Friday, July 24, 2020

McQ's Best Of 1969 Vol 1 - Nancy's Favorites!

Welcome back, music lovers, as we set forth once again on another expansive exploration of the best rock, pop, soul, blues, folk and jazz of a year long passed.

But here's the thing...

1969 the music year was so big, so significant, and so vast in quality recordings, trying to come to grips with the full depths of its greatness, its innovations, and the monstrous impact it had on the music that followed is nearly impossible.

But after hearing this exceptional collection of Nancy's personal '69 favorites, I knew this was the place to start.

So let's get to it. Here's the Spotify link!

And for those of you who might want to catch up on Nancy's previous compilations first, here ya go!

Nancy's Favorites 2018
Nancy's Favorites 2017
Nancy's Favorites 2016
Nancy's Favorites 2015
Nancy's Favorites 2014
Nancy's Favorites 2013
Nancy's Favorites 2012
Nancy's Favorites 2011
Nancy's Favorites 2010
Nancy's Favorites 2009
Nancy's Favorites 2008
Nancy's Favorites 2007
Nancy's Favorites 1998
Nancy's Favorites 1977
Nancy's Favorites 1967
Nancy's Favorites 1966

Now, About Nancy's Favorite 1969 Songs:

1. Gimme Shelter - The Rolling Stones: Leave it to Nancy, purely on instinct, to kick off her 1969 mix collection with the classic "dark days ahead" Let It Bleed opener that now rates as 1969's very best song on critical aggregator

2. Hitchcock Railway - Joe Cocker: Man, what a year Joe Cocker had in 1969. After toiling in English-pub obscurity for most of the decade, the spasmodic, blue-eyed-soul phenom simply crushed it in '69, with a breakthrough Woodstock performance, several big singles, and two outstanding gold albums - debut With A Little Help From My Friends, and his even better self-titled follow up from which this cover of revered MGs'/Blues Brothers' bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn's Hitchcock Railway is taken. One of the strongest deep cuts in Cocker's catalog, losing this song to Nancy, with which I had hoped to open the final 1969 mix Croony, Croon, Croon, hurt... a lot. 

3. Try (Just A Little Bit Harder) - Janis Joplin: Following her departure from Big Brother & The Holding Company, and inspired by the maximal, modernized, brass-heavy sounds of newcomers Chicago Transit Authority and Blood, Sweat & Tears, Janis was eager to shift away from her psychedelic beginnings and pursue a similar blues & soul direction. And while the resulting 1969 album, I've Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, may be the weakest of her proper discography, it's still a blast of a record, highlighted by this rousing belter, possibly the best straight soul recording of Joplin's career.

4. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is - Chicago: Speaking of Chicago, the biggest surprise in revisiting their 1969 self-titled debut is just what an exuberantly jammy outfit they were at the start of their career.  Even on tracks that screamed "single potential" like Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is, they couldn't resist the urge to open the song with a two-minute piano solo. That piano solo would be cut a year later, when, having come to their commercial senses, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is was re-released as a single with an abbreviated, radio-friendly TRT to piggy back on the success of 25 or 6 to 4 and Make Me Smile from Chicago II

5. Here Comes The Sun - The Beatles: Not to get to punny, but even though he's bringing up the rear on Abbey's iconic cover photo, I've always felt Abbey Road is the Beatles album on which George Harrison shines brightest. So glad Nancy chose to go with one of his contributions here.

6. Evil Ways - Santana: With the band fresh off an amazing, out-of-nowhere Woodstock performance, record industry sorts expected latin-rocker Santana's full-length debut to be one of the major releases of 1969, and over time, it would proved to be exactly that, but not initially. Lead single Jingo landed with a thud, and early reviews of the album from the era's dominant taste-makers Rolling Stone and Village Voice were far from complimentary, likening the band's music to a meaningless, methadrine high. Finally, Evil Ways was released as the album's second single on New Years Day, 1970, hit #9 on the US charts soon after, and things began to take hold. And those critics, they've come around as well. Last time Rolling Stone did a top 500 albums of all-time poll, this debut came in at 150.

7. Feelin' Alright - Joe Cocker: Just one question.  Other than Aretha's outright theft of Otis Redding's Respect, has there ever been a better cover song in rock/soul history than this irresistible take on Traffic's Feelin' Alright that opens Joe Cocker's all-star-assisted debut With A Little Help From My Friends

8. Suspicious Minds - Elvis Presley: The last number one single of Elvis's career concluded a series of late 60s moves, most spearheaded by Presley himself, to break out of his dismal seven-year stretch focused exclusively on film and soundtrack work that had led to steadily diminishing returns. Inspired by a successful 1968 Christmas television special, Presley vowed to never again record or perform a song he didn't believe in, and set back to making albums proper.  This single, and the album From Elvis In Memphis, was the result, and for brief while, it reignited Presley's career. Oddly, Suspicious Minds was left off the original pressing of Memphis, even though the songs were all recorded in the same sessions, but it has been included on every pressing since 1998. 

9. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes - Crosby, Stills, & Nash: Crosby, Stills & Nash's self-titled debut was part of a trifecta of albums - along with the Byrd's Sweetheart Of The Radio and The Band's Music From The Big Pink - that were most instrumental in steering the music zeitgeist away from the psychedelic blues-based rock that dominated the previous few years and towards the singer-songwriter/country-rock wave to come. Fittingly, Stephen Stills is the only band member holding an instrument on the cover, as while all members contributed as vocalists and songwriters, 90% of the album's instrumentation - every note of lead guitar, organ, bass, over half the album's drumming, as well as acoustic guitar on his own songs - was played by Stills. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that on an album full of highlights, the biggest standout was this timeless Stills' ode to British folk-singer Judy Collins (who, we will learn, wasn't as appreciated by another contributor to this mix).

10. Sugar Sugar - The Archies: And now for something completely different, a stretch of Saturday morning cartoon nostalgia for all those Gen Xers out there. First up, this indelible ditty from Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the gang, which debuted on the cartoon series and was then featured on "the band's" second full-length Everything's Archie.

11. I Want You Back - The Jackson 5: Keeping that Saturday morning cartoon streak going, Nancy hits us next with The Jackson 5's very first (and maybe their very best) number one song, the only single released from their clumsily titled debut Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5

12. It's Your Thing - The Isley Brothers: Briefly moving on from Motown now, both literally and figuratively, with the Isley Brother's iconic put-down of Motown head Berry Gordy's controlling ways, recorded just months after Gordy released them from their Motown contract. Gordy, incensed over the success of the song, threatened to sue the band and force them back to Motown, but eventually backed off. Adding insult to insult, It's Your Thing would go on to win the 1970 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by A Duo or Group, beating out Motown's Gladys Knight and The Pip's Friendship Train in the process.

13. Tracks Of My Tears - Aretha Franklin: After a furious 1968 that saw Aretha deliver two more R&B standards in albums Lady Soul and Aretha Now, Ms. Franklin choose to take it a easier in 1969, pursuing a jazzier direction and sticking exclusively to covers on her lone studio release that year, Soul '69. The results though, remained fantastic, as epitomized by her cover of the Smokey Robinson/Miracles charmer here.

14. I Can't Get Next To You - The Temptations: After Issac Hayes and Sly And The Family Stone, no band was more important to the evolution of funk and soul in 1969 than The Temptations, who, driven by visionary band leader Otis Williams and the exceptional songwriting talents of Norman Whitfield, leapt ahead of the rest of the Motown stable by aggressively seeking to stay with the times. This knockout track from their second full-length foray into psychedelic soul, Puzzle People, is the first tune we'll be hearing from their rich body of 1969 work, but hardly the last.

15. Everyday People - Sly & The Family Stone: Though not as funky as most of the band's material, this beloved (and yes, Saturday-morning-cartoon referencing) call for social unity from the band's scattershot soul masterpiece Stand! was the their first single to top the US Soul and overall Billboard Charts.  Surprisingly, given Everyday People's more pop nature, it was the very first Sly & The Family Stone recording where Larry Graham employed his legendary "slap bass" technique, an innovation that would quickly become one of funk's defining instrumental trademarks. 

16. Someday We'll Be Together - The Supremes: Though this tune from the Supreme's final album Cream Of The Crop was the diva posse's last number one single, it was originally intended and recorded for Ms. Ross' first solo outing, with neither Mary Wilson or Cindy Birdsong contributing to the track. But upon completion, Berry Gordy reversed his thinking, felt it fit better with the Supremes, and added it back into the Cream Of The Crop track list. It would go on to become Ross's go-to live song whenever she want to cap a moment of stage banter on an issue of social importance.

17. The Thrill Is Gone - B.B. King: Another greatest cover of all time, B.B. King's version of the 1951 Roy Hawkins/Rick Darnell number from his magnificent 1969 album Completely Well might be the best known blues song in the world today.  

18. Time Has Told Me - Nick Drake: Here we have the opening notes in what would become one of the most singular discographies in British folk. But forging that singularity didn't come easy. Time Has Told Me was recorded, as was the rest of Nick Drake's remarkable, melancholic debut Five Leaves Left, in haphazard fashion, with Drake, college friend/arranger Robert Kirby, and manager/producer Joe Boyd ditching college lectures and scrambling to London to steal recording time at Sound Techniques studio whenever Fairport Convention (who were friends with Drake and provided most of the instrumentation on Five Leaves Left, along with fellow folk-rockers Pentangle) wrapped their Unhalfbricking sessions early.

19. Many Rivers To Cross - Jimmy Cliff: What a song. But unbeknownst to many, the inspiration for this inspirational from Jimmy's self-titled debut (released in the states as Wonderful World, Beautiful People) came not from any sense of social injustice, but from the frustration Cliff felt failing to break through to an international audience after having relocated to the UK Jimi Hendrix-style several years prior while still in his teens.

20. In The Ghetto - Elvis Presley: With Suspicious Minds set aside to be released four months later as a standalone summer single, it was Presley's cover of this empathetic Mac Davis composition that was actually From Elvis In Memphis' biggest hit, peaking at #3 in the states, but landing the #1 slot in several other countries around the world. 

21. Girl From The North Country - Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash: To open his first foray into full-blown country Nashville Skyline (assuming one considers 67's John Wesley Harding more of a folk/roots hybrid), Dylan repurposed one of his earliest acoustic classics and enlisted the help of one of his biggest fans to give the song a proper country sheen. But taken in either form, this version or the Freewheelin' original, Girl From The North Country remains one of Dylan's most enduring and heart-rending ballads.   

22. Both Sides Now - Joni Mitchell: Though Both Sides Now had put her on the map as an industry songwriter, Joni Mitchell was in no way a fan of Judy Collin's original harpsichord-saturated '67 recording. So Ms. Mitchell decided to rerecord the song herself, and make it the thematic centerpiece of her second solo release Clouds.  The album, a much more mature effort than her debut, was almost a one-woman show. Mitchell produced the record, painted the cover, and played all keys and acoustic guitar in addition to her songwriting and vocal duties. Only Stephen Stills (who ironically would score that big hit of his own eight months later celebrating Collins) assisted, providing complementary instrumental support.

23. Sweet Release - Boz Scaggs: This touching celebration of the redemptive power of music from Scagg's self-titled sophomore effort might never have come into existence were it not for Scagg's friendly relationship with his next door neighbor at the time, Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Jann Wenner.  Having recently left the Steve Miller Band after a two year stint, Scaggs was looking to restart his solo career, and had been sporadically sharing new demo material with Wenner for feedback. On a whim, while on an east coast fund-raising trip for Rolling Stone, Wenner handed a copy of Boz's demo to Atlanic's Jerry Wexler, which soon triggered a tangled web of influences and inter-relationships. Wexler tabbed Wenner himself to produce Scagg's album, which then led to Wenner issuing Boz Rolling Stone press passes so Boz could sneak into the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and get comfortable with that studio's house band, which Wenner though Boz should use and also just happened to include Duane Allman, who had recently returned to the Studio for a brief stint while awaiting the release of his own band's debut, which was being handled, of course, by Atlantic's Jerry Wexler. Unfortunately, after all that, the album failed to find an audience at the time of its release, lost in the shuffle amidst so many brilliant Americana albums in circulation at the time. But it has grown in stature over the years, and is now viewed as a minor classic, sporting several songs like Sweet Release here that have become a bedrock of Scagg's touring repertoire. The moral of the story, folks: be a good neighbor... you never know when it could pay you back tenfold down the line. 

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