For a new series of articles I pick my top five favourite albums from each decade from the 1960’s onwards. Starting with the 1960’s is exciting because it’s my favourite decade for music and it was going to be tough trying to narrow down my selection to only five albums. After careful consideration I was able to do it with the following five albums making the cut.
Cream – Disraeli Gears
Released in 1967, Cream’s second album has long been one of my favourite ever albums. Cream were one of the first bands I heavily got into having been blown away by the incredible Sunshine Of Your Love when I was younger. Tales Of Brave Ulysses is one of their best songs with the addition of the wah-wah sound that was completely new at the time. After the more safe sounding Fresh Cream, their debut albums released in 1966, Disraeli Gears really saw the band turn things up a notch and the result is one hell of an album.
Clapton’s tone on these songs, his famous “woman tone”, set the benchmark for British blues after he’d already set the previous benchmark on John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers album. This album really set the tone for blues/rock during the late 1960’s and helped to forge a new path for bands that followed such as Led Zeppelin. The album also features one of the most exciting and colourful album covers of all time, painted by Australian artist Martin Sharp who was a friend of Clapton’s.
The Beatles – Abbey Road
The first of two Beatles albums to make my top five list, Abbey Road is my favourite album of theirs due to the incredible medley found on the second side. When thinking of the medley as a single piece of music it’s very difficult to think of anything that eclipses the overall magnificence it contains. Starting with You Never Give Me Your Money and technically ending with The End, even though Her Majesty is the last song on the album and was originally planned to be located in the middle of the medley itself, the 16 minute medley is one of the finest accomplishments in music history.
But the medley songs aren’t just what makes this album so great, it’s the story behind the album itself. Apart from Paul McCartney, the other Beatles (after the disastrous Get Back sessions of early 1969) weren’t keen on making another album but McCartney convinced them to hit the studio once more with George Martin returning as producer. The result is an extremely polished album that hides any hint of fighting behind the scenes between the four members. It’s the cleanest sounding Beatles album and looking back it’s the perfect album to bring the band to an end, not counting the Phil Spector produced Let It Be album released a year later.
Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline
Not widely seen as his best album but it’s definitely makes my top five favourite albums from the 1960’s. The album saw Dylan’s music shift in a country direction, almost a back to basics after the electric efforts of previous years. With the inclusion of the great Johnny Cash on a reworking of Dylan’s song Girl From The North Country, the album certainly raised a few questions upon release due to the drastic change of musical direction from Dylan. However with songs like Lay Lady Lay which remains one of my favourite songs by Dylan, it really is a great album.
This pick may be the most controversial on my list due to the amount of other legendary albums Dylan released in the 1960’s, but for me personally this one really hits the spot more than the others do. That’s not to say that his albums prior to Nashville Skyline weren’t any good, quite the opposite in fact, but there’s something about this album that has always tickled me the right way.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland
The three studio albums that Hendrix released before his death are faultless in their own ways, but it’s Electric Ladyland that (for me at least) contains his very best work. His two previous albums are probably more structured when it comes to the songs themselves but what I love about Electric Ladyland is the overall laid back nature of the record and the jam based songs like Voodoo Chile. The songs really open up Hendrix’s playing and show you exactly what you can do in a loose jam setting and that’s what I really love about music. There isn’t anything better than listening to improvised playing and hearing the ability of the musicians, listening to where they take the music. That’s exactly what Hendrix does on this record in a number of songs and even though there are more structured songs present like All Along The Watchtower and Crosstown Traffic, it really is an all round exceptional album.
A number of albums have been released since his death that allege to contain the songs Hendrix would have included on his next studio album if he hadn’t died, and even though those albums are great to listen to I think Electric Ladyland remains the pinnacle of his studio work. Incredible album.
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The second Beatles album in my top five albums from the 1960’s is the legendary Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I was tempted to go for Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones as my final album on the list but I couldn’t ignore Sgt. Pepper even though I’ve already got a Beatles album on the list already. This album really changed things and opened up the possibilities for music at the time. The greatness of the album is also helped by the fact The Beatles had decided to stop touring and focus on studio albums. This primary focus definitely allowed them to explore musically like they had never done before and the result is a music masterpiece.
A Day In The Life is the final song on the album and it may well be the greatest studio recording of all time, or certainly alongside Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stone in my opinion. But the whole album contains song after song of pure magic, magic that hasn’t been replicated before or since. It could only have been released in 1967 as well, any other year and it wouldn’t have sounded so perfect. But 1967 was the year of experimentation and Sgt. Pepper led the way.
The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed, Cream – Wheels Of Fire, The Allman Brothers Band – The Allman Brothers Band, Blind Faith – Blind Faith, Fleetwood Mac – Then Play On.
Next week I will be sharing with you my top five favourite studio albums from the 1970’s which like this list will be tough to narrow down.
In the mean time though, feel free to leave a comment specifying which albums YOU would have chosen from the 1960’s.