The Fleetwood Mac story is long and confusing if nothing else. We all know the stuff that made them mega-rich and cocaine famous, but there’s an entire decade that precedes all that, and deep it goes, often with completely different singers and players working entirely different worlds and angles. Except the rhythm section, Mr. Fleetwood and Mr. Mac. You might even say the original line-up isn’t just the best Mac, they’re one of the best damned bands EVER, with guitarist Peter Green spearheading things, taking the old school blues, amplifying and psychedelicizing them, giving us stuff that barreled along neck and neck with what guys like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page were doing at the time. 1969’s Then Play On is the key album, capturing not just the breadth Mr. Green’s genius, but also hints of the psychosis that would soon tear him apart. Beautiful and gone, lost to ozone whilst Searching for Madge.
“The experts say that Gilded Palace of Sin, the first Flying Burrito Brothers album, more or less invented so-called Country Rock. I say, it’s simply one of the best albums I’ve ever heard, pretty much flawless from beginning to end, with Christine’s Tune the twang-driven rocker that kicks it all off. And f*** you, heroin, for derailing what Gram Parsons was so gloriously up to.” (Philip Random)
“I was just a little kid in 1969 when Nina Simone‘s take on Suzanne arrived, but even ten years later, I wasn’t near cool enough to get it. Hell, I barely got Leonard Cohen. No, the awe inspiring talents of Ms. Simone would take another decade and a half to penetrate my white, suburban thickness. The mid-90s by now. Grunge had gone horribly wrong. We were slipping into pseudo-sophistication, sipping cocktails, realizing our parents had been right all along. Amy’s parents anyway, who had this album tucked way away in the dusty far reaches of their collection … just waiting for us, some enchanted evening.” (Philip Random)
“I had a copy of the Doors’ Absolutely Live kicking around for years before I finally listened to it, grabbed cheap for future reference, I guess, because at the time I was going through a prolonged phase of just not being into Jim Morrison and his bullshit, poetic and otherwise. Early 1990s finally, I put it on and what blew me away was the band. Hot shit indeed for a trio (guitar, drums, organ – the bass notes coming from the Ray Manzarek’s left hand). And yeah, I had to admit the singer had a certain something too, not remotely afraid to howl his angst and poetry and prophecy at the universe. We’re all doomed apparently.” (Philip Random)
Hate on Chicago (the band) all you want, but you’d be a fool to write off their first couple or few albums, particularly the first one, when the band was still known as Chicago Transit Authority. 1969 was the year, and the smoke from the crash and burn from the so-called hippie revolution was still lingering in the near distance (at least that’s what the experts say). But the evolutionary energy was still percolating, such that a big fat double album from a big fat seven piece band could erupt from it all with equal parts power and precision. Just try to keep still for their take on I’m A Man.
“Which gets us to the middle distance selection of the list. 555 down, 555 still to go. So I figure it has to be a record that arguably (and I love to argue) could also be Number One, on a different day, in different weather, different levels of love and chaos reigning over man and his world. So yeah, there’s great depth in Isaac Hayes‘s take on Jimmy Webb’s By The Time I Get To Phoenix, and distance, and soul, by which I mean not just the hot and buttered kind — soul that’s infinite, eternal. Once soul gets a hold of you, all the normal rules don’t apply anymore. Conventional notions of space and time become meaningless. A three minute pop mega-hit can become a twenty minute journey into the heart of truth of man, god, love, EVERYTHING. As long as you believe.” (Philip Random)
“From 1969, when Jethro Tull was still the hot new band of the moment, riding the hip edge of the cool underground, here with mandolins, bongos, other things made of wood. The song’s simple enough. A young man expressing his desire to not someday grow old and fat, and just good fun. Easier said than done, of course, but I’m comfortably into my forties now and so far so good. Yes, I’ve failed at pretty much every ambition I ever set for myself but at least I can still see my feet when I look down.” (Philip Random)
1969 ended badly for the Rolling Stones at a free concert in Northern California, a place called Altamont — a man murdered directly in front of the stage. But that was only after Brian Jones got booted from the band he’d founded, then drowned in his swimming pool, or was he murdered, too? And meanwhile, Keith Richard just kept slipping deeper and deeper into the fool’s kingdom known as heroin. And yet the Stones also found the time to record Let It Bleed that year, maybe their single greatest slab of vinyl, with Monkey Man a track that managed to not get played to death on commercial radio. Too bad, too ugly, too good.
Call Volunteers (the song) Jefferson Airplane‘s punk rock moment, a short, sharp revved up call for genuine revolution at a time when such actually seemed possible. That is, if your hair was long and your soul experienced, and you were one of maybe four hundred thousand standing out in a muddy field one August morning in 1969 between downpours. Volunteers (the album) isn’t half band either.