“All things must change to something new, to something strange.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Woody Guthrie, Otis Redding, and John Coltrane each passed away in 1967. These three men virtually invented protest music, soul, and free jazz, respectively. Each brought a passion to his music that was almost (and sometimes was) religious in its fervor. And each are revered to this day. A thorough review of the year in music isn’t complete without mention of Dust Bowl Ballads, Otis Blue, and A Love Supreme, even though each those albums were made well before ’67.
If the door was open for new stars to emerge, there were plenty of talented artists waiting to bust through. Bands of every stripe were conjuring astonishing musical innovation, and this year saw the introduction of several artists who would leave indelible imprints on music, society, and popular culture. The Doors, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Fred Neil, The Velvet Underground, Moby Grape, Captain Beefheart, and Country Joe & The Fish all dropped fully realized, groundbreaking first albums. 1967 is the greatest year on record for debut albums – by a Country Joe mile.
The Monterey Pop Festival would introduce the concept that would spawn Woodstock, Altamont, Lollapalooza and more. BBC Radio One began rolling, as did a magazine called Rolling Stone, which pressed issue #1 in ’67. It’s a year that will always be remembered for The Summer Of Love, but 1967 had many memorable, technicolor moments. Fortunately, the best of them are preserved in wax, ready to be conjured up at a moment’s notice.
The Top 20 Albums Of 1967
The Doors * The Doors & Strange Days
#1 In 1967, Jim Morrison saw a country filled with rubes and straight men and dove right in. Consequently, the Doors rode a rocketship to stardom; due to Morrison’s dark charisma as well as their unique sound. Part blues badass, part artsy fartsy, and part Rimbaud, The Doors was the perfect soundtrack for the so-called ‘Summer Of Love’. ‘Light My Fire’ and ‘Break On Through’ set the pulse of the times, and ‘The End’ lifted rock to the status of art, while setting Morrison’s agenda – ie: “I am a poet, and a shocking one at that.” This is the rare album where every song is as good as gold: ‘Back Door Man’ ‘Alabama Song’ ‘Take It As It Comes’ – a monumental achievement and a staggering debut.
Strange Days is nearly its equal. In addition to the midget, strongman, and acrobats on the cover, it boasts a nearly flawless set of songs, including the title track, ‘People Are Strange’, ‘When The Music Is Over’ ‘Love Me Two Times’ and ‘Moonlight Drive. The only real misstep is ‘Horse Latitudes’ – a preview of the pompous poetic posturing that Morrison would come to be known for. But taken together, the Doors’ self-titled debut and its follow up make up one of the most inventive and hit-filled years by any band in the history of rock and roll.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience * Are You Experienced?
#2 Quite simply the greatest debut album of all-time. This changed the way all guitarists approached their instrument. Suddenly it was less about chords and notes, and more an instrument to channel one’s soul. Jimi’s approach to feedback was also revolutionary. Before him, it was to be avoided at all costs – after him, it was a wave to be ridden by the boldest, bravest, and most skilled. Top it off with some of the finest songs ever written, and you have something that was – and is – truly incendiary.
There are the hits: ‘Purple Haze’, ‘Foxey Lady’, ‘Fire’, and ‘Hey Joe’. There are the astral freak-outs: ‘Third Stone From The Sun’, ‘Love Or Confusion’, ‘I Don’t Live Today’. There are the ballads: ‘The Wind Cries Mary’, ‘Manic Depression’. After years of backing acts like the Isley Brothers and Little Richard on the so-called Chitlin’ Circuit of smaller Southern clubs, Jimi had a wide variety of chops (and stunts like playing with his teeth and behind his back) that he was eager to show off. On his debut he used all of them to maximum effect.
If Jimi had been struck by lightning (or more likely, beamed away in a spaceship) after Are You Experienced?, his legacy would still loom nearly as large. That’s not to downplay his later, equally great work, but to point out that his meteoric talent was evident from the first notes of his first album. Every song here is a self-contained world – eleven magical places to be visited again and again, that never seem to lose even a bit of their brilliance or luster.
The Beatles * Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band & Magical Mystery Tour
#3 Sgt Pepper’s was one of the great cultural sensations of its time. This album was played by every creature everywhere, of every gender, specie, and nationality, for months on end. It affected the way that musicians approached music ever after. No longer was the album to be a collection of singles, but a grand artistic statement. This influence was good/bad, as fidgety musicians realized the ante was upped and it was time to get serious. Some, like an already overwrought Brian Wilson, simply imploded from the pressure. Others met the challenge, and still many more took it as a cue to use the studio as a child would a package of finger paints (listen the The Stones’ Satanic Majesties Request for further evidence).
Musically, this is not the Beatles’ best (my Mom’s gonna kill me for writing that) but there are great songs here (see Mom!) like ‘Within You Without You’ (introduced world music, sitar jams) ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ (introduced psychedelia) ‘A Day In The Life’ (introduced dark songwriting, and paved the way for every band like Radiohead). For good and often bad, this is the single most influential album of all time.
Magical Mystery Tour only added incrementally to the Beatles’ legend. ‘I Am The Walrus’ is pure cryptic psychedelia, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ is simply one of the greatest songs ever, and ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man’ was their bitchiest to song to that point. Overall it isn’t a great album (or even a very good one, by Beatles’ standards) but if it had any other band’s name on the cover it would be considered a drop dead classic of its era.
Fred Neil * Fred Neil
#4 Fred Neil’s self-titled solo debut is the greatest singer/songwriter album of all time. And yes, that includes Paul Simon, James Taylor, Neil Young, and any other heavyweight you care to mention. He sings like a man awakened from a not especially pleasant dream, but his voice is weighted perfectly for his bluesy folk songs. He brings forth the lines “I’ve got a secret that I shouldn’t tell/I’m gonna go to heaven in a split pea shell” like a man reciting his last earthly words. Album opener ‘Dolphins’ sounds like fanciful fantasizing, but it ended up being his mission statement: he retired from music in 1971 and hid himself away in South Florida, rarely heard from again.
Bob Dylan * John Wesley Harding
#5 It’s hard not to think that Dylan was almost openly mocking his audience by JWH. The liner notes alone send off the “if this shit is gibberish you wouldn’t be smart enough to know the difference” vibe that would come full bloom on Self-Portrait. ‘I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine’ is certainly the first hint of the religious bent that his late 70’s/early 80’s work would take. But two tracks rescue this album from oblivion – ‘All Along The Watchtower’ which is one of his best, and was covered/appropriated by Jimi Hendrix, and ‘Drifter’s Escape’ which (although less memorably covered by Hendrix) is a quintessential Dylan mix of apocalypse and apocrypha. Shredded by critics and fans alike on arrival, this album is hard to fathom, but far too good to ignore.
John Fahey * Days Have Gone By, Vol. 6 & Requia And Other Compositions…
#6 John Fahey crafted some of the most intense and original compositions of the 20th Century. Indeed, only within the last handful of years (and in the guises of M. Ward, Devendra Banhart, and others) has the true influence and lasting power of Fahey’s music become apparent. His songs spring up in the cracks at the intersection of folk and blues, and their innate melodic quality never fails to sustain you through every piece. His two albums in 1967 prove that even if Fahey was performing outside the bright lights of stardom, his songs – and his playing – were without peer.
Albert King * Born Under A Bad Sign
#7 One of the best blues albums of all time leads with a strong right hook – the title track is practically embedded in the genre’s DNA – and doesn’t let up from there. ‘Crosscut Saw’ ‘Kansas City’ and ‘The Hunter’ purr with sexual voracity, and King holds his own on even lightweight material like ‘Laundromat Blues’. As the original liner notes promise: “Albert King has the solution if you have the time to listen.”
Moby Grape * Moby Grape
#8 The Grateful Dead lasted longer, Big Brother and Jefferson Airplane had more star power, and Quicksilver Messenger Service had better musicians, but the greatest document of the late 60’s SF Sound was made by none other than Moby Grape. Beset by poor management, questionable promotion, and personnel issues, they never again approached the economical power of this sterling debut. Drummer Don Stevenson flips the bird from the original cover (it was airbrushed off subsequent printings) and the music inside flips the script on the psychedelic noodlings that have dated many of its contemporaries. Every song is concise and well written, and the album includes songwriting by all members of the band. In fact, even without all those problems, they’d have been hard pressed to match this effort.
Captain Beefheart * Safe As Milk
#9 Captain Beefheart’s debut album charted a course that his music would follow over the next 15 years. The original version of this album was rejected by A&M, forcing Beefheart (aka Don VanVliet) to reconfigure his band and cut the songs again. The new lineup featured Ry Cooder on slide guitar, as well as guitarist Antennae Jimmy Semens and drummer John “Drumbo” French, who would become mainstays of the Magic Band. While not nearly as far out as future Beefheart albums (Trout Mask Replica set the bar for weird just 2 years later) this twisted combination of Delta Blues, free jazz, and stream of conscience lyrics is unlike anything else released at the time, and tracks like ‘Sure Nuff-n-Yes I Do’ still sound out of this world 40 years later.
Love * Forever Changes
#10 Love lead singer Arthur Lee was a man at a crossroads in 1967. Haunted by apocalyptic visions and believing that the world was coming to an abrupt end, he was convinced that this would be his last album, and decided not to hold anything back. Forever Changes includes elements of jazz, folk, soul and psychedelia, and is a heady brew that is as difficult to pinpoint as it often is to enjoy. For all intents and purposes, Lee was correct – this was the last album by the group’s original lineup, and though Love would soldier on in various incarnations, they would never again approach the majestic madness that ripples through this album.
Velvet Underground & Nico * Velvet Underground & Nico
#11 Lou Reed’s journalistic eye. John Cale’s avant-cello. Niko’s heinous screech. Warhol’s big yellow banana. Listing ingredients only hints at the carnage. Nitroglycerin to the nicey-nice generation. Giving voice to crossdressers and junkies. Jaws gaped. People ignored it. Ignored this cover? Out of print as late as 1979. But all the right people were listening. Most influential LP of all time? A gosh darn golly gee whiz challenge of a listen.
Merle Haggard * I’m A Lonesome Fugitive & Branded Man
#12 Long before he helped establish the “Outlaw” wing of country music, Merle Haggard was just an outlaw. After spending time in a number in juvenile detention centers and prisons (including San Quentin, where he was in the audience for Johnny Cash’s legendary shows) Haggard decided to make a go of a music career after being literally pushed onstage. By the mid-60’s he was one of the biggest names in Country music, and at one point enjoyed a run of 37 straight top ten hits that included 23 Number Ones. Not coincidentally, this success came during a period when he was writing songs about his down and out days. I’m A Lonesome Fugitive and Branded Man are two of his very best, and most confessional, albums and back his standing as one of the finest songwriters in any genre.
Miles Davis * Sorcerer & Nefertiti
#13 By 1967, Miles Davis was a music machine. Improbable as it seems today, he put out at least two albums per year between 1965 and 1970 – that’s 14 albums in a 6-year span, if you’re counting at home. Even more amazingly, most of it was great music. Sorcerer features his wife, Cicely Tyson, on the cover – inside, his second quintet (different from the 5 piece that brought you Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet, Workin’ With…, etc.) settles into sparse, polyrhythmic grooves that sound like traditional jazz while anticipating the atmospheric play of fusion. Davis, Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), and Tony Williams (drums) each take different routes to the same melody, intertwine for a bit, and then are off again. Nefertiti slows the formula down, and brings Miles into the forefront, making it the stronger of the pair. But both Sorcerer and Nefertiti are brilliant roadmaps to the future of jazz.
Aretha Franklin * I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You
#14 Atlantic head honcho Jerry Wexler assembled a remarkably badass band – including the Muscle Shoals rhythm section – to back Aretha on her debut for his label. And she rose to the challenge, creating one of the masterworks of her career. It hardly matters that only a few of the tunes were originals – she makes every song here her own. From ‘Respect’ to the title track to ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You is a landmark soul album. Indeed, it was only after this that people would begin to call her “Queen Of Soul”.
Magic Sam * West Side Soul
#15 Sam Maghett made just two albums before succumbing to a heart attack in 1969 at age 32, but they were both brilliant. West Side Soul, his debut, explored the connections between soul music and the blues, and inadvertently created the blueprint for what modern blues would sound like. His music layered the passion of soul onto the stomp of Chicago blues – rendering songs like ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ ‘That’s All I Need’ and ‘All Your Love’ into instant, Animal House-style party classics. It’s a potent mixture that still sounds Magic to this day.
Cream * Disraeli Gears
#16 One of the first power trios (ie, guitar, bass & drums), and “supergroups” comprised of well-known members of other bands, Cream mixed a murky psychedelic blues sound with virtuoso playing and some of the most obtuse lyrics ever penned. Disraeli Gears, their second LP, broke big in the U.S. on the strength of singles ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ and ‘Strange Brew’. And while it’s often difficult to tell what these songs are about, this ambiguous haziness has helped the album retain its power through several decades. More importantly, Cream was the vehicle that delivered Clapton to the door of superstardom. One listen to this proves that the journey was fait accompli for EC.
Country Joe & The Fish * Electric Music For The Mind & Body
#17 Electric Music For The Mind & Body is an undeniably great album and a surprisingly fun ride. Imagine hitchhiking, getting picked up by the weirdest old hippie who wants to talk your ear off, and then discovering that each and every one of his stories are riveting, filled with interesting characters, and totally different from anything you’ve heard before. Country Joe is the driver, and this is definitely a trip worth taking.
The Rolling Stones * Between The Buttons
#18 During 1967, the Stones enjoyed the trappings of living as superstars and millionaires in swinging London, and Between The Buttons reflects their funhouse mirror reality. From ‘Please Go Home’ to ‘All Sold Out’ to ‘Complicated’ the songs (down to their titles) read like a manual for a band trying to cope with groupies, hangers on, and the nastiest wench of all, success. The last singles-oriented album the Stones produced, this represents a key transition from their earlier, R&B influenced sound to the dirty blues rock that people still associate with the group. It’s not their best, but it’s at least 2000 light years from their worst.
Bonzo Dog Doodah Band * Gorilla
#19 Sometimes it is hip to be square. The Bonzos – and their jolly-good British humor – are so far removed from the Internet age that they sound positively fresh. This rip-roaring slapdash adventure includes hairy monsters, Adolph Hitler on vibes, and an ‘Old MacDonald’ meets Warner Brothers tune called ‘Jollity Farm’. Gorilla wouldn’t go over big in America, but it influenced another band of misfits who would, by the name of Monty Python.
Buffalo Springfield * Buffalo Springfield Again
#20 Steven Stills and Neil Young’s first shot at stardom sounds pretty good in retrospect. In fact, Buffalo Springfield has aged quite a big better than CSN and CSNY’s contemporary 70’s folk rock sound. Buffalo Springfield Again was recorded chaotically by ever shifting groupings of the band’s members. But because of this fragmented approach, it brings together symphonic folk (‘Expecting To Fly’), country pop (‘Bluebird’), singer/songwriter ballads (‘Hung Upside Down’), and perhaps Neil’s only overt attempt at writing a hit single (‘Mr. Soul’). The band would be short-lived, but they still cast a long shadow.
And 10 runners-up…
The Byrds * Younger Than Yesterday
Traffic * Mr. Fantasy
Arlo Guthrie * Alice’s Restaurant
Van Morrison * Blowin’ Your Mind
West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band * Part One
Count Five * Psychotic Reaction
The Kinks * Something Else
Duke Ellington * Far East Suite
The Creation * We Are Paintermen
Frank Sinatra * Francis Albert Sinatra & Carlos Antonio Jobim
Rolling Stones * Their Satanic Majesties Request
Jefferson Airplane * After Bathing At Baxter’s
The Mothers Of Invention * Absolutely Free
Fifth Dimension * Up, Up And Away
Elvis Presley * Clambake
9 Things That Happened In 1967
Burning Desire – On March 31st at The Astoria in London, Jimi Hendrix sets fire to his guitar for the first time.
Day Trippers – Paul McCartney announces that all the Beatles have dropped acid – even sweet, lovable Ringo.
Stop Smiling – On May 2nd, Capitol Records shuts down the long overdue Beach Boys album Smile, due to Brian Wilson’s declining mental state.
Hippies Unite – The Monterey Pop Festival is held from June 16th – 18th, inventing the rock festival as we know – and often loathe – it.
The King Is Wed – Elvis Presley marries Priscilla Beaulieu at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas.
Ed Is Red – The Doors perform on the Ed Sullivan show, refuse to change the lyrics of ‘Light My Fire’ and are banned from future performances on the show.
Otis Blues – Otis Redding dies in a plane crash a mere two days after recording ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay’.
Bring Protection – In spite of a lot of evidence to the contrary, the summer of 1967 is anointed ‘The Summer Of Love’ by San Francisco hippies.
All Aboard – Rolling Stone Magazine and BBC Radio One open for business.