solid material of their own.


77. Axis: Bold as Love - Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)

As much of a psychedelic and acid rock classic Axis: Bold as Love is, and it most certainly is that, I still consider it the lesser of the three masterpieces recorded by the Jimi Hendrix Experience during those two short, amazing years in 1967-68. Regardless, the band's electric synergy is, of course, top-notch here, and it has undisputed Hendrix standards like "Castles Made of Sand", "Little Wing", "Wait Until Tomorrow", and the magnificent, five and a half minute, opus, "If 6 Was 9". A musical benchmark is still a musical benchmark after all.




76. A Hard Day's Night - The Beatles (1964)

This is the album (and its now classic accompanying film of the same malapropism title) that most perfectly encapsulated the nationwide craze that was "Beatlemania" in 1964, on both sides of the Atlantic. It is also distinguished as being the only Beatles album that features nothing but Lennon/McCartney songs. Side one is, without exception, chock full of Beatles classics, and side two has one of the most underrated songs in their entire discography in the simply sublime, "Things We Said Today".



 


To be continued in Part 2, which will feature #75-51...





 

  











              

    

    

2 comments:

  1. comprehensive blog James...seems to be a real interesting blog to follow...would surely like to see forthcoming parts in future...please feel free to get in touch with me on my blog...homelybusiness.weebly.com

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  2. Thanks very much for the kudos towards my blog, Chintan! And I can assure you that there's much more to come in the near future. I'm currently working on an article about Alan Moore's controversial "Neonomicon" comic book, which I hope to have finished and posted in the next day or two. I'll be sure to check your blog out too! Take care. :-)

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