Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Beck’

I already knew about Page and Keith and Clapton but…?! ,Those were the questions going through my head when I discovered this record. I was blown away. I picked this record up on recommendation in my local record shop because the guy who owned the shop—the older, wiser, connoisseur of rock ‘n’ roll vinyl—told me that I must have it.

Put on “Let Me Love You” at a loud volume, and you are instantly a cooler person. It’s just true. I don’t know the science, but it adds up, And Jeff Beck’s solo in that tune… still one of the very best.

Beck, fresh out of the Yardbirds, released his first solo album in 1968 with help from Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood. They weren’t yet christened the Jeff Beck Group, but they were clearly a band at this point. (Other luminaries like Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Keith Moon also help out.) But most of the flash is provided by Beck, who slings his guitar into some new territory on ‘Truth,’ firing up old traditional and blues numbers with instrumental tricks.

By 1968, Jeff Beck had become a major pioneering force on the electric guitar, following Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds, before clocking up two pop hits with Tallyman and Hi-Ho Silver Lining. By the time he was assembling the band for “Truth” he determined to make an album for himself.

With Beck having established himself as a guitar player of the first degree on a quartet of bold and wickedly wonderful Yardbirds albums in 1965 and 1966 (For Your Love, Having A Rave Up With The Yardbirds, The Yardbirds [Roger The Engineer] and Over Under Sideways Down), producer/manager Mickie Most, thinking to capitalise on the guitarist’s visibility, conceived the notion of turning Beck into a pop crooner. All but forgetting that Beck was first and foremost an instrumentalist, Most shackled him with a series of less-than-guitar-focused songs.

“I always kept my fingers on players,” Beck commented in the 70s. “Every musician around London always knew what the other one was doing. All groups used to come and see each other play, and it was really nice. There seemed to be a purpose. It was like a competition: ‘They’re doing that in their act, so we’ll have to cut that out’. It was great fun; nice, hot competition. I really liked the scene then.

“I had to round up a singer,” he continued. “I couldn’t think of who to get. I always liked Rod [Stewart], I dug him, with the teased hair and all the rest of it. “He was out of work at the time. He was hanging around a [London] club called The Cromwellian. I asked him if he wanted a job and [thinking Beck was drunk] he said: ‘Yeah, but I don’t believe you. Ring me tomorrow’. And I was more sober than I’ve ever been that night. And I couldn’t believe that he said yeah, because I thought he was a snob.”

With a singer in tow, Beck then set out to look for a bass player. Ronnie Wood continues the story: “I knew Jeff, but I’d never had a chance to go and sit through a whole show. I’d just heard little bits of him when he used to play with a band called The Tridents [Beck’s pre-Yardbirds band]. I suppose Jeff was one of my best friends, even though he was in another band.”

After the relative ease of getting the first two band members, finding a drummer was a nightmare. Beck went through Ray Cook, his former bandmate in The Tridents, the Pretty Things’ Viv Prince, ex-John Mayall drummer Mickey Waller (we’ll come back to him), Rod Coombes (later of The Strawbs), and another former Mayall graduate, Aynsley Dunbar. Although the last named held real promise, it resulted in yet another drum debacle. “I played with Jeff for four months,”.

“He was a bastard,” Dunbar complained of Beck. “He was so loud I couldn’t hear. I didn’t have any mics on my drums; the band had 100-watt Marshall amplifiers blaring; no monitors. With drummer Mickey Waller re-hired, and after several months of gigs, the quartet went into Abbey Road Studios on May 14, 1968, to begin recording an album. The material the group recorded was a combination of the live set, reworkings and some odds and ends. The album opens with a devastating slow version of the Yardbirds’ hit Shapes Of Things, with Beck turning in a virtuoso performance. Let Me Love You was part of the stage set and one of the few self-written pieces, setting up the call-and-response sequence between guitar and voice that Beck and Stewart had perfected live.

On July 29, 1968, Jeff Beck, along with a kick-around vocalist, a future Rolling Stone, and a drummer with a lot of bash released Truth. The album was a miracle of fury and berserk beauty, a testament to the jaw-dropping chops of a 24- year old guitarist who, over the course of 10 tracks and around 40 minutes, ran the gamut from electric blues and modified R&B to psychedelically influenced rock, classical, and even a little heavy-metal instrumentalism. With Truth, released just months before Led Zeppelin’s debut  album release – and with songs and personnel in common.  Jeff Beck, vocalist Rod Stewart, bassist Ronnie Wood, and drummer Mickey Waller (the core band) made an album that would become every guitar player’s bible and every hard rock band’s Holy Grail.

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With Ronnie Wood on bass, Rod Stewart on vocals and guests like Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Keith Moon Nicky Hopkins, Aynsley Dunbar and Madeline Bell.  popping up for guest spots on Beck’s Bolero, it was an album that not only helped establish the British blues rock sound, but featured many of its best exponents. Audacious and experimental, it smashes genre conventions at every turn.

Morning Dew, another song from the touring circuit, is a pulsating interpretation of Tim Rose’s classic, and it’s given a dirge-like solemnity from Beck’s breathtaking mastery of the wah-wah pedal. Here (and on closer I Ain’t Superstitious), Beck demonstrates amazing prowess with the then-new effects pedal.

Then there is the great catastrophe of You Shook Me, the old blues chestnut written by Willie Dixon and originally recorded by Muddy Waters. The song was on Truth, and was then re-fashioned by Led Zeppelin for their debut album some months later.

Ol’ Man River, the Oscar Hammerstein II/Jerome Kern standard is an odd little creature. With Beck on bass, John Paul Jones on Hammond organ, and tympani by ‘You Know Who’ – actually Keith Moon – it is one of the album’s lesser moments. But it did prompt Truth engineer Ken Scott to recall The Who’s drummer living up to his ‘Loon’ nickname. “One has to remember Mr Moon playing tymps.

On vinyl, side two of Truth opens with Beck having picked up an acoustic for a shaky but stirring version of the classical… er, classic Greensleeves. “It was just an idle mess around in the studio while I was waiting for Mickie,” he said. “Why not? It was the vital last track of the album, and nobody could think of what to play, so I just played it. That’s why there’s all the plinking and plonking and bad notes in it. I can’t play acoustic guitar very well.”

Rock My Plimsoul is a track Beck recorded back during his Mickie Most/solo career period. That staggered little drum lick from Aynsley Dunbar (who is uncredited) sets the song in motion, and provides a rhythmic trampoline on which Beck’s guitar jumps and twirls.

Willie Dixon’s You Shook Me and I Ain’t Superstitious are masterfully reinvented, even Broadway hit Ol’ Man River and the Henry VIII-authored Greensleeves are dragged into Beck’s musical vision.

And then there is the timeless and epic instrumental Beck’s Bolero. Recorded in May 1966, this rendition of Ravel’s famous Bolero was the B-side of Hi Ho Silver Lining and was meant to serve as the launching pad for Beck’s idealised supergroup. Players include Jimmy Page on electric 12-string, Keith Moon on drums, John Paul Jones on bass, and Nicky Hopkins on piano.

‘Truth’ is surely one album to consider as a forward thinking, Blues Rock to Rock Metal template for the future of guitar music. Some of the tracks were written as early as 1966, which just makes you realise how cutting this album is for something released in 1968.

This new 3 CD Re-Mastered Box Set Celebrating The Musical sounds of the so called British “UNDERGROUND” Rock Music Of 1968. featuring tracks by Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Barclay James Harvest, Julie Driscoll, Brain Auger & The Trinity, Spooky Tooth, Traffic, The Move, Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, Van Der Graaf Generator, Procul Harum, Genesis, Caravan, Jeff Beck, Pretty Things, The Incredible String Band, Tomorrow.

Esoteric Recordings are pleased to announce the release of “Revolution – Underground Sounds of 1968”, a 3CD clamshell boxed set celebrating the so-called “underground” rock music 1968, a year that saw huge changes, both musical and social. 1968 was a pivotal year for creativity in British rock, beginning with some influences of psychedelia still present in work by ground-breaking artists such as Pretty Things, Tomorrow, Incredible String Band, Idle Race, Traffic and The Move, but gradually giving way to styles influenced by jazz, blues, folk and more that would eventually become termed as “progressive”, “folk-rock” and “hard” rock, all of which championed by “underground” figures of the day such as DJ John Peel on his BBC Radio One show Top Gear and by publications such as International Times and Oz.The common thread among all of these artists was an emphasis on experimentation and a desire to push the perceived boundaries of popular music. It was also a year that would see the very first record releases by bands that would go on to achieve success and influence in the 1970s such as Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Barclay James Harvest, Genesis, Status Quo, Van Der Graaf Generator and Caravan. Aside from featuring better known acts such as Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Procol Harum and Pentangle, this compilation also features lesser known acts.

Revolution Box

The common thread among all of these artists was an emphasis on experimentation and a desire to push the perceived boundaries of popular music. It was also a year that would see the very first record releases by bands that would go on to achieve success and influence in the 1970s such as Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Barclay James Harvest, Genesis, Status Quo, Van Der Graaf Generator and Caravan. Aside from featuring better known acts such as Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Procol Harum and Pentangle, this compilation also features lesser known acts that produced work of a wide breadth such as Eyes of Blue, Love Sculpture, The Action, Dantalian’s Chariot, Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera, Gun, Second Hand, The Moles and Blonde on Blonde.

This collection celebrates a creative period when rock music was evolving into something altogether more serious, moving away from the single as medium to give way to the dominance of the album. Feed your head with Revolution – Underground Sounds of 1968.

Revolution Box Set

The Photography image 7

In BECK01 Jeff Beck takes us on the journey of a lifetime. Over five decades, he has blazed a trail forging a unique style lauded by critics, fans and fellow guitar legends. Telling the story behind the music, Beck’s twin inspirations – hot rodding and rock’n’roll – are now bound together in the official signed limited edition book of his career.

‘Right from the beginning, I’ve tried to do something with anything I’ve got hold of. At the age of 13, I built two or three of my own guitars. I painted the frets on. It was fun just to look at it and hold it… I knew where I was headed.’ Jeff Beck

In an original text spanning more than 350 pages Beck shares anecdotes from his early bands The Yardbirds, The Jeff Beck Group, Beck, Bogert and Appice and his multi-award-winning solo career.

Read stories of disappearing hot rods, stolen guitars, secret studio sessions and near-catastrophic car crashes. Beck tells of playing with Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Page, Ronnie Wood, Eric Clapton, John McLaughlin, Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Diana Ross, Scotty Moore, Pete Townshend and many more. His new limited edition is introduced by guitar virtuoso John McLaughlin.

‘When asked to write the introduction to this book about Jeff, I thought to myself who better? So I wrote, “Jeff Beck is my all time favourite electric guitarist”… What do I say after that?’ John McLaughlin

The first 350 books in Beck’s limited edition are Deluxe Copies. Each is lovingly handcrafted in Italian leather, presented in an archival solander case and includes an exclusive signed print suitable for framing. Each Deluxe Copy is numbered and individually signed by Jeff Beck.

Beck has opened his archives specially for the making of his book. Family photos are included alongside personal letters from friends and heroes including Charles Mingus BB King and Les Paul.

‘I had no idea that this many photos existed until we found them during the making of my book. The pictures of the disappearing hot rod are going to blow people’s minds.’ Jeff Beck

Beck’s remarkable life in music is documented through the work of top photographers including Robert Knight, Baron Wolman, Bob Gruen, Michael Putland, Barrie Wentzell, Gered Mankowitz, Neil Zlozower and Michael Zagaris.

Influential magazine spreads, set lists, posters and record sleeves further illustrate Beck’s words.

Jeff Beck is one of musics true innovators. The release of BECK01 celebrates the anniversary of his debut solo album Blow by Blow produced by George Martin 40 years ago.

‘Jeff is quite simply a “born” guitarist. Not only does he have the mysterious talent that is innate, he has not stopped evolving over the years. He has forged a unique and wonderful style of playing that is instantly recognizable. He has the most fluid style of playing I’ve ever heard.’  John McLaughlin, in his foreword

‘Jeff Beck has been a hot rodder for decades. Upon first examination this seems at odds with our image of Jeff Beck, the musician. But to Jeff, it makes perfect sense. The common thread is that in the post WWII world in which he grew up, all roads led to an America flush with a new energy fuelled by the youthful adrenaline of rock-and-roll music and hot rod automobiles.’ Steve Coonan, hot rodder magazine editor and author.

BECK01

If 1967 was a year of introduction and innovation in rock ‘n’ roll—from Monterey Pop to to the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band and the launch of Rolling Stone Magazine  1968 was a proving ground, when a handful of the stars who had sprouted in the “Summer of Love” came to full flower in the psychedelia age. Artists from both sides of the pond, including The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Aretha Franklin, Cream, Traffic and Jefferson Airplane felt free to chip further away at old molds and pursue a daring new musical muse. It was an epochal year for established artists as well. The Beatles splintered in the studio, but their individual contributions to a self-titled double LP, the so-called “White Album”, amounted to some of the band’s greatest work and, in retrospect, unlocked a few imminent solo careers. It was a double album released by the Beatles  containing strong flavours of blues and rock’n’roll, Does this now mean the Beatles are taking a step backwards? As Ringo Starr philosophically remarks: ‘It’s not forwards or backwards. It’s just a step.’

John Wesley Harding

The year started out with what may well have been the finest album of the year, Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding. Midway through the year some tapes of Dylan’s were uncovered which were equally brilliant. Several of the songs on them came out on an album by The Band, Music From Big Pink. The best things on their album were not the Dylan songs, most of which sounded forced and strained, and by no means as good as Dylan’s own version of them on the tape. Rather, the highlights were the songs written by lead guitarist Robbie Robertson. “The Weight” was typical of the group’s low-down, country-soul, rock and roll performing and was one of the finest recordings of the year.

Bob Dylan also sets an anomalous tempo, established early in the year with the bucolic minimalism of ‘John Wesley Harding’. Dylan’s continued absence from the promotional scene allows him to move with a freedom not permitted his British contemporaries, and his absence creates a vacuum that myth, and under-the-counter recordings, step in to fill. British groups like The Who, meanwhile, grasp the opportunities of America. So effectively in fact, that their live shows were stupendous as they were chaotic.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers

The Byrds continued to go through personnel changes at least four times a year but in between times came up with two of the year’s great albums: The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo. The latter was a fine, straight country album with gorgeous, free harmonizing and excellent material. The former was perhaps their best album to date, and surely one of the five or so best of the year. David Crosby made some brilliant song-writing contributions, but the album was mainly Roger McGuinn’s and neither he nor anyone else in rock has often equalled such cuts as “Get To You” and “Artificial Energy.”

The Grateful Dead bored a lot of people with their much awaited second release, Anthem of the Sun and Moby Grape disappointed those who know that they are (or at least were) one of the finest live bands in the country with a very mediocre second album, Wow. On the other hand, the Rascals, long thought of as a teeny bopper group, continue to mature and develop and had at least one fine single this year: “People Got To Be Free.” 

Among individual artists, Laura Nyro began to receive the recognition she deserves, and many idolize her Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. Johnny Winter, a recently discovered white Texas blues singer has already created a large following on the basis of a few guest appearances in New York. San Francisco concert promoter Bill Graham rents a vacant New York theater and opens the Fillmore East concert venue.

Canadian rock band Steppenwolf release their debut album including the single “Born to Be Wild” and San Diego Rock band Iron Butterfly releases the album In A Gadda Da Vida considered to one of the first incarnations of the genre heavy metal albums.

The Rolling Stones grew out their roots with “Beggar’s Banquet”, while The Kinks and The Zombies took giant leaps forward with new and imaginative masterpieces that forever altered their trajectories. Plus we were introduced to a bunch of new faces to the pantheon:  The Doors, Sly Stone, Fleetwood Mac, Tim Buckley and, oh yes, Led Zeppelin. British rock and roll this year was dominated by blues bands. Ten Years After managed to kick up a lot of dust, Procol Harum continued to grow into its style and came up with a fine album, Shine on Brightly.

Pink Floyd lead singer and song writer Syd Barrett is checked into a psychiatric hospital and the band replaces him with David Gilmour.

Rock ‘n’ roll was at its most free in the pre-Woodstock glow of 1968. The Beatles went to India, Johnny Cash went to Prison at Folsom with one of the great live albums ever released, the Rolling Stones put a mobile studio in a truck, The Monkees went off the air. But it couldn’t ignore what was happening in the world riots, assassinations, war, a doomed election, space travel, poverty, drugs, Civil Rights, women’s liberation. All of it seeped into the art of the free-love counterculture with that strange combination of militant idealism and comical self-regard, as though it were clear that humanity would one day look at 1968 for a generation’s heroes and villains. Fifty years later in 2018 we are in the midst of a modern drug epidemic, a tarnished presidency, a growing underclass and a renewed vigor for social progress.

Here are some of the best albums of that momentous year in no particular order.

Sweetheart Of The Rodeo

The Byrds,  – Sweetheart of the Rodeo’

Even though David Crosby was booted from the Byrds in late 1967, the band had a pretty great 1968. In addition to the excellent ‘Notorious Byrd Brothers’ album, the restructured group released ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo,’ the granddaddy of all country-rock records. Credit goes to newcomer Gram Parsons, who helped steer the Byrds in this new direction. By the time the album came out in August, Parsons was gone and most of his vocals had been replaced (you can hear his recordings on the various reissues). But it didn’t matter in the long run — his, and the album’s, influence still resonates today.

Dock Of The Bay

Otis Redding, The Dock of the Bay   Released: February. 23rd

In some ways, 1968 began with a great sadness. On December. 10th, 1967, the blossoming soul star Otis Redding was killed in a plane crash in Wisconsin that also claimed the lives of four of his band members. The tragedy had taken not just one of the era’s most distinctive singers, but an artist standing at a new horizon for R&B music. Days before his death, Redding had recorded a new composition ”(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay,” a lilting ray of sunshine that found a winsome Otis Redding unwinding his tight groove sound and opening up new worlds for his soul.

Released posthumously in February 1968, The Dock of the Bay showcased Redding for the mainstream audience he had courted at Monterey Pop the previous summer. “Let Me Come on Home” was the hard-driving, horn-happy rocker; “The Glory of Love” the arpeggiated slow burn; “Tramp” the naughty call-and-response with Carla Thomas. It wasn’t the album Redding was supposed to make in 1968, but it nevertheless served as the crossover breakthrough he always had in him.

Cheap Thrills

Big Brother & Holding Company, Cheap Thrills  – Released: August. 12th

Cheap Thrills, the second album featuring Janis Joplin, marked the emphatic emergence of the Texas-born singer in the San Francisco band that had already found some local success without her. Propelled by a star-making appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 that netted the band a deal with Columbia Records, Janis Joplin’s wavering, powderkeg voice quickly dominated the band’s psych-blues repertoire and raised the bar for practically every fiery vocalist to follow. Album entries “Summertime” and “Piece of My Heart” became signature songs, the vehicles with which she stunned the pop world with her grit and femininity, fusing her inner torment and strife with her public persona. Cheap Thrills topped the charts, one of the few products of San Francisco’s emerging underground to earn a mainstream embrace. The album’s cover, by illustrator R. Crumb, remains one of the most iconic of the era.

Truth

Jeff Beck,  –  Truth  

Jeff Beck’s first solo album following his departure from the Yardbirds in 1966 picks up where he left off with the influential British blues rockers: covering blues classics, standards from the Great American Songbook and even one of his old band’s songs. The guitar hero’s group on ‘Truth’ — including singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood  would get co-billing on the follow-up album, 1969’s ‘Beck-Ola.’ They deserve it here too.

Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake

Small Faces, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake  –  Released: May 24th

Marking a definitive break from Small Faces’ early mod and R&B underpinnings, the two-act Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake was a bold move into the realms of stylish psychedelia and the eccentric affectation of late ‘60s English invention. Although more than a hint of Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane’s Cockney humor was inescapable—the whimsical “Rene” and “Lazy Sunday” being obvious examples—two bold anthems, “Song of a Baker” and “Long Agos and Worlds Away,” predated Led Zeppelin’s arch bombast by several months.

At the time, the round album cover, made to resemble a tobacco tin, and the sidelong gibberish of “Happiness Stan,” a pseudo fairytale narrated by English actor Stanley Unwin, also garnered plenty of attention. One of the first concept albums ever envisioned (and basically unplayable live), Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake remains a little appreciated musical masterpiece. Small Faces would disband the following year.

Wheels Of Fire (Remastered)

Cream, Wheels of Fire  –  Released: August

Wheels of Fire had a hard precedent to follow, coming as it did on the heels of Cream’s 1967 sophomore breakthrough, Disraeli Gears and the blues-embossed psychedelia that preceded it. Nevertheless, laden with such classics as “White Room,” “Politician” and a sterling remake of the Robert Johnson classic “Crossroads” that became a microcosm of Eric Clapton’s entire career as a blues-nicking guitar deity, it managed to express the full potency of this startling supergroup (with Jack Bruce on bass and Ginger Baker on drums) and ensure their immortality. By taking the idea of a double disc to a new level of productivity—half live, half studio—Wheels of Fire also made full use of the trio’s songwriting chops and their ability to improvise onstage. Rarely has there been such a sprawling effort capable of bringing out that ability with such flourish and finesse. This was Cream’s last real album-length musical document, with only 1969’s abridged Goodbye to follow.

We're Only In It For The Money

Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention  –  We’re Only It for the Money

More so than any other record on our list of the Top Albums of 1968, the Mothers‘ third record is the one with the most direct link to ‘Sgt. Pepper’s.’ And not just because its original parody cover photo — which ended up inside the LP after the Beatles’ management objected — is a fierce slap to the earlier record. Frank Zappa and crew’s concept album satirizes tons of Summer of Love standbys, including hippie idealism, left-wing thought processes and over-the-top concept albums.

Traffic (Remasters)

Traffic, Traffic  Released: October

A follow-up to their excellent and eclectic debut, Traffic’s eponymous sophomore set found a fully congealed ensemble. The on-again, off-again participation of Dave Mason was now fully present, if only temporarily for this effort. Indeed, this was the album that represented Traffic’s transition from woodshed romanticism to forerunners of new iconic invention, a sound simultaneously purveyed by The Band in their early Americana guise. Several of the standout songs—”40,000 Headmen,” “Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring,” “Pearly Queen”—offered druggy swirls of hippie-rock and tight soul embodied by Steve Winwood’s preternatural tenor and organ playing. Mason’s highlight, “Feelin‘ Alright,” would become a rock-radio smash for Gospel-tinged covermeister Joe Cocker the following year, and remains a mainstay in Mason’s live repertoire to this day. The definitive Traffic album, Traffic is another underrated monument of 1968.

Odyssey & Oracle by ZOMBIES (2011-01-21)

The Zombies, Odyssey and Oracle  –  Released: April 19th

One of the ‘60s great unsung masterpieces of that hallowed decade, the Zombies’ Odyssey and Oracle followed on the heels of the group’s early hits “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There,” while marking a giant leap forward. It was a set of songs flush with bold experimentation and baroque innovation, a concept not unlike that of Sgt. Pepper and other ornate musical ventures of the day. Ironically, The Zombies had broken up by the time Odyssey came out, and with its eventual smash hit, “Time of the Season,” it became a sad swan song that failed to reap the appreciation it deserved. Al Kooper championed its release in the U.S., but tepid label support doomed it to the cut-out bins practically from the get go. The original band recently reconvened (sans the late guitarist Jim Atkinson) to play the album live in its entirety, helping regain the critical kudos that evaded it originally.

At Folsom Prison (Legacy Edition)

Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison  –  Release: May

When Johnny Cash arrived at Folsom Prison in California on January. 13th, 1968, he was fortunate that he was there to perform for inmates and not join them behind bars. Cash had spent much of the previous few years in a drug spiral, watching his career and his life circle the drain. He was looking to revitalize his waning career, and a prison concert seemed the ideal vehicle—if Cash had always empathized with jail-bound convicts and the lonely despair that comes with the life, now he felt he could speak directly to them on terms everyone could understand. He had recorded the “Folsom Prison Blues” single back in 1955, and here was an opportunity to put faces to names. Proving that the concert was directed at a very specific audience, Cash performed a set of songs (two sets actually, which were combined into one 15-song album) that resisted self-help bromides and spiritual guff. “Dark as a Dungeon,” “The Long Black Veil” and “25 Minutes to Go” evoked the cynicism and gloom of living in captivity. Little did Cash expect, it also resonated loud and clear with a global audience who for one reason or another felt the sting of living in bondage even as they walked free.

Astral Weeks

Van Morrison, Astral Weeks   –  Released: November

After attaining his initial success back in Belfast with the band Them and a couple of hits (“Gloria,” “Here Comes the Night”), Van Morrison launched his solo career with a bang in the form of the ubiquitous soul-blaring 1967 hit “Brown Eyed Girl,” off his debut LP Blowin’ Your Mind! But it was the followup that proved to be his magnum opus. Charting new experimental terrain, he initiated a sound that was open-ended and had more to do with jazz, folk, elegiac imagery and pure stream of consciousness. “Cyprus Avenue,” “Sweet Thing,” “Ballerina” and “Astral Weeks” are unbound folk songs lit up with bells, strings, flutes and Morrison’s assured vocal wail. All but ignored in Northern Ireland, the album struck a chord with critics who admired Morrison’s meditative musings and the songs’ cerebral settings. Today, it’s widely recognized as one of the most influential albums of the era and an adventurous chapter in what would be a long and varied career.

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society

The Kinks, Are the Village Green Preservation Society  –  Released: November. 22nd

The Kinks were never rabble-rousers in the truest sense of the word. For every proto-punk attempt at slash and burn with songs like “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night,” Ray Davies and Co. were able to offer softer laments like “Waterloo Sunset” and “Set Me Free.” With an astute eye for detail, Davies could probe the absurdities of life and turn them into woeful tales of middle-class misery. He found full flourish with the lovely and graceful Village Green Preservation Society, a wonderfully wistful song cycle about idyllic England in more innocent times, flush with nostalgia, nuance and a gentle chiding of civility and sentiment in a storybook world. If Ray Davies chose to look at life through rose-colored lenses, no one could blame him for attempting to engineer this imaginative escape. It was The Kinks‘ sixth album, and final record by the original quartet, bombed when it came out in November 1968 . But it’s now considered the band’s best LP, a straight-faced concept album about Victorian-era mores. It’s lush, pastoral and brimming with gently strummed songs about small-town England that rank among the best songs that Ray Davies has ever written.

Bookends

Simon & Garfunkel, –  Bookends  –  Release: April 3rd

The most fully realized album of Simon and Garfunkel’s middle-period career, Bookends showed that the duo were capable of more than merely poignant, introspective balladry. Only their fourth studio effort, Bookends was fashioned as a concept album that imagined life’s progression from youth to old age. “Old Friends,” a song that more or less became synonymous with the duo’s often stormy relationship, encapsulated that trajectory, but several others stood apart as future standards, including “America,” “A Hazy Shade of Winter,” “At the Zoo,” and an encore performance of “Mrs. Robinson,” culled from the soundtrack to The Graduate, released the year before. At the same time, Bookends would prove an ideal lead-in to Bridge Over Troubled Water, which would follow two years later and elevate the duo to their grand crescendo.

Music From Big Pink

The Band, Music From Big Pink  –  Release: July 1st

The Band’s debut record took an entirely different path from 1967’s candy-colored psych-rock explosion. Bob Dylan’s former backing group stripped down and excavated a form of American roots music that was somewhere between country and folk. Dylan had a hand in some of the songs, but the quintet proved to be one of the most significant groups of their time.

By the time The Band released their debut full-length, they were already a well-known, road-tested outfit who’d played behind Dylan during his infamous electric breakout. But their emergence as architects of archival Americana arrived with Music From Big Pink, an album borne from jams, rehearsals and songwriting sessions at the album’s namesake house in upstate New York. Though elevated in stature at the time thanks to the presence of a few Dylan compositions, the finished album found Robertson, Helm, Hudson, Danko and Manuel tossing off their musical shackles, mixing up instrumental and vocal duties, and creating a vintage variety of folk and country that seemed as effortless as it did brilliant. It was that emphasis on rural roots—the band boasted four Canadians and and Arkansan—that inspired the souped-up backwoods persona they purveyed in both sight and sound. The songs stand the test of time, and indeed, “The Weight,” “This Wheel’s On Fire,” “Tears of Rage” and “I Shall Be Released” stand among the most indelible expressions of heartland music ever recorded.

Lady Soul [w/bonus selections]

Aretha Franklin, Lady Soul   –  Released: January. 22nd

It says something about how rare and electrifying Aretha Franklin was in 1968, as a 26-year-old singer making her third album for Atlantic Records, that she could claim the title Lady Soul and not only pull it off, but then wear the crown undisputed for the next 50 years. Aretha Franklin had scored a defining hit—for both herself and women everywhere—the previous year with her cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect,” then mourned Redding’s death in December. Her mix of exuberance and despair, crying and shouting with every twist of a wounded relationship that haunts the album, courses through Lady Soul.

There’s gospel bliss on ”(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and down-hearted blues on “Good to Me As I Am to You.” She also fearlessly reimagines songs by her most famed male contemporaries, including a simmering cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” which had been a hit for The Impressions. Franklin’s once-in-a-century siren of a voice always powerful, always under complete control—is backed all the way by a crack New York headlined led by organist Spooner Oldham, saxophonist King Curtis and guitarist Joe South.Beggars Banquet

The Rolling Stones, Beggar’s Banquet  –  Released: December. 6th

Following 1967’s critically panned Their Satanic Majesties Request, attempt to cash in on psychedelia, the Rolling Stones revealed their essence on Beggar’s Banquet—a dirty, raw, set of originals that injected some country twang into the band’s R&B obsessions and set the mold for the iconic Stones sound that would stretch on for another 50 years.

Like a few other artists on our list of Albums of 1968, unplugged and settled into a more gutsy rock ‘n’ roll groove for their seventh LP. Acknowledging, but without directly borrowing from, the usual R&B and blues influences, the Rolling Stones crafted an album that’s simultaneously raw, scary and sinister. More than that, it launched a staggeringly fruitful creative period (which continued through 1972’s career milestone ‘Exile on Main St.’) when the Stones more than earned their title as the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Band.

Containing at least three certified Stones classics—“Street Fighting Man,” “Salt of the Earth (featuring a rare lead vocal from Keith Richards) and the signature song “Sympathy for the Devil”Beggar’s Banquet marked the first entry in a four-album run—followed by Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street—that would go down as maybe the greatest winning album streak in rock history.

Sadly, it also marks the final album with Brian Jones’s full participation, and his reliability at the time was clearly in question. The original cover image, featuring a graffiti-strewn lavatory, was rejected by the record label and replaced with an unadorned invitation image that drew instant comparisons to the Beatles’ White Album, which had come out three weeks before. Nevertheless, the inner gatefold, depicting an enthusiastic food fight, ensured the Stones’ depravity wasn’t diminished.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland  –  Released: October. 16th

Jimi Hendrix  radiated genius from the get-go with Are You Experienced? and Axis Bold As Love, his first two albums with the his band Experience in 1967. On Electric Ladyland, he took that extraordinary innovation into entirely new realms that were difficult to define then and remain so now. The trio, with its British rhythm section and American front man, was perfectly suited to their era, and with a supporting cast that included Traffic’s Steve Winwood, Dave Mason and Chris Wood, as well as drummer Buddy Miles and Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady, Electric Ladyland redefined the concept of modern rock within a progressive posture. The album boasts everything that Hendrix (who produced it) did well: slinky psych-soul (“Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” the title track), explosive electric blues (“Voodoo Chile”), melodic pop (“Crosstown Traffic,” “Long Hot Summer Night”) and tripped-out sonic explorations that take the listener under the sea (“1983… A Merman I Should Turn to Be”) and into the heavens (“And the Gods Made Love”). His version of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” showcased his ability to put an indelible mark on any popular music of the day, making it little wonder that even now, half a century later, the final studio effort recorded in Hendrix’s lifetime continues to set an almost unattainably high bar. Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland was the only two record set of the year that made it in my book. He is the authoritative lead guitarist, the coolest showman, an excellent songwriter, and a constantly improving vocalist. He has one of the finest drummers in pop music working with him and an imagination of touring performers on the scene that day, Hendrix is tops and 1968 was his year.

The Beatles (The White Album)

The Beatles, The Beatles  –  Release: November. 22nd

After the critical success of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the rapid follow-up of the equally colorful and hallucinogenic Magical Mystery Tour, this expansive double-disc allowed the four Beatles both to stretch out artistically and reconnect with their roots in a way that would be further explored with the bare bones concept for their 1970 swan song, Let It Be.

A series of solo excursions made by an increasingly fractured band, the so-called White Album collected songs composed while the Fabs were meditating in India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It mostly resisted the pressure to address the social upheaval swirling outside the doors of EMI Studios (later called Abbey Road) and focused instead on wide-ranging song craft, with each member managing to create some of his most lasting work despite—or maybe because of—the infighting and tension that plagued the recording sessions. Lennon emerged with “Dear Prudence,” Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “Sexy Sadie” and “Revolution 1”; McCartney composed “Martha My Dear,” “Blackbird,” “I Will” and “Helter Skelter”; and Harrison contributed “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Long Long Long” and “Savoy Truffle.” Taken together, they form what many consider to be among The Beatles’ greatest collection of songs.

Few people have used the guitar as voice so effectively as Jeff Beck. And few recordings in any genre have so beautifully melded guitar with instrumentation. Although Blow By Blow has weak and dated moments, its standout tracks are so startling that I keep referring back to it as a kind of touch-point…to my own past, to an eternal expectation of how really transcendant great music can be. Three tracks have not dated, will never date: “Because We’ve Ended as Lovers”, “Scatterbrain” and “Diamond Dust”. Each has a distinctive, difficult, complicated mood. Lovers weeps. Scatterbrain has a manic, brilliant energy and wonderful interplay with a lush, erotic backing string arrangement.  Its mood is brooding, edgy, and yet elegiac. The opening bars introduce an uneasy melody against a counterpoint of piano. From there the melody twists around, punctuated by electric piano and the faint, brilliantly arranged strings. It builds and fades, sometimes bright, sometimes aching, and when it ends, you feel as if you need to think a while, maybe take a walk. It’s one of the most complicated and beautiful songs in modern music .

 “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” is the track for me. There is no question that Jeff Beck is trying to channel Roy Buchanan here. Where does that lead us? That leads us to Gary Moore and Ronnie Montrose and so many other guys. But where did it come from? It came from a guitarist like Roy Buchanan.

This is kind of a transitional album for Beck. He was just starting to develop a new element to his playing, and you can hear him breaking out of his older style. He played “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” on a two-pickup, double-coil Tele—Seymour Duncan had put those two pickups in. Jeff can do his thing without whammy bars, and you can tell that he’s channeling Buchanan here, the way Roy worked his Tele. The notes are so pure.

This is another one of those “the world has changed” records. Now you can’t imagine guitar playing the way it used to be. Certain players like Beck, Page, Hendrix and Clapton have a way of just defining a moment—they mark it as theirs.