Life at 33 1/3: The album classics of 1967

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What a year.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg!

The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Parlophone) – Released: May 25, 1967

A concept album about loneliness and alienation introducing a handful of sad characters that are all marked by destiny, living their lives under the dark and gloomy skies of the 20th Century, all heading for the terrifying abyss that succeeds the roaring finale of “A Day In The Life”.

“Sgt. Pepper” would be quite bleak were it not for its colourful embellishment and sonic wonders.  It sounds happy, its sounds like a celebration, but it is not, its undercurrents are very dark.  It’s a warning performed as a show, with ringmaster, galloping horses and all.  There’s joy and laughter as well as tears and despair.

Although it was embraced by the hippy trippy summer of love, “Sgt. Pepper” goes way beyond the flowery naivety of that particular moment in time.  It is a timeless warning addressing all humankind, magnificently dressed up in music and soundscapes so wonderful you actually believe it is possible to save the world even if time is running out.  As in all classic tragedies: Catharsis.

Contents: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band/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!/Within You Without You/When I’m Sixty-Four/Lovely Rita/Good Morning Good Morning/Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)/A Day In The Life

Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced (Track/Polydor) – Released: May 12, 1967

After three magnificent hit singles in five months, Jimi’s debut album finally arrived, preceding “Sgt. Pepper” by two short weeks and joining it as the main soundtrack to ‘the summer of love’.

Most of the tracks are short and loud and focus almost entirely on Jimi’s extraordinary guitar playing.  He made the electric guitar do things that no one had ever thought possible.  It sounded supernatural and it made guitar heroes like Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend feel like boy scouts.  The bending of the notes, the way he made them ricochet through the soundscapes, the stuttering, the riffing, the fiery rhythmic comments, the wailing solos, the psychedelia.  The music is hot and sexy.  He played the guitar as if it was a woman, taking her all the way to ecstasy and beyond.  There will never be anyone like him again.

Contents: Foxy Lady/Manic Depression/Red House/Can You See Me/Love or Confusion/I Don’t Live Today/May This Be Love/Fire/3rd Stone from the Sun/Remember/Are You Experienced

Pink Floyd, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (Columbia) – Released: August 5, 1967

Syd Barrett was a dazzling, mind expanding supernova, astounding, overwhelming, terrifying.  Then he imploded and collapsed, thrown into a disturbed and infantile microcosm, slowly disintegrating, leaving a curse that was to haunt Pink Floyd forever.

Their recordings from 1967 captures Barrett’s unfathomable mind drama, the megaton explosions seconds before the meltdown of his firework-brain turned the genius into a sad and tragic basket case.  But he had this extraordinary shot in him that became “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn”.

The album has two personalities: there’s the lengthy improvisations, obsessive, psychedelic outbursts bathed in feedback and distortion.   And then there’s the whimsical, eccentric, child-like little songs that are both scary and mysteriously attractive.  Probably the greatest piece of psychedelic rock ever made.

Contens: Astronomy Domine/Lucifer Sam/Matilda Mother/Flaming/Pow R. Toc H./Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk/Interstellar Overdrive/The Gnome/Chapter 24/The Scarecrow/Bike

The Doors, The Doors (Elektra) – Released: January 4, 1967

The group’s first album, simply titled “The Doors”, is considered one of rock’s strongest debuts.  It provided them with a worldwide hit, “Light My Fire”, and terrified parents everywhere with “The End”, clocking in at almost 12 minutes (it’s a half recited poem set to music based on Sophocles’ tragedy ‘Oedipus the King’).

King Oedipus didn’t know that the man he killed was his father, neither did he know that the woman he married and who carried his children was his mother.  In Jim Morrison’s dark, Freudian version ‘the killer’ knows perfectly well who his targets are as he walks down the hallway, and when he finally enters his mother’s bedroom the protagonist lets out a bloodcurdling roar of agony that marks one of rock’s most horrifying moments.

There are lighter tracks on this superb album, stuff you can dance to, but eventually you will always return to “The End”.  A stunning achievement it was, years later it was used in the opening sequence of the movie ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979).

Contents: Break on Through (To the Other Side)/Soul Kitchen/The Crystal Ship/Twentieth Century Fox/Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)/ Light My Fire/Back Door Man/I Looked at You/End of the Night/Take It As It Comes/The End

Bob Dylan, John Wesley Harding (Columbia/CBS) – Released: December 27, 1967

When he finally returned (from the noisy city), he did it gently (to the wooden hills of Woodstcok).  His voice had turned into an unfamiliar clear tenor.  Some of the lyrics were humble and in wonder, religious like, but with an admonitory and moralizing undertone.  A few Kafka references are thrown in for good measure (“Drifter’s Escape” is clearly influenced by “The Trial”: the Trial was bad enough, but this is ten times worse…).

The extremes are represented by the apocalyptic and irresistibly hypnotic “All Along The Watchtower” (one of Dylan’s most economical and frightening lyrics) and the sweet country-ballad “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (which closes the album and points towards the next).

Contents: John Wesley Harding/As I Went Out One Morning/I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine/All Along the Watchtower/The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest/Drifter’s Escape/Dear Landlord/I Am a Lonesome Hobo/I Pity the Poor Immigrant/The Wicked Messenger/Down Along the Cove/I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight

The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground & Nico (Verve) – Released: March 12, 1967

One of the most influental rock albums of all time.  Completely ignored when it was released, but attaining a cult status of herculean proportions as the 70’s arrived.  Lou Reed and John Cale started here.

Contents: Sunday Morning/I’m Waiting for the Man/Femme Fatale/Venus in Furs/Run Run Run/All Tomorrow’s Parties/Heroin/There She Goes Again/I’ll Be Your Mirror/The Black Angel’s Death Song/European Son

The Who, The Who Sell Out (Track) – Released: December 15, 1967

Purports to be a broadcast by pirate radio station Radio London, capturing the swinging 60’s in all its glory.  It’s simply impossible not to love this wonderful album.

Contents: Armenia City in the Sky/Heinz Baked Beans/Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand/Odorono/Tattoo/Our Love Was/ I Can See for Miles/Can’t Reach You/Medac/Relax/Silas Stingy/Sunrise/Rael (1 and 2)

Procol Harum, Procol Harum (Regal Zonophone) – Released: December, 1967

Proving there was much more to them than “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, this is a fantastic musical journey.  Deeply fascinating lyrics, a marvellous singer, keyboards galore and a guitar player who adds a blistering raw nerve to the proceedings.

Contents: Conquistado/She Wandered Through the Garden Fence/Something Following Me/Mabel/Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)/A Christmas Camel/Kaleidoscope/Salad Days (Are Here Again)/Good Captain Clack/Repent Walpurgis

Cream: Disraeli Gears (Polydor) – Released: November 10, 1967.

Cream’s crowning moment, mixing their heavy electric blues with huge doses of psychedelia.  They hit bull’s eye.  Eric Clapton proves that he could hold his own, even if Hendrix had arrived.

Contents: Strange Brew/Sunshine of Your Love/World of Pain/Dance the Night Away/Blue Condition/Tales of Brave Ulysses/SWLABR/We’re Going Wrong/Outside Woman Blues/Take It Back/Mother’s Lament

The Kinks: Something Else By The Kinks (PYE) – Released: September 15, 1967

More magnificent social satire and wonderful stories of everyday people, and although it is a dark record it’s got “Waterloo Sunset” on it.

Contents: David Watts/Death of a Clown/Two Sisters/No Return/Harry Rag/Tin Soldier Man/Situation Vacant/Love Me Till the Sun Shines/Lazy Old Sun/Afternoon Tea/Funny Face/End of the Season/Waterloo Sunset