Saturday, August 6, 2005

Zenith year!

Driving home from dinner the other night I tuned in the local oldies station. They were having a "this week in 1968" show and playing the hits of the day—in a 10-minute span I heard "Time Has Come Today" (alas, the single edit), "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Hurdy Gurdy Man." Those are great songs! I mean, can a better case be made that 1968 was the year in music? What year was better? Can you tell me? No! You can't!

In the mainstream (or its proximity), 1968 brought us the following:

Jeff Beck, Truth
Blue Cheer, Vinebus Eruptum + Outsideinside
Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison
Cream, Wheels of Fire
Donovan, The Hurdy Gurdy Man
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland
Kinks, The Village Green Preservation Society
John Mayall, Bare Wires + Blues From Laurel Canyon
Monkees The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees + Head
Os Mutantes
Pink Floyd, A Saucerful of Secrets
Pretty Things, SF Sorrow
Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet
Small Faces, Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake
Spirit, The Family That Plays Together
Steppenwolf, Steppenwolf + Steppenwolf the Second
Taj Mahal, The Natch'l Blues
The Velvet Underground, White Light/White Heat
Zombies, Odessey and Oracle

Arguably, the best each of these artists had to offer. Imagine if other contemporary bands got their shit together and put out albums that reflected their skills that year. The Beatles, though popular, is only great with an ability to ignore dreck like "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "Birthday" on your way to "Dear Prudence" and "Revolution 1." At least this was the year of the "Hey Jude"/"Revolution" single so it was no throwaway for the lads. Though maybe improved if Paul did turn out to be dead? Harsh!

As for the Doors, '68 was the beginning of a slide they amazingly recovered from two years later. We can probably blame Elektra for Waiting for the Sun—they pushed for an album, any album, despite two '67 releases and Morrison's empty art-school poetry well. "Five to One," "Hello, I Love You" and "Not to Touch the Earth" are fantastic songs that point to the album's potential but filler reigned ("My Wild Love"??) after side-long suite "The Celebration of the Lizard" fell apart in the studio and was largely discarded. "We were afraid to touch it." Drag.

Mourning over what 1968 wasn't is just greedy. Great singles like Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Suzie Q" and the Animals' "Sky Pilot" legitimized FM radio in the States and carved a counterculture out of some heavy shit. It wasn't the Summer of Love and it wasn't Altamont but it had a little of both. From chaos, etc., etc.

In celebration of this time and spirit I recommend Cumular Limit by the Yardbirds. It compiles some tracks they were working on in '67 and '68 (presumably for a new album) alongside a few live hits and alternate mixes of Little Games material. Out of print but easy to find on eBay, it's a great bridge from Page-era Yardbirds to Zeppelin. Another is James Brown's Say It Live and Loud, a white-hot blast documenting a '68 Dallas performance. Come for "Cold Sweat" and stay for a very interesting booklet indeed.

(Incidentally, I'd give the silver to 1970 and the bronze to 1969. Typecast!)

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