1969 was a huge year of upheaval for America in particular. The Woodstock festival (in August of ’69) was one of the most important musical and cultural events of not only the hippie movement but of rock and roll music in general. On the flipside were the Altamont Speedway concert, the Manson Family murders and the inauguration of President Nixon, each in their own way helped to signify the death of the hippie movement.
By ’69 music was splitting into many different factions. The hippies were growing older, mellowing out and starting families and neo-folk style singers like Joni Mitchell & James Taylor would soundtrack their lives throughout the next decade. Country-rock, created by Gram Parsons & The Byrds a few years earlier, would begin to really fluorish- Parsons’ new band The Flying Burrito Brothers released their brilliant debut “the Gilded Palace of Sin”, while Johnny Cash released his second “prison album”- with “Live at San Quention”- a distinctly more rockin’ album than he had ever recorded previously. Bob Dylan went full on country with “Nashville Skyline” & Elvis Presley would record his comeback albums “From Elvis in Memphis” & “Back to Memphis- both relying heavily on the Nashville countrypolitan sound. The Band’s second self-titled album may not be full on country-rock but it certainly has a very roots-rock feel. The Supergroup Crosby Stills & Nash in America and the British folk musicians Fairport Convention & the unknown at the time Nick Drake came out with extremely artistically successful albums full of beautiful acoustic based music. All of these albums & groups would help influence what would become one of the most commercially successful sounds of the next decade.
’69 was also arguably the birth time of both punk (with debut albums from The Stooges and MC5) and heavy Metal (the first two Led Zeppelin albums). Rock music also got more and more progressive blending in elements of jazz & classical music. King Crimson & Yes both had their album debuts along with other progressive groups like Jethro Tull & the Moody Blues releasing strong albums. Chicago Transit Authority (soon to become the increasingly awful Chicago), Blood, Sweat & Tears, The Soft Machine from the U.K. & Frank Zappa could be classified as jazz-rock while Miles Davis’s landmark release “In A Silent Way” was his most rock oriented statement though he would travel further into the rock-fushion realm throughout the seventies. Along with the aforementioned MC5 and Stooges albums underground rock would continue to sow the seeds of the alternative/indie music revolution of the eighties with influential and flawless self-titled Velvet Underground album along with the unique and eccentric “Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart.
The Beatles would record their last album as a group with the standout “Abbey Road”. The Who gave us “Tommy”, one of their chief albums and the first well known “rock opera” (“S.F. Sorrow” by The Small Faces is regarded as the first). Creedence Clearwater Revival absolutely dominated ’69 with three albums (“Green River” being the best of the three) and a slew of amazing top ten singles. The Rolling Stones were in full force with “Let It Bleed”, certainly one of their three or four best albums.
Soul music was changing quite a bit as well. Producer Norman Whitfield now dominated the Motown sound- taking the mantle away from Smokey Robinson & Holland Dozier, Holland. The music was much funkeir and psychedelicized- moving away from pop and into rock. A funkier sound for soul music in general was emerging. James Brown had created the new sound two years earlier with “Cold Sweat” and he continued to release great funk singles as new groups like The Meters released their debut album and Sly & the Family Stone released one of their masterpieces with “Stand!”. Stax producer Isaac Hayes released the hugely influential “Hot Buttered Soul”, which contained only 4 songs- 3 of them over 8 minutes and Dusty Springfield, a white Londoner, released a soul album with many of the Stax/Volt house musicians entitled “Dusty in Memphis” which would remain her most vital statement.
Great music for turbulent times. 1969 kicked some serious tail and in my opinion is one of the standout years in the history of 20th century music.
The Beatles- Abbey Road
The Rolling Stones- Let It Bleed
The Kinks- Arthur- Or the Decline & Fall of the British Empire
Fairport Convention- Unhalfbricking
The Flying Burrito Brothers- Gilded Palace of Sin
The Who- Tommy
Sly & the Family Stone- Stand!
Isaac Hayes- Hot Buttered Soul
Led Zeppelin- I
Creedence Clearwater Revival- Green River
The Velvet Underground- The Velvet Underground
The Stooges- The Stooges
Miles Davis- In A Silent Way
Led Zeppelin- II
Neil Young- Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
Crosby Stills & Nash- Crosby Stills & Nash
Nick Drake- Five Leaves Left
The Band- The Band
Dusty Springfield- Dusty in Memphis
Johnny Cash- At San Quentin