25 Essential Albums: 1960 – 1974, a guide for music fans under 30

13 Oct

GOING OLD SCHOOL

This photo from August 1969 shows people on the way to Woodstock.  A month earlier they watched people walk on the Moon, and I suspect if you had asked them to predict what life would have been like 40 years in the future, many would have said we would have a colony on Mars, jet packs and flying cars.  In that respect things haven’t happened as rapidly as we might have expected, but in terms of information and communications technology we’ve witnessed advances that few people could have imagined.

As an example, below is a photo of the actual tape recorder used to record much of the Beatles’ music. Click on the photo to read a fascinating article about the remastering of those original tapes.

Interestingly, nowadays there is a bit of nostalgia associated with the retro technology of that era. Here’s a quote from a recent  NYTimes article on vinyl records:

Rachelle Friedman, the co-owner of J&R, said the store is selling more vinyl and turntables than it has in at least a decade, fueled largely by growing demand from members of the iPod generation.

“It’s all these kids that are really ramping up their vinyl collections,” Ms. Friedman said. “New customers are discovering the quality of the sound. They’re discovering liner notes and graphics.”

A needle in the groove of a vinyl record may have an allure for a true audiophile, but I must admit that I remember the pre-digital pops, skips, crackle, and scratches. Because of static electricity vinyl disks also attracted dust that would clump up on the needle muffling the sound.  To have a clean sound you had to assiduously clean, handle and care for your albums.

Still, our level of technology did have a positive impact on the music of the sixties in a couple of respects.

First, the vintage gear without digital instruments had a warm and natural sound, contrasted with, for example, the digital instruments and recordings of later decades.

Secondly, the technology also shaped our concept of an album.  The vinyl disk limited the length of an album to about 45 minutes (two sides of about 22 minutes each.)  It was possible to extend that, but there was a noticeable trade off in the quality of sound and the volume.

Also, because the grooves had to be cut into the vinyl, the order of the music was fixed.  You could get up and lift the needle and move to another song, but it was imprecise and inconvenient, and you risked damaging your LP.  For that reason musicians and producers gave a lot of thought to the order of the songs, they sought to capture your interest with the opening song and then create a cohesive vibe.

As it turns out, 22 or 23 minutes is an ideal length (that’s also the actual length of a 30 minute TV show sans commercials.)  Many of the most memorable albums weren’t just a collection of songs, they were like two act plays, each side with its own flow, energy, and feel.

It is possible to come up with a great list of songs from the sixties to download to your ipod and that’s a worthwhile thing to do.  Or you can also find some CD collections with “songs from the sixties.” In our fast paced multitasking world that’s probably how most young people experience the music of the sixties, but this post is about albums. To go old school and really experience the music of the sixties, you need to turn off your phone for three quarters of an hour and really listen to an album.

You don’t need to buy vinyl LPs to have an Old School sixties experience.  Here are a few suggestions to experience the albums of the sixties as we did back in the day.

1. There’s a good chance you can find highly discounted or used CDs on Amazon for most of these albums.  Rather than downloading to your ipod, I would recommend getting the CD with the liner notes and graphics.  Respect the order of the original recording, and try to listen to the equivalent of one side of an LP.

2. Ideally, listen with good speakers in a darkened room, the darker the better.  If that’s not possible, at least high end headphones — not in-ear plugs.  The volume doesn’t have to be super loud, but loud enough so that you hear the overtones:

Most oscillators, from a guitar string to a bell will naturally vibrate at a series of distinct frequencies known as normal modes. The lowest normal mode frequency is known as the fundamental frequency, while the higher frequencies are called overtones. Often, when an oscillator is excited by, for example, plucking a guitar string, it will oscillate at several of its modal frequencies at the same time. So when a note is played, this gives the sensation of hearing other frequencies (overtones) above the lowest frequency (the fundamental). Learn more here

3.  Take a break between the approximate 22 minute listening sessions.  Read the liner notes, and check out the graphics.

4.  Wait a couple of days and then listen to it again. You may find that the music that you end up enjoying most is something you didn’t necessarily like the very first time you heard it.

Listening to music while you surf the web, text, or read will rob you of the retro experience of album music.

A final note, there can’t be “one” list of the best albums from an era.  I went over my favorite albums of that era and selected a variety of albums that were special in some way, but most importantly, I picked albums that have stood the test of time.

My 25 Picks for an Album Collection from the 60s era

1.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth studio album by the English rock band The Beatles, released in June 1967. Recorded over a 129-day period beginning in December 1966, Sgt. Pepper sees the band exploring further the experimentation of their previous album, Revolver (1966). Making use of orchestras, hired musicians and innovative production techniques, the album incorporates elements of genres such as music hall, jazz, rock and roll, western classical and traditional Indian music. Its lyrics deal with several themes including childhood, aging, everyday routine and life in postwar Britain, the tone ranging from cheerful and ironic to transcendent and surreal. Sgt. Pepper is a loose concept album that sees the Beatles performing as the fictitious band of the album’s title. The cover art, depicting the band posing in front of a collage of famous individuals, has itself been widely acclaimed and imitated.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a worldwide critical and commercial success, spending a total of 27 weeks at the top of the UK Album Chart and 15 weeks at number one on the American Billboard 200. A defining album in the emerging psychedelic rock style, Sgt. Pepper was critically acclaimed upon release and won four Grammy awards in 1968. Often recognised by critics and publications as one of the most influential albums in the history of music, Sgt. Pepper frequently ranks at or near the top of published lists of the greatest albums of all-time. In 2003, the album was placed at number one on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time“. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is one of the world’s best selling albums, having shipped 32 million copies. (From Wikipedia)

I envy anyone who gets to experience this album for the first time.  It’s difficult to convey how that music penetrated the consciousness of 1967, this was no longer the music of teenage infatuation, the Beatles were suddenly taken seriously outside their youthful fan base.  Now you also have the chance to listen to the remastered CD — when you hear the final piano chord on “A Day in the Life,” you’ll know what “overtones” are all about.

Albums are often driven by a hit single, but interestingly the Beatles decided not to include “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” on the album.  They were instead released as a single, until then singles had an “A” side (the intended hit) and a “B” side that was essentially a bonus track that didn’t get radio play.  The Beatles released this as a double “A” sided single.

2.

Pet Sounds is the eleventh studio album by the American rock band The Beach Boys, released May 16, 1966, on Capitol Records. It has been widely ranked as one of the most influential records ever released in pop music and has been ranked at number #1 in several music magazines’ lists of greatest albums of all time, including New Musical Express, The Times and Mojo Magazine.[1][2][3] In 2003, it was ranked #2 in Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.[4]

Pet Sounds was created several months after Brian Wilson had quit touring with the band in order to focus his attention on writing and recording.[5] In it, he wove elaborate layers of vocal harmonies, coupled with sound effects and unconventional instruments such as bicycle bells, buzzing organs, harpsichords, flutes, the Electro-Theremin, and dog whistles, along with the more usual keyboards and guitars. (from Wikipedia)

Prior to the so called British Invasion (i.e. the spectacular popularity of British musical acts that came about after the Beatles success in America) the Beach Boys had been “the” American band.  They sang about surfing, cars, and girls, but “Pet Sounds” represented a new level of musical maturity and sophistication .  The band was formed around the three Wilson brothers and their first cousin, Mike Love.  None of them were truly gifted lead vocalists, but their strength came from their intricate and impeccable harmonies and their melodic gifts.

Paul McCartney credits “Pet Sounds” as an inspiration for the Beatles Sgt. Peppers album.  Interestingly, Brian Wilson has said that the Beatles album “Rubber Soul” was an inspiration for “Pet Sounds.”

3.

Kind of Blue The sessions featured Davis’s ensemble sextet, which consisted of pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Paul Chambers, and saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley.

Though precise figures have been disputed, Kind of Blue has been cited by many music writers not only as Davis’s best-selling album, but as the best-selling jazz record of all time. On October 7, 2008, it was certified quadruple platinum in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It has been regarded by many critics as the greatest jazz album of all time and Davis’s masterpiece. The album’s influence on music, including jazz, rock and classical music, has led music writers to acknowledge it as one of the most influential albums of all time. In 2002, it was one of fifty recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. In 2003, the album was ranked number 12 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. (Wikipedia)

Although this album was released in August of 1959, it really made its mark in 1960.  If you don’t own any jazz albums, or if you think you don’t like jazz, this is an album you should have in your collection.  A true masterpiece.

4.

Time Out is a 1959 album by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, based upon the use of time signatures that were unusual for jazz (mainly waltz or double-waltz time, but also 9/8, and most famously 5/4).

Although the album was intended as an experiment (Columbia president Goddard Lieberson was willing to chance releasing it) and received negative reviews by critics upon its release, it became one of the best-known and biggest-selling jazz albums, reaching number two in the U.S. Billboard “Pop Albums” chart, and produced one singlePaul Desmond‘s “Take Five“—that reached number five in the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.  (Wikipedia)

Imagine a jazz album reaching #2 on the pop album charts.  Again, like Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue,” it was recorded in 1959, but it took a couple of years before it hit the charts.  Although the time signatures are complex, strangely the music is commercially appealing (it was so unusual that the record company didn’t even want to release it, so it was released as an experiment — perhaps the reason it took so long to break out in the charts.)

5.

Highway 61 Revisited is singer-songwriter Bob Dylan‘s sixth studio album, released in August 1965 by Columbia Records. Having recorded one side of his previous album Bringing It All Back Home with a rock band backing him, Highway 61 was Dylan’s first album to be recorded with a rock band on every track, except for the 11 minute closing song “Desolation Row”, which was performed on acoustic guitar.

Featuring hits and concert staples such as “Like a Rolling Stone“, “Desolation Row“, “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Ballad of a Thin Man“, it is considered to be among the artist’s best and most influential efforts. Dylan himself commented, “I’m not gonna be able to make a record better than that one… Highway 61 is just too good. There’s a lot of stuff on there that I would listen to.”[1]

Highway 61 Revisited peaked at #3 in the American charts and #4 in the UK, and its lead single, “Like a Rolling Stone“, reached #2 in the US and #4 in the UK. Highway 61 Revisited has received multiple accolades. The album was ranked #4 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Desolation Row“, and “Highway 61 Revisited” were listed at #1, #185 and #364, respectively, on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. (Wikipedia)

It’s worth mentioning that Mike Bloomfield played guitar on this album, and recently Dylan has mentioned him as the best guitarist with whom he ever worked.

6.

Are You Experienced is the debut album by English/American rock band The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Released in 1967… the album highlighted Jimi Hendrix‘s R&B-based, psychedelic, distortion- and feedback-laden electric guitar playing, and launched him as a major new international star.

“”Are You Experienced”” has stayed a critical and commercial success since its release. The album reached number 2 in the UK, behind The Beatles‘ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band“. The album contains some of Hendrix’s best known songs, including Purple Haze, Hey Joe, Fire, Stone Free, and Red House. It has been hailed as one of the greatest debut albums of all time. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #15 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The album was an instant success and was the best-selling album in the United States in 1968.

Guitarist magazine named the album number one on their list of “the most influential guitar albums of all time” in 1994[3] and Mojo magazine similarly listed it as the greatest guitar album of all time in 2003.[4] Creem magazine named the album number six on the Top Ten Metal Albums Of The 60s.[5] Vibe (12/99, p. 156) included it in its list of 100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century. NME (10/2/93, p. 29) ranked it #29 in its list of the “Greatest Albums Of All Time”.[6] In March 2000 a poll from Guitar World Magazine named Are You Experienced the greatest album of the Millennium. (Wikipedia)

7.

What’s Going On is the eleventh studio album by soul musician Marvin Gaye, released May 21, 1971 on the Motown-subsidiary label Tamla Records.[1] Recording sessions for the album took place in June 1970 and March–May 1971 at Hitsville U.S.A., Golden World and United Sound Studios in Detroit, Michigan and at The Sound Factory in West Hollywood, California.

The first Marvin Gaye album credited as produced solely by the artist himself, What’s Going On is a unified concept album consisting of nine songs, most of which lead into the next. It has also been categorized as a song cycle, since the album ends on a reprise to the album’s opening theme. The album is told from the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran returning to the country he had been fighting for, and seeing nothing but injustice, suffering and hatred.

What’s Going On was the first album on which Motown Records‘ main studio band, the group of session musicians known as the Funk Brothers, received an official credit. Featuring introspective lyrics about drug abuse, poverty and the Vietnam War, the album was also the first to reflect the beginning of a new trend in soul music. What’s Going On was both an immediate commercial and critical success and has endured as a classic of early-1970s soul. A deluxe edition set of the album was released on February 27, 1972, and featured a rare live concert shot at Washington, D.C.‘s Kennedy Center where the singer was given the key to the city.

In worldwide critics/artists and public surveys, it has been voted as one of the landmark recordings in pop music history and is considered to be one of the greatest albums ever made.[2] In 2003, the album was ranked number 6 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[3] (Wikipedia)

8.

Miles of Aisles is a 1974 double live album by Joni Mitchell backed by the L.A. Express, recorded on the Court and Spark tour. It reached #2 on the charts and became one of her biggest-selling records.

“Big Yellow Taxi” reached #24 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, becoming Mitchell’s fourth top 40 hit and continuing her commercial hot streak at the time. (Wikipedia)

Unlike my previous seven picks, this album isn’t often mentioned as one of the best of its era, although I’m certain if John Lennon, Jim Morrison, or Mick Jagger had released something of this caliber it would be.

I don’t think sexism is the charge to level at rock critics of the 60s & 70s (and beyond.)  I suspect many of them are simply enthralled with “bad boys.”  McCartney couldn’t catch a break in this respect either.

In any case, Joni Mitchell pulled 16 outstanding songs from her previous five albums and recorded them live, but with a twist.  She was backed by a jazz/rock crossover band.  The live recording is excellent, the music is ingenious, and the lyrics are poetic. On this album Joni Mitchell displays a talent that rivals Dylan’s, it’s a collections of her finest early work that captured a powerful live performance.

9.

The Progressive Blues Experiment is the first album by Johnny Winter.

Although his early Columbia albums brought him worldwide stardom, it was this modest little album (first released on Imperial before the Columbia sides) that first brought Johnny Winter to the attention of guitarheads in America. It’s also Winter at the beginning of a long career, playing the blues as if his life depends on it, without applying a glimmer of rock commercialism. The standard classic repertoire here includes “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” “I Got Love if You Want It,” “Forty-Four,” “It’s My Own Fault,” and “Help Me,” with Winter mixing it up with his original Texas trio of Red Turner on drums and Tommy Shannon (later of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble) on bass. A true classic, this is one dirty, dangerous, and visionary album. The set was issued in a sonically screaming 24-bit remastered edition on CD by Capitol in 2005. It contains no bonus tracks, but it leaves the original crummy CD issue in the dust. (allmusic.com review)

10.

Dionne Warwick sings the Bacharach & David songbook

Over a 20-year period, beginning in the early 1960s, Warwick charted 38 singles co-written or produced by Bacharach, including 22 Top-40, 12 Top-20, and nine Top-10 hits on the American Billboard Hot 100 charts. (Wikipedia)

Bacharach’s music is characterized by unusual chord progressions, striking syncopated rhythmic patterns, irregular phrasing, frequent modulation, and odd, changing meters. Bacharach has arranged, conducted, and co-produced much of his recorded output. (Wikipedia)

While she was performing background on The Drifters’s recording of “Mexican Divorce,” Warwick’s voice and star presence were noticed by the song’s composer, Burt Bacharach, a Brill Building songwriter who was writing songs with many other songwriters, including lyricist Hal David. According to a July 14, 1967, article on Warwick from Time, Bacharach stated, “She has a tremendous strong side and a delicacy when singing softly—like miniature ships in bottles.” Musically, she was “no play-safe girl. What emotion I could get away with!” And what complexity, compared with the usual run of pop songs.

Warwick was signed to Bacharach’s and David’s production company, according to Warwick, which in turn was signed to Scepter Records in 1962. The partnership would provide Bacharach with the freedom to produce Warwick without the control of recording company executives and company A&R men. Warwick’s musical ability and education would also allow Bacharach to compose more challenging tunes.  (Wikipedia)

Generally I don’t recommend “best of” or “greatest hits” compilations, but I have included this and one other compilation on this list.  Bacharach was the consummate songwriter and during this time was focused on crafting individual songs.  This is a chance to listen to some of the finest compositions of this era, produced and arranged by the composer, and sung by a gifted vocalist of his choosing.  In this particular case a compilation only enhances the impact of this musical team.

11.

Abraxas is the second studio album by Santana, the Latin rock n’ roll group led by guitarist Carlos Santana. Consolidating their live success at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, and the interest generated by their first album the band took some time to issue a follow-up. Released in September 1970, the album’s mix of rock, blues, jazz, salsa and other influences made it a classic that defined Santana’s early sound, and showed a musical maturation from their first album.

Often considered Santana’s greatest album, it drew widespread acclaim for its mixture of Latin influences with familiar rock themes such as overdriven electric guitar, organ and heavy drums. The album also demonstrates Santana’s stylistic versatility, including tracks such as “Samba Pa Ti” (a classic slow-burning, seductive piece)[1] and “Incident at Neshabur”, both being instrumentals. The latter has several rhythm and time signature changes consistent with its jazz feel. Latin percussion — congas, bongos and timbales, as well as a conventional rock drum setup, make this Santana’s first foray into true Latin rhythm. (Wikipedia)

12.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is a blues-rock album by Derek and the Dominos, released in November 1970, best known for its eponymous title track, “Layla“. The album is often regarded as Eric Clapton‘s greatest musical achievement, in ensemble with a talented supporting cast of Bobby Whitlock on keyboards and vocals, Jim Gordon on drums, Carl Radle on bass, and special guest performer Duane Allman on slide guitar.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs peaked at #16 on Billboards Pop Albums chart and was certified gold by the RIAA. [1] The album again made the Billboard 200 in 1974 and in 1977. It never charted in Britain.[2]

In 2000, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2003 the TV network VH1 named Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs the 89th greatest album of all time. In 2003, the album was ranked number 115 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[1]
(Wikipedia)

13.

Getz/Gilberto, is a jazz bossa nova album released in 1964 by the American saxophonist Stan Getz and the Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto, and featuring composer and musician Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Its release created a bossa nova craze in the United States, and subsequently internationally. It brought together Stan Getz, who had already performed the genre on his LP Jazz Samba, João Gilberto (one of the creators of the style), and Jobim, a celebrated Brazilian compositor (and also one of the main creators of the genre), who wrote most of the songs in the album.

It became one of the best-selling jazz albums of all times, and turned Astrud Gilberto, who sang on the tracks “The Girl from Ipanema” and “Corcovado”, into an international sensation.

It won the 1965 Grammy Awards for Best Album of the Year, Best Jazz Instrumental Album – Individual or Group and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

“The Girl from Ipanema” also won the award for Record of the Year in 1965. This was the first time a jazz album received Album of the Year. It was the last jazz album to win the award until Herbie Hancock‘s River: The Joni Letters 43 years later, in 2008.

JazzTimes (11/94, pp. 88–89) – “…essential for all serious jazz collections…served as proof that it is possible for music to be both artistically and commercially successful…this relatively sparse setting with the great Getz perfectly fit the music, resulting in a true gem…”

Vibe (12/99, p. 158) – Included in Vibe’s 100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century.

In 2003, the album was ranked number 454 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. (Wikipedia)

14.

Buffalo Springfield Again Due in part to personnel problems which saw Bruce Palmer and Neil Young in and out of the group, Buffalo Springfield’s second album did not have as unified an approach as their debut. Yet it doesn’t suffer for that in the least — indeed, the group continued to make major strides in both their songwriting and arranging, and this record stands as their greatest triumph. Stephen Stills‘ “Bluebird” and “Rock & Roll Woman” were masterful folk-rockers that should have been big hits (although they did manage to become small ones); his lesser-known contributions “Hung Upside Down” and the jazz-flavored “Everydays” were also first-rate. Young contributed the Rolling Stones-derived “Mr. Soul,” as well as the brilliant “Expecting to Fly” and “Broken Arrow,” both of which employed lush psychedelic textures and brooding, surrealistic lyrics that stretched rock conventions to their breaking point. Richie Furay (who had not written any of the songs on the debut) takes tentative songwriting steps with three compositions, although only “A Child’s Claim to Fame,” with its memorable dobro hooks by James Burton, meets the standards of the material by Stills and Young; the cut also anticipates the country-rock direction of Furay‘s post-Springfield band, Poco. Although a slightly uneven record that did not feature the entire band on several cuts, the high points were so high and plentiful that its classic status cannot be denied. (allmusic.com review)

15.

Others had recorded one-man albums before Todd Rundgren, most notably Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, but with Something/Anything? he captured the homemade ambience of McCartney with the visionary feel of Music of My Mind, adding an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music from Gilbert & Sullivan through Jimi Hendrix, plus the crazed zeal of a pioneer. Listening to Something/Anything? is a mind-altering trip in itself, no matter how many shamelessly accessible pop songs are scattered throughout the album, since each side of the double-record is a concept unto itself. The first is “a bouquet of ear-catching melodies”; side two is “the cerebral side”; on side three “the kid gets heavy”; side four is his mock pop operetta, recorded with a full band including the Sales Brothers. It gallops through everything — Carole King tributes (“I Saw the Light”), classic ballads (“Hello It’s Me,” “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference”), Motown (“Wolfman Jack”), blinding power pop (“Couldn’t I Just Tell You”), psychedelic hard rock (“Black Maria”), pure weirdness (“I Went to the Mirror”), blue-eyed soul (“Dust in the Wind”), and scores of brilliant songs that don’t fall into any particular style (“Cold Morning Light,” “It Takes Two to Tango”). It’s an amazing journey that’s remarkably unpretentious. Rundgren peppers his writing with self-aware, self-deprecating asides, indulging his bizarre sense of humor with gross-outs (“Piss Aaron”) and sheer quirkiness, such as an aural tour of the studio at the beginning of side two. There are a ton of loose ends throughout Something/Anything?, plenty of studio tricks, slight songs (but no filler), snippets of dialogue, and purposely botched beginnings, but all these throwaways simply add context — they’re what makes the album into a kaleidoscopic odyssey through the mind of an insanely gifted pop music obsessive. (allmusic.com review)

16.

In terms of production, material, and execution this album is a true masterpiece.  It produced two hit records and remained on the Billboard Album Charts for 100 weeks.

It was produced by Louie Shelton, the legendary L.A. session guitarist.  I had the good fortune to do an extended interview with him for All About Jazz which you can read here.  Louie, who was the session guitarist for Mowtown (Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, etc.), pointedly used the Motown studio in L.A. and their rhythm section to punch the sound on Summer Breeze.  Unfortunately, soft-rock radio’s frequent rotation of Seals & Crofts’ music defined them a soft rockers  — the truth is, Summer Breeze is impossible to label.  So with that noted, here is the review from allmusic.com:

Summer Breeze offered an unusually ambitious array of music within a soft rock context — most artists tried to avoid weighty subjects in such surroundings (except, of course, CSN or Simon & Garfunkel, who could pretty much get away with anything).

The title track is one of those relentlessly appealing 1970s harmony-rock anthems, in the same mode as the Doobie Brothers‘ “Listen to the Music” and appropriately ubiquitous on the radio and in the memory; the guitar (electric and acoustic) and vocal hooks are all well-nigh irresistible. The rest varies in sound and focus. “Hummingbird” quotes from the Baha’i scriptures and has a segmented structure with a chantlike opening and a sharp change in tempo, which didn’t stop it from becoming a hit, and for all of its beauty, the soaring Marty Paich-arranged orchestral accompaniment, highlighted by lofty strings and a gorgeous horn part, never eclipses the core sound of the duo’s singing and their acoustic guitar/mandolin combination. “Funny Little Man” mixes understated harmonies and acoustic instruments into an extended break that could almost pass for a classical piece. “Say” asks a lot of serious philosophical questions amid its rapid beat and playful tone. “East of Ginger Trees” is a hauntingly beautiful excursion into more Baha’i scripture, with delectable harmonies, a gorgeous mandolin part, and one of the most exquisitely restrained uses of orchestra of its era. “Fiddle in the Sky” shifts the album into purer country territory, while “The Boy Down the Road” moves listeners into a country-folk vein with a spookily melodramatic tale. “The Euphrates” picks up the tempo, providing an upbeat take on the meaning of life that loses none of its inherent sense of wonder. “Advance Guards” has that same sense of wonder, conveying it in a slower, more luxuriant setting, and the record ends on a rougher-hewn note with the more beat-driven, electric guitar-heavy “Yellow Dirt.” Summer Breeze was the most highly regarded of all of Seals & Crofts’ albums, a fact reflected by its reissue as part of the all too short-lived Warner Archives series in 1995, which also accounts for its far better than average sound.

17.

At Fillmore East is a double live album by The Allman Brothers Band. The band’s breakthrough success, At Fillmore East was released in July 1971. It ranks Number 49 among Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time[1] and remains among the top-selling albums in the band’s catalogue. It is often cited as being one of the most well-known live recordings in history. (Wikipedia)

“Southern Rock” is a poor  description of this musical outing.  It is a synthesis of blues, jazz, and a touch of country played with rock energy.  This is arguably the greatest live blues / rock recording ever made, an album that cemented slide guitarist Duane Allman’s place in music history.

18.

Jimmy Smith is the most influential Hammond B3 player in music history.  His style of soloing was a major shift in jazz, moving away from “big chords” to horn (or guitar) like solos with his blisteringly fast right hand.

Jimmy Smith and Dave Brubeck were jazz musicians who each had ten albums on the US 40 Top Album Charts.  Jimmy Smith’s playing appeals to rock and blues lovers, and this album in particular is a treat for blues fans.  For jazz lovers there are other Jimmy Smith albums I would recommend, but this is a great album for rock and blues lovers.

On this album Jimmy even does a couple of vocals, covering John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” and Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man,” made popular by Muddy Waters.  His solos will knock you out and the Oliver Nelson horn arrangements are powerful.

1. I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man  
2. One Mint Julep  
3. Ain’t That Just Like a Woman  
4. Boom Boom  
5. Blues and the Abstract Truth  
6. TNT  
7. Hi-Heel Sneakers

This happens to be my favorite Jimmy Smith album, but you can also buy a CD that contains this album plus another blues influenced album: “Got My Mojo Workin.”  So two albums for the price of one.

19.

Bumpin’ is an album by Wes Montgomery, released in 1965. Considered an important improvisational bridge to modern jazz, the album represents a model from which many modern recordings are derived. In it, a full orchestral type of scoring goes beyond the artist’s own ability to riff creating a holistic concept of music and jazz. (Wikipedia)

Taking the listener on a smoother, rather than bumpier, ride down the moonlight highway of jazz is Wes Montgomery, a chief architect of the world’s guitar virtuoso scene. Not only is his brilliant command of the six-string present here, so is the vivid color tones of notes and blue notes played between.

Backed up by a hauntingly beautiful and mesmerizing orchestra conducted and arranged by Don Sebesky, the music almost lifts the listener off his feet into a dreamy, water-like landscape. The atmosphere is serene and enchanting, such as a romantic evening for two under starlight, and certainly a romantic eve merits the accompaniment of this record.

The sounds are soft, smooth, and silky, and Montgomery addresses full leadership of his graceful melodic style, fronting close to 20 members of a orchestra perhaps best described resonant and sweeping. So too are the sweeping note flows of Montgomery’s guitar, and his surprising fluidness towards the art of comping, a necessary trait of the jazz guitar virtuoso. Even the unforgettable Jim Hall can be tickled and intrigued through a listen of these influential records, as for all amateur and professional guitar musicians.

“A Quiet Thing” is perhaps the most somber, peaceful, and smooth piece on the record, demonstrating Montgomery’s love of quiet, and how much the idea of not playing at all brings music to the listeners. The charming sounds of orchestral violas, violins, cellos, and harp are sent ablaze to create a pleasant atmosphere, either for a quick morning get up, get ready for work, or evening dining setting. “Here’s That Rainy Day” is an up-tempo bossa nova tune that resonates with Montgomery’s enticing chordal changes and blissful phrasing, not to mention the blend of harp and strings lays the groundwork for a perfect rainy day inside, with drops pattering at the windows and fires aglow. The recording engineer did a wonderful job with this album. The sound quality is clear and lush, and, overall, this collection of mid-’60s cool jazz is a delight to listen too, once and again. (allmusic.com)

20.

Revolver is the seventh album by English rock group The Beatles, released on 5 August 1966. Many of the tracks on Revolver are marked by an electric guitar-rock sound, in contrast with their previous, folk rock inspired Rubber Soul. It reached number one on both the British chart and American chart and stayed at the top spot for seven weeks and six weeks, respectively.

The album was released before their last tour in August 1966, but they did not perform songs from the album live. Their reasoning for this was that many of the tracks on the album, such as “Tomorrow Never Knows“, were too complex to perform with live instruments.[1] They toured with “Paperback Writer” as their only new song from 1966, which was not on the album.

Placed at number 3 in the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, the album is often regarded as one of the greatest achievements in rock music history, and one of the Beatles’ greatest studio. (Wikipedia)

The biggest miracle of Revolver may be that the Beatles covered so much new stylistic ground and executed it perfectly on one record, or it may be that all of it holds together perfectly. Either way, its daring sonic adventures and consistently stunning songcraft set the standard for what pop/rock could achieve. Even after Sgt. Pepper’s, Revolver stands as the ultimate modern pop album and it’s still as emulated as it was upon its original release. (allmusic.com)

21.

Court and Spark is the sixth studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. Released in January 1974, the album saw Mitchell infusing her folk-rock style, which she developed throughout her previous five albums, with jazz inflections. A very accessible and commercially-appealing album, Court and Spark was Mitchell’s commercial and popular triumph—it was not only praised by critics (as were all of her albums of the 1970s) but was also received very warmly by the public, becoming her most successful album. It reached #2 in the United States and #1 in Canada and eventually received a Double Platinum certification by the RIAA, the highest during Mitchell’s career. (Wikipedia)

Joni Mitchell reached her commercial high point with Court and Spark, a remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz which stands as her best-selling work to date. While as unified and insightful as Blue, the album — a concept record exploring the roles of honesty and trust in relationships, romantic and otherwise — moves away from confessional songwriting into evocative character studies: the hit “Free Man in Paris,” written about David Geffen, is a not-so-subtle dig at the machinations of the music industry, while “Raised on Robbery” offers an acutely funny look at the predatory environment of the singles bar scene. Much of Court and Spark is devoted to wary love songs: both the title cut and “Help Me,” the record’s most successful single, carefully measure the risks of romance, while “People’s Parties” and “The Same Situation” are fraught with worry and self-doubt (standing in direct opposition to the music, which is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last). (allmusic.com review)

22.

Pretzel Logic is the third studio album by the American jazz-rock band Steely Dan, originally released in 1974. The album’s opening song, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”, became the band’s biggest hit, reaching #4 on the charts soon after the release of the album. The album itself went gold, and then platinum, reaching #8 on the charts. The album was also highly regarded critically, appearing near the top of several end-of-year polls including the number one slot on Album of the Year and the number two spot on both Robert Christgau and the Village Voice end-of-year lists. (Wikipedia)

Instead of relying on easy hooks, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen assembled their most complex and cynical set of songs to date. Dense with harmonics, countermelodies, and bop phrasing, Pretzel Logic is vibrant with unpredictable musical juxtapositions and snide, but very funny, wordplay. Listen to how the album’s hit single, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” opens with a syncopated piano line that evolves into a graceful pop melody, or how the title track winds from a blues to a jazzy chorus — Becker and Fagen’s craft has become seamless while remaining idiosyncratic and thrillingly accessible. Since the songs are now paramount, it makes sense that Pretzel Logic is less of a band-oriented album than Countdown to Ecstasy, yet it is the richest album in their catalog, one where the backhanded Dylan tribute “Barrytown” can sit comfortably next to the gorgeous “Any Major Dude Will Tell You.” Steely Dan made more accomplished albums than Pretzel Logic, but they never made a better one. (allmusic.com review)

23.

Hot Rocks 1964–1971 is the first compilation album of Rolling Stones music. Released in late 1971, it proved to be The Rolling Stones’ biggest-selling release of their career and an enduring and popular retrospective.

While the album carries most of the band’s biggest hits during their first decade, it does drop a few of them in order to include standout tracks such as “Play With Fire”, “Under My Thumb” and “Gimme Shelter” giving listeners a more well-rounded impression of The Rolling Stones’ music in this era. (Wikipedia)

Again, in general I don’t recommend greatest hits albums (for example the Beatles “One” is not the best of the Beatles by any stretch of the imagination.)  Yet in the case of the Rolling Stones, their hits are arguably their best work, and this compilation has the advantage of including some highlight album tracks.

24.

A Hard Day’s Night is the third studio album by The Beatles, released on 10 July 1964 as the soundtrack to their film A Hard Day’s Night.

While showcasing the development of the band’s songwriting talents, the album sticks to the basic rock and roll instrumentation and song format. The album contains some of their most famous songs, including the title track and its distinct, instantly recognisable opening chord;[1] and “Can’t Buy Me Love“, both were transatlantic number one singles for the band. The album and film are said to portray the classic image of the Beatles, as it was released at the height of Beatlemania.

A Hard Day’s Night is the first Beatles album to feature entirely original compositions, and the only one where all the songs were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  (Wikipedia)

This captures the Beatles at their best as a very tight touring rock & roll band.  It’s instructive to listen to this album, then Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper — what a remarkable development in three short years.

25.

Natty Dread released in 1974.

Natty Dread is Bob Marley‘s finest album, the ultimate reggae recording of all time.

This was Marley‘s first album without former bandmates Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston, and the first released as Bob Marley & the Wailers. The Wailers‘ rhythm section of bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett and drummer Carlton “Carlie” Barrett remained in place and even contributed to the songwriting, while Marley added a female vocal trio, the I-Threes (which included his wife Rita Marley), and additional instrumentation to flesh out the sound. The material presented here defines what reggae was originally all about, with political and social commentary mixed with religious paeans to Jah.

The celebratory “Lively Up Yourself” falls in the same vein as “Get Up, Stand Up” from Burnin’. “No Woman, No Cry” is one of the band’s best-known ballads. “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)” is a powerful warning that “a hungry mob is an angry mob.” “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Road Block)” and “Revolution” continue in that spirit, as Marley assumes the mantle of prophet abandoned by ’60s forebears like Bob Dylan.

In addition to the lyrical strengths, the music itself is full of emotion and playfulness, with the players locked into a solid groove on each number. Considering that popular rock music was entering the somnambulant disco era as Natty Dread was released, the lyrical and musical potency is especially striking. Marley was taking on discrimination, greed, poverty, and hopelessness while simultaneously rallying the troops as no other musical performer was attempting to do in the mid-’70s. (allmusic.com review)

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6 Responses to “25 Essential Albums: 1960 – 1974, a guide for music fans under 30”

  1. every record tells a story May 3, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

    Nice list! Like the blend of rock and jazz

    • alanbryson May 4, 2012 at 4:22 am #

      Thanks! BTW, you’ve got an excellent blog, I look forward to checking it out when I get some time.

  2. le0pard13 October 25, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

    Wonderful list. Some holes I now have to fill 😉

  3. Scott November 2, 2016 at 5:12 pm #

    This is a great list. So much music I love so much. Forgive me but I’m going to get nostalgic. I know, love & own most of the albums but a couple them are especially close to my heart. Growing up (& now am still living) in San Antonio we had great late 60’s & early 70’s radio including an “underground” radio show on an AM station here. It was called KONO Concepts I think. Lots of great concerts, too. Back to the “close to my heart” albums on your list. We must have heard it on the KONO Concepts show : Johnny Winter’s Progressive Blues Experiment & especially Rollin’ and Tumblin’ turned my musical brain around. I was 14 yrs. old & couldn’t understand how music like this could be produced, it was so good and so unusual. I still have that original copy of the album! Just saw Johnny once live & it was at the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium along with Ballin’ Jack and Bloodrock. The 2nd of the albums on your list hitting the spot is the Allman Bros at the fillmore. Was so lucky to have seen the original band twice. Once was at a place downtown San Antonio called the Jam Factory not very far from the Alamo. A friend & I were “mature” looking 15 year olds and we fibbed our way through the door and saw them including Duane a few feet away from us in all their glory. Okay no more reminiscing. So glad I stumbled upon your list & site. Thanks,Scott

    • alanbryson November 2, 2016 at 6:42 pm #

      Very nice Scott — I too remember hearing Johnny Winter doing Rollin’ & Tumblin’ and being just blown away. BTW, I spent 3 months in San Antonio in the early 70s and every week there was a great show. Seals & Crofts, Dr.. John, Procol Harum….and amazing Texas bands I’d never heard of before.

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