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“With Tangerine Trees and Marmalade Skies”

December 14, 2015

I got thinking the other day ( Always dangerous when I do that !) that an interesting music list would be the my favorite album “sides” of the rock “vinyl” era (mid-1960s thru the end of the 1970s). A little explanation is in order particularly for many of you born after the 1970’s and have barely any concept of what a record album is . Back when I was young ( sounding a bit like my dad who used to say ” when I was a boy”) , I would often play only one side of a record album when listening (given the effort to get up and turn the record over). This was particularly true when listening with headphones while lying in bed in my college dorm room (often at 3am in the morning). Thus, many of us commonly played the better of the two sides of an album much more often. Hence, this list of my favorite album sides.

However, I have a few ground rules. First, in order to avoid having my list dominated by just a few groups (e.g. the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Moody Blues etc.), I have self-imposed a limit of no more than one album side per artist. Of course, I had to make an exception in a couple of cases where I just couldn’t decide which album side was best ,so I have a couple of Beatles and Stones sides across the lists. Also, I did NOT include ‘greatest hits’ albums, since these aren’t original record albums but compilations that came out much later. Lastly, my album sides leaned heavily in favor of sides which had no weak or subpar tracks. Remember when lying in bed, no one wants to get up to move the needle in order to skip a bad song.

This post is ONLY Part 1 which includes my ten favorite album sides from the 1960s in chronological order (I had a hard enough time picking them, so ranking them was a virtual impossibility). I will include my favorites of the 1970s in my next post. So herewith my list:

My Ten Favorite Album Sides of the 1960s

  1. The Doors -The Doors ( Jan. 1967) Side 1 – Break on Thru, Soul Kitchen, Crystal Ship, 20th Century Fox, Alabama Song, Light My Fire–This is one of the greatest rock albums ever, but Side 1 is extraordinary. The album starts with the Doors first single, the lively and tuneful “Break on Thru”. This is our first indication of the Doors musical style, almost always dominated by Morrison’s energetic vocals, Robbie Krieger’s superb guitar playing and Ray Manzarek’s interesting keyboards.  Another good song “Soul Kitchen” is an homage to Morrison’s favorite soul food restaurant and has an interesting bluesy sound led by Manzarek’s organ playing. “Crystal Ship” is a beautiful soulful ballad shows off Morrison’s excellent vocals. I knew this song first as the b-side of the Light My Fire, (the 3 minute, 45 rpm, single version of the song), before I smartly bought the album. “Twentieth Century Fox” is next a more upbeat and lustful rock song, followed by “Alabama Song”, a rock drinking song if there ever was one.  Last by not least, Side 1 ends with seven minutes of one of the greatest rock anthems ever, “Light My Fire”. 
  2. Are You Experienced?- The Jimi Hendrix Experience (May 1967)- Side 2 The Wind Cries Mary, Fire, Third Stone from the Sun, Foxy Lady, Are You Experienced?-  I loved Jimi Hendrix’s debut album (Thank you Robbie Carey for introducing me to it!) and particularly Side 2. With the exception of “Purple Haze” and “Hey Joe” on Side 1, all of my favorite tracks are on Side 2 and there is enormous variety across all five songs. “The Wind Cries Mary” a great soft bluesy-style ballad starts the side perfectly, “Fire” a much more up-tempo guitar infused rocker remains one of Hendrix’s standards, “Third Stone from the Sun” is maybe the album’s most interesting song. It  is an instrumental with a jazzy guitar melody and spoken lyrics about a space alien viewing earth from his ship (Lyrics are unintelligible on the record as they are slowed down, though my friend Robbie and I naturally played the record at 45 rpm instead of 33 rpm to understand them). “Foxy Lady” is another great Hendrix rock song, perhaps his most famous and certainly one of my favorites. The side ends with the psychedelic “Are You Experienced?” which features the unique use of backwards guitar and drums at the beginning and during the song. This is a vintage Hendrix song, extremely different and interesting and a fitting conclusion to Side 2.
  3. Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (June 1967)- Side 1 –Sgt. Peppers, With A Little Help From My Friends, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, Getting Better, Fixing A Hole, She’s Leaving Home, Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite While the whole Sgt. Peppers album is extraordinary and precedent setting in many respects, it is Side 1 that is consistently the best. Don’t get me wrong Side 2 is excellent as well, particularly “Lovely Rita Meter Maid” “Good Morning” and “Sgt. Peppers (reprise)/ A Day in the Life” but it suffers with a too long and only OK Harrison composition “Within You and Without You” that starts Side 2. Side 1 begins with the opening “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” which sets the tone for the album. This is the first truly thematic rock album ever, about a fictitious band doing a concert. “Sgt. Pepper’s” heralds the beginning and the pattern throughout the album, the seamless blending of rock instruments and rock vocals with orchestration produced brilliantly by George Martin. It quickly segues into “With a Little Help From My Friends” as the fictitious Billy Shears (a.k.a. Ringo) delivers an excellent, upbeat song, definitely the best Ringo lead vocal during his Beatles career. The mood shifts suddenly as we move from the first two songs (composed by Paul), to John’s first entry, the psychedelic “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” arguably the best track on the album. The psychedelic mood is altered quickly as Paul takes over with another great song, the lively “Getting Better”, where his optimism “It’s getting better all the time” is somewhat countered by John’s sarcasm and pessimism “can’t get no worse”. “Fixing a Hole” is ushered in with harpsichord and is another very good composition. “She’s Leaving Home” about a teenage runaway is all orchestration which helps cement its somber and sad mood and is one of Paul’s better vocals. The mood shifts suddenly as John (with an assist from Paul) finishes the size much more upbeat and superb entry , the psychedelic/carnival-like “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” . George Martin claimed he sped up a Hammond organ sound in order to get a carnival/ calliope sound that dominates the song, but it works extremely well and provides a fitting conclusion to Side 1.
  4. Days of Future Passed-Moody Blues ( Nov. 1967)-Side 2 – Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?), (Evening) Time to Get Away, The Sun Set, Twilight Time, Nights in White Satin-  As an unabashed Moody Blues fan, I had a hard time choosing only one album side for the group. However,  if pressed I would concede that Side 2 of “Days of Future Passed” is probably their best. The album is the Moody Blues first thematic work (a single “day”) , no doubt partly inspired by the Beatles “Sgt. Peppers”. Side 2 is the second half of the day with all songs relating to the late afternoon, early evening and nighttime. It is anchored by two of the Moody Blues best songs ever “Tuesday Afternoon” to start and “Nights in White Satin” at the finish. “Tuesday Afternoon” starts with Justin Hayward’s soaring vocals and a beautiful melody, integrated with orchestration and sets the tone as a contemplative but lively, late afternoon song. After an orchestral bridge, “Evening” slows the pace down  a bit  as the day’s toils are contemplated and ambiguity sets in, “Evening time to get away…..so they say”. “The Sun Set” creates an excellent musical and lyrical mood “I can feel the sun slipping out of sight…and the world still goes on thru the night”. The pace quickens with the catchy and more frenetic “Twilight Time”. Last, but not least, the album ends with Hayward’s emotionally bare and mournful “Nights in White Satin” which beautifully integrates orchestration and rock music. Side 2 of Days of Future Passed is perfect to listen to in the late afternoon near sunset and if you time it just right, carries you thru the mood of the sunset, twilight and the beginning of the night.
  5. Disraeli Gears – Cream (Nov. 1967)  Side 1- Strange Brew, Sunshine of Your love, World of Pain, Dance the Night Away, Blue Condition- This is one of the first non-Beatle albums that I bought. Side 1 is definitely the stronger side (though I love “Tales of Brave Ulysses” on Side 2), and starts with the electric rock-blues of “Strange Brew” one of Cream’s best songs featuring Clapton’s outstanding electric guitar and Jack Bruce’s equally good bass guitar and excellent vocals (lead by Clapton, backing by Bruce). But “Sunshine of Your Love” surpasses it and remains one of the most deservedly famous songs in the history of rock music. Though generally associated with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce shared writing credit as well as lead vocals with Clapton. While difficult to duplicate the energy and high-caliber of the first two tracks, “World of Pain” and “Dance the Night Away” maintain much of the musical energy, the great bluesy rock sound and wonderful vocal harmonies. (“Dance the Night Away” was sung entirely in two-part harmony by Bruce and Clapton). “Blue Condition” (Ginger Baker sole contribution to the album) is only OK. But even here, the contrast of the musical inventiveness, rock-blues energy from the first four songs with a simple blues melody and an “I’m in the doldrums” mood actually makes the track more interesting and provides a fitting conclusion to Side 1.
  6. Bookends – Simon and Garfunkel (April 1968)-Side 2 Fakin’ it, Punky’s Dilemma, Mrs. Robinson, Hazy Shade of Winter, At the Zoo – Side 2 is my favorite album side of the duo’s short (i.e. five albums in five years) but very illustrious career. Four of the five songs are among the best songs the group ever did. “Fakin’ It” starts side 2 with an interesting rhythm, an upbeat chorus and a great tune, and unforgettable lyrics about being on the wrong side of a one-sided relationship  “Girl does what she wants to do….I’ve just been fakin’ it, not really makin it”. “Punky’s Dilemma” is a daydream muse by Simon “Wish I was a Kellogg’s cornflake, floating in my bowl taking movies…I’m a citizen for boysenberry jam fan” which is accurately cast with a simple, lazy but good melody and vocal by Simon. “Mrs. Robinson” the big hit single from the album, has a great acoustic guitar intro and wonderful music and lyrics about the loss of heroes. “Where have you gone Joe Dimaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” In contrast, “Hazy Shade of Winter” is more ambiguous but a powerful song, both musically and lyrically and was covered very successfully by the Bangles in the 1980s. The side ends with the utter joy of “At the Zoo” which always reminds me of my days as a young child going to the Central Park Zoo. Side 2 of Bookends is a wonderful collection of songs that explore a variety of emotions but ends on a happy note.
  7. Blind Faith- Blind Faith (August 1969)- Side 1 –Had to Cry Today, Can’t Find my Way home, Well Alright , Presence of the Lord  What happens when you combine Steve Winwood (on temporary hiatus from Traffic) and Eric Clapton (formerly of Cream) in a super group (along with renowned Cream drummer Ginger Baker)?  You get the group Blind Faith and one superb album (the group disbanded after 6 months!). While Side 2 suffers from the overly long, 15 minute, “Do What You Like” , Side 1 has four great songs. (I had the pleasure of hearing Clapton and Winwood perform all four of these songs live in Columbus almost 7-8 years ago.). “Had to Cry Today” features the dueling rock guitars of Clapton and Steve Winwood who wrote and sang the almost 9 minute long song. The playing is superb, featuring an excellent repeating guitar riff that unifies and makes the song infectious and seem much shorter than it is. The sound and pace changes dramatically with the Winwood’s beautiful “Can’t Find My Way Home”,  which features Winwood’s great tenor voice , keyboards, and Clapton’s acoustic guitar. “Well Alright” is a Buddy Holly cover which features Clapton’s usual guitar brilliance, and great organ from Winwood as well as powerful vocals from both. Side 1 finishes and climaxes with Clapton’s “Presence of the Lord” which features palatial sounding organ from Winwood, and great vocals from Winwood, but Clapton’s guitar again dominates. And you wonder why I seldom played Side 2!
  8. Abbey Road – Beatles (October 1969) Side 2Here Comes the Sun, Because, You Never Give Me Your Money, Sun King, Mean Mr. Mustard, Polythene Pam, She Came in Thru the Bathroom Window , Golden Slumbers, Carry the Weight, The End, Her MajestySide 2 of Abbey Road is the most cohesive and brilliant piece of music the Beatles ever did from start to finish. It starts with George Harrison’s best ever song (and the best song on the album), the uplifting ” Here Comes the Sun”. John Lennon’s “Because” is an interesting albeit short respite as John expresses his love for Yoko “love is all, love is you”. Paul’s piano introduces the next song “You Never Give Me Your Money” a great McCartney composition with excellent melody and musical bridge. It also includes great guitar work by George particularly as the song fades out “one, two, three, four, five, six, seven , all good children go to heaven” into the sounds of crickets, birds and the beginning bass guitar chords of “Sun King” a religious chant, another short and simple but very effective Lennon song. This is suddenly interrupted by Ringo’s drumming and the start of the more moderately paced “Mean Mr. Mustard”, the first of a merged trilogy of McCartney songs that also includes the frenetic, excellent rock song “Polythene Pam” and finishes with “She Came in Thru the Bathroom Window” featuring McCartney’s great vocals. There is a brief rest as the band seems to be catching its breath, as Paul’s piano introduces another soulful rocker “Golden Slumbers” (which though different,  sounds much like “reprise” of “You Never Give Me Your Money”) which thru Ringo’s drum bridge leads to the sonorous chant of “Carry the Weight”.  Unofficially, Side 2 ends fittingly and compellingly with “The End” which is musically a Beatles rarity in that it includes a short drum solo by Ringo, and a fantastic dueling guitar jam of McCartney, Harrison and Lennon. (Allegedly, Eric Clapton was part of this jam in an uncredited role, but there is no evidence to support this). It is almost as if the Beatles have pulled out all the stops since this was the last song on the last album they would record together. (The “Let it Be” album was recorded before Abbey Road, but fighting over the final production delayed the release until early 1970). Technically,  the very short ditty “Her Majesty’ is actually the last track of the album but it starts a full 10-20 seconds after “The End” and is easily missed. Side 1 is almost as good with the two-sided hit single “Come Together” and “Something” starting the album and the side finishing with the infectious and electric “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” but it is the unusual and wonderful side 2 that makes Abbey Road, my favorite Beatles album.
  9. In the Court of the Crimson King- King Crimson (October 1969) Side 121st Century Schizoid Man, I Talk to the Wind, Epitaph – This album may be best known for its colorful cover, but many consider it one of the first and best progressive rock albums. And Side 1 is by far the best, beginning with the explosive electric guitar of Robert Fripp, Ian McDonald’s wailing saxophone and the rough-edged, almost screeching vocals from Greg Lake (a rarity for him) of “21st Century Schizoid Man”. The song includes lengthy syncopated solos between Fripp and McDonald and excellent use of Mellotron and Lake’s bass and Giles drumming playing throughout. Musically, this was hard rock heaven! And lyrically, it was unforgettable. “Cat’s foot iron claw. Neuro-surgeons scream for more. At paranoia’s poison door. Twenty first century schizoid man…..Blood rack barbed wire. Politicians’ funeral pyre. Innocents raped with napalm fire. Twenty first century schizoid man.” How can you not love this song! In direct contrast to Schizoid Man, “I Talk to the Wind” is a soft almost ethereal song headlined by McDonald’s great flute playing and Greg Lake’s excellent, mournful vocals. And lyrically it is simply about disillusionment and isolation, a theme which would be repeated many times in progressive rock over the years. “I talk to the wind, my words are all carried away…. the wind cannot hear”. However, the soft respite was to be short-lived as “Epitaph” crashes to a start with a crescendo of drums and Mellotron. Greg Lake sings  “The wall on which the prophets wrote is cracking at the seams” and the song builds thru a slow march and some excellent drumming , Mellotron and guitar work. This is a song about ultimate chaos “Confusion will be my epitaph” and it is a brilliant close to Side 1. While King Crimson released many more albums, this was the first and only with Greg Lake (who shortly thereafter departed for Emerson, Lake and Palmer) and it is by far their best.
  10. Let it Bleed- Rolling Stones (December 1969) Side 2. -“Midnight Rambler, You Got the Silver, Monkey Man, You can’t always get what you want….. Side 2 of Let it Bleed is bookended by two of the Stones greatest long jam-style songs “Midnight Rambler” (‘don’t do that”) to start the side and one of their best songs ever ” You Can’t Always Get What You Want” to end the side – both with seven minutes of pure rock heaven. In between, you have the slow bluesy ” You Got Silver” and one of the Stones best album cuts ever ” Monkey Man” which features a great piano introduction to start , fine guitar work throughout and wonderful rock melody and lyrics throughout ” I’ve a cold Italian pizza, I could use a lemon squeezer….My friends are all junkies” that spoke to being on concert tours as a rock star in 1969. Side 1 is good too. (E.g. ” Gimme Shelter”, “Let it Bleed” “Live with Me” etc) but Side 2 is outstanding.

And of course being that it is Christmas shopping season, did I mention that any of these 10 albums/CDs would make a great Christmas gift?

 

 

From → Music 60s70s

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