Do you have a Google search app on your phone or iPad? I do. And Google uses it to entice me to click on things. On the home page, there are all these links to things Google is convinced fascinate me. Most have something to do with the Beatles, or the Sopranos, or Key and Peele skits.
You’d think I’m not interested in anything else. Which is weird. Is that really what the data say to Google about me? I mean, it’s not like it’s sending me to significant news about these pop-culture touchstones. Or even authoritative sources. Most are from websites I’ve never heard of, and which I would never go to to become more informed about anything.
But sometimes they get me. Sometimes I click anyway, at the risk of encouraging this stuff. I did so when I saw this link to a piece headlined, “From Bob Dylan to The Rolling Stones: Hunter S. Thompson’s favourite albums of the 1960s.” It’s from something called Far Out magazine, which as you can tell by the spelling of “favourite” is published from Britain.
I mean, how could I resist?
But what I found was disappointing. It seemed to me that, beyond throwing in some esoteric choices to let you know he’s the head doctor of Gonzo, little thought went into it. Maybe in the original letter there was some engaging explanation of each choice. But the list itself seems kind of flat:
- Herbie Mann’s – Memphis Underground (“which may be the best album ever cut by anybody”)
- Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home
- Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
- The Grateful Dead – Workingman’s Dead
- The Rolling Stones – Let it Bleed
- Buffalo Springfield – Buffalo Springfield
- Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow
- Roland Kirk’s “various albums”
- Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain
- Sandy Bull – Inventions
So, of course, I thought I should put together my own list.
It wasn’t easy. I cheated a bit by consulting Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Just to prime the pump. Then I added four or five of my own that weren’t even in the magazine’s top 200. (I didn’t look lower than that.)
I went back and forth between things that were emblematic of the period and enormously influential and things that just appealed to me at the time. As Thompson did, but I tried to be more disciplined about it.
You’ll notice this is all white guys, except for the one Jimi Hendrix pick. I could slough that off and say I wasn’t going to skew the list for Identity Politics, but the thing is, I tried to. I did so because you can’t review the 60s without being blown away by the contributions of black and female musicians (and sometimes Hispanic as well — I really tried to squeeze in a personal favorite, Feliciano!, but it didn’t make it). But problems having to do with the nature of my list kept getting in my way.
For instance, how do you review the ’60s without including The Supremes, or some of Dionne Warwick’s renditions of Burt Bacharach songs? But… what album would I choose? The songs tower over the decade, but no particular album stands out — in my mind, anyway. (You may correct me with something I should be thinking of and failing. If you do, I’ll thank you.)
I tried cheating, by including “Otis Blue” from Otis Redding. It was on the Rolling Stone list, and I started to include it. But… even though it had songs that I love, they’re songs I came to know later, posthumously. The truth is, I’m one of those white boys who hadn’t heard of Otis until “Dock of the Bay” came out after his death. I was blown away by the rest of his work much later. As for the album in question, I didn’t even remember it. I wasn’t cool enough for it to be part of my 60s memories.
Then there was my abortive effort to get Janis Joplin on the list. For a moment, I included “Cheap Thrills.” I mean, can you think of an album that looked more ’60s than that, with its R. Crumb artwork? But… that wasn’t honest. It wasn’t nearly as good an album, in my view, as “Pearl,” which was recorded a little too late, and not released until 1971, after her death.
And it really hurt to leave off Carole King’s “Tapestry.” It included some of her work from the ’60s, but there was no escaping the fact that it was released in 1971, and is very tied up with that specific time.
Man, if we could just have included that adjunct of the ’60s — the ’70s — this would have been a much more diverse list. (Al Green, anyone? Joni Mitchell?) But I stuck to the ’60s. I even left off Led Zeppelin II, even though it was released in 1969, because it’s just too firmly associated in my mind with 1970 and later. The ’70s were the decade of album-oriented radio. I mean, think about Carole King’s work in the early ’60s — all those hits she wrote for Little Eva, Bobby Vee, the Drifters, the Chiffons, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and even the Monkees. None of those make me think of the word, “album.”
Anyway… it’s full of flaws, but here’s my list:
- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — Not necessarily my favorite from the Beatles, but a towering achievement. And from the music to the cover, can you get any more ’60s than this? It was Rolling Stone’s No. 1 all-time pick. (Their Top Five had three Beatles albums!) I know it’s cooler to choose, say, “Revolver” or “Rubber Soul,” or even to leave the Beatles off altogether. But I care more about citing the ’60s top albums than I do about being cool.
- Are You Experienced? — Again, when you go with Jimi Hendrix and pick ONE album, you’re leaving off fantastic classics of the period. It’s tough. There’s no, say, “All Along the Watchtower.” But hey, it’s got “Purple Haze,” “Manic Depression,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Foxey Lady” and “Fire,” so I’m going with it. Come to think of it, what was I complaining about?
- Let it Bleed — Not the Stones’ best album — those would come in the ’70s (“Sticky Fingers,” “Exile on Main Street”). And it means passing up their awesome early hits, such as “Satisfaction.” But there are some great Stones tunes here. And of course, the one that pushes the album onto the list more than any other is “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
- Highway 61 Revisited — It’s tough to pick ONE Dylan album, and I’d agree with you if you chose any one of three or four others instead of this. Especially if you picked “Blonde on Blonde,” or insisted it had to be early, pre-electric Dylan. But looking back over the track list, I feel good about this one. Don’t you, Mr. Jones?
- Meet the Beatles — Yep, two Beatles albums. I almost set myself a rule to prevent this, but if anyone was going to get two, it would be the Fab Four. And how do you leave this one off? Critically and musically it might not be as impressive as later stuff, but for those of us who lived the decade, this is the album that started what we think of as the 1960s. Before that, it was like the Four Freshmen and such. So I’m keeping it, even though it prevented me from including something else I really liked.
- The Band — This 1969 release barely makes it, and I’m going to confess I didn’t really discover The Band until a year or two later. But it’s my list, and I’m such a fan that I’m including it. Rolling Stone rates “Music from Big Pink” higher, but I’m going with the Brown Album. If you could only take one album from these guys to a desert island, it would have to be this one.
- Crosby, Stills and Nash — Another one released in 1969 — meaning my list is way skewed toward the end of the decade. But go listen to it. Look at the cover. Doesn’t it pretty much scream “’60s” to you, from the very first notes of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”? Even if you don’t agree, you’ll have the treat of hearing “Marrakesh Express,” “Guinnevere,” “Wooden Ships,” “Lady of the Island,” and “Helplessly Hoping.” So stop complaining, and enjoy.
- Best of Cream — I need to be specific here. Over the years, there have been several “best of Cream” albums on the market, but none of the others were any good. This one, the one released on vinyl in — of course — 1969, was awesome. It was truly their best — “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room,” “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “Spoonful,” “Tales of Brave Ulysses” — and that unbelievable live version of “Crossroad.” This album is not easy to find. At least, I never could find it on CD, and I just checked iTunes — again — and you just can’t find that distinctive cover with the vegetables (see below) anywhere. Good thing I still have my vinyl.
- Blood, Sweat & Tears — Released in 1968, this was their second album, but everything else they did fades alongside this one. It was so different from anything I was hearing at the time, and I really got into the horns, the jazz influence and other stuff that set it apart. Hey, I was a dumb kid. I knew nothing of jazz. To me, “God Bless the Child” was new! I didn’t even get the reference to Churchill’s famous speech. Also, this is where I first encountered Erik Satie! So it opened my mind a little.
- Whipped Cream & Other Delights — There were so many different sounds that made up this decade, stuff other than guitar groups, that I felt like I needed to get in something from Bacharach, or Petula Clark, or Sergio Mendes. But I didn’t. I’ll stick in some Herb Alpert, though. His music is almost as representative of the decade as the Beatles — in its own way (hey, you couldn’t have had TV game show without it!). This was crossover music. There was a copy of the album in our house, but it belonged to my parents, not to me. And of course, if I’m going to think of a Herb Alpert album, it’s going to be this one. Because of, you know, that cover. I looked at it a lot. Because, you know, I was really into the music.
Well, that’s it for now. I’m interested to see where y’all agree and disagree.