A Turning Point: 1967 – 68

Great albums as albums were not common before 1967. As a rare music enthusiast who doesn’t completely worship the Beatles, I still am aware of the importance of ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ in enabling a whole generation to make a ritual out of the album and making it an art form in and of itself. In keeping with my eternal Beatles skepticism, however, here is an alternative list of albums that pushed that similar boundary, and turning points in an artist’s discography in which the album is the great statement. Note – to be snobbish about the ‘feeble single’ is to deny the inherent consumerist boundary of popular music, however flexible a boundary that may be.

The Byrds never sounded so ‘together’ as they did on this 1968 masterpiece, and it’s the first Byrds album whose brilliance comes from the album as a unified mood piece rather than an interesting collection of great songs (Younger Than Yesterday).

A bonus track on the reissued CD shows an argument between them on the recording of ‘Natural Harmony’. This is a band in turmoil, a band that had the desperate nerve to steal a song from the member they had previously fired; by normal logic, this should be a an absolute car crash of dodgy moog experimentation and forced delivery, but it’s not. Whether its gorgeous cohesion is by accident, as always, doesn’t matter, and the ethereal harmonies and evocative ambient sound is timeless.

Beggar’s Banquet was the first album that truly solidified the Rolling Stones as a truly great rock ‘n’ roll band.

Previous albums like Aftermath and Between the Buttons represent the early ‘cheeky London pop’ sound of the group, but the raw, apocalyptic Beggar’s Banquet came like a shot out of nowhere. Partly due to Brian Jones’ slow deterioration, Keith Richards could fully exercise his primal growl through seminal tracks like Street Fighting Man, which tumbles rather than bounces, and the Stones’ trademark uneasy rock ‘n’ roll ambiguity comes into full swing, one that would intensify with Let it Bleed, and then decay beautifully on Exile on Main Street.

Are You Experienced showed Hendrix’s initial push towards the then impenetrable commercial boundary, and represented a fuzzy electric punch in the face to the British Invasion groups’ (and their disposable American imitators’) clean melodies and style. The follow-up, in my opinion, was where Hendrix refined his album-based craftmanship. The songs are no longer attenuated, by short lengths and the group is given just enough room to stretch, and they use it to float rather than snarl as they did on the debut, before the sprawling and indulgent classic that would succeed it.

Note: All CD versions of Are You Experienced since 1997 now come with 17 tracks, a different running order to both the original releases (American and English). Make of that what you will…

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9 thoughts on “A Turning Point: 1967 – 68

  1. I’ve never been much of a Byrds fan but I’ll now add that album to my “must-listen” records. But agreed on Beggars Banquet. I note that it came just after their attempt at psychedelia, Their Satanic Majesties. To some extent, they were just copying the Beatles on that record. But yeah, Banquet is a pretty raw album. “Sympathy for the Devil,” then some rootsy blues, country, odd stuff like “Salt of the Earth.” Thanks for the reminder.

    Axis is also fine. “If 6 was 9,” “Spanish Castle Magic.” And “Little Wing,” that everybody and his brother covered. Clapton and Allman did it for Jimi on Layla upon his death. Good stuff. Now I have to go back and listen to both of these. A good problem to have. Nice writing BTW.

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  2. Thanks! I think that Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers are probably more consistent, but I love tracks like Jigsaw Puzzle and Street Fighting Man. And yeah, the D and the Dominos version of Little Wing is amazing, and they really made it their own. I’d be interested to hear what you think of that Byrds album. I was sceptical at first about them because they originated as a kind of American answer to the Beatles, controlled by the record company, but once they were allowed artistic freedom, some of the stuff they did from about ’66 to ’69 , to my ears, is almost equal to the Beatles output around that time. Thanks for the comment!

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    1. A big YES to Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers. I haven’t gotten to the Stones yet on my own blog. Trust me. Their day is coming. As to the Byrds, I will give it a couple of spins in the next week and report back. Re: Springsteen – thanks. He is, as one and all are aware – The Boss. 😀

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  3. One of the reasons I wasn’t familiar with the Byrds album is because I’ve never been a big fan of the ‘California sound.’ I like some songs but in general, too laid-back for me. (Exception – Jefferson Airplane). And I’ve never really warmed up to country-rock. But I figured I’d give this one a listen as there have been some Byrds songs I liked. Plus if someone recommends an album, I try to put my biases aside and give it a listen. (Elvis Costello is a Byrds fan. Go figure).

    So imagine my surprise when the very first song was horn-driven. (A lot of short songs here. My guess is that the band wanted to be experimental but still assure they could get on radio.) I liked this album. I liked not only the flow of the songs but also the harmonies. I’m not saying I’d run out and buy it. But I’ll definitely give this a listen when I’m in the mood. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

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  4. I think Elvis Costello is a fan of pretty much everything ;)….:http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2000/11/elvis-costello-500-favorite-albums (hope that link goes through okay…)

    As for the Byrds, the relatively short runtime of that album is part of what I like about it. Nice little fragments of tunes. Draft Morning is my favourite, even though they had the nerve to rip it off David Crosby just after they fired him ;). I agree about that California sound. Though I haven’t been, apparently California is kind of this fake oasis in the desert, according to my hippie intellectual grandma who went there in her glory days. Interesting thought on the sound, because it’s associated with being very smooth: Robert Christgau said when reviewing Notorious Byrd Bro’s: “[i]t’s hard to believe that so much good can come out of one place [i.e. Los Angeles].”, referring to Love’s Forever Changes (a personal fave of mine) and the Beach Boys’ Wild Honey. Hmm.

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    1. I think of Elvis as like the music equivalent to Martin Scorsese. He is familiar with such a wide variety of stuff. It just so happens I am reading his wildly entertaining autobiography and he mentions – almost in passing – many of the bands he sees. So far he’s mentioned the Byrds twice, once traveling halfway across England and singling out Clarence White for praise. Given how much the so-called New Wave rockers rejected what came before them, it surprises me to see how much they really actually like much of it. However, it bums me that most of Elvis’ blues recommendations are the older acoustic blues and less the electric stuff of which I am a major fan. Sometimes I think the whole punk thing was primarily a rejection of two things – blues and prog/rock. Both of which I quite like.

      I read Wikipedia about the album. It’s astounding they even got the fucking thing made what with all the firings and turmoil. As to the California sound, I’m such an East Coast (USA) guy that the music I liked was all grit and grime. So when I heard all that sunniness I couldn’t relate to it at all. But over time I started to appreciate Beach Boys, Eagles, etc. And I always liked the Byrds hits, especially since they covered Dylan.

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  5. Yeah, their countrified version of You Ain’t Goin Nowhere (originally of Basement Tapes) off Sweetheart of the Rodeo is absolutely georgeous (though that adjective can be used as a negative…) As for Clarence White, he’s probably one of the most underrated guitarists ever. I read about the B-Bender that he invented with Gene Parsons who was the Byrds drummer back then. One of the coolest guitar innovations since the Gizmotron…

    As for Punk, i’ve never got past the Clash, and I much prefer earlier ‘proto-punk’ bands like The Stooges and especially the New York Dolls.

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    1. I confess I know little about Clarence White. In fact, what you’ve just told me is pretty much everything I know. As to punk, I used to have a poster on my wall of the New York Dolls but I think that was more because it looked cool than anything else. And yes, we are likely pretty much more or less on the same page in regards to punk. I didn’t like punk very much at all when I first heard it as for me it was just as much about musicianship as it was the music. And these guys by their own admission were anti-that.

      So when I first heard the Sex Pistols and Ramones I thought, “Are you kidding me?” It took me a while till I could realize the joys of “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” or “I Wanna Be Sedated.” (Ramones are one of those bands whose albums I never bought but whom I will listen to in the car). And so, I pretty much ignored the Clash, despite their being “the only band that mattered.” Then i heard London Calling. Damn! One of my favorite albums. Those guys were great.

      I also like Green Day. I guess it’s a subject of some debate as to whether they’re a “real” punk band as not only did they come along later but they also seemed to really WANT to be British. But that aside, how can you beat “Basket Case” or “Welcome to Paradise.”

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