Get out your bongs, turn on your lava lamps and burn your draft cards, hippies and freaks... we're going to travel back to the Summer of Love!
What the Beatles were doing: Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, "All You Need is Love", "Hello Goodbye"
Top song: "To Sir With Love" by Lulu. Top Movies: The Jungle Book, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
I'm one of those rock fans that always found Jim Morrison to be overrated as both a singer and a lyricist. The man had talent, I can't deny it, but he always struck me as being, I'm not sure how to say this, kind of a jerk. God knows, he came by it honestly - I don't think it was an act; the man was truly troubled. I think my main problem with The Doors, and why I can only listen to them in small doses, is that there is nothing funny about them. Everything is so deadly serious. The Kinks, The Beatles, The Who, even the Stones, could make you smile with happy little songs that weren't not all that serious. When The Doors tried simple pop stuff, they often sounded like their hearts weren't in it (though later simplistic hits like "Hello I Love You" and "Touch Me" are exceptions).
But there is no argument that that Morrison and The Doors put out a series of albums from 1967 to 1971 that, for the most part, still stand up today. These guys had their share of unforgettable songs, stuff that makes what passes for hits today seem like the pre-fabricated crap they are at heart. When "Love Me Two Times", "Riders on the Storm" or "People Are Strange" come on the radio, I'm right there listening. Their first album made them instant stars and it is easy to hear why. Songs like "Break On Through" (which sounds like it's going to be "Tequila Part 2" until Morrison comes in with his vocals), "Twentieth Century Fox" or "Light My Fire" are rock classics. The combination of Morrison's husky vocals that practically demand you listen to him and Ray Manzarek's spooky keyboards made for a sound unlike anybody else at the time - you can usually tell a Doors song within the first five or ten seconds. There is an element of doom, gloom and despair through most of this album, climaxing in the overrated "The End", 12 minutes of eerie guitar and keyboards and even eerier Morrison mutterings. Side One is the better side. (Or, for those of you who have upgraded to this new-fangled 'compact disc' technology all the kids are talking about, the first half is better. And for those of you shuffling Doors tunes on your I-Pods, you're on your own.) ½
Sweet and mellow acoustic ballads, some boppy, psychedelic rockers, and lovely, loose harmonies all over the place. Just about everybody in the band contributed vocals, but Grace Slick's stand out above everybody's, even if she sings lead on only two songs, which just happen to be the two classics that everybody still remembers today: "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit". One of the earliest albums of The Summer of Love, and one that still holds up all the way through today without embarrassment, at least until the third and final verse of the final song "Plastic Fantastic Lover". "The electrical dust is starting to rust/her trapezoid thermometer taste"... excuse me, but... whAAAT???. Still a cool song though. For me, good melodies transcend time, and Surrealistic Pillow has good melodies all over the place. I love this album. I don't listen to it all that often, ever since my turntable died in the middle of Roy Orbison's "Leah", but whenever I listen to it now in mp3 form, I have to listen to it all the way through.
Unfortunately, "The Airplane" (see, I'm cool!) got caught up in the whole Haight-Ashbury, tune in turn on drop out, flower power, let's never bathe anymore movement and became one of the most self-indulgent bands of the late sixties and early seventies (and that's saying a lot!). They would never make another album like Surrealistic Pillow- they wouldn't even come close. And I know, because I actually bought most of them years ago, one after the other, not realizing until it was too late that Surrealistic Pillow was a one of a kind thing. ½
Also known as "The Banana Album", The Velvet Underground
and Nico didn't sell when it first came out and
selling since. Deceptive
little puppy too, for those five or six people who actually bought this
album in 1967. It starts off with a pretty little song called
'Sunday Morning" that sounds like it could be any band from the sixties
doing a sweet Top 40 ballad. And once you're settled
in for a relaxing album of similar tunes, the guitars and pianos start
rolling and Lou Reed is singing about heading to Lexington Avenue to
score some heroin. And when you've recovered from that,
deep, Germanic deadpan voice (deeper and deadpanner that Lou Reed's!)
about a woman who "builds you up just to put you don - what a
clon". And so it goes, for an entire album: odes to
drugs, street walkers, sadomasochism, you name it. The Velvets (see! I'm
cool!) have a reputation for being one of rock and roll's most
subversive, influential bands, but listen to them today and you'll find
that from day one until the end, they excelled in writing cool
three-minute rock tunes that stick in your head. It was at this period
in history (and this period only) that Lou Reed could actually sing a
melody, even if just barely. A hint for those who have never
listen to the VU: avoid their
cacaophonous second album, White Light
White Heat until you've fully absorbed
everything else by them. ½
Jimi Hendrix rarely if ever had to bring in orchestras, outside musicians, french horns, sitars, what have you - whatever sound he needed, he found a way to do it with his guitar and his recording equipment. Hedrix only released three albums in his lifetime, and, except for greatest hits packages, Are You Experienced is probably the best place to start with Hendrix. You can then work your way through his second album Axis: Bold as Love (also 1967) and the double album Electric Ladyland (1968). Unfortunately, like many albums of this time, the American release was a bastardization of Jimi's actual intentions. The Reprise label chopped off a few of the songs and added several of The Jimi Hendrix Experience's ht singles, such as the classic "Purple Haze" and the lovely "The Wind Cries Mary". The most recent release of this album features Jimi's original lineup of songs, with all the hit singles as bonus tracks, which, in the age of compact disc, is as good a compromise as any. You can appreciate him for his mind-blowing guitar work, his production techniques and use of stereo, his voice, his lyrics, his melodies, or any combination thereof. In my mind, he was the most talented of the famous sixties musicians who died way too young. We will never know what rock music would have been like had he lived to continue to create music.
Attempting to capitalize on his groundbreaking working on both the Pet Sounds album and the classic single "Good VIbrations", Brian Wilson conceived of a "teenage symphony to God" originally titled Dumb Angel and later Smile. The album would consist of many musical themes tracing the history of America in the form of a trip across the entire country, from Plymouth Rock to Hawaii. Or something like that. You would have to be on the drugs Brian Wilson was to actually hear how the myriad songs, snippets and musical doodles of Smile actually add up to anything resembling what Wilson claimed. Smile is instead as close a look as you could ever get at the workings of Brian Wilson's brain at the peak of the man's genius, just before it all came crashing down. As such, the album (as put together by various bootleggers from the original sessions tapes and other sources) is fascinating, not to mention extremely enjoyable. Only three songs can be said to be complete ("Heroes and Villains", "Surf's Up" and "Good Vibrations"), while others are more akin to those half-finished snippets that make up most of Side Two of The Beatles' Abbey Road. Melodies and instrumenation change at the drop of a hat, one unforgettable hook (with unfathomable lyrics) disappearing to make way for another unforgettable hook (with even more unfathomable lyrics.) Some arrangements feature the Beach Boys' most complicated and rich vocal work, such as the opening "Our Prayer" or the pulsating "Child is the Father of the Man". All of it is a feast for the ears. Whether it makes sense or means anything is up to you. It might have been the most influential album of all time, or one of the pop music's biggest flops, had it been released in 1967. But pressure from the group itself, plus Wilson's fear that The Beatles had already beat him with the Sgt. Pepper album (itself influenced by Pet Sounds), were just two of the many things that caused Wilson to abandon the project. Until 2004, that is, when he recreated the album as Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE. As wonderful as Brian's recreation is, 2004 was way to late for a Beach Boy, or any great 1960s artist, to have any impact at all on the music scene. To hear the original Beach Boys version, seek out collecters of unreleased music. That's all I'll say. ½
Smiley Smile, which was released in 1967, is the album In which Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys comb through the scraps of the abandoned Smile album andturn it in to a combination of an aural nervous breakdown and a very loud "screw you" to the fans. It's hard to believe that a group responsible for the likes of "Surfer Girl", "California Girls", The Beach Boys Today! and Pet Sounds could actually release an album as carelessly put together as Smiley Smile. Okay, it was 1967, in which a lot of weird stuff was passed off as music, but this was The Beach Boys! The only song worth listening to all the way through is "Good Vibrations", which, sure, is one of the greatest singles in rock history, but one good song on a Beach Boys album, only months after the release of Pet Sounds? How could such a great group go bad so quickly? Some may point to "Heroes and Villains", the album's opener, as the other good song on the album, but it never did much for me. It has a good melody, but not a very pliable one, and Brian Wilson tried millions of times to mix it into just the right arrangement, but to my ears, never quite got it right, and the mix on this album is the poorest of them all. As for the rest of the album, it shows that the little tunes that were to make up the bulk of Smile do not amount to much when they are not making up the bulk of Smile. The boys managed to put out one decent album just before 1967 came to a close, but by then it was too late.
Aside from Spinal Tap or The Crickets, The Kinks were the unluckiest band in the world. From 1966 through 1969, they released several superb albums that are now considered classics, yet at the time, most of them barely charted. Something Else by The Kinks was songwriter Ray Davies' first masterpiece, albeit with some good contributions from his brother Dave. Typical of how things went for The Kinks during these years, the album sold like cold hotcakes, especially in the US. Smack in the middle of an era of social upheaval and artistic innovation, Ray had begun writing songs about normal people and music hall ditties about how lovely things used to be in England. So Something Else has a head-bobbing song about the headboy at school ("David Watts"), jaunty singalongs about the joys of a good smoke and a cuppa ("Harry Rag", "Afternoon Tea"), an acoustic samba apparently written for Astrud "The Girl from Ipanema" Gilberto ("No Return"), odes to love and nature ("Lazy Old Sun", "End of the Season") and little character sketches galore, including the beautiful "Waterloo Sunset", about a man who spends every evening looking out his window at lovers meeting at the Waterloo underground station - typical Ray Davies stuff. Brother Dave Davies clocks in three songs of his own, including the catchy powerchord rocker "Love Me Til The Sun Shines" and the hilarious Dylaneque "Death of a Clown", a hit single in the UK along with "Waterloo Sunset" (neither tune went anywhere in the US).
Nobody cared back in 1967, but Something Else is still one of the most enjoyable, playful and tuneful albums of The Summer of Love. "Waterloo Sunset" notwithstanding, Ray Davies rarely wrote gorgeous melodies the way Brian Wilson or Paul Mccartney did, but he wrote fun and surprising tunes that so easily get lodged in your brain you'' find yourself a week later whistling a tune and not know what the heck it is, and then suddenly realize it's "Tin Soldier Man", just to name one. My current favorite Kinks album, and possibly my favorite album from all of 1967. ½
Back in the day, some bands used to put out two albums a year - imagine such a thing. The Doors second album of 1967 sounds like part two of their debut album released in January. Not counting the spoken-word (or, more to the point, screamed-word) poetry track titled "Horse Latitudes", Strange Days is another album filled with tightly-written, expertly-played rock and pop songs and, also in the tradition of The Doors, one epic album closer. It doesn't rock as hard as The Doors, but each song sounds like they could have come from the same sessions, and, indeed, several songs had already been written while the band was recording their first album. There's nothing that immediately grabs you like "Break On Through" or that elaborate organ intro to "Light My Fire", but it features the popular songs "People are Strange" and "Love Me Two Times", which were Top 40 hits in the U.S., making The Doors one of the most successful new bands of 1967. The album cover fairly accurately captures the mood of the album - the music is weird and creepy in the way only the early Doors could be ("Moonlight Drive" sounds like a tango that could have played at Stephen King's wedding), climaxing in the eleven-minute "When The Music's Over", a moody classic that somehow never gets boring despite revolving, for the most part, around two chords and a simple but memorable organ riff by Ray Manzarek.
Remember those episodes of The Brady Bunch where Greg or Peter would say something like "We're going to go up to our room and listen to some groovy new records!". Wouldn't it been cool if they put a platter on the mono record player and the opening guitar chords of Cream's "Strange Brew" blasted out of speaker? Nah. Would never happen at the Brady house. Anyway, random Brady Bunch jokes aside, Disraeli Gears is Cream's second album, and probably their most accessible overall. Cream always battled between being a pure blues band and a guitar-based pop band, and this is the only Cream album where both sides of Cream blend together perfectly. "Strange Brew", "Sunshine of Your Love", "SWLABR", "Tales of Brave Ulysses", "Take It Back" and "Outside Woman Blues" are all Cream classics. The lesser moments, of which there are only a few, do not detract from the greatness of this album. It is the quintessential "groovy record" and it would have made Greg and Peter's heads melt, leaving nothing but a lot of hair on their shoulders. If Disraeli Gears is not in your collection, get it now. I'll wait. ½
Days of Future Passed, a rock symphony by The Moody Blues, describes one entire day in the life of an average person, with their well-played and divinely sung pop tunes supported by the London Symphony Orchestra. It pretends to be classical, but the orchestral arrangements sound less like Beethoven and Mozart and more like a really romantic John Barry score from a James Bond movie. Two minutes into the opening overture, you may be expecting Matt Monro or Nancy Sinatra to chime in with lyrics about a man with a license to kill. But the whole album is so mellow, earnest and heartfelt, without a hint of an ironic wink anywhere, it's hard to fault it for being overblown and pretentious. The two songs you may know from the radio are "Tuesday Afternoon" and "Nights in White Satin". Some sixties albums were probably more enjoyable under the influence of pot (I wouldn't know about such things). Days of Future Passed is probably more enjoyable if you are in a recliner by a warm fire smoking a pipe and reading the liner notes. There should be a faithful dog at your feet too for complete enjoyment. ½.
As if trying to imitate The Kinks on Between the Buttons wasn't bad enough, the Stones now tried to make their own Sgt. Pepper. And to top it off, Bob Dylan was about to make them (and a bunch of other acts) look really silly just before the year was over. The trouble with The Rolling Stones in 1966 and 1967 was they forgot to be The Rolling Stones. Instead of relying on their strengths, which would always be rhythm and blues and other roots music, they tried to be a pop band. And in 1967, especially after the release of Pepper, most pop bands went psychedelic. Their Satanic Majesties Request is filled with all the trappings of psychelia - the random noises, the odd instruments, the quest for deep, inscrutable lyrics tied to vaguely middle eastern melodies. On the one hand, "2000 Light Years From Home" and "She's a Rainbow" rise above their trappings and deserved to be on any compilation of the Stones' greatest hits, and "2000 Man", "Citadel" and Billy Wyman's first and only official Stones composition "In Another Land" are all pretty good. On the other hand, much of the album features the Stones diddling around on various instruments trying to be deep ("The Lantern", "Gomper") or jamming badly to fill up some space (both versions of "Sing This All Together"). This is the last album on which multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones was any sort of a factor, and, as on Aftermath and Between the Buttons, his contributions do enhance the album. It's interesting all the way through, even during the bad parts, but the world was probably much relieved when they followed this album up with the rocking single "Jumping Jack Flash" and the back to basics album Beggar's Banquet the following year. By the way, I have this one on vinyl, with the original 3D cover. Cool!
On The Who's third album, they parody pirate radio
advertising jingles and radio announcement in between songs.
They took the concept pretty far too, with some of
the songs, such as
"Odorono", named after actual
products. Like Ray Davies, Pete
Townsend was a master at writing about little moments in life, as in
"Tattoo", which is about a boy coming of age. However,
character sketches were a bit odder than Davies:
"My dad beat me 'cause mine said "Mother"
But my mother naturally liked it and beat my brother
'Cause his tattoo was of a lady in the nude
And my mother thought that was extremely rude"
The biggest hit on the album was the classic "I Can See for Miles". The failure of "I Can See for Miles" to make it to number one as a single caused Townsend to give up trying for hit singles and concentrate on album-length stories. The result over the next few years were the classic double album "rock operas" Tommy and Quadrophenia, and one of the greatest rock albums ever, Who's Next, the result of another potential "rock opera" (Lifehouse) that didn't quite come together. But none of this should prevent you from enjoying the simpler pleasures of The Who Sell Out.
To be fair, Wild Honey is not a bad album. With Brian Wilson pretty much confined to his bed with mental problems, brother Carl takes command. Although Wild Honey lacks the rich vocal harmonies that are the trademark of The Beach Boys, it is a pleasant little pop record with some soul overtones, and almost feels like an apology for the travesty that was Smiley Smile. There's a number of good tunes tunes including the bouncy title cut and "Darlin'" (which fades out way before it should), and the album hangs together nicely, at least up until the soon to be requisite leftover Smile track that ends the album, "Mama Says", a song which once again shows that Smile tracks were not meant to be listened to individually. So Wild Honey is a decent album - pleasant tunes, pleasant voices. It's just that... well, you know that feeling of disappointment when you listen to a bunch of Beatles albums and then you move onto something like Paul's Ram or John's Mind Games? It's like that. After discovering the joys of albums like All Summer Long and The Beach Boys Today (Exclamation Point!), as well as revisiting Pet Sounds for the thousandth time, Wild Honey is just... okay. It's nice to have on in the background. It fills up the air with agreeable sounds, but no pet sounds.
While just everybody else crazy goin' nuts with the backwards guitars, the sitars and the thousand chanting monks, Bob Dylan was recuperating from a motorcycle accident in Woodstock, in the company of his touring band The Hawks, who would soon become The Band. After spending a summer laying down dozens and dozens of silly and not so silly songs on a two-track recorder with these friends, Dylan would return to the recording studio with only a drummer and a bass player and record John Wesley Harding in a three-day spurt. The album contained mostly three-verse-long parables sung to simple folk melodies (some original, some borrowed). It was rootsy, it was folksy, it was somehow deep and spiritual, and it was Dylan's answer to all the weird and wacky stuff that was going on in 1967. While the rest of the pop world spent months in their studios trying to see what kind of sounds they could coax out of their antiquated recording systems, Dylan just laid down a few tracks with some friends and turned out an understated masterpiece. Some bands would continue searching for the lost chord (The Moody Blues, Pink Floyd), others, like The Beatles and especially The Rolling Stones, would get the message and get back to basics. Take off half a star if you are not a complete Bob Dylan head like I am.