I’ll admit I’m stuck in the past when it comes to music and I’m happy to reside there.
Where in the past precisely? Fifty years ago, to be exact. In my iTunes I always notice a disproportionate number of albums from 1968, a Renaissance-year in music. So to celebrate some of the many records I love and actively listen to from that year, I narrowed them down to twenty. But trust me there are plenty more that deserve to fill these here pristine white digital pages.
Will records released today have a similar significance fifty years from now? I seriously doubt it.
Autosalvage by Autosalvage
Starting this list with something pretty obscure. Autosalvage were from NYC and were The Mother’s opening act for a brief period of time. Zappa himself was instrumental in getting this, their sole LP, made. Autosalvage can be described as laidback psychedelic, not jammy like Grateful Dead or nearly as out there as The Mothers. What sets this band apart from their contemporaries are their harmonies. Good record to get stoned to if you’re into that sort of thing.
The Beatles (The White Album) by The Beatles
Jared Taylor’s favorite Beatles record. What can I say about The Beatles that hasn’t already been said a million times elsewhere? Better yet, why is this record still being celebrated after 50 years? The Beatles were fractured at this time in their career. Some members had abandoned weed for heroin and there was some riceball hanging around the studio. This isn’t my favorite Beatles record but it has many highlights. Plus Charles Manson really dug it.
Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel are one of those groups whose singles overshadow their albums. Everyone and their mother knows “Mrs. Robinson” but their deep cuts show a much darker and depressing side to this New York duo. Like The White Album, this isn’t my favorite record by S&G but it’s a pretty solid listen front to back. “America” is a beautiful traveling song. “Fakin’ It” is a great, light-hearted song in the spirit of Donovan. For all my audiophiles out there, the mono mix is superior (which is the case for most of the records on this list).
Child Is Father To The Man by Blood, Sweat & Tears
Columbia Records was a pretty ambitious label, most of the records featured here were originally released by them. This LP is no exception to their catalog. It took me a while to appreciate this record and all its complexities. This is an early example of jazz-rock fusion and the only BST record to feature Al Kooper. There’s a lot going on and the record jumps around quite a bit with mood. This isn’t a weed record, this a wine record.
Creedence Clearwater Revival by Creedence Clearwater Revival
The debut CCR record is fucking creepy, just listen to how “I Put A Spell On You” opens the album. It’s capped off with an even spookier track, “Walk On Water.” John Fogerty sings like a wounded coyote. This is also one of my favorite examples of “cultural appropriation” where some long-haired hippies from San Francisco are co-opting the sound of New Orleans.
Eli And The Thirteenth Confession by Laura Nyro
Laura Nyro was the Amy Winehouse of her day; white girl trying to sound black with songs about booze and cocaine. The most impressive part of Nyro’s studio effort is that all the layered vocals are 100% her. She sings alongside a full chorus of singers and it’s just her overdubbed over and over to achieve that effect. The other thing about this album, as well as anything by Laura Nyro, is that the only other people I’ve met that give a shit about her have been other record collectors.
Fairport Convention by Fairport Convention
Have you ever listened to Jefferson Airplane and thought, “This is good, I just wish they were British.” Problem solved. I got into Fairport via Nick Drake, they were his backing band and the only tour he did was with them. Fairport Convention’s best known material would come later and really dive into blending psychedelic and English folk. However, their first LP rocks a little harder. The opening track “Time Will Show The Wiser” could be a punk song (especially the Live at the BBC version). There’s also some witchcraft shit going all over side two. This is a cool record and woefully underrated.
For The Sake Of The Song by Townes Van Zandt
Pass the bottle of whiskey over, we’re about to listen to the first album by one of my all-time favorites, Townes Van Zandt. There’s country western that’s mainstream and then there’s underground stuff like Townes that shatters all preconceived notions of the genre. I’m not too well-versed in country but the first time I hears TVZ I immediately fell in love. This is a record for romantic drunks, manic depressives and the lost souls. Normal people with stable lives and stable mental health need not apply.
Hey, Little One by Glen Campbell
Chances are you’ve heard Glen Campbell and didn’t realize it. As a member of LA’s “Wrecking Crew” he played on almost every hit record in the 60s. On his own he made records that were a nice mix of country and pop music. Think of him as a Jack and Coke with plenty of ice to Townes Van Zandt’s glass of Bulleit.
Introspection: A Faine Jade Recital by Faine Jade
Another obscure LP given new life by Sundazed Records. Most psych bands came from the west coast, but the New York bands brought a different vibe to their records, maybe because we have winters. This record is pretty trippy and is vivid with descriptive, abstract lyrics.
Lumpy Gravy by Frank Zappa
Of all the records on this list, this one is the least accessible. If you’re not familiar with musique concrète (and why would you be?), it’s best explained as noise or non-music. This was originally going to be Frank Zappa’s first solo orchestral record. As far as Zappa knew, his contract with MGM was only for his band, The Mothers of Invention, and there were no stipulations on orchestral work with other labels. Capitol approached Zappa to do such an album. It got recorded and even pressed to an acetate and a 4-track tape. MGM were all “awww hell no” and stopped the record. Zappa doing what Zappa does best took the studio sessions and used a razor blade to radically recut the sessions and added bunch of random and bizarre effects and spoken word pieces and make a fragmented, hard-to-listen-to piece of art.
Mad River by Mad River
The acid just kicked in and I’m having a bad trip. I feel like this music is the equivalent of Jacob’s Ladder. This is not feel-good psych, this is intense and maddening. Lyrics “why did you put spiders on my mind?!” sum it all up perfectly.
The Notorious Byrd Brothers by The Byrds
Like Simon & Garfunkel, most people know the Byrds’s big singles like “Mr. Tambourine Man” or “Turn! Turn! Turn!” After that initial burst of fame The Byrds never made another song as well received, at least to the masses. In my opinion they only started to truly make great records after those first two popular ones. David Crosby had just left the band to gain weight and to annoy people and The Byrds were about to fall apart. When I listen to The Notorious Byrd Brothers I get the sense the remaining band members said “ah fuck it” and made an album for themselves. Both Tonie Joy of Moss Icon fame and Rachel Goswell from Slowdive have sited this record as an influence. I’ve never heard a record that blends two seemingly incompatible genres, psychedelic and country, so well. This is a smooth, laid back record that has a lot to offer. This record separates the casual Byrd fan from the really dedicated ones.
Out Of The Bachs by The Bachs
Want to know what an $9700 record sounds like? Story goes that The Bachs were a high school band that would play various school dances. For their graduating class of 1968 they did a very small press of 150 copies. Who knows how many of those records are rotting away in some north Chicago attic, probably still unplayed. This is my favorite kind of lo-fi, because it was the best the band could do on their budget. And I also need to point out that 100% of the songs here are originals—which is a rarity in itself for records from this time. The Bachs were garage rock with hints of psychedelic, a very charming record.
The Pentangle by The Pentangle
Who says Satanic music has to be loud and fast? I’m actually not sure of the occultist leanings of the members of this band, but my gut says they’re down with the devil. If you like Fairport Convention and movies like the original Wicker Man then chances are you’ll dig The Pentangle. The group were comprised of the best musicians in London at the time and together they created very complex and intricate folk-jazz. To anchor the group, Jacqui McShee lays down some icy cool, hypnotic vocals.
Silver Apples by Silver Apples
The first time I head this I thought “wow, Radiohead are poser faggots.” And as I stated earlier, the New York bands brought a darker element to their sound. Silver Apples were fucking out there. The primary instruments were Moog synthesizers and drums, no guitars or bass. But I mention Radiohead because they’re considered to be revolutionary with their sound. To put it bluntly, Radiohead are music for dumb people to feel smart. If you really want your mind blown then check out what two dudes in Brooklyn were doing 50 years ago.
Sweetheart Of The Rodeo by The Byrds
After The Notorious Byrd Brothers the Byrds went full “ahh fuck it” and released an album that was 100% country western, full of songs about Jesus, drinking and prison. This record was quite a shock upon its release—Byrds fans weren’t expecting it and country fans weren’t willing to give it a chance. Too bad since not only is this my favorite Byrds album it’s also one of my favorite records ever made. I love this LP from start to finish, and like Townes Van Zandt, this is a whiskey album. Don’t be surprised if you cry to songs like “You’re Still On My Mind.”
The United States of America by The United States of America
Of all the records turning 50 this year, this is the one where it’s the most amazing that something like this came out in 1968. USA were a bicoastal psychedelic experimental band that used electric violin, drums, a sometimes fuzz-distorted fretless bass, electronics, effect-drenched vocals and no guitar. This record is beautiful and ugly, cold and brilliant. My only gripe with this is the pro-Marxist agenda behind the lyrics. But what can I expect from a band that far out there? Retarded political ideologies are usually possessed by creative types. I love this record but I would never send my kids to take classes taught by Dorothy Moskowitz or Joe Byrd.
Vincebus Eruptum by Blue Cheer
I roll my eyes when people say Black Sabbath were the first heavy metal band. Just like punk, metal started in America NOT England. The first Blue Cheer LP is fucking heavy and dark. Nothing like this came out before as far as I’m aware. This is metal that came out of blues rock and the San Francisco psychedelic scene. If Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead were the colorful flowers of the scene then Blue Cheer were dark clouds of doom that choked those flowers and starved them of sunlight.
We’re Only In It For The Money by The Mothers Of Invention
And we get the best for last. For my final entry I present to you my favorite record of all time. Zappa might just be my biggest hero, someone for whom I have immeasurable respect. Why is this my favorite record? I first heard this as a THREE-year-old thanks to my mom via my Uncle Jimmy and for some unknown reason I really loved it. This record is FUCKED UP, and it’s meant to be listened to with headphones to really capture the record’s madness.
This was The Mother’s third LP and they were already leaps and bounds ahead of not only their previous records (1966’s Freak Out and 1967’s Absolutely Free), they were also blowing every other band out of the water. I should note that the United States of America LP also came out the same week as this. This record is a heavy mix of psychedelic rock, musique concrète and orchestral work blended with Zappa’s vocals (with various pitch over dubs to create the illusion of other vocalists). Lyrically this an angry record. Zappa fucking hated both the hippies and the establishment. Track by track he’s making hamburgers from sacred cows and doesn’t give a fuck who he offends in the process. Before I got my anarcho ideals from punk I got them from Zappa, specifically from this album. I love every second of it and no matter how many times I listen to it I always catch something new. If there is only one record you listen to on this list, let this be that one.
Alex is on Twitter @AlexClarkCaprio
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