And without further ado...I will now introduce my #9 favourite year.
Yes, it's certainly a world away from 2003. And many will ask, why 1968? The 60's were certainly a brilliant decade for musical innovation, so what makes 1968 different to any other year?
For a start, The Beatles (a band who practically defined the 60's) released what I consider to be their masterpiece, their self-titled double album The Beatles (commonly known as "The White Album"). Let me just say this - this album alone is enough to make 1968 one of the greatest years in popular music. The irony here being that the Beatles were hardly a collaborative unit by this stage of their career - and The Beatles plays like four solo albums over four sides of vinyl (as it was it the time). But what brilliant "solo" albums they are - rarely have I heard such an diverse collection of simply amazing songs. I could write about this album for the whole post, but I won't. Instead, I will briefly discuss some of the other masterpieces of this year.
Dusty Springfield, probably the greatest female vocalist of all time (even better than Aretha Franklin in my sure-to-be-controversial opinion), released her masterpiece Dusty in Memphis in 1968. Obviously Dusty's voice is the drawcard to this superb album, but credit must also go to the producer Jerry Wexler who provided the vibe and the perfect mix of vocals and instrumentation which allows this album to reach the heights it does. Dusty was not a songwriter, and normally I am against albums where the singer just rolls off covers, takes the money and runs. So an album of covers has to be something special for me to call it a masterpiece. This album includes one of Dusty's hits, Son of a preacher man, made famous from its inclusion in the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction. Well that brilliant song is merely the cherry on top of this delicious album. Just listen to this album and melt.
Do you remember The Zombies? No, I'm not talking about a horror movie. It's a band who were pretty much considered one hit wonders in the sixties. Or so the common misconception goes. Their biggest hit was She's not there, released in the early 60's. They also had a posthumous hit, Time of the season, released in 1968. You'll know this song - it's the one that's playing when Austin is strutting his moves on the dance floor in the first Austin Powers movie. Anyway, I want to clear up this common misconception that these guys were one or two hit wonders - they weren't! They released a brilliant album called Odessey and Oracle [sic] -- and it was released in 1968! Why this album wasn't a smash hit I will never fully understand, because it's a masterpiece of an album. Just as good as Sgt Peppers (in fact, better) but with none of the acclaim! Sure, it may sound a bit dated by today's standards, but there are more moments of melodic beauty on this album than on practically any album I have heard.
Well there you go - 3 masterpieces which elevate 1968 to classic status. But as a certain man once said on an ad offering dodgy merchandise -- there's more! Some other excellent albums that were released in 1968:
- The Small Faces - Ogden's nut gone flake (The first side is full of great late 60's rock/pop songs, the second side is a concept suite about a guy named Happiness Stan who goes on an adventure to find the missing half of the moon. Yes kiddies, drugs are bad mmmkay)
- Jimi Hendrix - Electric ladyland (after many years of trying to decide what his best album is, this one has officially taken the cake. It's his bluesiest album, and it just has a fantastic relaxed vibe to it. It's like a big jam session which is simply out of this world)
- Johnny Cash - At Folsom Prison (while not being a big country music fan, this is a very unique album. Where else can you hear a musician entertaining a bunch of cons who scream and clap when he sings a line like "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"?)
- Leonard Cohen - Songs of Leonard Cohen (while not my favourite Leonard Cohen album -- it can be a tad too depressing at times -- this was his first album, and it deserves an honourable mention for bringing this great singer/songwriter to the attention of the world)
- The Band - Music from big pink (while their true brilliance wouldn't shine through until their eponymous 1969 album, this is where they broke free from simply being Bob Dylan's backing band to forge a sound of their own. And it contains one of their biggest hits in The weight)
- Bob Dylan - John Wesley Harding (one of the most humourous and character-driven albums Bob ever released. Contains All along the watchtower, made famous by Jimi Hendrix when he included it on his Electric ladyland album of the same year)
- Simon & Garfunkel - Bookends (a solid album - the first half is a concept suite with one of their greatests songs America on it, the second half is more a collection of singles, including Mrs Robinson)
- Frank Zappa - We're only in it for the money (this album is considered by many to be his masterpiece. It's a very humourous album which is unfortunately pretty dated now. The first half of the album is basically a hippie bagging fest, you have to hear it...)
- The Doors - Waiting for the sun (arguably their most psychedelic acid-influenced album. Many choice cuts on this one including Love street and Spanish caravan. Also includes probably their most commercial song Hello, I love you)
- The Kinks - The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society (wow, that title is a mouthful. This is their concept album but is a bit too "British" for my liking. I'm not sure what it is about it, but I feel like I need to eat an english muffin and have a cup of tea after listening to this album)
- The Rolling Stones - Beggar's banquet (the first of their run of four critically acclaimed albums - followed by Let it bleed, Sticky fingers and Exile on Main St., which I consider to be their best album. This is a solid album, and includes their hits Sympathy for the devil and Street fighting man)
- Aretha Franklin - Lady soul (I prefer her 1967 album I never loved a man [insert gay joke here] but this is still a very solid album from the reknowned Queen of Soul)
- Van Morrison - Astral weeks (Some people's jaws will drop that this critically acclaimed album only gets an honourable mention. Well it just doesn't cut the mustard for me. I mean it's a solid album, and has a great vibe throughout, and very interesting stream-of-consciousness lyrics, but in terms of listenability I can't go past his 1970 album Moondance)
- Byrds - The Notorious Byrd Brothers (I can understand that these guys would have been pretty influential in the 60's, but their music hasn't dated incredibly well. Some choice cuts can be found on this album, but I'd never consider it a favourite from the era)
- Captain Beefheart - Strictly personal (Nope...don't get this one. I think I even prefer Trout mask replica to this one. Maybe it'll grow on me one day)