As the story goes, the Byrds invented country rock in 1968 with the arrival of new guy Gram Parsons, the album known as Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It didn’t sell that well. There were no big deal hit singles. Mr. Parsons himself would be gone before the next album, chasing his own particular dreams and oblivions. But it seemed to stick anyway – the notion of putting country’s yearning and twang in service of the rock. It certainly worked for You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, a Bob Dylan nugget from perhaps the world’s most famous basement, wherein winter’s a-howling and Genghis Khan is running low on sheep for his kings, but the times are good regardless.
“When Elvis (aka The King) died in 1977, John Lennon was smugly heard to observe that he’d already been been dead for almost twenty years — ever since he joined the army back in 1958. But I give him another ten years, to 1968 and the big deal comeback TV special on NBC. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had just been shot, the Vietnam war had officially gone to hell, the Beatles hadn’t played live for years. But Elvis wasn’t worried. He had a secret weapon for the show’s finale, a brand new song written by a guy named Earl Brown called If I Can Dream. ‘I’m never going to sing another song I don’t believe in,’ said Elvis when he first heard it, ‘I’m never going to make another movie I don’t believe in.’ And yeah, Elvis did deliver on NBC, a performance that reached deep through the strange vacuum of the cathode ray tube and touched the hopeful soul of all humanity, maybe even saved the world. But then he proceeded to eat doughnuts, sing awful songs, make worse movies, and finally died nine years later, alone, sitting on a toilet. Poor guy. The King of Need, the Residents called him.” (Philip Random)
“In which the The Monkees prove that they really can write and play and record a song that’s actually pretty darned cool. Too bad it came so late, 1968, from the soundtrack to the movie known as Head, so weird that only people who hated the Monkees liked it, except none of them bothered to go. It took me decades to figure the whole thing out. We’re all just dandruff in Victor Mature’s hair … and something to do with Frank Zappa and a cow.” (Philip Random)
“Yes covered this on one of their first albums, had some big widescreen fun with it. But Richie Havens‘ original is rawer, cooler, better. And it felt more or less perfectly in sync with my times when I finally found it, twenty years after the face, 1998, a freebie at the dog end of a yard sale. Decades may pass but there’s still no opportunity necessary, no experience required. Whatever that even means.” (Philip Random)
“Procol Harum achieved improbable levels of success with their very first single, 1967’s Whiter Shade of Pale, and it was taken rather seriously. Because it was rock meets Johan Sebastien Bach with lyrics obscure enough to almost make you forget that Bob Dylan had taken a vacation, more or less. But then what do you do for an encore? You go further, higher, deeper, longer, you give all of side two of your second album to a single seventeen minute track called In Held Twas In I, which to many ears, ranks as the first genuine prog rock epic. In other words, yeah, it probably goes too far, too high and deep, definitely too long. But what do expect from young men cut loose from the herd, more or less commanded to go climb the highest mountain? Or as the Dalai Lama puts it in the intro. Life is like a beanstalk. Isn’t it?” (Philip Random)
“London’s Pretty Things were always there in the swinging 60s, in tune with the times, if not in time with them (if that makes any sense), which means that by 1968, they were launching into realms psychedelic and beyond with the epic tale of Sebastian F Sorrow, a full-on integrated cycle of songs that hit the culture many months before the Who’s Tommy would make the notion of a rock opera a genuinely big deal. No, SF Sorrow didn’t sell that well, doesn’t generally get name-checked when the experts are trying to make sense of the age, but for me anyway, it stands up better than Tommy, minute for minute, song for song, maybe because it’s only a one record set, with the high point coming on side two, when SF Sorrow encounters the mysterious Baron Saturday (intended to represent Baron Samedi of Haitian Voodoo notoriety), who ‘borrows his eyes’ for a trip through the underworld, with terrifying consequences.” (Philip Random)
This one’s found toward the end of side one of the first Steve Miller Band album which sort of stumbled out of freak scene San Francisco at a time when nobody at the business end of things really knew how to handle all the psychedelic weirdness, so they just got out of the way. Thank all gods for that. Because there are few better examples anywhere of just how delirious things were in those days. Songs broke down, evaporated into seagulls and drones, found some bluesy B.B. King riff, evolved into profound and visionary choruses, ended up getting titles that had nothing to do with anything you’d actually heard. Maybe you had to be there, but maybe we all were, in our way, and still are, we children of that madly accelerated past’s glowing future.
“The memory is of Grade Seven, a kid named Malcolm Cale that I wasn’t supposed to hang with, because he was known to be bad. Except we both walked home from school the same way. So I inevitably ended up at his place, which was almost always empty after school, no parents or brothers and sisters around to stop us digging through his dad’s Playboys, having a smoke, sharing a beer, cranking the stereo loud. Which usually meant Malcolm’s fave, Steppenwolf‘s first album, the one with Born to be Wild, and The Pusher (God damn him – we loved that, actual swearing on record). But the track that stands up best for me now is Sookie Sookie, funky and hard, and at least as cool as John Kay‘s shades.” (Philip Random)
George Harrison (always the most psychedelicBeatle) offers up a nifty slice of so-called world music (before we had the lame marketing term for it). Found on the soundtrack for a 1968 movie called Wonderwall that nobody ever saw, but then Oasis copped the title for a song name a couple of decades later and went mega-platinum with it. But On The Bed is far better (and cooler) than that derivative and over seasoned pop stew.