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Life at 33 1/3   By Carl Meyer


The album classics of 1968 part 1

The Beatles,
The Beatles (Apple) - Released: November 22, 1968

A wondrous treasure of songs and styles. Not four solo albums rolled into one as some say, but at least partly a full fledged group effort, though most of Paul McCartney’s contributions ended up as solo recordings thanks to the evil moods of John Lennon, who’s sharp tongue kept lashing out both at him and his songs. John was high on heroin, Yoko and his own ego, so Paul preferred to work on his own songs alone (or with Ringo).
Paul, bless him, did not reciprocate, but rather threw himself wholeheartedly into both Lennon and Harrison’s songs, recreating the old group magic, his contributions to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, for instance, are crucial. The irony is that because Paul’s own recordings differ from the group efforts, they actually turn the album into a richer listening experience. John Lennon must have appreciated this in the end as his acoustic solo performance of “Julia” was the very last song recorded for the “White Album”.
I don’t think there is a single genre or style in popular music not present on “The Beatles”. The greatest double album of all time? I think so.
Contents: Back in the U.S.S.R./Dear Prudence/Glass Onion/Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da/Wild Honey Pie/The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill/While My Guitar Gently Weeps/Happiness Is a Warm Gun/Martha My Dear/I’m So Tired/Blackbird/Piggies/Rocky Raccoon/Don’t Pass Me By/Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?/I Will/Julia/Birthday/Yer Blues/Mother Nature’s Son/Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey/Sexy Sadie/Helter Skelter/Long, Long, Long/Revolution 1/Honey Pie/Savoy Truffle/Cry Baby Cry/Revolution 9/Good Night

The Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet (Decca) - Released: December 6, 1968

The Stones going back to basics after the psychedelic (but actually quite underrated) “Their Satanic Majesties Request”. Some tracks are almost unplugged acoustic blues, and even the thundering “Street Fighting Man” is actually an acoustic number, there’s no electric guitars on it.
The mood of the album is a disillusioned and resigned response to the chaotic 1968, a year of aggressive student demonstrations, assassinations (Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.), bloody battles in Vietnam (the Tet-offensive and the battle of Khe Sahn), the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The hypnotic and dark “Sympathy For The Devil” opens the album, while the gospel like “Salt Of The Earth” closes it, offering some sort of bleak consolation.
Contents: Sympathy for the Devil/No Expectations/Dear Doctor/Parachute Woman/Jig-Saw Puzzle/Street Fighting Man/Prodigal Son/Stray Cat Blues/Factory Girl/Salt of the Earth

The Band, Music From Big Pink
(Capitol) - Released: July 1, 1968

“Music From Big Pink” came as a revelation when it arrived in July 1968. No studio tricks, no backwards guitars, no interstellar overdrives, just a plain and simple record consisting of songs about basic values performed by a collective of musicians who loved each other’s company and who treated each song, every note they played, with love and awe. They looked like men from the mountains, men of soil - so distant from Carnaby Street that they probably had travelled through time.
I won’t say that “Music For Big Pink” saved rock, but it did show that there were other paths to walk, and it sure reclaimed some of what was being lost in the drugged out mumbo jumbo of psychedelia. Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel have all left us. On “Music For Big Pink” they shine forever.
Contents: Tears of Rage/To Kingdom Come/In a Station/Caledonia Mission/The Weight/We Can Talk/Long Black Veil/Chest Fever/Lonesome Suzie/This Wheel’s on Fire/Shall Be Released

Mothers Of Invention, We’re Only In It For The Money (Verve) - Released: March 4, 1968

The sleeve is a hilarious parody of “Sgt. Pepper”, already an icon in 1968, but EMI interfered. Zappa had to invert the concept, so the inner gatefold became the outer sleeve. He blamed The Beatles, but Paul McCartney who loves the cover, claims that it was not their decision at all.
The record itself satirizes the hippie movement so cleverly that the targets at first didn’t realize the joke was on them. It also lashes out at left wing politics and right-wing squares without missing a beat, the punch line being that anybody belonging to a movement should be approached with caution and contempt.
The songs themselves are very funny and extremely easy on the ear, sometimes almost infantile, but never outstaying their welcome as the music constantly takes some unexpected left turns. I’d say this is Frank Zappa’s first masterpiece. Even if the record company censored some snippets of the lyrics behind his back.
Contents: Are You Hung Up?/Who Needs the Peace Corps?/Concentration Moon/Mom & Dad/Bow Tie Daddy/Harry, You’re a Beast/the Ugliest Part of Your Body?/Absolutely Free/Flower Punk/Hot Poop/Nasal Retentive Calliope Music/Let’s Make the Water Turn Black/The Idiot Bastard Son/Lonely Little Girl/Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance/What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body? (Reprise)/Mother People/The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny

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The album classics of 1968 part 1