Posts Tagged ‘Traffic’

The Limited Edition image 1

In celebration of the life and lyrics of Traffic’s drummer, poet and founder – the late Jim Capaldi over 70 of his handwritten lyrics are illustrated with images of Traffic, and illuminated with the recollections of 40 legendary contributors.

Mr Fantasy is a limited edition of only 900 copies. Signed by Steve Winwood, Aninha Capaldi and Robert Plant.

Traffic’s songs and the imagery of Jim Capaldi’s lyrics brought us adventures and characters that vibrated through the psychedelic underground.’ quoted Robert Plant

‘The Sixties to me were the most important years in humankind! Traffic became a reality in 1966. I’d already started writing songs in the previous bands so I naturally took the role of lyricist.’ Jim Capaldi

Read all about the making of this classic album in the limited edition book and record set, Mr Fantasy, which explores the lyrics and music of Jim Capaldi . Jim was the lyricist behind Traffic’s 11 albums, including the hit songs ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy’, ‘40,000 Headmen’ and ‘Paper Sun’. Originally inspired by The Beatles, Jim also wrote for the Eagles and played alongside George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix

His handwritten lyrics have been reproduced in facsimile, complete with doodles, typos and alterations to reveal the process behind the words that changed the face of music. ‘As you read these lyrics, ask yourself if anyone in rock ever wrote better. The pirate poet indeed. Jim was a real rough diamond… I loved him.’ Tom Petty

Jim began work on this book before his death in 2005. He provided us with text, giving insight into his inspiration and describing his prolific 40-year song writing partnership with Steve Winwood.

‘I’d had this idea for a lyric and that evening while half asleep I managed to finish it off in my head. I got up, wrote it down and went and woke up Steve; it must have been around 4.30 or 5.00 in the morning. Then we went in to the little living room where there was an old upright piano and finished it. It was the first song we wrote together.’ Jim Capaldi

‘All these bits of paper would be knocking about and while we were jamming, if I could find a way to sing something that was written down I would just sing it. That’s how we created our songs… He was a life-long brother-musician to me and we spent a lot of time together, had a great affection for each other, and understood each other and the way we worked. It’s slightly sad, but, for me, Traffic can never be without Jim.’ Steve Winwood

Jim was one of the most influential songwriters, not only of his generation but in the history of popular music culture. He attacked life with an energy and passion and left a rich legacy. He leaves a benchmark for today’s writers and musicians to emulate.’

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This Dynamic broadcast recording from the band Traffic in 1972 featured Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason, and Chris Wood who met at a nightclub the Opposite Lock in Aston, Birmingham in the mid-1960s. At the time Winwood was still performing with The Spencer Davis Group, but when he quit in April 1967, the quartet formed Traffic.

Traffic signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, and their debut single “Paper Sun” became a UK hit in the summer of 1967. Further hit singles followed and their debut album, “Mr. Fantasy”, was successful in the UK. Dave Mason left the group by the time Mr. Fantasy was released, but re-joined for a few months in 1968, long enough to contribute to their second, eponymous album. The band however was discontinued following Winwood’s departure in early 69. He then formed the supergroup Blind Faith, which lasted less than a year, recording one album and undertaking one US tour. After the break-up of Blind Faith, Winwood began working on a solo recording, bringing in Wood and Capaldi to contribute, and the project eventually turned into a new Traffic album, “John Barleycorn Must Die”, their most successful record of all.

In 1971 the group released The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (1971), a Top 10 American album but one which did not chart in the UK. They toured America in early 1972 to promote the LP, during which they performed an extraordinary concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on 21st February, which was broadcast across FM radio along the West Coast, and is featured in its entirety . The quite superb performance includes cuts from their two finest albums.

recorded at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1972, this concert seems to kick off with a somewhat spacey, mildly exploratory version of the title tune of the band’s then-current LP, “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”; Steve Winwood and Chris Wood get to stretch out nicely on this one, on piano and electric sax, respectively. “Light Up or Leave Me Alone” comes next, on which former drummer Jim Capaldi gets to do his white Sammy Davis, Jr. thing while Stevie offers up some wicked guitar licks. (Until his recent collaborations with Eric Clapton, many seemed to have forgotten what a fantastic guitarist he’s always been!) A straightforward yet tasty as can be rendition of “John Barleycorn” follows, featuring some terrific work by Chris on flute; “Rainmaker” makes for a perfect segueway after this one, highlighted by more lovely flute work from Chris and a rousing percussion interlude from Reebop Kwakubaah. The classic Traffic diptych of “Glad”/”Freedom Rider” comes next, accompanied by some psychedelic light FX, and then Stevie sings effortlessly and beautifully on “40,000 Headmen.” “Dear Mr. Fantasy” closes out this set in rousing fashion, featuring some more staggering guitar work from Winwood.

In 1967, when the still-teenaged keyboardist Steve Winwood left the Spencer Davis Group (for whom he’d sung lead on hits like “Gimme Some Lovin'” and “I’m a Man”) to start a new band with guitarist Dave Mason, few observers thought their idea of blending pop, rock, and jazz would work. Immediately, though, Traffic scored giant hits with Winwood’s east-meets-west “Paper Sun” and Mason’s acid-jazzy “Hole in My Shoe”. Between those songs, the smoking-guitar driven title track, the swinging instrumental “Giving to You” and the haunting ballad, “No Face, No Name, No Number”, Traffic’s debut established both players as elite members of the new guard of late 60s British rock.

“I knew it wasn’t just a good piece or a good track for a record,” Traffic drummer and lyricist Jim Capaldi once said of their song “Dear Mr. Fantasy” the pseudo-title-cut from the band’s kaleidoscopic debut LP. “I knew it was going to be a real milestone-type piece.” His hunch was spot-on.

The British quartet never cracked the pop charts with the spiraling psych-rock song. (In fact, they never even issued it as a single.) But the six-minute long “Fantasy” was designed more as a deep, mind-expanding bong hit than a quick joint puff: Steve Winwood’s bluesy howl and the group’s live-in-the-room exploration tapped into the same jam-sprung freedom flourishing at that time from America’s West Coast.

Fittingly, since much of Traffic’s early repertoire reveled in whimsy, “Dear Mr. Fantasy” originated from a doodle. “I’d drawn this character playing a guitar, with puppet hands instead of his own hands,” Capaldi recalled in a video interview celebrating the 50th anniversary of Mr. Fantasyin 2017. “I wrote a letter next to it: ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy, play us a tune.'”

At the time, the band Capaldi, Winwood, multi-instrumentalists Dave Mason and Chris Wood were holed up at Sheepcote Farm, a rural cottage in Berkshire, England, owned by baronet Sir William Pigott-Brown, a friend of Island Records founder Chris Blackwell. Experimenting with weed and LSD, and living among the filth of their own dirty dishes and laundry, the young men cooked up much of Mr. Fantasy at this ragged sanctuary.

“There was no running water, there was a well and no electricity,” said WinwoodBlackwell took the gamekeeper’s cottage down the lane so he could make sure we rehearsed and wrote material. It was a place where we could make as much row as we liked – and we certainly did.”

During one ordinary vice-filled afternoon, “Fantasy” emerged.

“I was asleep upstairs in the cottage, and I heard this nice little bass line going and some guitar,” Capaldi said “I woke up, went down — we’d jam all time of the day, and we’d all take breaks, do whatever.”

“[I] found that they’d written a song around the words and drawing I’d done, I was completely knocked out by it. Chris wrote that great bass line. We added some more words later and worked out a bigger arrangement too.”

“Dear Mr. Fantasy” “was done on impulse with practically nothing worked out, because it was almost jammed,” Winwood told Rolling Stone in 1969. “The initial spirit of the whole thing was captured on record — which is very rare. That was one of the things, because it’s not specifically an outstanding melody or an outstanding chord sequence or anything. It’s basically quite simple. They’re very simple lyrics and they’re repeated three times. … It wasn’t half so strong after we’d done it. It was time that gave it a lot of meaning.”

Armed with a batch of songs that sprawled from psych to blues to soul to Beatlesque Indian nods, Traffic eventually moved to London’s Olympic Studios with producer Jimmy Miller, with whom Winwood had collaborated as part of his previous band, the Spencer Davis Group.

Miller was crucial in capturing the song’s free-flowing vibe on tape, which they only achieved after scrapping the traditional recording booths and tracking as a live four-piece: Winwood on electric guitar and vocals, Mason on bass, Wood on organ and Capaldi on drums. A surprise fifth member was Miller, who augmented the groove by rushing from the control room to lay down some extra percussion.

“We were in the middle of a take and there’s a part where the tempo changes it jumps and I look around, and Jimmy Miller’s not in the control room,” by the side of engineer Eddie Kramer. “The next thing I see out of the corner of my eye is Jimmy hauling ass across the room, running full tilt. He jumps up on the riser, picks up a pair of maracas and gets them to double the tempo! That, to me, was the most remarkable piece of production assistance I’d ever seen. They were shocked to see him out there, exhorting them to double the tempo. Their eyes kind of lit up. It was amazing.”

“Fantasy” thrives on that anything-can-happen energy: Capaldi’s thumping kick drum accents and tumbling fills, the double-time grooves, Winwood’s Jimi Hendrix-like solo, that tempo-shifting finale. From 1967 onward, it became a staple of Traffic’s live show performed more than any other song in their catalog.

And kindred spirits followed suit onstage. Grateful Dead introduced a faithful cover in 1984, a showcase for keyboardist-singer Brent Mydland, and continued to perform it up through 1990. (Jerry Garcia even joined Traffic for a version during their 1994 reunion tour, documented on the live set The Last Great Traffic Jam.) Several other rock legends have paid tribute, including Hendrix, Crosby, Stills & Nash, mid-’90s Fleetwood Mac (featuring a briefly tenured Mason), Peter Frampton and Eric Clapton (alongside Winwood).

“Dear Mr. Fantasy” “was done on impulse with practically nothing worked out, because it was almost jammed,” Winwood told Rolling Stone in 1969. “The initial spirit of the whole thing was captured on record — which is very rare. That was one of the things, because it’s not specifically an outstanding melody or an outstanding chord sequence or anything. It’s basically quite simple. They’re very simple lyrics and they’re repeated three times. … It wasn’t half so strong after we’d done it. It was time that gave it a lot of meaning.”

  • Steve Winwood – guitar, lead vocal
  • Dave Mason – bass guitar, harmonica, backing vocal
  • Chris Wood – organ, backing vocal
  • Jim Capaldi – drums, backing vocal
  • Jimmy Miller – maracas

Traffic / The Studio Albums 1967-1974

This 6LP vinyl box set due in May, Universal Music are set to release a new Traffic vinyl box set, the snazzily titled, The Studio Albums 1967–1974.
The six-LP set collects together the Island-released Mr Fantasy, Traffic, John Barleycorn Must Die, Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory, The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys and When The Eagle Flies. 1969 odds ‘n’ sods compilation Last Exit isn’t included.

Traffic were originally formed in 1967 when Steve Winwood fled the Spencer Davis Group at the ripe old age of 18, and joined drummer/singer Jim Capaldi, singer/guitarist Dave Mason and reed player Chris Wood. The quartet soon rented a cottage out in rural Berkshire to ‘get their heads together in the country’.

While the group were quickly successful with the singles ‘Paper Sun’ and ‘Hole In My Shoe’, they were more at home on the album format, and also enjoyed considerable success within the U.S., scoring four consecutive top ten albums from 1970 to 1974.

The Studio Albums 1967-1974 is released 17th May 2019.

The LPs have been remastered from the original tapes and presented in their original and highly collectable ‘first’ Island pressing form (gatefold sleeves, pink eye labels etc). The set also includes a related and rare facsimile promo poster for each album.

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

Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die front

1969 was a tremulous year for the band Traffic. After a successful tour in the US following their second album, Steve Winwood left the band for the short-lived super group Blind Faith. In the meantime Island Records released the album “Last Exit”, a mishmash of leftover studio cuts and live performances Traffic recorded in 1968. Blind Faith recorded one excellent album but broke up shortly after, leaving Winwood then free to start working on a solo record suggested by Island Record’s manager Chris Blackwell.

The plan was for Winwood to play all the instruments using tape overdubbing techniques in the studio. Winwood is a fine multi instrumentalist who could certainly perform such a feat, but he found the process difficult: “I began trying to make music all on my own with tape machines and overdubbing and stuff. It was a very good way of writing, but it was a weird way of making music. The whole thing that makes music special is people. I was getting to the point that I needed the input of other people. It seemed inhuman to make records just by overdubbing.”

Steve Winwood started calling on his friends from Traffic to help him in the studio. First to join was Jim Capaldi who helped writing some of the songs and contributed drums and percussion tracks. Next was reed man Chris Wood who brought his jazz and folk influences, and the three worked for a few months on the album. It became clear that the solo album, with the planned title name of “Mad Shadows”, was really a Traffic record.

Chris Wood was influenced by the folk revival that swept the British Isles in the late 60s. One song he suggested to the group was John Barleycorn, which he heard on the 1965 Watersons record Frost and Fire. The Watersons’ version, like most of their material from that period, was an unaccompanied vocal group performance.

Winwood applied himself to the song and played a wonderful guitar part on it. Capaldi added tasteful and sparse percussion parts and more importantly a brilliant vocal harmony starting on the fifth verse. Wood’s flute accompaniment is the icing on the cake on this great take on the song, which has been performed by many British folk artists over the years including Martin Carthy and John Renbourn. The Mainly Norfolk site has a good page chronicling many of the song’s covers. It is interesting that amidst the great activity that took place at the time in the British folk rock scene by bands like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Fotheringay and many others, one of the most memorable songs remains this performance of John Barleycorn by Traffic, wnot considered a folk rock band.

The album was engineered by Andy Johns, younger brother of Glynn Johns. Between them the two brothers recorded classic rock’s royalty. Before working with Traffic, Andy Johns recorded Jethro Tull (Stand Up, Living in the Past), Spooky Tooth and Blind Faith. After Traffic his career soared with Led Zeppelin (II, III, the legendary IV, Houses of the Holy, Physical Graffiti) and the Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street). Quite a resume, and this is just within a span of 4 years.

Johns had a deep respect for Steve Winwood. In an interview he mentioned an experience he had when working on the Blind Faith album: “I came back from a lunch break one day and the soundproof door was cracked a little bit, and I could hear him playing the Hammond. He’s playing both manuals and the bass pedals and he’s singing. I look at him and he’s looking at the ceiling. Not only is he playing the top manual, the lower manual, the bass pedals, and singing, but he’s also thinking about what his old lady’s going to make him for dinner. So he’s doing four or five things at once and the music was just stunning. I hate to use the word genius, because it’s bandied about so much, but that guy, in the end of his little finger, has more than a whole tribe of musicality— he really does. It’s just unfair.”

When you first listen to the song you may think that you landed in the midst of a Middle Ages inquisition session. The lyrics describe all kinds of brutal methods inflicted by three men upon a poor fellow named John Barleycorn. However a closer look reveals that the distressing lyrics are actually a metaphor to the process applied to barley in order to produce beer and whiskey. While it has its roots in old folklore tales about the Corn God and religious symbolism, it is really a satire on legally prohibiting the production of alcoholic beverages while still needing the drink to get on with everyday life, as revealed in the last verse:

The huntsman, he can’t hunt the fox,
Nor so loudly to blow his horn,
And the tinker he can’t mend kettle nor pot,
Without a little Barleycorn

In short, John Barleycorn is a drinking song. Maybe the best of them all.

Steve Winwood performs a solo acoustic version of Traffic’s John Barleycorn (Must Die).

Image of Traffic 'First Exit' blue vinyl LP

Steve Winwood formed Traffic with Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason, and Chris Wood in 1967. In the spirit of the times, the group was intended to be a cooperative, with the members living together in a country cottage in Berkshire and collaborating on their songs. Signed to Island Records their single “Paper Sun,” peaked in the U.K. Top Five in July 1967 and also spent several weeks in the lower reaches of the charts in America. Traffic toured Europe in the summer of ’67 and the live recording that comprises this album was made for radio broadcast in Sweden at Radiohuset, Stockholm on September. 12th, 1967. It has been newly mastered for vinyl and pressed on blue vinyl.

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• Restored and newly mastered audio
• Historic live radio broadcast available for the first time on LP
• Includes the hits ‘Paper Sun’ and ‘Hole In My Show’
• Complete live show from 1967
• Limited edition blue vinyl

Image of Traffic 'First Exit' blue vinyl LP

TRACK LISTING
1. Giving To You [live] / 2. Smiling Phases [live] / 3. Coloured Rain [live] / 4. Hole In My Shoe [live] / 5. Feelin’ Good [live] / 6. Paper Sun [live] / 7. Dear Mr Fantasy [live]

In 1971, Island Records released a double sampler album called El Pea. This compilation cost the princely sum of £1.99 and featured many fledging artists who would go on to become household names,this album was a revelation, and changed my attitude to music forever.

Island Records started out with a catalogue of Jamaican music but the charismatic founder, Chris Blackwell, soon diversified into an eclectic stable of contemporary acts. Some didn’t make it, some did, but all of them appeared on one or other of the samplers Island Records released in the early 1970s.

The appeal of the samplers was clear. Punters got a chance to hear some of the best new music at a heavily discounted price, whilst the record company got to promote music that did not readily lend itself to radio or TV airplay. Some of the compilations were classic recordings in their own right, and Island Records probably came out with the classiest.

El Pea was released in the UK in 1971, but it has an enduring appeal. This was probably the folkiest of the Island samplers, with the inevitable influence of Joe Boyd. However it had its heavier moments, a touch of prog and a little reggae to make for a heady brew. The album cover was hardly arresting and probably played too much on the pun in its name – a long-playing double LP called… El Pea,  However the slapdash artwork disguises a classic album. They couldn’t even get the track listing right – you might be pleased to see Nick Drake on the album but the track listed as “One Of These Things First”, is actually the even better, astonishing, “Northern Sky”. Another track worth the purchase price is by McDonald and Giles, previously of King Crimson fame, and the album from which the track comes is one of those forgotten gems you won’t regret checking out.

You can’t get El Pea on CD, but all of the tracks are available on subsequently released CDs. Additionally a number of compilation CDs have come out over the years to reprise the glorious days of the Island sampler.

With selections ranging from much-anticipated new albums by superstars Traffic, Free, and Cat Stevens; cult demigods Mott the Hoople and Quintessence; and a handful of names that might well have been new to the average browser: Mike Heron, slipping out of the Incredible String Band with his Smiling Men With Bad Reputations debut; Nick Drake, still laboring away in absolute obscurity; and so on.

There was also a spotlight shone on Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the so-called supergroup whose own eponymous debut was still awaited with baited breath, and the choice of the virtuoso “Knife Edge” over any of the album’s more accessible tracks further confirms El Pea’s validity. Any other label would have gone for “Lucky Man,” knowing that no one could resist its plaintive charms. “Knife Edge” let the ingenue know precisely what to expect from Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

And so it goes on — from Jethro Tull to Blodwyn Pig, from Fairport Convention to Sandy Denny, 21 tracks spread across four sides of vinyl serve up one of the most generous and alluring label samplers you will ever lay your hands on

Side A

A 1 – Traffic – Empty Pages
A2 – Sandy Denny – Late November
A3 – Alan Bown – Thru The Night
A4 – John And Beverley Martyn – Auntie Aviator
A5 – Fairport Convention – Lord Marlborough

Side B
B1 – Jethro Tull – Mother Goose
B2 – Quintessence – Dive Deep
B3 – Amazing Blondel – Spring Season
B4 – McDonald & Giles – Extract From Tomorrow’s People – The Children Of Today
B5 – Tir Na Nog – Our Love Will Not Decay
B6 – Mountain – Don’t Look Around

Side C
C1 – Free – Highway Song
C2 – Incredible String Band – Waiting For You
C3 – Cat Stevens – Wild World
C4 – Bronco – Sudden Street
C5 – Mike Heron – Feast Of Stephen

Side D
D1 – Emerson Lake & Palmer – Knife Edge
D2 – Nick Drake – Northern Sky
D3 – Mott The Hoople – Original Mixed-Up Kid
D4 – Jimmy Cliff – Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving
D5 – Mick Abrahams – Greyhound Bus

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.

bumpers up front

“Bumpers” was a double sampler album from Island Records, released in Europe and Australasia in 1970; there were minor variations in track listings within Europe but the Australian release was fundamentally different. The title refers to the training shoes which can be seen on the front of the album cover but there may also be a less obvious reference to the meaning “unusually large, abundant or excellent”.

The album is left to present itself; there are no sleeve notes, the gatefold interior consists of a photograph showing publicity shots of the featured acts attached to the bole of a tree, without any identification. This image is flanked by the track listings, but even there, the information given is unreliable. Unlike its predecessors You Can All Join In and Nice Enough To Eat, there are no credits for cover art (the cover art was by Tony Wright, his first sleeve for Island), photography or design. The impression is left that the album’s production was rushed, presumably to leave enough lead-time to promote the albums featured. The English version of the album came out in two pressings, one with the pink label and “i” logo, the other with the label displaying a palm motif on a white background and a pink rim, each version with some minor variations in the production of individual tracks.

In the late sixties British record labels started to release a selection of their artists’ material on records known as samplers. These were not intended as anthologies or compilations – the purpose was to allow listeners the opportunity to sample a range of acts at a reduced price, showcasing in particular those for whom there was not a conventional singles market and hence little opportunity for radio airplay in the UK. Columbia’s ‘The Rock Machine Turns You On’ and Liberty Records ‘Gutbucket’ .   Island Records produced a series of gems from ‘Nice Enough to Eat’ and ‘You Can All Join In’ in 1969, to ‘Bumpers’ in 1970 and ‘El Pea’ in 1971. ‘Bumpers’ was, as it’s name would suggest, the pick of the crop, with an eclectic yet cohesive collection of music across two 33rpm vinyl discs. Priced at actually 29/11 cover price . The album came out in two pressings, one with the pink label and “i” logo, the other with the label displaying a palm motif on a white background and a pink rim.

Side One

  1. “Every Mother’s Son”  – Traffic (from John Barleycorn Must Die (ILPS 9116)) (7:06)
  2. “Love”  – Bronco (from Bronco (ILPS 9134))  (4:42)
  3. “I Am the Walrus”  – Spooky Tooth (from The Last Puff (ILPS 9117)) (6:20)
  4. “Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Gauranga”  – Quintessence (Live version of track, not released elsewhere at the time, but available as ‘bonus’ track on CD version of album Quintessence (REPUK 1016) (5:15)

Side Two

  1. “Thunderbuck Ram” – Mott the Hoople (from Mad Shadows (ILPS 9119) (4:50)
  2. “Nothing To Say”  – Jethro Tull (from Benefit (ILPS 9123)) (5:10)
  3. “Going Back West”  – Jimmy Cliff (from Jimmy Cliff (ILPS 9133)) (5:32)
  4. “Send Your Son To Die” – Blodwyn Pig (from Getting To This (ILPS 9122)) (4:35)
  5. “Little Woman”  – Dave Mason (no source listed)  (2:30)

Side Three

  1. “Go Out And Get It”  – John & Beverley Martyn (from Stormbringer! (ILPS 9113)) (3:15)
  2. “Cadence & Cascade” – King Crimson (from In the Wake of Poseidon (ILPS 9127)) (4:30)
  3. “Reaching Out On All Sides”  – If (from If (ILPS 9129)) (5:35)
  4. “Oh I Wept”  – Free (from Fire and Water (ILSP 9120)) (4:25)
  5. “Hazey Jane” – Nick Drake (from his album to be released Autumn ’70) (4:28)

Side Four

  1. “Walk Awhile”  – Fairport Convention (from Full House (ILPS 9130)) (4:00)
  2. “Maybe You’re Right”  – Cat Stevens (from Mona Bone Jakon (ILPS 9118)) (3:00)
  3. “Island”  – Renaissance (from Renaissance (ILPS 9114)) (5:57)
  4. “The Sea”  – Fotheringay (from Fotheringay (ILPS 9125)) (5:25)
  5. “Take Me To Your Leader”  –Clouds (intended to be on their Chrysalis album to be released Autumn ’70) (2:55)