Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
1967 is the peak moment of the era we lovingly refer to as the sixties, at least so far as it concerns rock and roll. The so-called “Summer Of Love” hosted seminal events like the Monterey Pop Festival and the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park, but it also saw the release of some of the biggest, most impactful rock records of all-time from the likes of the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. Even more impactful, it marked the recorded debuts of artists as impactful as Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, the Velvet Underground and Pink Floyd.
While we continue to look back on the year in music in 2017, I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to re-examine this all-important moment 50 years hence, when some of the most ground-breaking rock and rollers of all-time tapped into their wilder sides, and produced albums filled with intricate, explosive psychedelic jams, down-home country ballads, and avant-garde sonic tapestries.
20. The Yardbirds, Little Games
After Jeff Beck bailed on the Yardbirds while on a tour of the US at the end of 1966, many wondered if the band was destined for the dustbin of history. Jimmy Page, Beck’s childhood mate, and the group’s second lead guitarist was not among them. Page compelled the rest of the Yardbirds to soldier forth and re-enter the studio. The results were promising, showing glimpses of the heavy, psychedelic proclivities that would come into stunning focus the next year when Page settled in with his new band Led Zeppelin. In fact, he would eventually nick “White Summer” from this record and re-purpose it along with John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and John Bonham for that band’s debut two year’s in the future.
19. The Rolling Stones, Between The Buttons
“I would like to just list what [The Beatles] did and what the Stones did two months after on every f*ckin’ album,” John Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1971. Though I’m not sure that’s entirely fair — except in the case of the Stones other ’67 release Their Satanic Majesties Request, which followed the Fab Four’s Sgt. Pepper — generally speaking, if you squint hard enough, one can draw a straight line between what the Beatles were up to and how the Stones responded throughout the ’60s. As they got weirder and more psychedelic on Rubber Soul and Revolver, Mick, Keef and company followed suit on Aftermath and this album. In a vacuum, however, you can’t deny the power and potency of “Let’s Spend The Night Together” or “Ruby Tuesday,” both of which appeared on the US pressings of Between The Buttons.
18. The Beach Boys, Smiley Smile
Smiley Smile is not the sprawling, rock epic that Brian Wilson first conceived when he entered the studio after creating Pet Sounds. The mental effort it took to try and top that release, combined with his own excessive drug intake almost destroyed him. In the end, the Beach Boys cobbled together pieces of music here and there and put it out into the world. Carl Wilson later called this album a “bunt,” though I’d be more generous and say it’s a pop-fly single that notched an RBI. Any record that contains “Heroes And Villains” and “Good Vibrations” can’t be as bad as the band, and it’s fans first thought.
17. Moby Grape, Moby Grape
Moby Grape might be the most exciting band from the 1960s who’s popularity failed to transcend their era. The group’s 1967, self-titled debut is a masterpiece of jittery guitar lines, crossways vocal harmonies, and plunky percussion. Running just 30-minutes long, it feels less like a collection of songs, and more akin to a series of disparate musical ideas, smashed into each other like a 13-car pile up. Blues, pop, rock, psychedelia, it’s all here and it’s all superb. “8:05” is a particularly beautiful, acoustic guitar ballad, that cuts to the quick with its message of desperate yearning, delivered through gorgeous, intricate vocal harmonies.
16. Bob Dylan, John Wesley Harding
At the same time that most of the rest of the rock world was discovering acid and LSD, creating trippy psychedelic records filled with lengthy electric guitar jams, Dylan was predictably heading into an entirely different direction. After releasing a triptych of some of the greatest masterpieces the world has ever known — Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde — he decided to strip things back, giving his next record John Wesley Harding a distinctive country sheen. Critics adored the move of course, and with songs like “All Along The Watchtower,” “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest,” and “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine,” what’s not to love?
15. The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour
Even at their least inspired, the Beatles were capable of cranking out releases packed with songs of stunning beauty, depth, and intrigue. Magical Mystery Tour might actually be the exhibit A of this logic-defying superpower. Coming just six months — six months! — after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, it seems impossible that they could have totally emptied the tank of some of the best ideas they ever conjured, then turned around and produced something that carries all-time classics like “I Am The Walrus,” “Fool On The Hill,” or “Hello, Goodbye.” Such was the combined might of John, Paul, George and Ringo.
14. Leonard Cohen, Songs Of Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen was already 33 years old when he released his debut album Songs Of Leonard Cohen in 1967. It may not seem all that old now, but back around that era, Cohen was already an elder statesmen in a scene crowded by the likes of other poets like Bob Dylan and Donovan. What he lacked in youth however, Cohen more than made up for in depth of thought, and storytelling ability. Songs like “Suzanne” “Teachers” and “Song Long Marianne,” hit you in the gut the first time that you hear them, then steadily work their way into the pit of your soul, causing you to question your own place in the world, and the relationships you’ve forged along the way.
13. The Who, The Who Sell Out
The Who Sell Out was the biggest tip yet that Pete Townshend’s creative ambitions reached far higher than bashing out a series of high-octane rock singles. Those are included here too — “I Can See For Miles” is one of the most potent compositions that the band ever cooked up — but the concept behind this record was as high-minded as anything anyone had ever attempted before. Styled as a pirate radio broadcast, the band wove together a series of commercials and jingles for companies that didn’t even exist like a deodorant named “Odorno” for instance. While the ideas and themes are far more interesting than the music itself, you’ve got to hand it to the Who for pushing the envelope into directions that no one had ever even considered previously.
12. Van Morrison, Blowin’ Your Mind
Though Van The Man himself doesn’t hold this album in very high esteem, and it pales in comparison to the follow-ups Astral Weeks and Moondance, it still merits inclusion on this list. Many consider Blowin’ Your Mind as little more than a vehicle for Van’s upbeat classic “Brown Eyed Girl” and it’s easy to understand why. It’s a timeless composition not just about young love, but one that embodies its very essence. Those who keep listening past that signature tune, however, will find deep rewards through the inclusion of “T.B. Sheets,” a song that operates as the mournful yang to “Brown Eyed Girl’s” effervescent yin. In it, Van mourns the loss of the woman he loved to tuberculosis. You’re in the room with him, watching her lose her battle to that dreadful disease. His pain becomes your pain. His loss, your loss. His guilt, your guilt.
11. Cream, Disraeli Gears
If not for the existence of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton might have fully held onto his title of “world’s greatest guitar player,” in 1967 with this album from the band Cream as the only proof required to bolster his claim. The power trio of Clapton, bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker had turned some heads around the year previous with Fresh Cream, but Disraeli Gears is where everything really came together. Clapton plays like a man possessed over a whole range of otherworldly psych masterpieces like “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” and “SWLABR,” but it’s the riff he created for “Sushine Of Your Love” that nails their bid on immortality. His wah-wah work has yet to be surpassed.
10. The Byrds, Younger Than Yesterday
Younger Than Yesterday is the point where The Byrds drifted away from their signature folk-rock aesthetic into more rock-folk arrangements. The vocal harmonies and glistening 12-string guitar melodies that propelled the band’s earlier hits are present here once again, but there’s just a little extra oomph that becomes immediately apparent from the very first track “So You Wanna Be A Rock And Roll Star?” This is also the second to last album they created with founding member David Crosby and it happens to feature some of his best writing in the band, from the ominous-sounding “Everybody’s Been Burned,” to the whimsical collaboration with leader Roger McGuinn “Renaissance Fair.” It also wouldn’t be a Byrds album without a Bob Dylan cover, and their take on “My Back Pages” is superb.
9. Jefferson Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow
In 1967, San Francisco was the de facto capitol of the counter-culture universe. People flocked into the city by the thousands, relocating to Haight Ashbury to tune in, drop out and get lost in the whimsical “Summer Of Love.” Of all the local bands making waves that year — The Grateful Dead and Country Joe & The Fish put out some respectable records — at the top of the pecking order remained Jefferson Airplane, who dunked on everyone in the scene with their masterwork Surrealistic Pillow. While Marty Balin and Paul Kantner get their chances to shine on tracks like “Today” and “My Best Friend,” the real star of the show is Grace Slick. She captures the feeling permeating the atmosphere to perfection on the album’s two singles, the manic “Somebody To Love” and the disorienting “White Rabbit”
8. Pink Floyd, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn is an album that shoots off into about a hundred different directions, all foretelling a future that was never meant to be. As Pink Floyd’s studio debut, and the only record they created with their original leader Syd Barret at the helm, it’s an exciting document, revealing the depth of Syd’s visionary guitar work, and the earliest sensibilities of bassist and eventual leader Roger Waters. The peak achievement, of course, is the sprawling second-side jam “Interstellar Overdrive.” As a song, I’m not sure how well it works, but as an aural canvas, it’s quite stunning to behold. Maybe because you know Syd’s mental breakdown is right around the corner, but there is a pervading sense of danger that runs through this record. The act of listening to it can sometimes feel like watching someone walk along the ramparts of a tall building, fully expecting them to tip either this way or that at any moment and losing them for eternity.
7. Love, Forever Changes
Forever Changes is more than just an album. Forever Changes is an experience. The second you push play, a rush of noise enters your ears, and you’re transported to Sunset Strip circa 1967. Everything is laid out in a beautiful technicolor. Blues mix with yellows. Oranges with greens. Purples with reds. Your guide through this mystical wonderland is Arthur Lee, a visionary guitarist, and lithe singer. “I think that people are the greatest fun,” he admits on the Spanish-flavored opening track “Alone Again Or.” What’s more, “I could be in love with almost everyone.” Forever Changes is a reflection of Los Angeles as it existed then, but even more incredibly, it spans the decades and captures its vibe to this very day. It’s a city, and an album, filled with promise, dreams, characters, grit, danger, beauty, and more whimsy than you know what do with.
6. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced
Jimi Hendrix hit the rock scene in 1967 with the force of a hydrogen bomb. No one had ever seen or heard anything like him before. His credentials were immaculate — stints with the Isley Brothers, James Brown, Little Richard and more — and he parlayed the skills he amassed from working with those legends, as well as long nights spent woodshedding in coffeehouses and clubs around Greenwich Village and Harlem into a near-perfect record of twisted guitar feedback, mind-warping jams, and unnerving passion. As soon guitarists around the U.K. and the U.S. wrapped their ears around “Purple Haze,” “Foxey Lady” and “Fire” they knew it was back to the drawing board.
5. The Doors, The Doors
Despite their best efforts, the Doors were never able to top the majesty of their self-titled debut album. I’m not even sure that’s a knock against them. Maybe if Jim Morrison had laid off the sauce and focused a little more in the studio they could’ve come up with something as engrossing, but to surpass it in quality? I don’t think so. It’s pretty tough to pick the highlight among this incredible collection of music that includes immortal cuts like “Light My Fire,” “Break On Through (To The Other Side),” “The Crystal Ship,” and the sprawling album closer “The End.” When you think LA in the late-1960s, the sounds, and textures of this record are one of the first things that spring to mind.
4. Buffalo Springfield, Buffalo Springfield Again
What’s the Neil Young adage? Ah yes, “It’s better to burn out / Than it is to rust.” Though you can read a whole lot of meaning into that line from “My My Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue),” it also provides a pretty nice summation of the history of one of his earliest bands Buffalo Springfield. Fraught from the very beginning, Neil’s collaboration with Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, Dewey Martin, and Bruce Palmer shone brightly in the scant two years they held it together. Though their Stills-dominated debut was a triumph, the Neil-centric sequel Buffalo Springfield Again may be even better. “Mr. Soul” inverted the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” riff with gleeful, fuzzy fervor. “Broken Arrow” is a song so lovely, that Neil named his Northern California ranch after it. And then there’s “Expecting To Fly,” which soars on the back of an incredibly touching vocal from the Canadian singer. Stills does manage to get his licks in when he can though, and “Bluebird” remains one of the finer entries into his superb canon.
3. The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground & Nico
The Velvet Underground & Nico sits very high up an incredibly short list of the greatest debut records of all-time. While I personally would hesitate to call it the best Velvets record — I’m a Loaded booster myself — you can’t deny either its impact, or how revolutionary it sounded when it dropped in 1967. At the same time that the Beatles, Hendrix, and other counter-culture stalwarts were coding references to recreational drug use into their music, Lou Reed and company were out here unfurling lengthy, unapologetic screeds to “Heroin.” The band brought you into the highly secretive, incredibly open world of Andy Warhol’s Factory, and in the process, set a sonic and thematic template that bands across the world have continued to mine and pick apart five decades later.
2. Jimi Hendrix Experience, Axis: Bold As Love
While Are You Experienced gets an extra bit of shine from the critical cognoscenti for being his debut, the one that lit the world on fire, with the benefit of hindsight, I think it’s time we finally recognize that Hendrix’s follow-up, Axis: Bold As Love as the superior release. You can cry “Purple Haze” all you want, there isn’t a single song in his entire discography more achingly beautiful than “Little Wing,” a glorious tribute he composed for his mother who died when he was still just in middle school. Then you have “Spanish Castle Magic,” “Castles Made Of Sand,” and of course the album closer “Bold As Love.” Chuck out the Noel Redding-led “She’s So Fine” and the garbled opener “EXP” and you can make the case that this is a perfect record all the way around.
1. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band
In an earlier edition of Listen To This Eddie that I wrote this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, I called it the greatest album of all-time, so it’d be kind of hard to walk that back on this list by placing it anywhere else but the very top. You can’t deny the twisted, eye-popping shimmer of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” You can’t deny the exuberant affability of “With A Little Help From My Friends.” And you can’t deny the towering majesty of “A Day In The Life.” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band is rock’s Wizard Of Oz moment, when everything went from stark black and white, to beautiful, gorgeous technicolor.