1969: the year of Woodstock, the year of Altamont. A year of contradictions that saw rock music leaving behind much of its world-changing idealism as the genre of a counterculture began to splinter into dozens of specialized subgenres, each with their own adherents. The process would continue throughout the Nixon years, mirroring the fracturing and disillusionment taking place in Western societies at the time. But for all that, the music was still pretty phenomenal…
5. LET IT BLEED (The Rolling Stones)
Let It Bleed opens with the Apocalypse (“Gimme Shelter”) and ends with the entry into Paradise (“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”). If what comes between isn’t quite as mind-bogglingly great, it might still be the tightest album the Stones ever recorded – though I’d prefer the original “Honky Tonk Woman” to “Country Honk.”
4. LED ZEPPELIN (Led Zeppelin)
When Steppenwolf sang about “heavy metal thunder” the previous year, I’m pretty sure this is what they meant. Robert Plant’s Valkyrie wail, Jimmy Page’s guitar pyrotechnics, John Bonham’s explosive drumming, and John Paul Jones’ sinuous basslines come together to create something both crushingly loud and dynamically expressive, like Cream bled of psychedelia and with the volume and the sex factor turned up to 11. Hard rock would never be the same.
3. IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING
There were artists making rock that was progressive prior to 1969. But for all intents and purposes, progressive rock begins with In the Court of the Crimson King. It’s the most telling sign of the album’s greatness that a full quarter of its runtime is taken up by a pointless jam (the end of “Moonchild”); and yet as soon as the title track hits you, all is forgiven and then some.
2. LED ZEPPELIN II (Led Zeppelin)
Still in the explosive, occasionally-kind-of-plagiaristic vein of their debut, II is both a stronger and a more nuanced record. “Ramble On” betrays the band’s burgeoning obsession with British folk and fantasy; “What Is & What Should Never Be” alternates restrained jazz flourishes with roaring climaxes; “Thank You” might be the best straight love song in the band’s catalog. And oh yeah, a whole lotta MONSTER riffs.
1. ABBEY ROAD (The Beatles)
Good God, the Beatles knew how to make album covers. 1966-8 saw the lads experimenting with and mastering every genre under the sun; Abbey Road finds them consolidating their gains and playing to their strengths. If “Here Comes the Sun” isn’t the most magnificent three minutes of perfect pop-rock ever committed to tape, it’s a near thing. If the Medley isn’t the most magnificent 16 minutes, ditto. Abbey Road is the sound of musicians who know what they’re good at, doing what they’re good at, better than anybody else, ever. And in the end… well, you know the rest.
- In the Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson (classicalbumcovers.wordpress.com)
- The Beatles in the Studio: virtually in Studio 2 (beatlesinstudio.blogspot.com)
- Led Zeppelin – Live at Madison Square Gardens [HD 1973] (liverockperformances.wordpress.com)
- Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones starts new band Minibus Pimps (nme.com)
- Rolling Stones tour has ‘morbid’ undertone (www.stuff.co.nz)
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