Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1968

by Benjamin Ray

Following the colorful explosion of sound and experimentation in 1967, many artists chose to scale things back in 1968, returning to folk or blues roots. Others, emboldened by Jimi Hendrix and the use of amplified noise, helped invent what we now call heavy metal. And some of the great soul singers of all time released great songs and albums in this year as well.

The Beatles, fresh from a trip to India and beseiged by in-group fighting, released the White Album, a mess of a disc with some fantastic songs and some duds. Far better was the "Hey Jude/Revolution" single, one of the greatest singles of all time, and the pounding "Lady Madonna." Following a similar sonic scaled-back approach was The Band, releasing their debut Music From Big Pink, the Kinks' Olde England-inspired Village Green Preservation Society and Van Morrison's Astral Weeks.

The blues was a major inspiration for many English artists, both new and established, evidenced in the Rolling Stones' Beggars' Banquet, Cream's Wheels Of Fire, Jethro Tull's debut This Was and, best of all, Jimi Hendrix's fantastic double album Electric Ladyland, which combined the psychedelic, rock and blues sentiments of the previous two albums into a sprawling masterpiece.


Other great debuts arrived from Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Suzie Q"), Big Brother & the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin and "Piece Of My Heart"), the Guess Who ("These Eyes"), Captain Beefheart (Strictly Personal), Jeff Beck (Truth) and Traffic (Dear Mr. Fantasy). 1968 also saw the debut of three groups that would influence and/or create heavy metal, depending on who you talk to: Steppenwolf ("Born To Be Wild," "Magic Carpet Ride"), Deep Purple (Shades Of Deep Purple and "Hush"), Blue Cheer (the cover of "Summertime Blues") and the sophomore effort from Iron Butterfly, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, the title track of which is very long and better than you remember.

Aretha Franklin had another killer year with Lady Soul and Aretha Now, which rounded up most of her singles like "I Say A Little Prayer For You," "Chain Of Fools" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," plus other great album cuts. Other Motown songs were less inspired, save for a few timeless cuts: Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" and "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing," the Supremes' "Love Child" and Stevie Wonder's "For Once In My Life."

Psychedelic music was still in full bloom, thanks to Hendrix and artists like Pink Floyd (A Saucerful Of Secrets), the Doors (Waiting For The Sun, a strong effort with more straight-up rock than ever), Frank Zappa's send-up We're Only In It For The Money, the Moody Blues' In Search Of The Lost Chord, Steve Miller Band's Sailor and the Zombies' Odessey & Oracle (with "Time Of The Season"). 


There were some killer songs from this year: "Mony Mony," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Magic Bus," "Crimson & Clover," "Dance To The Music," "Nobody But Me," "Journey To The Center Of The Mind," "Cry Like A Baby," "People Got To Be Free," "Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud" and "Harper Valley PTA." And there were some dubious songs too: "Honey," "Macarthur Park," "Yummy Yummy Yummy," "Angel Of The Morning" and "Classical Gas."

The beauty of much of this music is that it cannot be categorized as simply as "psychedelic rock" or "blues rock" or whatever; these reductive labels make it easier to sort and discuss, but music was peaking at a creative high in the final years of the ‘60s. Consider other great albums: the Small Faces' Itchycoo Park, the Byrds' Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, the Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat, Thelonious Monk's Underground, two from Otis Redding, Simon & Garfunkel's Bookends and, of course, the return of Johnny Cash on the excellent At Folsom Prison.

And that, friends, is the Year That Was in music.

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