To present a greatest albums list is always a difficult proposition. No single list I have ever seen anywhere is completely objective, and most rely more on conventional (read: commercial) wisdom, influential opinion (usually flatulent New York critic types) and personal preferences. The subjectivity of the list I have compiled is no different, I suppose, but on a gut level I am quite content to say that the albums listed herein were all extraordinary at the time of their release, and all are essential to anyone's music collection. Beyond that, you can argue about rankings until doomsday. You can rant about omissions until you are blue in the face. I don't really give a damn. Any greatest albums list is merely an educated guess (some more educated and some more guess) and a point of reference for further discussion.
I have also eschewed the usual and seemingly obligatory numbering process inherent in these lists because I have difficulty with anyone who can pronounce (with a straight face) that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a better album than Are You Experienced, or that Highway 61 Revisited is far more meaningful than Let It Bleed because Dylan has a better vocabulary. Whatever. But I do know that actually going through the process of selecting albums for a "greatest" list is, in fact, making some determination as to the overall quality of a recording. So be it. I will then say that the first ten albums (and certainly the first five) on this list are, in my estimation, the best rock albums from the 1960s. It gets sketchier the further one goes onward, but I am okay with that.
As with all of my features, certain caveats apply. For instance, I am only listing those albums considered "rock" or "rock and roll", not soul, jazz, blues, country or polka. It gets exceedingly weird discussing the merits of Iggy Pop over Aretha Franklin, or the musicianship of Miles Davis as opposed to the harmonies of the Beach Boys. In addition, I will not include any greatest hits packages (so you can forget about seeing The Monkees here), and live albums will be used sparingly, and only if they are an important historic document that better exemplifies a band or includes songs not available on a studio album (besides, I have separate live album articles here and here). So, the recordings on this list are nearly all first release studio albums, because they are easier to discuss on a comparative basis.
Also, this is the first part of a planned two-part article, with 60 albums (60 albums for the 60s, clever, eh?) reviewed in total (a two-parter, so as not to be such an enormous time sink!). I will be doing the same for the 1970s (70 albums) and the 1980s (sorry, only 40 albums, because that was all I cared enough to talk about). So, by my limited mathematical skills, that means 170 great albums in all. I have decided to go by decade, rather than lump everything into one giant greatest musical conglomeration, because each decade had a different vibe, and even within decades there were radical musical changes (like between 1970-75 and 1976-80, for instance). But I believe rankings by decade at least provides a better perspective and a certain amount of fairness to the albums I am discussing.
P.S. For more of this decadent decade, go to Part II of The Greatest Rock Albums of the 1960s.
And so, without further blather and bombast, here are the first 30 Greatest Rock Albums of the 1960s:
The Beatles - The Beatles (White Album)
A ragged and glorious double album that shows the inevitable disintegration of the working relationships within The Beatles, yet showcases the individuals of the band perhaps better than any other album. The White Album (nobody calls it "The Beatles") can also be seen as a revolt against the perception of the Beatles as 'safe' or 'lightweight' or a mere hit-factory churning out endless pleasant tunes for mass consumption on public airwaves. There are certainly many hits on the album, but it is the long list of disturbing, hard-hitting and in your face material that makes this their greatest album, rather than a safe and sensible choice like Sgt. Pepper's. This aint the tight, syncopated, perfectly tuned Sgt. Pepper's, this is the Beatles fucked-up at 4:00 in the morning, jamming their asses off - certainly the type of venue I'd prefer to see them in as opposed to being dressed in those garish and gimmicky Pepper uniforms singing "Getting Better" or "When I'm Sixty-four". This is the anti-Sgt. Pepper's and Un-Fab Four Beatles at their best.
The White Album is a kaleidoscope of different musical genres which are treated masterfully by the band, a deft outpouring of elements that no other band even comes close to performing, let alone attempting in one sitting. There is blues, psychedelics, dance-hall burlesque, vaudeville crooning, country, folk, reggae, hard rock, social commentary, nihilism, expressionism, chamber music, 50's rock 'n' roll -- the list is extensive and the album hits on all cylinders. Where else can one find the most played version of a happy birthday song in any bar in the U.S., U.K. or Canada, alongside a blues tune that has the desperate words "feel so suicidal, even hate my rock and roll"?
I'm not much of a Paul McCartney fan (and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Di" pretty much shows the banal direction his solo career went), but his acoustic work on the White Album is stellar ("Blackbird", "Mother Nature's Son", and the campfire sing-along "Rocky Raccoon"). And as far as writing perfect pop ballads in 2:00 minutes or less, I can only offer "I Will" (1:46) as an example of McCartney's greatest ability. John Lennon is erratic, but anyone who has dropped acid can appreciate his more psychedelic work here ("Revolution 9" is downright disturbing when listened to stoned!). Favorite Lennon tunes on the album are "Yer Blues", "Revolution 1" (better than the more frenetic version that appeared on the B-side of "Hey Jude"), "Cry Baby Cry", and "Julia", which is a great atmospheric piece that certainly influenced Pink Floyd's "A Pillow of Winds" from the album Meddle (don't believe me? Listen to them side by side). George Harrison and Eric Clapton dueling leads on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is a particular highlight of the album, and I enjoy the food-induced "Savoy Truffle" with its funky Carnaby Street groove.
The White Album is rather like taking a shotgun full of various songs, styles, commentary and emotions and splattering a canvas with it. This is the album's appeal. It is not neat. It is not tidy. But each song has its place and a meaning for those who listen (even crazy folk like Charles Manson got the message...sort of). The album can be damned funny ("Piggies" and "The Continuing Adventures of Bungalow Bill" always crack me up), satirical ("Sexy Sadie", "Happiness is a Warm Gun"), heartwarming ("Martha My Dear", "Goodnight"), polarizing (is there any Beatles' song that makes for more disagreement than the over-the-top pastiche of Euro-minimalism "Revolution 9", which still acts as a lightning rod for controversy and debate over 40 years later?), pastoral ("Mother Nature's Son"), or just great rock 'n' roll like "Helter Skelter" and "Back in the USSR" (where the Beatles trump the Beach Boys at their own game). This is The Beatles I remember and identified with as a rebellious teen. Fuck Sgt. Pepper!
Worth the price of admission: While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Blackbird, Revolution 1, Helter Skelter, Julia, Piggies, I Will.
Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited
Speaking of reinterpretations and innovation (well, I haven't really spoken of them yet, but I'll start here), Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited gave rock and blues an unexpected kick in the pants in 1965 and started a revolution. Dylan chose the fabled "Highway 61" as the connector for the songs on this album, as the fabled road is a touchstone of blues legend and the main thoroughfare for dissemination of the blues (Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul at the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49, and blues belter Bessie Smith died in a car accident on 61). Dylan's lyricism expanded the blues-rock format and was influential to the likes of Hendrix, Cream and The Beatles.
Of course, the album's most notable song "Like a Rolling Stone" is a touchstone of 1960s music and one of those unforgettable tunes that defines a performer, as well as redefines what rock music "is". "Like a Rolling Stone" eschews the traditional format of a love song, and instead offers a bitter sneer and a vengeful leer at a former lover. "How does it feel?" Dylan crows triumphantly, and haven't we all felt like that at one time or another? But it is not merely the abandonment of a traditional love ballad that sets this song apart, it is the poeticism of Dylan and the stark images he conjures in the tune ("You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat/Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat" or "Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people/They're drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made") that were utterly unique for rock music in 1965.
In addition, the scathing "Ballad of a Thin Man" takes a bite out the establishment, and the ignorant "Mr. Joneses" who neither understood what was happening in the 60s, nor grasped the concepts Dylan was presenting. Elsewhere, the rowdy highway song "From a Buick 6", the poetic (and slightly out of tune) "Queen Jane Approximately", and the carnival of the absurd epic "Desolation Row" complete a wild ride down Highway 61. A magnum opus among several Dylan masterpieces.
Worth the price of admission: Like a Rolling Stone, It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry, Highway 61 Revisited, The Ballad of a Thin Man, Desolation Row.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced
Are You Experienced is one of the most important debut albums in the history of Rock and Roll (right up there with Meet The Beatles! and Elvis Presley's first album). In and of itself, it is a veritable greatest hits package, a primer on rock guitar, and an integral expression of the 1967 psychedelic music scene. Other rock musicians of the time (Pete Townshend, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Papa John Phillips, etc.) were in awe of Hendrix, and rightfully so. No single musician so forcefully imprinted his style and abilities on rock like Jimi.
There was nothing like him prior to his sudden ascendance, bursting onto the scene at the Monterey Pop Festival like a fiery ball of flame, and there has been nothing like him since he crashed and burned only a few short years later. No other guitarist has been so influential, and no other has been more imitated. Relatively speaking, if one listens to other guitar-heavy releases of 1967 (even from guitar-gods like Clapton and Jeff Beck), the results are often tinny, almost amateurish, in comparison to Are You Experienced. It was as if Hendrix was operating on another plane of existence than his rock and roll comrades. Are You Experienced represented a fundamental change in how guitar was played.
The album is notable for how Hendrix coaxed exotic sounds out of his beloved Strat - a living, breathing thing - that is at times cajoling, playful, searing, strident, staccato, dancing, severe, lewd, triumphant and deadly. Of course, the blues tune "Hey Joe" and "Purple Haze", that anthemic ode to hallucinogens, have been played into oblivion, but Hendrix is so lascivious on "Foxy Lady" and "Fire" that the mere act of playing guitar is almost obscene. Of particular interest is the effortless fretwork on "The Wind Cries Mary" and "Remember", the towering blues of "Red House" (a favorite), the trippy "Love or Confusion", the scorching funk of "Stone Free", and the psychedelic masterpiece "Third Stone from the Sun". Of special note is the innovative drumming of Mitch Mitchell who, like Ginger Baker of Cream, always seemed to be under-appreciated performers.
Worth the price of admission: Red House, Foxy Lady, Third Stone from the Sun, I Don't Live Today, Are You Experienced
The Beatles - Abbey Road
It is unfortunate that the sub par album Let It Be was released after Abbey Road (even though it was recorded prior to, and intended for release before Abbey Road), because it gave a false impression of The Beatles' final recording sessions, and ended the 60s on a sour note (in combination with the disastrous and deadly Rolling Stones concert at Altamont). For Abbey Road, The Beatles put aside their animosity and bitterness and told producer George Martin they wanted to make an album "the way we used to" and "go out on a high note". The result was staggeringly beautiful, and not only a testament to the songwriting skills of McCartney and Lennon, but it finally gained George Harrison equal footing as a composer.
The songs "Something" (the first Harrison song on the "A" side of a Beatles' single) and "Here Comes the Sun" represent Harrison's greatest achievements as a Beatle, and are highlights of the Abbey Road album rather than secondary songs of limited importance in the grand Beatlesque scheme of things. Harrison's growing maturation as a writer in the band was reflected on The White Album ("While My Guitar Gently Weeps" most notably), but on Abbey Road his songs became important. This is the single reason I have rated Abbey Road over Revolver.
Along with Harrison's contributions, the album has two great Lennon tracks "Come Together" and the one of the best Beatles hard rock pieces "I want You (She's so Heavy)", while McCartney, who had already clearly taken the lead in the group from a recording production standpoint, offers "Oh Darling" and "You Never Give Me Your Money" principally, and the harmonies of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison on "Because" are astoundingly beautiful. But it is the shared aspect of the 16 minute "Medley" (which includes "You Never Give Me Your Money", "Sun King", "Mean Mr. Mustard", "Polythene Pam", "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window", "Golden Slumbers", "Carry that Weight" and "The End") which acts as the culmination of all things Beatles, a stunning climax to an unequaled string of successes and superlative albums.
Worth the price of admission: Abbey Road Medley, I want You (She's so Heavy), Here Comes the Sun, Something, Because
The Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed
From the first sinewy insinuation of guitar on "Gimme Shelter" to the final grand flourishes of "You Can't Always Get What you Want", Let It Bleed was The Stones' defining album of the 1960s (just as Exile on Main Street was for the 1970s). Keith Richards' bluesy guitar squawk and Mick Jagger's sleazy ramblin' talk ("Yeah, we all need someone we can cream on/And if you want to, well you can cream on me"), as well as the overt references to drugs throughout the album, cemented their bad-boys-of-rock image that had only been hinted at on previous recordings. Even a song with the silly title "Monkey Man" leaves no doubt what The Stones were about ("Well, I hope we're not too messianic/Or a trifle too satanic/We love to play the blues").
The archtypical heroin-shootin', pill-poppin, booze-swillin' antichrists of rock 'n' roll were at the top of their game, and their take on the blues is downright filthy, with great renditions of "Midnight Rambler" (a personal favorite, and one of the best blues-rock tunes ever written), "Love in Vain", and "You Got the Silver". This is guitarist Mick Taylor's first album with The Stones (he was only 20 years old at the time!), replacing Brian Jones, who had already slipped too far along into a drug-induced stupor to continue playing with The Stones (in fact, Jones was to die in July, 1969 and only recorded on two tracks during the Let It Bleed sessions). In any case, The Stones were never better than when Taylor played guitar for them (with stellar turns on Let It Bleed, Get Yer Ya-Yas Out, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street - the best albums in The Stones' catalog).
Also of note, there was a stellar cast of side musicians who contributed to Let It Bleed, including Ry Cooder, Ian Stewart, Leon Russell, Al Kooper, and Nicky Hopkins, who does his best tinkling piano boogie on several songs. But it was the blistering and utterly unforgettable singing of Merry Clayton on "Gimme Shelter" that ranks as one of the staggering (if overlooked) highlights of 1960s music. In one of those fortuitous accidents, Bonnie Bramlett was originally scheduled to duet with Jagger on the song, but because of illness she opted out, leaving Merry and her landmark set of pipes to belt out the song. Looking back, it seems to be a bit of divine intervention. Or perhaps sympathy from the Devil.
Worth the price of admission: Let it Bleed, You Can't Always Get What You Want (with kindly assistance of the London Bach Choir), Midnight Rambler, and Gimme Shelter.
The Doors - The Doors
If ever there was a band that was representative of the Dionysian excesses of the psychedelic 60s, Jim Morrison and The Doors lived the part to the hilt. Even the band name "The Doors" was taken from Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception (in which Huxley describes his mescaline experiences). When Morrison sang "Break on Through (To the Other Side)", there was no doubt that boundaries were being broken, and with the surreal and serpentine phrasing of the Oedipal epic "The End" ("Mother, I want to FUCK YOU!"), those lines were shattered altogether. You won't find many albums that include a Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill tune "Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)" alongside a Willie Dixon blues number "Back Door Man", but somehow it all works, pulled together by Morrison's overtly sexual baritone growl.
The Doors album was the height of 1960s escapism. Nearly every song deals, in one way or another, with a trip ("The Crystal Ship"), a journey ("End of the Night"), or drug experimentation and the breaking of sexual taboos ("The End", "Break on Through", "Take it as it Comes", "Back Door Man"). In context, even the song "Light My Fire" takes experimentation to another level, where even death itself is a possible outcome ("The time to hesitate is through/No time to wallow in the mire/Try now we can only lose/And our love become a funeral pyre"). Indicative of Morrison's literate manner (he was a frustrated poet all his life), Morrison took up where Dylan left off and creates lush imagery and dark passages perfect for the drug-addled college campuses of the time, where Ginsberg and Kerouac were the patron saints ( "The cars crawl past all stuffed with eyes/Street lights share their hollow glow/Your brain seems bruised with numb surprise/Still one place to go..."). Morrison, shirtless and brooding, was an icon of the decadent 60s.
Worth the price of admission: Break on Through (To the Other Side), Soul Kitchen, The Crystal Ship, End of the Night, The End.
The Beatles - Revolver
Is this The Beatles greatest studio achievement? Perhaps so, as nearly all the innovations from the landmark Sgt. Pepper's album were already present on Revolver. The Beatles had the EMI studio engineers working overtime on this album, and Revolver is as much a testament to the remarkable recording abilities of George Martin as is it is to the superlative songcraft of The Beatles. Nowhere is this creative confluence more discernible than on McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby" (in my estimation, one of the top five rock songs ever composed). Martin's choice to use the stark strings of Bernard Herrmann's Psycho as the major influence to the score he composed was revelatory, and the string octet (the usual quartet doubled) is striking (no Beatle played an instrument on the number). Likewise, Lennon's "Tomorrow Never Knows" (the title being one of Ringo Starr's many malaprops) is also extraordinary in its innovations. Besides Lennon's references to the Tibetan Book of the Dead (alien subject matter for the time), the song features vocal processing, tape loops, reverse guitar tracks, and automatic double tracking (ADT), which EMI engineer Ken Townsend invented at the request of John Lennon, and which was first used extensively on Revolver.
Other than the many studio innovations on the album, Revolver also features the first integration of a wholly Eastern composition into rock music, George Harrison's "Love You To", with its adherence to classical Indian instumentation and musical structure. "Got to Get You into My Life", in addition to "Eleanor Rigby", represents McCartney's full maturation as a composer, and "Here, There and Everywhere" is simply beautiful. Even Ringo's contribution "Yellow Submarine" is memorable (c'mon, you sing along with it, don't you?).
Worth the price of admission: Eleanor Rigby, Tomorrow Never Knows, Love You To, Here, There and Everywhere, Taxman.
Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin II
The heaviest album from a very heavy band. Like two other important albums from 1969, King Crimson's Court of the Crimson King and The Stooge's debut album, Led Zeppelin II can be seen as a launching point for 1970s music and three divergent paths rock would take during that decade (King Crimson with progressive rock, The Stooges with punk, and Zeppelin with hard rock/heavy metal - with the further diversification of metal genre appearing most prominently in Black Sabbath's 1970 debut). Like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin's first album in 1968 was universally panned by critics as pretentious and copy-cat, but the fans adored them. Yet by Zeppelin's second album, the critics had to eat their words (a dietary staple of rags like Rolling Stone Magazine, it seems); in fact, the mammoth rifs of Led Zeppelin II literally buried the critical crap like compost in a rock garden. Helped along by their first monstrous hit, "Whole Lotta Love", Zeppelin was well on it to ascending to the lofty heights of rock deities.
What can one say about an album where even the obligatory late 60s/early 70s drum solo (a thing nearly extinct on rock albums these days), "Moby Dick", is memorably heavy, with John Bonham nearly destroying his bass drum and punching cymbals with his bare hands? And then there's Jimmy Page's multi-hammer-on technique (notably used on "Heartbreaker"), which was expanded upon by such avid fans as Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and Slash of Guns N' Roses. Well, you get the idea. But the intriguing thing about Led Zeppelin II (and all Zeppelin albums, really) is that for all the brash blues tunes (like "Bring It On Home", "The Lemon Song") or frenetic rock pieces ("Heartbreaker", "Living Loving Maid"), there are sublime instances of pastoral quiessence that offer a chiaroscuro of light and dark, heavy and heavenly, that breaks up what would otherwise be an ultimately monotonous and booming wall of sound (a concept most hard rock and heavy metal bands never grasped). Such lighter elements can be found on the lush "Thank You", the Tolkienesque "Ramble On" and that singular adventure into stereophonic speaker shuffling "What Is and What Should Never Be".
Worth the price of admission: Heatbreaker, Thank You, Bring It on Home, What Is and What Should Never Be
The Who - Tommy
Alright, Tommy is not necessarily an opera in the strictest sense (musicologists have said it more resembles a cantata or an oratio, like Handel's Messiah), but it certainly was something quite different for 1969. And even though The Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow predated it as the first "rock opera" (1967), Tommy was far greater in scope and compositional skill, as well as having reached a broader audience than the three people who purchased S.F. Sorrow. The story of the deaf, dumb and blind pinball wizard has left its indelible mark on music, and was a crowning achievement of rock in the 1960s (every subsequent rock opera from Jesus Christ Superstar to Bat Out of Hell to Operation: Mindcrime owes a debt of homage to Tommy). Tommy was also the impetus in the early 1970s for Peter Townshend to create The Who's greatest works, Who's Next and Quadrophenia (itself another rock opera).
Of course, Pete Townshend had prepared us all for greater things on the mini-opera "A Quick One, While He's Away", but what was a lark has turned into more serious business here, and Tommy's structure might as well be called opera because most rock fans do not give a damn about opera, oratori or classical music. Tommy has a French horn, which is foreign enough for rock & roll. The album has many Who standards, such as "The Acid Queen", "Pinball Wizard", "I'm Free" and "We're Not Gonna Take It", but it's some of the incidental music that is most striking and memorable: Peter Townshend's inspired acoustic guitar on "It's a Boy", the slightly skewed background vocals on "Christmas Story" and the carnie-gone-mad turn by Keith Moon on "Tommy's Holiday Camp" (not to mention the homosexual overtones of "Fiddle About"). Taken in context of the era, Tommy was relevatory, and still amazes new generations who have just discovered it.
Worth the price of admission: Overture/It's a Boy, Acid Queen, Pinball Wizard, We're Not Gonna Take It, I'm Free.
Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde
It has been said that Dylan came up with the enigmatic title "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35", the first song on the Blonde on Blonde album, because no radio station in the world would play a song called "Everybody Must Get Stoned". You can't argue with the logic, nor can you argue with the achievement. Blonde on Blonde was the final album of Dylan's 1960s rock trilogy - the first two being Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited - a remarkable string of masterpieces that marked the height of Dylan's music career. After Blonde on Blonde, Dylan's offerings over the next decade would become oddly hit and miss affairs, with more misses (Planet Waves, Dylan, Self-Portrait, etc.) than hits (John Wesley Harding and New Morning are the most substantial), until his mid-70s renaissance with the brilliant Blood on the Tracks and the satisfying Desire. One could almost say that Dylan "blew his wad" on this immense double album (one of the first important two-record rock releases), and it took him nearly ten years to recharge his creativity. Needless to say, he never again was as consistent as with his trilogy.
Blonde on Blonde is extraordinarily witty, at times perverse, and at other times contemplative, readily mixing biblical proverbs with counterculture drug jargon, and the profusion of allusions could give one's brain contusions. The song "4th Time Around" is Dylan's reply to The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" (in which Lennon used Dylanesque lyricism), written in the same time signature and dealing with a love affair in the same ambigious wording. The bulk of the songs on Blonde on Blonde are impressions of relationships: "Just Like a Woman", "Absolutely Sweet Marie", "Temporary Like Achilles", "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands", "I want You", etc. The album is notable for the contribution of "The Hawks" (who would eventually be known simply as "The Band"), and my personal favorites are the long, winding "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again", the beautiful and haunting "Visions of Johanna", and the sarcastic "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat".
Worth the price of admission: Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, 4th Time Around, Visions of Johanna, Just Like a Woman, Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again, Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.
Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland
The full psychedelic flowering of Hendrixian improvisation on a grand scale. If Hendrix's Are You Experienced was a primer on rock guitar, then Electric Ladyland is a doctoral thesis. The album is suffused with guitar mastery and studio innovations (I don't think any guitarist has ever used the wah-wah peddle to such effect as Hendrix). Breaking from the reliance on Mitch Mitchell (drums) and Noel Redding (bass) that made up The Jimi Hendrix Experience on his first two albums, Hendrix also brought in long-time friend Buddy Miles, members of Traffic (Steve Winwood, Chris Wood and Dave Mason), Jack Cassady of Jefferson Airplane, Al Kooper of Blood, Sweat & Tears, and a host of others, to create a loose, improvisational series of sessions that offer Hendrix and friends in a fiery jam mode (as Hendrix would say elsewhere, "You can leave if you want, we're just jamming!").
On Electric Ladyland, even the cover songs are extraordinary, including Earl King's blues tune "Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)" and Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" (the greatest, most transcendent cover in rock music -- the final, sustained note is astounding and goes on forever), as are Hendrix's forays into psychedelia, "...And the Gods Made Love", "1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)" and the Motown-on-LSD "Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)". But, in addition to "All Along the Watchtower", the four other songs that make this album essential to any guitarist are the manic funk of "Gypsy Eyes", the baroque psychedelic wah-wah overdose of "Burning of the Midnight Lamp", the funkified rock of "Crosstown Traffic", and the utterly savage "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" -- one of the best blues tunes ever written. The greatest guitar-based rock album ever released.
Worth the price of admission: Gypsy Eyes, Burning of the Midnight Lamp, Crosstown Traffic, Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), All Along the Watchtower
The Beatles - Rubber Soul
It sometimes gets quite impossible, juggling Beatles' albums in a quantitative list, trying to ascertain the merits of one over another. I really like Rubber Soul; in fact, I prefer it to Revolver, but I think Rubber Soul is more of a transitional album where the mop-top Fab Four turn into something extraordinary. Rubber Soul is indeed a departure point where one can look back (songs like "Michelle", "Wait", and "Girl" ), and look forward ("Drive My Car", "Nowhere Man" and "Norwegian Wood", for instance). The importance of this fundamental change in musical direction would not be fully recognized until their next album, Revolver, was released.
The dichotomy is particularly strong with John Lennon, where the maturity of his songwriting skills leap out in his paean to Dylan "Norwegian Wood" (with a nod to George Harrison for his first use of the sitar in a commercial rock recording) and especially the profound and beautiful "In My Life" (one of his greatest compositions); however, he is still mooning over a bitter teenage love affair in "Girl" and he sounds ludicrously immature in the oddly misogynistic and abusive "Run for Your Life". McCartney offers an acoustic based classic "I'm Looking Through You", but in one of the infuriating methods of crass record industry promotion, another great acoustic song "I've Just Seen a Face" appears on the U.S. release of Rubber Soul and not on the U.K. version. The intent for the U.S. was to give the album a more folk-bent in line with offerings from Dylan and the Byrds. McCartney also wrote the bright "You Won't See Me", and the album has one of my favorite Ringo Starr tracks "What Goes On" (with some great Nashville riffs). Not appearing on the album but released as a single, "We Can Work It Out" and "Day Tripper" clearly show The Beatles quickly entering the most creative phase of their career.
Worth the price of admission: In My Life, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), Nowhere Man, I'm Looking Through You, What Goes On.
The Band - The Band
On the Band's follow-up to their great debut album Music From Big Pink, their second release, titled simply The Band represents the greatest compilation of Americana (rock, country, blues, New Orleans jazz) by any single band, bar none. The output is phenomenal and the songwriting sublime, with a sound that transcends the era when it was recorded. Does The Band sound even remotely like something on AM pop radio stations in 1969? The timeless nature of the recording is a direct result of The Band's interest in documenting music that was perhaps no longer in vogue, concentrating on the styles of earlier ages of American experience.
Like Big Pink's "The Weight", The Band album includes an American song of epic proportions in "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", a tour de force of composition and lyrical defeat that mirrors the American divide from an historical basis. "Up on Cripple Creek" is indeed a drunkard's dream if I ever did see one, "Rag Mama Rag" should be played loudly whenever one's wife starts griping, and "King Harvest" is a sublimely rendered song with historical context. "Jemima Surrender", "Across the Great Divide", "The Rocking Chair" and "The Unfaithful Servant" flesh out The Band's wide-ranging love of music from across North America. It is no wonder that the album The Band has been preserved by the National Recording Registry because the album was "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or informs or reflects life in the United States." It is history put to music.
Worth the price of admission: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Up on Cripple Creek, Rag Mama Rag, King Harvest, Jemima Surrender.
Van Morrison - Astral Weeks
Imagine, if you will, James Joyce or T.S. Eliot writing an acoustic rock album. Astral Weeks is just as earth-shattering, groundbreaking and rule-bending as any accomplishment by the aforementioned literary masters, except you can hum along to it (which is something you certainly cannot do with Finnegan's Wake or The Wasteland). The interesting thing about Astral Weeks is that Van Morrison knew very little about the practical applications of jazz, but he knew the type of album he wanted. The members of the session band were all veteran jazz men, and while Van sang and played acoustic guitar, the group merely played along with an improvisational style that gave the album an indelible depth and evocative nature that broached the jazz form while retaining its pop sensiblities. The approach was a stunning success.
Released in 1968, there was nothing comparable to this superb concoction of rock, jazz, blues and folk (with an occasional classic string arrangement). Van Morrison's stream-of-consciousness scatting is revelatory on "Astral Weeks", "Cypress Avenue" (a reverie of Belfast in Morrison's youth), the sentimental "Madame George", the jazzy and jumping "The Way Young Lovers Do" (a personal favorite), and the incomparable "Sweet Thing". For a young composer of 23 short years, it seems impossible for Van Morrison to have arrived at such a point without a muse, the Irish Leannan Sidhe, the faery mistress who trades inspiration for a love that borders on madness, and eventually drives the artist to an early death. Well, Van did nearly drink himself to death. Just saying.
Worth the price of admission: Sweet Thing, The Way Young Lovers Do, Cypress Avenue, Astral Weeks
The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The most overrated album in the history of mankind. Yes, yes, I understand. Iconoclastic. State-of-the-art. Visionary. The album by which all other great albums are benchmarked (hence its remaining in the top 25 here). But it is certainly not the best Beatles album (see the four above). There is a reason Lennon complained about McCartney's "granny music", and it is fully evident with songs like "Lovely Rita", "Getting Better" and "When I'm Sixty-Four", and there really isn't much concept to this alleged 'concept album' (Precisely conceptual: the first song, a segue into the second song, and a reprise of the first song towards the end of the album). But for all my harping, there are several transcendent moments on this album. But, as I am in a curmudgeonly mood, I shall harp.
First, Sgt. Pepper's lacks acoustic tunes. I realize this is an odd complaint, but the other four Beatles albums I mentioned all have stellar acoustic tunes. The acoustic tracks offer more reflective and individualized efforts -- a different ambiance that is lacking in Sgt. Pepper's. And even considering George Harrison's Indian-influenced "Within You Without You"- isn't Revolver's "Love You To" simply a better rendition of Indian music? I certainly think so. And speaking of George, he certainly gets short-shrift on this album (just one song!), which also is a negative to me as I enjoy the differentiation in songwriting and varying point of view, rather than being bombarded by Paul McCartney for most of Sgt. Peppers. In addition, there are a few songs on the album I can't stand and could live without hearing ever again, particularly McCartney's "granny music". "Good Morning" and "Fixing a Hole" are standard Beatles tunes that you could plug into any Beatles album and not notice. "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" does not rate well against other Beatles' psychedelic classics either; tunes like "Tomorrow Never Knows", "Glass Onion" and "I am the Walrus" are far better and more significant. The best songs on Sgt. Pepper's are, of course, 'A Day in the Life' (which is songwriting at its best, a sublime composition), and, surprisingly, 'She's Leaving Home' which offers a stunning bit of counterpoint straight out of Greek tragedy. "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" is also a satisfyingly complex composition, with its swirling carnivalesque atmosphere and lyrics Lennon reads nearly verbatim off a real circus poster (for Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal). A great album, but not the greatest.
Worth the price of admission: A Day in the Life, Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, She's Leaving Home, Within You, Without You, With a Little Help from My Friends.
The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
The fourth most overrated album in the history of mankind: Sgt Pepper's first, Thriller second, The Velvet Underground & Nico (Nico and Lou Reed are the most dreadful singing duo ever - I cringe) third, and Pet Sounds fourth. For all its layered harmonies (and there are exceptionally beautiful harmonies here), psychedelic experimentation and unconventional instrumentation (theremin, bicycle bells, ukuleles, etc.), Pet Sounds is a glorified version of beach music which had already become archaic and passe' by the time the album had been released.
Pet Sounds was a quaint album when it came out (and certainly The Beach Boy's greatest achievement), but Dylan, The Stones, The Beatles, The Who and The Kinks had already progressed past the boy-meets-girl cuteness of early rock and roll, and had opted for darker, more edgy material filled with social commentary that The Beach Boys simply could not master, and I think Brian Wilson knew it, and he said so on "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times". But one can still revel in the last flowering of The Beach Boys style of music, particularly in the adaptation of the folk song "Sloop John B" (perhaps the greatest rock harmony of all time), the quintessential "Wouldn't It Be Nice", the Beatlesque "God Only Knows", and "Good Vibrations" (recorded during the Pet Sounds sessions, but for some unknown reason was not included on the album).
Worth the price of admission: I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, Wouldn't It be Nice, God Only Knows, Sloop John B
King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King
The musical structure, the lyrical content, even the album cover was shocking and awesome for 1969. There was really nothing to compare it with at the time -- and it is still incomparable. From the acid rock-jazz of "21st Century Schizoid Man" to the towering mellotron-infused fantasy "In the Court of the Crimson King", Robert Fripp and King Crimson put the nail in the coffin of 60s flower-power and psychedelia. There is also the tone poem "I Talk to the Wind", the minimalism of "Moonchild", and the apocalyptic "Epitaph". It can be argued that releases that preceded this album were the first progressive album (such as The Nice's Ars Longa Vita Brevis, The Moody Blues Days of Future Passed, or Procol Harum's Shine on Brightly), But In the Court of the Crimson King was the presage of all things to come in the progressive movement, the album by which all future progressive recordings were measured (it is amusing to note that Robert Christgau rated this album a D+, which just goes to show you what pretentious twats New York rock critics are.
Worth the price of admission: 21st Century Schizoid Man, In the Court of the Crimson King, Epitaph, I Talk to the Wind.
Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band - Safe as Milk
The strangest album in the bunch (even Floyd, Zappa and The Stooges sound tame in comparison), but one I prefer over the even more odd, if critically acclaimed, Capt. Beefheart album Trout Mask Replica. There is a strange bit of voodoo running through Safe as Milk, part Delta blues, part psychedelic madness, and Captain Beefheart's gravel and grit voice is reminiscent of later rusted bourbon crooners like Tom Waits, who acknowledges the Captain's influence, and which is recognizable in both the quirkiness and vocal qualities of "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do" and "Grown So Ugly" (great riffs by Ry Cooder). Other quirky material includes the mock Motown of "I'm Glad" (ummm...this is Capt. Beefheart?), the Zappaesque "Autumn's Child", the great phased harp of "Plastic Factory" and an avant garde ménage à trois of Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan and Ornette Coleman wrapped in baby Zappa swaddling cloth on "Electricity". Then, of course, there is the greatest homage to a cigarette paper ever written, "Zig Zag Wanderer". All this in 1967?!?! Yet another 60s musical masterpiece that has gone underappreciated.
Worth the price of admission: Sure 'Nuff 'n Yes I Do, Zig Zag Wanderer, Grown So Ugly, I'm Glad, Where There's a Woman.
Bob Dylan - Bringing It All Back Home
Is the world's first rap song "Subterranean Homesick Blues"? Hmmm...not very gangsta, perhaps, and a bit too literate, but the cadence is there. Bringing It All Back Home was immensely influential in 1965, and includes one of Dylan's greatest epics (and my favorite) "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" which, along with "Masters of War", ranks as his most powerful poem of social condemnation. As far as elusive allusions, the Rimbaudian surrealism of "Mr. Tambourine Man" set the stage for a flowering of psychedelic lyricism that was to envelope rock music for the next five years, influencing The Beatles, The Byrds, The Stones, Cream, Hendrix, The Doors and a host of other lesser lights (of course, it became utterly ridiculous, even commercialized, after awhile, but that's not Dylan's fault - by then he had moved on to other musical ventures). Pointing towards the greater achievement Highway 61 Revisited, on the song "Outlaw Blues" Dylan howls the immortal line "I might look like Robert Ford, but I feel just like Jesse James!"
Worth the price of admission: Subterranean Homesick Blues, It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding), Maggie's Farm, Mr. Tambourine Man, Outlaw Blues.
Jefferson Airplane - Surrealistic Pillow
The ultimate Haight/Ashbury album of psychedelic folk rock, and the departure point for other bands of the same genre in San Francisco,like It's a Beautiful Day, and in Britain, Fairport Convention. Buttressed by two classics of the psychedelic era, "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love" (both of which Grace Slick collaborated on with her first band, The Great Society), Surrealistic Pillow was the first big hit for a Haight/Ashbury counterculture band, and swept their style into national prominence (soon, every damned band was playing the same wonky and wailing psych guitar sound). But if one were to choose a single song that best represented the Psychedelic 60s, wouldn't it be "White Rabbit", that superb bit of sly allegory that mirrors Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland as a reflection of the counterculture movement's unabashed drug experimentation? Aside from the psychedelics, the real gem on this album is Jorma Kaukonen's sublime and pastoral acoustic instrumental "Embryonic Journey". Also of note, the superb folk of "How Do You Feel", and one of Marty Balin's best ballads "Today". I love many songs from Jefferson Airplane's follow up releases (such as "Rejoyce", "Crown of Creation", "Volunteers", etc.), but I don't believe that any of their album so indelibly left its mark as Surrealistic Pillow.
Worth the price of admission: White Rabbit, Somebody to Love, Embryonic Journey, How Do You Feel, Today.
Pink Floyd - The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Syd Barrett was one of the myriad casualties of 1960s excesses, but he didn't go out in a blaze of glory like Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin or Brian Jones; on the contrary, his body remained for decades but his mind hovered off into the ether (and the solo album Madcap Laughs is a sad reminder of a creative genius sounding like a blithering idiot). But for at least one Pink Floyd album Barrett managed to keep it together, and the results are astounding, and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (a chapter heading from one of Barrett's favorite books, Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows) remains of the most influential albums of all time, a masterpiece and archetype of psychedelic rock (or the subgenre "space rock") that hundreds of bands have drawn on for inspiration. As far as the art of psychedelia, the two exemplary compositions are "Astronomy Domine" and "Interstellar Overdrive", which are highly adventurous (the lyrical cadence of "Astronomy Domine") and experimental ("Interstellar Overdrive"). For some asinine marketing reason, the original U.S. version of the album omits "Astonomy Domine" and "Bike", while the UK version lacks "See Emily Play" (which never made it on the reissues either). The most commercially acceptable tune is "Bike", but even there Barrett is utterly warped (a mouse named Gerald?). Much of the album is Fractured Fairy Tales on acid, favorites include the James Bondesque "Lucifer Sam" (originally titled "Percy the Rat Catcher") and "Matilda Mother".
Astronomy Domine, Interstellar Overdrive, Bike, Lucifer Sam, Scarecrow, Matilda Mother.
The Moody Blues - Days of Future Passed
A musical treasure and an essential concept album for anyone who does not live in a cave and scratch his/her private parts in public. This is an album that bridges generations and spans genres; in fact, the longtime (and decidedly conservative) classical musical critic of the Detroit Free Press, the late John Guinn, said simply that 'Days of Future Passed' was an album he 'cherished', and that speaks volumes for the reach of this recording. Days of Future Passed is the best of all orchestra/rock band collaborations, and 'is hauntingly beautiful throughout. Nowhere is this more evident than on "Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)" and "Nights in White Satin", two of the greatest love songs ever written. Also of note is the exquisite "Dawn is a Feeling" and "Twilight Time". The use of the London Festival Orchestra is an integral part of the album as a whole, rather than an afterthought to give an album a classical flair. The orchestra and band have separate parts and themes throughout the album, and only during 'Night in White Satin' do the two mesh together for a magnificent crescendo as the song reaches its climax. The poem 'Late Lament' is also a memorable moment in rock history, and an appropriate ending for a day in the life as written by the Moody Blues. Without question, the first progressive rock album (argue amongst yourselves, if you wish).
Worth the price of admission: Dawn is a Feeling, Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?), The Sunset/Twilight Time, Nights in White Satin/Late Lament.
Simon & Garfunkel - Sounds of Silence
There is a sincerity and an exuberance on this, Simon & Garfunkel's second album (and first big hit), that transcends their more slickly produced and highly touted albums of the 1960s (Parsley, Sage Rosemary & Thyme and Bookends). The world-weary New York cynicism and studio intensive layering have not crept into this album, and there are still vestiges of Greenwich Village folk clubs, long-vanished like the curling trails of cigarette smoke trailing from worn wooden tables, and buskering on the sidewalk for beer money and a box or two of Kraft Mac and Cheese. Simon & Garfunkel still have the air of street troubadours and maintain their folk sensiblities here. Nowhere in early 1966 will you find more beautiful love ballads than "Kathy's Song" or "April, Come She Will", or the social commentary brimming from the "Sounds of Silence", "Richard Cory" or "I am a Rock". This is an album that liberal nuns would play during class at conservative Catholic elementary schools. I should know, that's where I first heard it.
Worth the price of admission: April, Come She Will, Kathy's Song, I Am a Rock, Sound of Silence, Anji.
Big Brother & the Holding Company - Cheap Thrills
From the R. Crumb album artwork to the amateurishly acidic guitar to the album title as originally proposed (Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills), this is a quintessential 1960s album; in fact this album could not exist outside of the 60s. It is a time capsule of a certain warped vibe that only existed for a few short years (and parts are quite painful to listen to nowadays). However, this is, for all intents and purposes, a Janis Joplin album, and truthfully the sloppy 60's psychedelic backup band is virtually meaningless. "Four gentleman and one great, great broad" is the introduction at the start of the album, and no better epitaph can be delivered here. Janis Joplin was a runaway train of booze-soaked ballads and a fiery ball of blues. The energy and emotion Joplin delivered is unparalleled in musical history -- you can literally feel it emanating from the speakers. One only has to hear "Summertime" or "Ball and Chain" to understand how Joplin inspired countless female vocalists over the past 40+ years. Honestly, there are very few singers, either male or female, who have been so influential.
Worth the price of admission: Ball and Chain, Summertime, Piece of My Heart, Turtle Blues.
Frank Zappa - Hot Rats
Free from the snarky sarcasm, counterculture polemics and topical witticisms of The Mothers of Invention that, to me, are utterly hilarious and endlessly inventive, but tend to minimize Frank Zappa's musical genius and relegates many of his albums to novelty act status and comedic sideshows, Hot Rats is almost entirely without barbed lyrics (except for a brief bit by Capt. Beefheart on "Willie the Pimp"), and the brilliant playing foreshadows the rise of jazz fusion and progressive rock in the 70s. The sound, composition, studio innovation and jazzy improvisation are entirely foreign to 1960s rock circles. Using a newfangled 16 track recorder (a technology rigged especially for the sessions), Zappa not only could use a limited amount of trusted (and extremely talented) musicians to gain the sound of a much larger band, but he was also one of the first to record a stereo version of the drums wherein every piece of percussion was recorded separately (and the sound is phenomenal for such an early release). Zappa's guitar is particularly ferocious on many tracks (he out-metals much that would later be termed "heavy metal"), and the contributions of Ian Underwood (organ, clarinet, flute, piano, saxophone), Don "Sugarcane" Harris (violin), Max Bennett (bass), and several others (like Jean-Luc Ponty, for instance) are incredible. An essential album for anyone who loves jazz fusion or progressive rock.
Worth the price of admission: Peaches en Regalia, Willie the Pimp, The Gumbo Variations, Part I, It Must Be A Camel.
Cream - Fresh Cream
Eric Clapton was a "guitar god" of the 1960s, and nowhere is this more apparent than the album Fresh Cream. The particularly heavy sound punctuated by the eccentric drumming of under-appreciated Ginger Baker, the improvisational bass and howling blues harp of Jack Bruce, and the chunky hard rock riffs of Clapton were a revelation for 1966. Yes, I didn't stutter, 1966. It is a very mature blues rock album for the time, and the sound was revolutionary (along with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band release of 1965, the most important of the era). Listen to "N.S.U." or "Sleepy Time Time" - this aint the mop-top Beatles or the tinny-sounding Stones, but a hard rocking blues band in heavy-duty mode. And, of course, it is a powerful set of blues, driven just as much by Jack Bruce's wail and howl as Clapton's guitar: the ominous "Spoonful" (which does ol' Willie Dixon proud), the absolutely crazy "Rollin' and Tumblin' (just try to keep up with Bruce on blues harp for the full 4:42 - I dare you), Muddy Water's "Four Until Late" (Clapton singing), and the quintessential rock version of "Cat's Squirrel". Then there's the anticipatory psychedelia of "I'm So Glad" and "Dreaming". One of the greatest blues rock albums of all time.
Worth the price of admission:Spoonful, Four Until Late, Rollin' and Tumblin', I'm So Glad, N.S.U..
Crosby, Stills & Nash - Crosby, Stills & Nash
An integral album of the 60s, one that melded the talents of members of The Byrds (David Crosby), Buffalo Springfield (Stephen Stills) and The Hollies (Graham Nash) that inagurated the acoustic singer/songwriter ethic that became pronounced in the 70s (James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Jim Croce, etc.). There is not a clinker in the bunch here, as the album resembles a greatest hits package: "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" (for Still's ex, singer Judy Collins), the haunting "Guinnevere" (by Crosby), the beautiful "Lady of the Island" (by Nash), and one of the greatest rock harmonies ever on "Helplessly Hoping" (again, Stevens). The apocalyptic "Wooden Ships" is one of the first of many CSN battle cries, as the band brought the protest song to an art form, and "Long Time Gone" also mirrors the turbulent anti-war scene of the late 60s. One of the greatest acoustic rock albums ever, and one of the few instances where a band labeled a "supergroup" actually lived up to the billing.
Worth the price of admission: Helplessly Hoping, Long Time Gone, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Guinnevere (alternate version), Lady of the Island.
The Kinks - Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
The album, perhaps the best the Kinks have ever done, deals with one Arthur Morgan, a carpet-layer in a lower class suburb of post-War London. Not the plot for an epic perhaps, but Ray Davies knew his subject well (it was based on his brother-in-law, husband of his beloved sister, Rose), and the fundamental, under-stated British flavor of this album creates a profound character study and a melancholy glance back at a time and a place that is no longer there in Britain ("Shangri-La"). It is nostalgic, but not cloying. It deals with the death of a loved one in war ("Some Mother's Son"), that is not as overwrought as Roger Waters' musings on The Wall. The recollections are typical of snarky Ray Davies, who succinctly defines an era in "Victoria" as "Long ago, life was clean/Sex was bad, called obscene/And the rich were so mean/Stately homes for the Lords/Croquet lawns, village greens/Victoria was my queen". And I don't think Winston Churchill was ever so represented as on Arthur. One of the best concept albums of the 1960s.
Worth the price of admission: Victioria, Some Mother's Son, Shangri-La, Mr. Churchill Says, Arthur.
Jethro Tull - Stand Up
Tull's second debut album. The first, the bluesy This Was, has really nothing to do with the second, Stand Up. Tull had just parted ways with guitarist Mick Abrahams, and chose Martin Barre in his place. The result? Tull the Second is a stunning folk-rock opus. I have long been of the thought that no one in rock really writes beautiful, reflective tunes anymore. Ian Anderson can turn them out by the bucketful but still rock on the same album. "Look Into the Sun", "Reasons for Waiting" and "For a Thousand Mothers" are just beautifully rendered, mellow pieces (and the string arrangements by David Palmer are heavenly). Conversely, "Nothing is Easy" (one of the great endings in rock), the heavy "A New Day Yesterday" and "We Used to Know" (which The Eagles blatantly copied in "Hotel California") rock along quite well. Top it off with the important Classical-fusion of "Bouree", and the frenetic, Eastern-influenced "Fat Man" (another favorite), and one finds the direction Tull took was an important step in becoming one of the greatest prog-rock bands of all time. Or folk-rock band. Or concept band. You get the general idea -- if you get Tull. Stand Up is an important late 60s album that synthesized several different musical elements and genres into the rock idiom: jazz, blues, classical, folk. It is a hidden 60s gem that presages the 70s and deserves a much wider audience.
Worth the price of admission: Nothing Is Easy, Bouree, Reasons for Waiting, Fat Man, A New Day Yesterday.
Love - Forever Changes
How does one explain this eccentric album to someone who's never heard it? Well, after a long pause, followed by a heavy sigh, on the heels of a bewildered shrug, you mumble something about the Moody Blues led by Syd Barrett singing Herb Alpert and Burt Bacharach songs while on acid. A lot of acid. I mean fistfuls of acid. Now, where were we? Oh yes, Forever Changes by Love. This is as good or better a psychedelic album than Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, particularly since the lyrics are intelligible (although Albert Lee would do justice to Floyd's "Arnold Layne"). But enough of comparisons. Forever Changes is really different than any other album from 1967. The acoustic guitar flourishes are timeless and the strings are achingly beautiful. Albert Lee's lyrics are familiar but off-kilter, like the mind's ability to recgnze wrds wth mssng lttrs. The boy aint all there, but he sings so nicely you overlook his obvious dementia. And the titles exemplify the songs themselves: "A House is not a Motel" (a favorite), "Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale" and "The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This" (another favorite). Make sure to listen to the 2001 expanded CD version by Rhino, which includes "Laughing Stock" wherein Albert Lee harmonizes with none other than Jim Morrison.
Worth the price of admission: A House is not a Motel, The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This, Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale, Alone Again Or.