It Was 50 Years Ago (1969)

81UO+YdSseLHow time flies.  If you were a kid then, you are a senior citizen today.  A lot of life happened in-between. Congratulations on the journey, with or without magic mushrooms.

By the way, Timothy Leary says hello.

Musically, 1969 was a year of transition. It was the last great hurrah of a decade of huge contrasts, that began with one vibe and ended with something much different. America grew up in the 1960s, and grew apart at the same time.

The previous year, 1968, was a watershed year.  The streets ran red with blood and whatever innocence was left, disappeared into the mist of 1969.  It is fitting that the year contains a “6” and a “9,” representing the polar opposites.

Events of the year: the moon landing; Nixon was sworn in as President; the Santa Barbara oil spill; Midnight Cowboy, was the first and only X-rated film to win and Academy Award for Best Picture; the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland catches fire; the Manson Family murders take place; Woodstock is held; Monty Python’s Flying Circus debuts on the BBC; Sesame Street first airs; Wal-Mart incorporates; the first Vietnam draft lottery is held; the Altamont Rock Festival is held among violence and a murder.

A great year of highs and lows.  Triumphs and tragedy.

Let’s look at something fun.  Significant musical events of the year.

Some bands that formed in 1969 (alphabetically):

April Wine, Atomic Rooster,  Badfinger, Brinsley Schwarz, Brownsville Station, Crazy Horse, Curved Air, Faces, Fanny, Focus, Hall and Oates, Hawkwind, Head East, Hot Chocolate, Humble Pie, Judas Priest, Kraftwerk, Lighthouse, Little Feat, Mountain,  Nektar, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Plastic Ono Band, Redbone, Renaissance, the Residents, Seals and Crofts, Sha Na Na, Steeleye Span, Supertramp, Thin Lizzy, Thunderclap Newman, War, Wishbone Ash, ZZ Top.

Abbey Road – The last album of the Beatles Let It Be would be released in 1970 of mostly songs recorded earlier.  Abbey Road was the Beatles operating on all cylinders.  A coda to eight years of recording magic.  The Beatles would also play their final public performance, although it was a unique one, on the roof of their Apple building.  The moment was captured for a sequence in the upcoming film, Let It Be.

“I would like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.”  Yes, you did. And thank you.

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Led Zeppelin – Released their first and second albums.  The first album announced their blues-based heavy rock with loud knock.  Their second album with “Heartbreaker” and “Whole Lotta Love” blew the door off the hinges.  In 1969, parents protected their children from this long-haired menace.  Fifty years later, their music sells upper-end Cadillac vehicles.

Cream – The band went out with a bang, releasing Goodbye, capping a wild three-year existence.  Clapton would move on to form Blind Faith with bandmate Ginger Baker.  Steve Winwood also joined as Blind Faith would release just one album and go on one tour before imploding.  Cream set the world on fire as a power trio, scaling the top of the emerging blues-heavy rock genre.  Led Zeppelin would eventually take the gauntlet. Fifty years later, every power trio is still trying to emulate Cream.

The Moody Blues – The Moodies would release their fourth album, On the Threshold of a Dream, and fifth album, To Our Children’s Children’s Children, in 1969.  Both of these albums feature superb blending of pop and progressive music into complex musical landscapes of ethereal ideals and haunting melodies of inter-connected songs. These two albums mark the Moodies’ creative zenith.

Chicago Transit Authority – The original group name for Chicago, their debut is a double album of great pop and blues.  Horn bands would have a short career run, but Chicago was the exception because of deep songwriting talent.  Chicago owned the airwaves through the first half of the next decade, mixing ballads and rockers. This was a great start with “Beginnings”, “Questions 67 add 68” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”

TommyThe Who‘s classic rock opera. “Pinball Wizard” was the defining song from the album, telling the story of Tommy, the deaf, dumb and blind kid and his trials and tribulations in life.  A grand success, selling more than 20 million albums, a film and later a Broadway show.  Writer/musician Pete Townshend always saw and expressed things differently, which made The Who more than just a hard rocking band.  They were innovators and translators of the generation they grew up.

Crosby, Stills & Nash – The group’s debut album of the same name featured acoustic-based rock with that sweet three-part harmony.  This album really defined the Woodstock generation.  The best known songs were: “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, “Marrakesh Express”, “Wooden Ships”, Helplessly Hoping” and “Long Time Gone.” Listen to it and let your freak flag fly.  CSN would open the door to the laid-back Southern California sounds and the singer/songwriter era that was already starting to happen.

Empty Sky – Elton John’s first album, although it wouldn’t be released in America until 1975.  In the meantime, Elton would tour clubs and work on his second album, Elton John, released in 1970.  His second album contained the classic, “Your Song,” and the rest is history.

Yes –  Their first album was simply called Yes. The album is pretty rough and the songs are average, not on par with what would come.   It would take two more years, until their third album found the classic Yes sound, and their songwriting improved.  By then, guitarist Tony Banks would leave and Steve Howe came aboard.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – This band came of age in 1969, releasing three albums.  Their trademark sound could be heard in several hit singles from those albums. “Proud Mary”, “Bad Moon Rising” and “Down on the Corner.” In three short years, the band would break up, burned-out and at each other’s throats.  What a great ride it was while it lasted.

Santana – Carlos Santana and band released their first album of Latin-based rock.  A great beginning to such a long and influential career.  “Evil Ways” from this album was their first commercial hit.  The album is a mixture of instrumental and vocal tracks.  Gregg Rollie, who would go on to form Journey, was the keyboard player and lead vocalist. “Soul Sacrifice” wasn’t released as a single but it became a concert staple through the decade.  Abraxa, their next album would put the group over the top.

The Carpenters – Their debut album, originally called Offering, but retitled as Ticket to Ride, didn’t produce any big hits but it was a step toward gaining confidence as a band and being comfortable in the studio.  Everything would change with their next album, Close to You.

The Allman Brothers Band – The band released their debut album, which included the classics, “Whipping Post”, “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” and “Dreams.”  Although the album just barely broke the top 200 on the chart, this album served to develop their sound, and they took this album all over America.  Southern rock was new to many areas of the country.

Joe Cocker – After a big debut in 1969, with his album, With a Little Help from My Friends, with a great version of the Beatles song of that name, Joe Cocker returned for more.  He played at Woodstock and stunned his audience. His second album, Joe Ccocker!, also released in 1969, included soulful covers of “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and “Delta Lady.”  Joe Cocker had arrived.

Rod Stewart –  Stewart was a member of The Jeff Beck Group at the time, and this was before his membership in Faces.  Stewart’s debut album was well-received; it was full of energy and his unique swagger.  “Handbags and Gladrags” was the most memorable from the album.  Much bigger things were on the horizon for the man with the shag haircut.

The Rolling Stones – Their follow-up to Beggars Banquet was Let it Bleed, a deeper dive into the electric blues.  “Midnight Rambler”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and the haunting “Gimme Shelter” were all classics on the album.  Original guitarist Brian Jones, who had been sacked from the band, would drown in his swimming pool.  Mick Taylor played on only a few of the album’s songs, so Keith Richards handled most of the guitar work.  This marked the return of the Stones as a seriously muscular group, capable of competing with Deep Purple, Canned Heat, Led Zeppelin, Moby Grape, Grand Funk and other hard rock bands.  Unfortunately, the year ended with the Stones’ sponsored festival, Altamont, at a speedway in California.  This was not peace and love, it was Hells Angels and murder.

Country Rock – This was a new genre in rock music, the blending of country music, with folk and rock.  The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield get most of the credit for making this happen but there were other influences as well.  Two new bands focused on this new genre, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Poco.

Speaking of country, Bob Dylan emerged with Nashville Skyline, one of his best-selling albums. Songs included “Lay Lady Lay”, “Girl From the North Country” and “I Throw It All Away.” Dylan had maintained a low profile since his motorcycle accident in 1966.  While he continued recording, his public appearances were few but in 1969 he guested on Johnny Cash’s television show to sing “Girl From the North Country” and appeared at the Isle of Wright festival in England.

Peter, Paul & Mary, frequently on the Billboard chart with folk inspired ballads, reaches number one for the last time with “Leaving On a Jet Plane” written by John Denver.

James Brown, the hardest working man in show business released four albums that year.  Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud, Gettin’ Down to It, The Popcorn and It’s a Mother.

Elvis, down but not out, returns to the top of the chart with “Suspicious Minds,” seven years after his last number one hit.

The Record Of The Year Award went to Producer Bones Howe and the Fifth Dimension for their chart-topping hit “Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In”, a song that held down the #1 spot for six weeks that year.

In the midst of blues-rock, Woodstock, psychedelic rock, heavy metal, Jimi Hendrix’s flaming guitar, comes The Archies, and their number one hit, “Sugar, Sugar.”  Proving…I don’t know what. There’s room for every taste?


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