Friday, July 24, 2020

McQ's Best Of 1969 Vol 2 - Best Of The Best.

By almost any metric, a case can be made that 1969 was the greatest music year since the dawn of the rock era.

In Rolling Stone magazine's last top 500 albums of all-time critic/artist poll, a poll that spanned 60 years, 1969 releases made up almost 5% of the total (and 9% of the top 100).

Just three years ago,  millennial music site Pitchfork released their 200 best albums of the 1960s, and almost 30% of the albums (57/200) came from 1969.

Try to break out a numerical analysis of critical aggregator's all-time greats, and no matter how you weight or scale the numbers (trust me, I've tried), 1969 always comes out on top, handily beating the usual #2 and #3 finishers 1967 and 1971.

Bottomline, we're dealing with a monster music year here.

So now, with Nancy sharing her favorite songs from 1969 with you yesterday, it falls on me to give 1969's best albums their due today (while trying not to duplicate too many of the artists Nancy has already highlighted).

But before we begin, because in a year so big it was impossible to include every worthy album, a quick shout out to the six additional elite '69 recordings I feel belong with this rarified group but that neither Nancy or I included because they either aren't presently available on Spotify (Captain Beefheart's infamous Trout Mask Replica), their best songs were too long or too weird for these lead off mixes (Frank Zappa's Hot Rats, Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul, CAN's Monster Movie, Miles Davis's In A Silent Way), or I tried to include but just couldn't get to flow satisfactorily with the other numbers on this mix (Johnny Cash's At San Quentin).

And with that said, let's get on with it.  Here's the Spotify link. Enjoy!

Now, about those 1969 Albums and Songs:

1. I Want To Take You Higher - Sly & The Family Stone: A career high from one soul's most influential acts, Stand! wasn't the album that introduced Sly & The Family Stone's visionary, everyone-can-play multi-racial, scattershot style, but it was the album that perfected it. And nowhere on the record is that perfection more fun to bask in than on I Want To Take You Higher here, which also provided one of Woodstock's indelible moments, when Sly and the band used this song to enthusiastically rouse the exhausted, soaking-wet festival masses from their 3:30 am slumber.

2. Whole Lotta Love - Led Zeppelin: I'll never forget a quote from the intro for Led Zeppelin in the 1978 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide. Paraphrasing here, but it went something like this "In forming Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page made two great discoveries: spaced-out hard rock drove barely prepubescent boys crazy; the '60s were over." Don't know how you sum up the impact of the band or this incendiary song from their "almost-a-greatest-hits-album-in-itself" Led Zeppelin II any better than that.

3. Bad Moon Rising - Creedence Clearwater Revival: In a year that saw many band's raising the bar for high quality prolificacy, no act raised that bar higher than Creedence Clearwater Revival. And while the band never had a number one song, they did have four reach #2 in1969 on the Billboard charts, including this ubiquitous, playfully ominous lead single from Green River, the second and darkest of their three albums they released in 1969.

4. 1969 - The Stooges: As much as I love the Velvet Underground, those mid-sixties garage singles, and Love's Seven And Seven Is, for me, it's here, in this opening salvo to the The Stooges' self-titled debut, that punk rock is born. Voted the 35th greatest guitar song of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine, it was a tough call picking 1969 over the even more highly regarded I Wanna Be Your Dog, but 1969 has always been the song that best embodies the brute John Cale-produced minimalism of the album for me.

5. Spinning Wheel - Blood, Sweat & Tears: 1968 first album Child Is The Father To The Man established the template. Sophomore effort, Blood, Sweat & Tears, with a significantly revamped lineup, brought the hits - none more memorable than this croony classic here.

6. Boredom - Procol Harum: One of 1969's most underrated albums, and arguably the best eclectic release of the year outside of Abbey Road, Procul Harum's minor prog-pop classic A Salty Dog feels more presciently connected to the indie-pop movement of this current century than just about any release of the 60s. Every time I listen, I hear twists and turns in these songs that suggest the likes of The Flaming Lips, Islands, Animal Collective, Mercury Rev, Death Cab For Cutie, and especially the Decemberists were listening right along with me. The band will always be first remembered for A Whiter Shade Of Pale, but this twee charmer of an album, perfectly represented by Boredom here, is in imho their actual crowning achievement.

7. Kick Out The Jams - MC5: Derided on all fronts and a focal point of many ugly censorship battles at the time of its original release, Mc5's 1969 debut Kick Out The Jams - recorded live in single, sweaty Halloween weekend in Detroit's Grande Ballroom - is now regarded as one its or any era's purest encapsulations of rock power at its rawest and most unfiltered, and has enduring influence on much of the hard-core punk and metal that has followed in its wake.

8. Something - The Beatles: My favorite cut from the last album The Beatles ever recorded (if one doesn't consider the entire Sun King medley as one song), Abby Road's Something also marked a first for the band.  It was the first and only time they went with a George Harrison-penned song as their lead single.

9. Dog Breath, In The Year Of The Plague - Frank Zappa: Another artist who had a monster 1969, Zappa released two fantastic albums in 1969.  The sprawling, chaos as organizing principal Uncle Meat with the Mothers Of Invention, and his first solo outing, the spectacularly jam-focused Hot Rats. This Uncle Meat track, possibly my all-time favorite of Zappa's zany work with the Mothers, stands in as a Best Of The Best representative for both albums, which are equally essential.

10. Volunteers - Jefferson Airplane: Fifty years removed, 1967's Surrealistic Pillow, armed with Somebody To Love and White Rabbit, is the album that has lingered most in the public conscious, but I've always felt the Airplane's 1969 effort Volunteers is actually the band's best, most consistent album, and I've always adored this adrenaline rush of a title track that closes the record.

11. 21st Century Schizoid Man - King Crimson: Is this epic, incendiary freak-out the song that launched progressive rock? Though acts like The Moody Blues, Soft Machine, Jethro Tull, Procul Harum, and The Mothers Of Invention had already started the shift towards incorporating jazz and classical textures into rock music, it was In The Court Of The Crimson King, King Crimson's legendary 1969 debut, that truly opened up the prog-rock floodgates. Now widely considered prog's second greatest album (behind only Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon), it was actually future Foreigner founder Ian McDonald, not guitarist/vocalist Greg Lake (later of ELP fame) or enduring band leader Robert Fripp, who wrote most of the music and crafted the album's rich symphonic textures through layers and layers of overdubs.

12. King Harvest (Has Surely Come) - The Band: Oh, what a tough time I had picking a song to represent the The Band's impossibly good eponymous second release, for my money, one of the most unique albums in the entire rock pantheon, the best album of 1969, and the greatest alt-country/Americana album ever recorded (yeah, I'm a fan). In the end, had to go with the album's closing, vocally weirded-out tale of early farm unification over its two most well known tracks Up On Cripple Creek and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (but don't worry, we'll catch those tracks, as well as a few others, in a later mix).

13. Who Knows Where The Time Goes? - Fairport Convention: Amongst the most prolific acts in a year that set the gold standard for prolific acts, Fairport Convention released three landmark albums in 1969, but this breathtaking Sandy Denny number from Unhalfbrickingthe second, most Americanized, and most rocking of the Richard Thompson/Denny-led folk-rock pioneers three '69 efforts - is on another level entirely. My favorite song in their entire catalog. 

14. Cinnamon Girl - Neil Young: Probably repeating myself here, but along with Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, I've always considered Neil Young one of the most talented non-talents in rock. But whatever his virtuosic limitations, Neil has always found a way to push through his minimal chops and deliver emotionally stirring songs.  Rarely did he do this more captivatingly than on his second solo outing (and first with Crazy Horse) Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and Cinnamon Girl in particular may be his minimalist masterwork, epitomized by that greatest one-note guitar solo in rock history that kicks in around the 2:06 mark. 

15. Pinball Wizard - The Who: Pete Townsend, on the other hand, I considered to be one of rock's genuine instrumental prodigies, not a flash lead guitarist, but arguably, along with Carlos Santana, the best rhythm guitarist rock has ever seen. And never was Townsend's rhythm guitar magic on clearer display than on this all-time great track from the band's ground-breaking rock-opera Tommy. Coolest rhythm guitar riff ever!

16. Fortunate Son - Creedence Clearwater Revival: Flipping the script from the apocalyptic negativity that infused near every moment of Green River, CCR's next outing, the even better Willy And The Poor Boys, was a joyous celebration of the undeterred resilience and positivity of America's working poor, even when that joy and resilience came packaged with a bit of fight and spite, as on this all-time classic put down of those birthed into better circumstances Fortunate Son here. God, is there a line in this song that doesn't work for our current president.

17. Space Oddity - David Bowie: One of these things here is not like the others.  This is my one exception letting album quality determine inclusion, because the truth is David Bowie may have owned the 70s, but man, it took him forever to get up to cruising speed.  After forming countless failed bands over the early 60s, Bowie released his second straight eponymous solo album in 1969, and like his first, it was a mostly unremarkable mix of half-baked psychedelic and prog-rock numbers. But buried amid the dreck were three numbers that pointed towards the era-defining artist Bowie would become. The lyrically pointed and insightful prog-suite Cygnet Committee, the fine closing anthem Memory Of A Free Festival, and of course, this 2001 inspired number, which sounded unlike anything else in 1969, and had the impeccable timing of being released as a single just five days before the launch of Apollo 11, which led to it being one of the biggest hits of the summer.

18. How Many More Times - Led Zeppelin: There are more popular songs from Led Zeppelin's game-changing debut, but How Many More Times has always summed up so much of the band for me - the bombast, the e-bow guitars, the band's blatant, unrelenting, uncompensated plagiarism of African-American greats, and first and foremost, how their almost comically misguided attempts to capture the essence of the blues launched a whole new, grandiose genre of music entirely

19. Son Of A Preacher Man - Dusty Springfield: An unchallenged part of the sacred rock and soul canon for decades now, Dusty In Memphis is widely regarded as one of the most important female works of the 1960s, and remains a regular in most top 100 all-time lists. I'm not quite as sold on the album as most, feeling that some lesser regarded works in her catalog like 1966s You Don't Have To Say You Love Me have actually aged better, but whatever my misgivings, I will never tire of hearing this song, which deserves every accolade it has ever received, and when Nancy surprised me by not selecting it for her mix, it was a no-brainer to include Son Of A Preacher Man here. 

20. Pale Blue Eyes - The Velvet Underground: On the flip-side, damn, has the Velvet's self-titled third album aged well. In one of the most abrupt about faces in rock's seventy years, the Velvet's ditched the room-clearing speed-freak madness and sonic nihilism of White Light/White Heat for something almost unsparingly delicate, soothing, compassionate, and bittersweet. The result was an album that now rates right there with Astral Weeks and Rubber Soul as one of the most timeless efforts of the decade. And nestled deep within a brilliant first side that contained nothing but extraordinary songs was this stunning reflection on romantic betrayal which many of the band's fans interpreted as a masked put down of original bassist John Cale, who Reed had recently kicked out of the band, but which Reed insists was actually an homage to his first true love Shelley Albin, who was married to another man at the time. 

21. You Can't Always Get What You Want - The Rolling Stones: Don't have anything to say on this classic Let It Bleed closer other than when times get tough for me, this is the song I usually turn to first. Not my favorite Stone's song (that would be Sympathy), but without question the one I hold most dear.

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