Sunday, June 20, 2010

Secret History: 1967

Well, this is the year when all that is good supposedly happened. Sgt. Pepper, Monterey Pop, Summer of Love, etc. I'll admit it: Sgt. Pepper is a very good album, but hardly my favorite. The Stones "Between the Buttons" is lighter and poppier than "Aftermath", and thus a bit less brilliant. Buffalo Springfield's second album, "Again" has several classics on it. You can even it pick it up in the cutout bin, if you don't feel like springing for the "Box Set". (That Neil Young's got quite the racket going for him, doesn't he?)

But you already know all that.

Cream's "Disreali Gears"? Eh. I'm just as likely to listen to "More of the Monkees", but more on that later.

The Moody Blues – "Days of Future Past"? Well, I guess this one's our fault. We all liked it a lot, and well, they just kept at it for years afterwards. It's not a bad record at all, just too many strings. (This was back when some people's idea of art was a classical music orchestra.) Do we really need to hear "Nights in White Satin" (Which at first I thought was Knights. Picture that why don't you?) again? Ah, but "Tuesday Afternoon"! That one'll always work on me.

As unfair as this sounds, I can't quite suppress a yawn. Not over the quality, mind you. It's just that we've all been over this already. So let's go deeper.


If ever there was a record that defines a cultural divide, it's "The Velvet Underground and Nico".  Yeah, I know Nico sounds a bit odd, and I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't love the more experimental at the end, but if you don't like what precedes it, please stop reading now. One of the greats. If you've ever wondered why people thought Lou Reed was a genius, start here.

If you were lucky, you could catch "You Set the Scene" on Saturday afternoons on FM radio. If you're luckier still you bought "Forever Changes". Love was
one of the first interracial rock groups, and is sometimes thought of as the West Coast Velvet Underground. That's because beneath the beautiful melodies and soaring strings, you get lyrics about the dark underside of the Summer of Love. But beautiful nonetheless.

Roger McGuinn is holding back a bit on The Byrds "Younger Than Yesterday", which is why I like "Fifth Dimension" a little better. And David Crosby contributes the hilariously bad "Mind Gardens", but he redeems himself with "Everybody's Been Burned", one of his best songs. Chris Hillman fills in the gap with several catchy tunes. It's not quite their best, but still damned good.

My copy of Jefferson Airplane's "Surrealistic Pillow" is on heavily scratched vinyl. But it's lighter on its feet than either "Volunteers" or "Bathing at Baxters". This might seem tame for a record that came out at the beginning of the psychedelic era, but it's tuneful and a delight.

With Moby Grape, it's more scratched vinyl. (I wish people would take better care of their records before giving them to me.) And yet the energy of this record is still shines through. I love the guitar riff that starts it all off, setting the mood immediately. The singing is great and songwriting isn't far behind. A tinge of country, but definitely rock. The classics are "Hey Grandma", "Indifference" and "Omaha", one of the most joyous rock and roll songs ever. "Listen my friends!..."

The Kinks "Something Else" is the kinkiest Kinks record ever, and almost as good as "Face to Face". Side one is a hard look at everyday English working class life. ("David Watts" is one of the best songs about class ever.) Side two is the Kinks at their strangest, with "Waterloo Sunset" as the finale.

Procol Harum's first album, "A Whiter Shade of Pale",
the title hit, the original "Conquistador" and a bunch of other excellent songs, may be their best. My vinyl copy is kind of woozy. The guy who punched the whole in the center must have been drunk that day. And because the sound quality on vinyl is poor, Robin Trower's guitar sometimes sounds like a kazoo. Hey, not your fault, man.

The obvious Jimi Hendrix album to own is "Are You Experienced?". Even if you're tired of the hits, the non-hits and the CD bonus tracks keep you coming back. But how about "Axis Bold As Love"? It doesn't burn as brilliantly, but it gives off a nice quiet glow. A great evening album.

Poor Richie Havens. Even in the sixties, they made you dress up for album photos.
Clearly taken prior to Woodstock, the cover shot of "Mixed Bag" shows him sporting
glasses, a blazer and dress pants. He looks like he's attending private school. This is the record that provides the title for a very annoying radio program, but the record itself is very pretty and worthwhile.

And speaking of 60's folk, don't forget Nico's "Chelsea Girls", where you get a little bit of sixteen-year-old-Jackson-Browne-sensitivity, a Bob Dylan song where the singer actually hits the notes, Tim Hardin and the Velvet Underground all in one place. Quite the bargain I'd say.  But don't ask me.  Ask my wife, who, after a couple of plays, said "I can't believe how good this is."  (Hey, what that's supposed to mean, anyway?  Okay, I admit that I may have, on occasion, put her through some...questionable music.)

You won't hear these songs when your local radio station does a Top 1000 Songs of All Time holiday weekend special. But I'll bet you're so tired of the songs they do play that you won't be feeling nostalgic anyway. The records I mention above will remind you that there was more in the 1967 universe than our short term cultural memory can now imagine.

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