Thursday, 16 July 2009

I’m going to get this out of the way early: Abbey Road is not my choice for 1969. While it has some good songs (“Octopus’s Garden,” “Come Together,” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer;” it just doesn’t strike me as strong of an album as some of their others. If you ask me, their best albums came out before I was born. 1968’s the The White Album was great, with many memorable songs, but 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night has some of the sweetest, most touching tracks; “If I Fell,” “And I Love Her,” and “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You” being personal favorites.

It was also the last year they performed together in public.

But I’m not here to talk about the Beatles illustrious career, nor years past. I’m here to delve into the music of 1969 and my favorite album for the year.

Led Zeppelin’s eponymous debut album was released; Vickie Jones was arrested after a concert performance where she did a spot-on impersonation of Aretha Franklin (DO NOT mess with the Queen); The Who’s rock opera, Tommy made its debut; Chicago released their first album; Eric Burdon & War formed; Brian Jones died; Elvis Presley returns to live performance with shows in Vegas; the Jackson 5 make their album debut; Mott the Hoople, King Crimson, Black Sabbath, The Doobie Brothers, and Judas Priest all form. And if that isn’t enough, we can’t forget those three little days in August: Woodstock.

1969 gave us what was quite possibly the first super-group: Blind Faith. While you can’t deny the potential in bringing Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and Ginger Baker together, their singular, self-titled album just doesn’t have anything that truly stuck with me after hearing it. There’s nothing there that I look back and think “I’ve got to hear that again.”

Genesis released their first album, “From Genesis to Revelation” in 1969. Many regard their early work, while Peter Gabriel was in the band, their best work. However I think my favorite of theirs came later, in the Phil Collins years, even though I think Collins ruined the band in the end. Peter Gabriel did better work as a solo act, so Genesis doesn’t get the nod this year.

The Jackson 5 released their first album, Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5. It’s got a couple good songs, but it was largely cover songs and was kind of a disappointment for me. ABC is a much better album, so I’ll hold out for that.

I have to note Stand! by Sly and the Family Stone, if only for the songs “Everyday People” and “You Can Make It If You Try.” Both classics and that I can never get enough of.

For me the best album of the year is In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson. It was their debut album, and is probably the strongest album ever to come out of the progressive rock genre. My favorite rock guitarist, Adrian Belew, didn’t join King Crimson until later, but I won’t hold that against the album.

All of that said, how can I pick a mere album, a single recording, as the most influential music event of 1969. Clearly that honor must go to Woodstock.

Surprised? Really?

Woodstock was, quite possibly, the single greatest concert event ever. With a lineup including Janis Joplin, CNSY, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Arlo Guthrie, Ravi Shankar, Joan Baez, Santana, Sly & the Family Stone, Johnny Winter (with Edgar!), Richie Havens, and the Grateful Dead, how can you go wrong? And that’s only half of the bands that were there. Even Sha-Na-Na was there!

OK, so the Sha-Na-Na thing might be pushing it a tiny bit. <grin>

Even the list of who didn’t show up is big: Jethro Tull (Ian Anderson didn’t like hippies), The Doors (Jim Morrison didn’t like large outdoor venues), Led Zeppelin (they didn’t want to be “just another band” on the bill), Bob Dylan (his son was sick – and there were too many hippies outside his house), among others.

There was rain, skinny dipping, mud, storms, more nakedness, free love, and a couple songs thrown in for good measure.

The original plan was for 50,000 people on 300 acres, but the Wallkill town board declined to issue the necessary permits. A little finagling and they were able to rent 600 acres from Mr. Yasgur. Somewhere along the line it grew to nearly 200,000 people, but some 500,000 showed up. Half a million people!

For its time, the engineering requirements were off the charts. 16 loudspeaker arrays, some of which were over 6 feet tall and weighed more than a half-ton. 2000 amps coming from 3 generators behind the stage to power it all.

I could go on, but so many before me have done so much better. I don’t know that anything will ever come close to those 3 days of peace, love, and music in the summer of ’69.