Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Culture Fix's Top 100 Albums of the 60s (Part 3 of 4)

by J. Albert Barr

Here's Part 3 of my, predominately, subjective Top 100 Albums of the 1960s! Sorry for the prolonged delay between segments of this countdown. And so I now present #50-26:

50. Black Monk Time - The Monks (1966)

This little known landmark garage rock album sounded like nothing before it in 1966, and seemed to suddenly appear as some kind of anachronistic anomaly; a protopunk template set down by, of all things, five American G.I.'s stationed in Cologne, Germany. Primitive, raw, abrasive, sexually-charged and uncompromising in every way, this band, their music style, and this album also set the stage for krautrock in the 70s, with subsequently innovative German bands like Can, Faust and Neu! directly drawing from Black Monk Time's darkly thrilling foundation of wonderfully demented and unfiltered, avant garde rock. The U.K.'s perennial cult gods, The Fall, were heavily influenced by this "lost classic", and even covered several of its fantastic tracks, like "I Hate You", "Oh, How to do Now" and "Shut Up".

49. In the Court of the Crimson King - King Crimson (1969)

As prog-rock's rich history goes, this landmark album was one of the first of its kind. Led by guitarist extraordinaire, Robert Fripp, with Greg Lake, of the future Emerson, Lake and Palmer, providing affecting lead vocals, King Crimson introduced a new take on the ever expanding, and yes, progressive possibilities of rock and roll when this unusual, multi-layered, jazz and classical-tinged, and even avant garde-like, album dropped in October of 1969. The brilliantly insane and askew opening track, "21st Century Schizoid Man" was a thrilling beginning to this epic debut. And the sublimely beautiful, flute-laden "I Talk to the Wind", and side 2's "Moonchild" take you away into a magical world of eiderdown showers and mystical horizons. There would be several line-up changes in the ensuing years - save the six-year hiatus between 1975-1980 - and different musical paths ventured, but this unforgettable debut (which Pete Townsend called "An uncanny masterpiece") arguably remains King Crimson's best.

48. The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society - The Kinks (1968)

By the late 60s, The Kinks' commercial fortunes had fallen on hard times. They got banned from touring in the U.S. in 1965, which lasted for four years. In that time, they scored just one substantial hit single there with "Sunny Afternoon", before finally achieving another Top 10 single in 1970 with "Lola". Even in their native Britain, the band had ceased making the album chart when The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society was released. None of the singles off it could even get on the charts either. At the time, the album only managed to sell around 100,000 copies world-wide. But it has since become arguably their greatest work. Also, it was a concept album where Ray Davies wrote about the, mostly vicarious, nostalgia he had for old-fashioned England and its pastoral, garden qualities, as well as its more civil constitution, as opposed to the contemporaneous hustle and bustle of "Swinging London", and the intense changes happening in the culture, generally speaking.

47. Giant Steps - John Coltrane (1960)

Sessions for this truly "giant" among the great jazz albums of all-time began shortly after Coltrane appeared on Miles Davis' monumental Kind of Blue, whose sessions wrapped up in April of 1959. Continuing with his harmonic progressions using substitute chords over common chord progressions, which he first used on both Bags & Trane and Cannonball Adderley Qunitet in Chicago, known as "Coltrane changes", Trane brought it all together on Giant Steps, especially on "Countdown" and the title track. These are now considered jazz standards, not just for their classic brilliance as simply great music, but also for their compostional genius and vast influence.

46. Monster Movie - Can (1969)

This was Can's introduction to the world, and what an introduction! They, along with Tangerine Dream, were pretty much the first acts from Germany who would be associated with what became known as krautrock by the mid-70s, Featuring a hodge-podge of musical styles such as psychedelic rock, blues, jazz and world music, the band concocted a very experimental, free-style (and later electronic and ambient) sound that would help define a whole new genre of music that heavily influenced experimental-minded and defiantly uncommercial acts in Britain and North America. Side two's 20-minute epic "Yoo Doo Right" is the album's crowning achievement. By the time they got to their third album, Tago Mago, they hit their creative stride and produced three consecutive albums that are all considered avant-garde, experimental/ambient classics.

45. Scott 3 - Scott Walker (1969)

I feel the incredibly affecting gravitas in Scott Walker's famous baritone on this album, in particular, and the stunning composition, arrangement and melancholy atmosphere overall, makes Scott 3 the best of his early solo releases, and perhaps his supreme masterpiece, period. The sheer, all enveloping saturation of the lush strings that run through each magnificent track on side 1 (with the sole exception of the uproarious, horn-laden "We Came Through") culminate with perhaps the single most gorgeous song on the entire album with "Two Ragged Soldiers". For less discerning listeners, the seeming sound of a Vegas-style lounge crooner will likely come off as saccharine, corny and over-the-top, but there's so much more going on musically, lyrically and vocally, that it easily transcends all the Andy Williams', Mel Torme's and Robert Goulet's of the world (the eerie dissonance heard on the album opener, "It's Raining Again", is actually an early indication of the avant-garde approach he would take with Tilt and The Drift many years later). The album is dominated by Walker's own original songs save the last three tracks which were all covers of Jacques Brel tunes that, admittedly, do slightly compromise the rest of the album's flow and tone, as they do tend to come off a little more typically Vegasesque. Still, these songs hardly ruin what, in my opinion, is one the most singularly beautiful albums ever recorded.

44. Cheap Thrills - Big Brother and Holding Company (1968)

This musical time-capsule epitomizes the bluesy, psychedelic sound of San Francisco during the late 60s, and it made Janis Joplin into a bona fide star as a result. She would leave the band to embark on what would tragically become a short solo career, as she would die of a drug overdose in October of 1970, just sixteen days after the death of Jimi Hendrix. Cheap Thrills featured only seven tracks that were produced with sounds of a live crowd, giving many to assume that the album was indeed a "live album", but it actually wasn't (only the last track, "Ball and Chain" was recorded live). Several of the songs on the album are now considered standards in their own right, like its biggest hit, "Piece of My Heart", but also the stunning Gershwin cover of "Summertime" and the album opener, "Combination of the Two", which was memorably featured in the now classic 1998 cult film, and soundtrack, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

43. Sweetheart of the Rodeo - The Byrds (1968)

The Byrds altered their sound dramatically on the groundbreaking Sweetheart of the Rodeo when they recruited little known Gram Parsons, who was a gifted singer/songwriter and big country music buff, after firing founding member, David Crosby. As a result, they fused rock with country and pioneered a new genre that would eventually lead to the likes of The Flying Burrito Brothers (the band Parsons would co-found after leaving The Byrds), Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline album, The Eagles, Emmylou Harris, The Allman Brothers (and southern rock, in general), Linda Ronstandt, J.D. Souther, The Ozark Mountain Devils; and later, Alabama, The Jayhawks and Wilco, just to name a few. While Roger McGuinn remained the de facto leader of the band, by singing lead on over half of the eleven tracks, he only arranged the traditional "I Am a Pilgrim" (with Chris Hillman), where as Parsons contributed two originals (singing lead on one of them) and sang lead vocals on two other tracks.

42. Help! - The Beatles (1965)

The year 1965 would be a crucial one for The Beatles and their artistic growth. Having been pummeled by worldwide success and unbridled adulation the year before, culminating in releasing what is arguably their weakest album with Beatles for Sale (that is to say, "weak" by Beatles standards), they began to retreat into themselves to find inspiration and musical expression. Their recent meeting, at the time, with Bob Dylan turned them onto marijuana, and that, in turn, produced more introspective songs like "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away", "Yesterday", "I Need You" and the titular "Help!", a song John Lennon composed about his surfacing insecurities, which seemed to wholly contradict the industry conquering, and wise-cracking, persona he had upheld through the initial years of The Beatles' amazing climb to world domination. By the end of 1965, with the monumental release of Rubber Soul, the "moptops" would forever be gone and an extraordinary series of album releases would gloriously ensue, each seemingly better, and more innovative, than the last, whose world-spanning influence, and reverberations, are still being felt today.

41.The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan (1963)

This classic was the best of Dylan's four, pre-electric, folk albums. It was also Dylan's official message to the world that he was a helleva songwriter and, especially, lyricist. No one had hitherto written such poetic and socially conscious "popular" songs by 1963, and he would almost instantly have a vast influence on rock and pop music, so much so that he would, perhaps inevitably, and most certainly controversially, "go electric" in 1965 with the release of the first of his Holy Trinity of mid-60s albums, Bringing it all Back Home. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan featured many of his most celebrated, and influential, songs such as "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright", "Masters of War", "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall", "Girl from the North Country", "Talkin' World War III Blues", and of course, the album's most famous and enduring standard, "Blowin' in the Wind".

40. Silver Apples - Silver Apples (1968)

Taking their name after a line from a William Butler Yeats poem, Silver Apples' radically fresh, innovative, self-titled debut introduced the duo of Simeon and Danny Taylor. Their futuristic, minimalistic music, featuring Simeon's own homemade electronic oscillator display, which began with a vintage 1940's audio oscillator, and grew into nine of them piled on top of each other; his ghostly vocals, as well as Taylor's primitive style drumming, gave the duo's groundbreaking music a driving, pulsating and overall foreboding sound which utterly countered anything that was popular and trendy in 1968. Not surprisingly, the album didn't get too far when it actually entered the Billboard Top 200 album chart, peaking at #193. The duo's sound anticipated 70s krautrock and 90s alternative/electronica. In 2008, trip-hop giants, Portishead, paid homage to Silver Apples on their Third track, "We Carry On".

39. The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady - Charles Mingus (1963)

One of the greatest jazz albums of all-time, and one of the two undisputed masterpieces of Mingus' (the other being 1959's Mingus Ah Um). It's also one of the most original and unusual jazz albums too, kinda like Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain, as both have a sweeping cinematic quality to them, but Mingus' is a little more ambitious and modern. The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady also sounds like an early 60s urban metropolis come to life and dancing through the cacophonous glory of a sexually-charged jazz orchestra honking loudly during a nighttime rush hour down a crowded boulevard. This unbelievable sound, so brilliantly composed and orchestrated by "The Angry Man of Jazz", has truly an adult and mature quality that aggressively asserts: "I am experienced!".

38. Otis Blue - Otis Redding (1965)

Musically backed by the likes of Booker T and the MG's and Isaac Hayes, the great, and tragically late, Otis Redding recorded one of the best soul albums of all-time with Otis Blue. Sounding like he was brimming and bursting with confidence and verve, Otis opened this classic 1965 album with two of his best original compositions, including his now standard, "Respect" (which Aretha Franklin, of course, turned into a massive, feminist-themed, hit in 1967). The other is the less renowned, but no less awesome, "Ole Man Trouble", which has that fantastic guitar lick by Steve Cropper. But the real star is obviously Otis Redding's incredible vocals, full-throated and spirited vocals that never fail to resonate more authentic feeling than just about anyone else has ever achieved. His amazing cover of Sam Cooke's "Change Gonna Come" is resoundingly exemplary of his legendary voice and its magnificent, pure soul.

37. Trout Mask Replica - Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band (1969)

Perhaps the granddaddy of all surreal, experimental rock and blues, Trout Mask Replica, was released as a double album in mid-1969 to universal acclaim, but completely ignored by the mainstream and commercial radio (what could they have possibly played off this anyway?). Let's be honest, this colossal achievement of "art rock" and other-worldly avant-garde, was never meant for mass consumption. This was, and remains, an album for those who are quite simply non-conformist-minded; outsiders to an all too normal, mundane, inane and generic society of worker bees and consensus-drones. The world that Trout Mask Replica comes from is an absolutely alien one to most, predominately oblivious, people living, to this day, utterly, and blissfully, unaware of its existence, and will remain so until the day they die, which the powers that be wouldn't have any other way anyway; a kind of world that they've perpetrated to such an extent that a song like "Dachua Blues" was necessary for Don Van Vliet to write, in all its ironic symbolism.

36. Green River - Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)

For my money, this is the quintessential CCR album, the one that solidified their classic, swampy roots rock, although Cosmo's Factory would be a very close second for sure. Green River's unforgettable title track and "Bad Moon Rising" are, of course, the two most famous songs on the album and are ubiquitous, classic rock standards to this day, but it also features such raw gems as "Lodi" (a singular classic in its own right), "Commotion", "Wrote a Song for Everyone" and the aptly titled "Sinister Purpose". Green River would be the middle album of an astonishing trio of high-quality albums released during that remarkable year of 1969 for the band, one of the greatest single years any rock and roll band has ever had.

35. Disraeli Gears - Cream (1967)

This definitive album of the psychedelic era (with its explosive, eye-catching psychedelic cover by Martin Sharp) was Cream's second, and greatest, effort, and it featured one of the single greatest rock songs of all-time on it with "Sunshine of Your Love", which was also their biggest hit, peaking at #5. The other single, "Strange Brew", failed to chart in the U.S., but became a Top 20 hit in their native Britain. The singles' two respective b-sides, "Tales of Brave Ulysses" and "SWLABR", are also outstanding tracks and quite well known too. The magnificent musicianship put on display here on Disraeli Gears is almost unparalleled for its time, or any time for that matter, as each member of this supergroup trio represented a pinnacle of their respective instrument. And Jack Bruce's vocals are simply sensational, particularly on the aforementioned "Tales of Brave Ulysses", and also "We're Going Wrong". The only seeming throw-away on Disraeli Gears is, of course, the album closer, "Mother's Lament", but it's too hysterically Monty Pythonesque to reject.  

34. Surrealistic Pillow - Jefferson Airplane (1967)

Another classic exponent of psychedelic rock (and the counter-culture ), Surrealistic Pillow was Jefferson Airplane's commercial breakthrough, but it was also their masterpiece. The album was Grace Slick's official debut with the band which proved pivotal to the band's fortunes, both commercially and artistically. She contributed both of the album's (and the band's, in general) biggest hits with her former band's "Somebody to Love" (written by Slick's brother-in-law and former band-member with The Great Society, Darby Slick), and her own song, the era-defining "White Rabbit", a song forever associated with the Vietnam War and the acid culture. There was also the utterly beautiful "Today", written by Marty Balin (who also sang it) and Paul Kantner (the father of Grace's daughter, China).

33. The United States of America - The United States of America (1968)

Like a few of the other albums on this list, this lone album by The United States of America is a "lost classic", and one of the pioneering albums of early electronic music. Although it does feature a fair amount of electronic stylings, bleeps and modulator effects (particularly on Dorothy Moskowitz's excellent, dispassionate vocals), it also has an array of more traditional rock (and, in this case, very psychedelic rock) sounds, as well as even some cheeky ragtime jazz flourishes here and there. Lyrically, the band was certainly making a statement on the contemporary state of affairs in the U.S. circa 1968, and even made reference to communist icons like Che Guevara in the sublimely beautiful, "Love Song for the Dead Che" (band leader, Joseph Byrd was drawn to the leftist Communist Party at the time). There are several tracks that I would consider deserving of being called classics, though they are criminally unknown for the most part: "The American Metaphysical Circus", "Hard Coming Love", "The Garden of Earthly Delights", "Cloud Song", the aforementioned "Love Song for the Dead Che", and the stunning six-minute-plus album closer, "The American Way of Love", with its three sections culminating in a kind of recollecting montage of the album's previous tracks set to a swelling, cinematic, orchestral apogee. The band unfortunately broke up shortly after their only album was released, due to infighting and having failed commercially by peaking only at #181 on the Billboard album chart. One of the great bands that The United States of America heavily influenced thereafter was Broadcast.

32. Live at the Apollo - James Brown (1963)

This simply amazing 1963 release is perhaps the single greatest live album ever made, period. The "Godfather of Soul" truly earned that celebratory moniker for this unforgettable performance, whose recording captured the unbridled excitement and exhilaration of the screaming girls in the audience at the now legendary Apollo Theater that historical night on October 24, 1962. This is no doubt best exemplified on the album's longest track, the near 11-minute long, "Lost Someone", where you can clearly hear the nubile pandemonium of the myriad of female fans in the audience, and likely the ones closest to the stage's edge.

31. The Who Sell Out - The Who (1967)

If The Who's 1971 album, Who's Next, is generally regarded as the band's undisputed masterpiece, surely this completely fat-free collection from 1967, with its irreverent wink at commercialism, is their second best (yes, even better than Tommy). I know it sounds crazy, given the number of classic songs in The Who's celebrated discography, but their one and only American Top 10 hit came from this album, the still stunning "I Can See for Miles", which peaked at #9. Interspersed with cheeky commercial jingles, The Who Sell Out is quite possibly their tightest set of songs ever, with nary a clunker in the batch. In fact, they had great songs to spare during the recording of it, as the album's 1995 re-issue clearly displays, such as belated gems like "Glittering Girl" and the dark and somber, but incredible, "Melancholia", which, in my opinion, is one of The Who's greatest songs!

30. Getz/Gilberto - Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto (1964)

Released in 1964, this magnificent jazz album ushered in the bossa-nova craze in the mid-60s, and produced one of the decade's most beloved and enduring classics with "The Girl from Ipanema", and made a short-lived star out of its vocalist, Astrud Gilberto, who was married to guitarist/songwriter, Joao Gliberto, at the time. Establishing a brand new genre of music hailing from his native Brazil in the late 50s, Gilberto teamed with jazz sax-player extraordinaire, Stan Getz and pianist/songwriter, Antonio Carlos Jobim to record the genre's quintessential classic, Getz/Gilberto. Its hit single would crack the Top 5 in America (and be covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra), and would go on to win the 1965 Grammy for Album of the Year (a first for a jazz album) and Record of the Year for "The Girl from Ipanema".

29. Dusty in Memphis - Dusty Springfield (1969)

Incredibly, this heavenly collection bombed commercially (and subsequently went out of print for years!) upon its initial release, failing to chart in Dusty's native Britain, and only just barely slipping into the Top 100 in America at #99, despite its lone hit, "Son of a Preacher Man" cracking the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. Taking that amazing, blue-eyed soul voice of hers to Memphis to record with the right musicians who would create the musical and atmospheric backing for these marvellous songs, everyone involved may have not known at the time (and certainly the majority of music fans when it was released) that they, with Dusty, would make one of the all-time great soul/pop albums. Besides its best known song, the aforementioned "Son of a Preacher Man" (which we all know so well from Tarantino's Pulp Fiction), this classic also features such wonderful gems like "Just a Little Lovin'", "Don't Forget About Me", "In the Land of Make Believe" (a personal favorite) and "I Can't Make it Alone".

28. Songs of Leonard Cohen - Leonard Cohen (1967)

A Canadian national treasure, Leonard Cohen actually gained a fair amount of fame and success as a poet and occasional novelist before he decided to put his brilliant and sensuous words to music in 1967 with the release of this most perfect of folk albums. Clocking in at just over forty minutes, these ten aural jewels of spiritual yearning and intellectual power feature some of the most beloved songs from Cohen's remarkable and propitious songbook, such as "Suzanne", "So Long, Marianne", "Sisters of Mercy" and "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye". All these classics would, understandably, be covered by a slew of artists (some good, some not so good) in the ensuing years

27. Strange Days - The Doors (1967)

Released the same year as their now era-defining, eponymous debut, The Doors' second album would be a much darker and moodier collection of poetic songs. Like its predecessor, Strange Days would close with another epic song of over ten minutes in length with the sensational "When the Music's Over" ("We want the world and we want it now?...NOW!!!"). The album performed almost as well as the classic debut, peaking at #3, and it spawned two hit singles with the near Top-10 hit, "People are Strange" and Robby Krieger's "Love Me Two Times". But Strange Days also proved to be just as consistent as The Doors, with no real clunkers to think of, top to bottom. The album really has an "overcast" kind of feel to it, and you can hear dark clouds hovering in such gems as "Unhappy Girl", "I Can't See Your Face in My Mind", "You're Lost Little Girl", and in the great title track. Also, Jim Morrison's audition song to Ray Manzarek on that fateful day in 1965, at Venice Beach, when they first decided to form The Doors, is here too: "Moonlight Drive".

26. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn - Pink Floyd (1967)

While Pink Floyd were recording this defining album of the psychedelic era at Abbey Road, The Beatles were simultaneously recording Sgt. Pepper down the hall from them. Commercially, one of these albums would be a huge world-wide smash, and the other would not. Regardless, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn would become a hit in Britain at least, by officially introducing to the world a band that would indeed conquer it just six years later when a little album titled The Dark Side of the Moon would see the light of day. The one member who appeared largely on the debut, and would not appear on that future smash hit album was, of course, rock's Mad Hatter himself, Syd Barrett. This truly gifted guitarist and songwriter contributed most of the superb material on Piper, and sang lead vocals pretty much throughout on such enduring Pink Floyd classics as "Astronomy Domine", "Lucifer Sam", "The Scarecrow", and the delightfully daft "Bike". But, sadly, his heavy use of LSD would take a drastic toll on his mind, forcing the other members of the band to replace him with David Gilmour. However, Barrett's legacy would be publicly celebrated by the remaining members on 1975's classic Wish You Were Here album.

And, finally, up next is the concluding Part 4 of the countdown of my picks for the Top 100 Albums of the 60s! Stay tuned!

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