For any deprived human being that hasn't heard any of this exception music...
With no intention of seeming cowardly, I’ve marginally diminished the scope of the concept for this article. As much as I’d relish in the intent of appearing profound and attempt to unequivocally declare the ‘the greatest albums of the 1960’s’, it’s simply a topic that allures too many vehement opinions, and I have little interest in being the subject of derision.
However this is rightly so, the amount of innovation taking place throughout the period is in part the explanation as to why we look back at the era with this ‘mythical status’ that I’ve written about in the past. In evaluating any works from the 1960’s, you are evaluating the product of pioneers; there is no previous generation to look back on, no criteria to mark against; these artists were in the process of creating the criteria that music critics put into practice daily.
As futile as attempting cross-genre analogies can be, the most sufficient example I can conjure in any attempt to convey the significance of acts like Hendrix and Dylan to an individual with little knowledge or interest, is in drawing correlations between their 60’s innovation and rap icons like Biggie and Pac in the 90’s.
Well if you rarely occupy yourself with any music that isn’t contemporary, than here’s a few suggestions in experiencing some of the most exception music to ever be recorded…
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band:
Regularly proclaimed as one of the most significant works in popular music history, both in regards to the albums musical innovation and the impact it had culturally. Not only was Sgt. Pepper’s a seminal work in popularising the emergence of psychedelic rock, the album was one the pioneering endeavours in the art of the ‘concept album’; with a coherent theme running through the entirety of the album.
Sgt. Pepper’s was in the most part the product of The Beatle’s decision to retire from touring; utterly exhausted from performing to stadium crowds on a nightly basis, The Beatle’s retreated into abbey road’s iconic EMI studio to undertake on a course in sonic innovation.
Paul McCartney developed the concept, with the idea of recording an album in which The Beatle’s would take up alter ego’s and record as though they were playing a concert; this was simultaneously an effort in appeasing distraught fans, and would allow unprecedented room for artistic experimentation. The result was beyond influential. Everything from its whimsical album sleeve to songs inconspicuously written about hallucinogens (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds), Sgt. Pepper’s still stands as one of the most remarkable achievements in the development of popular music.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland:
Electric Ladyland is very simply put; the result of a genius left to his own devises to explore his artistic capabilities: Hendrix was endowed with unparalleled creative control; undertaking the position of executive producer in an era when it was conventional wisdom to put checks on the artist. The result? An auditory watershed entwined with a visceral meandering that provides the listener with the product of Hendrix’s fantastical visions.
Who else could take Dylan’s own work, entirely reinterpret the atmospheric intent of the song, and make their reinvention enthralling to extent that the original is essentially unlistenable. Again, with no intention of seeming overly presumptuous, All along the watchtower is very possibly the greatest cover to feature on a rock LP. It’s just a magnificent achievement in every aspect; Hendrix simultaneously trumps Dylan and manages to capture the essence of the Vietnam War; All along the watchtower is the sound of Hendrix utilising his effects pedals to create the sounds of planes dropping bombs, helicopters and machine gun fire, achieved all whilst still in the analogue age.
Better yet, the highlight of Jimi’s final studio album has to be found in the virtuosity of Voodoo Chile; a sprawling blues saga clocking in at 15 minutes long. The piece provides the empirical argument for any contentious sceptic: Hendrix remains the greatest guitarist that has ever graced the earth.
The Rolling Stone – Let It Bleed:
The Stones are the definition of true survivors, being one of the few acts to actually make it out of the hedonistic pandemonium that was the 60’s; just in order to continue on a lifetimes worth of hedonistic chaos, and they’re still going!
Let it Bleed in many aspects closes the 60’s, released in the December of 1969 Let it Bleed demonstrates the Stones having recently found their signature sound and proceeding to master it. Whilst most acts where dying along with the puerile optimism of the hippy dream, The Stones were to thrive in this emerging theme of cynicism, which would occupy the ambience of the music industry for the duration of the 70’s.
Perhaps the most striking achievement of Let It Bleed can be found in how it immediately entices and markedly leaves the listener. With Gimme Shelter opening the album, and You can’t always get what you want being the closing track, there is little that could even be attempted in surpassing this album with regards to its raw display of superlative signwriting.
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited:
A reason as to why modern listeners sometimes fail to grasp the ingenuity of certain artistic achievements from the past, is a result of refusing to evaluate within the context of when it was created.
As Dylan was receiving cataclysmic condemnation from a large proportion of his fans for ‘going electric’, he didn’t even blink an eyelid. Famously at a concert in Manchester in 1966, when a heckler scornfully proclaimed Dylan a “Judas”, Dylan, unaffected by the harassment, turned towards his band calmly and requested indignantly: “play it fucking loud!”. They proceeded to play an aggressive rendition of Like a rolling Stone; a fitting response to such obstinate ignorance.
Dylan was fully conscious to the significance that resided in the music he was making throughout the period. Like a rolling stone wasn’t by any means just another astonishing portrayal of Dylan’s ability to combine pop and poetry; the song single-handedly dismembered every convention there was regarding what defined a single. During an era where a single would rarely exceed three minutes, Like a rolling stone was released at an unprecedented six minutes and nineteen seconds; entwined with typical surrealism, the track didn’t just innovate, it remarkably encapsulates the very concept of pioneering.
Captured most poignantly in 1988 by Bruce Springsteen, he spoke of the opening of the song as “the snare shot that sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind.”
The album continues with this breath-taking fusion of unworldly surrealism, folk and blues; ending with eleven minutes of Desolation Row, which utterly hypnotises the listener to then leave them in complete bemusement: I’ve listened to Desolation Row countless times and still have very little insight as to what it’s actually about.