Robert Christgau, David Fricke on 50 Essential 1967 Albums – Rolling Stone
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50 Essential Albums of 1967

From the Doors’ debut to Aretha Franklin’s first smash

This survey of the most important and influential albums released in 1967 was first published in 2007 to mark Rolling Stone‘s 40th anniversary and the records that inspired and fueled its birth. The list, now presented alphabetically, has 10 new entries in honor of the half-century mark. Everything else is intact and enduring, as continually exciting and inspirational as the year they celebrate: 12 months in which rock & roll and the long-playing album, together, challenged and changed the world around them, detonating revolutions in cultural expression, studio technology, social conversation and emotional candor.

This is how fast the world turned at 33 1/3 RPM – in soul, noise, songwriting, jamming and dancing – in 1967. Three of the turning-point debut albums in this list were issued within a week of each other, between March 10th and 17th: Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, the young R&B singer’s explosive arrival on Atlantic Records; an avant-rock cataclysm from New York City, The Velvet Underground and Nico; and The Grateful Dead, the self-titled first album by a notorious improvising-blues band from the new psychedelic scene in San Francisco.

It should be noted that some of the albums here – records that define the power, joy and legacy of 1967 – were made in 1966: The Doors, in August of that year, after the Los Angeles band’s transformative summer as the house band at the Whisky a Go Go; Jefferson Airplane’s Summer of Love soundtrack, Surrealistic Pillow. And Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding arrived in the very last days of ’67, a quiet alert to the roots and introspection of country rock in 1968 and the singer-songwriter movement.

This list does not cover jazz (an American revolution in itself) or mainstream country, a genre then still moving at 45 RPM. And some albums here were lost or ignored at the time, awaiting decades (in some cases) for reappraisal. And like every list of this nature, it is a product of the editors’ and writers’ subjective passions: Everyone who was there has a ’67 of their own. Anyone who wasn’t has a soundtrack for what they missed. These 50 albums are not the complete 1967. They are simply the best – in rock, folk, blues, soul, psychedelia and dreaming.

The year was like this almost every day – on records and radio. It still sounds like history in the making.

The Beach Boys, 'Smiley Smile'

The Beach Boys, ‘Smiley Smile’

In the year of Pepper-mania,
the Beach Boys’ Smile was expected to
gallop out of the West and reclaim the honor of rock for its nation of origin.
But Smile didn’t materialize until
2004, stitched together from old bits and pieces and revived as repertory by a
solo Brian Wilson and his enablers. Instead, Wilson retreated into his lonely
room and oversaw this hastily recorded half measure – “a bunt instead of a
grand slam,” groused brother Carl. Towering it’s not; some kind of hit it
is. Without this product-on-demand, we’d lack such impossible trifles as the
wiggy “She’s Goin’ Bald,” the potted “Little Pad” and
“Fall Breaks and Back to Winter,” a transitional bagatelle featuring
squeezebox and imitation woodpecker.

The Beach Boys, 'Wild Honey'

The Beach Boys, ‘Wild Honey’

Produced mostly by Carl Wilson, this
24-minute album followed
Smiley Smile by three months and got
no respect from those who believed trick harmonies and arcane changes were what
made the group artistic. Called their “soul” album, perhaps for its Stevie Wonder
cover or its use of the term “out of sight,” but more likely
because it emphasized emotive lead vocals, its special gifts are an achieved
naiveté and irrepressible good humor as Southern Californian as baggies and
woodies. There’s not a deep or wasted second on it.

The Beatles, 'Magical Mystery Tour'

The Beatles, ‘Magical Mystery Tour’

Because it begins with the lame theme to their worst
movie and the sappy “Fool on the Hill,” few realize that this serves
up three worthy obscurities forthwith – bet Beck knows the sour-and-sweet
instrumental “Flying” by heart. Then it A/Bs three fabulous singles.
“Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” may be the finest
two-sided record in history. Goo goo g’joob, so may “Hello
Goodbye”/”I Am the Walrus.” “Baby You’re a Rich Man”?
OK, not in that league. Which is why it bows humbly before “All You Need
Is Love.”

The Beatles, 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'

The Beatles, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’

One of the many remarkable things about the Concept Album Heard ‘Round the World is how modest its individual parts are – as modest as the antiquely unhip touring band they pretended to be. Beyond the cosmic “Within You Without You,” the all-encompassing “A Day in the Life” and the overtly fanciful “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” every unforgettable song is literal and legible, and not one truly rocks out. Another thing: This consciously cross-generational youth-culture summum is at its very strongest in Side One’s three maturation texts – “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Fixing a Hole” and “Getting Better.” Another: It runs under 40 minutes, climactic diminuendo included.

The Bee Gees, 'Bee Gees' 1st'

The Bee Gees, ‘Bee Gees’ 1st’

In August 1967, into a pop world totally besotted by Sgt. Pepper, was born a pop album mostly indebted to Revolver riding a rather literary hit called “New York Mining Disaster 1941” and addressed to a “Mr. Jones” who couldn’t have been Bob Dylan’s, right? The perpetrators were Manchester-born Australians returned to a U.K. where Robert Stigwood would eventually transform them into world-historic disco pop-up dolls and stars of the 1978 cinematic megaflop Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But here they gave the world, among other sweetmeats, the soul standard “To Love Somebody” and an opener set in a 1900 equipped with a town crier and Robin Gibb’s quaver. A tuneful hoot.

Big Brother and the Holding Company, 'Big Brother and the Holding Company'

Big Brother and the Holding Company, ‘Big Brother and the Holding Company’

Janis Joplin’s first band is still dissed for its
crude musicianship, and its pre-Columbia album is still patronized for failing to showcase Joplin the
blues singer. Only she wasn’t a blues singer, she was a rock singer – a rock
singer who learned to conceal her country twang after she cut these 10 crazed
songs. Most are by her bandmates, whose folk-schooled garage-blues licks
provide goofy hooks. One that isn’t is the definitive Joplin original
“Women Is Losers.” She sensed what was coming – you know she did.

Bobby "Blue" Bland, 'Touch of the Blues'

Bobby “Blue” Bland, ‘Touch of the Blues’

B.B. King was preaching the blues to psychedelic kids at the Fillmore Auditorium; Otis Redding turned them on at the Monterey Pop Festival and made a quantum songwriting leap in the folk-soul majesty of “The Dock of the Bay.” But vocal lion Bobby “Blue” Bland spent his 1967 standing tall and still, belting these 10 tracks of heartache and bedroom triumph as if he’d just turned the calendar page on his ’57 smash “Farther Up the Road” and the ’61 hits “I Pity the Fool” and “Turn On Your Love Light.” There were hints of modernism: the Stax-like gait of “Sweet Loving”; Bland’s heated exchange with a female vocalist in “Sad Feeling,” suggesting the call-response dynamite of Sly and the Family Stone. But the best moments, like the immolation of Charles Brown’s 1945 chestnut “Driftin’ Blues,” were robust purism – the reason why white fans like Eric Clapton and the Grateful Dead adored and covered Bland, doing his crossover work for him.

James Brown, 'Cold Sweat King'

James Brown, ‘Cold Sweat King’

The modal title milestone one-upped Wilson Pickett’s “Funky Broadway” and introduced JB’s funky drummer number two, Clyde Stubblefield. But the uptempo oldies Brown added to the hit to make an album – Lloyd Price’s “Stagger Lee,” Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City,” Little Willie John’s “Fever” and Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” – smelled a little fishy at the time. Now, however, they’re caviar – JB’s full voice and flawless time yoking proven classics to some of the tightest big-band blues ever recorded. The slow side pits Brown’s ballad falsetto and ballad scream against some of the most elaborate R&B strings ever recorded. Especially on the two Nat “King” Cole numbers and an over-the-top “Come Rain or Come Shine,” the falsetto wins by a mile.

Tim Buckley, 'Goodbye and Hello'

Tim Buckley, ‘Goodbye and Hello’

Tim Buckley’s second album was a far cry from the folk-rock conventions of his 1966 debut, rich in acid-Renaissance trimmings (harpsichord, harmonium) and dominated by the elaborate title suite. Compared to the radical vocal freedom and liquid sadness of Buckley’s imminent classics (1969’s Happy Sad, 1971’s Starsailor), Goodbye and Hello – produced by Lovin’ Spoonful guitarist Jerry Yester – was a triumph of form, with Buckley’s light tenor voice curling through “Hallucinations” and “Morning Glory” like incense smoke. But Goodbye and Hello was also a deeply personal album, even though Buckley wrote lyrics to only half of the 10 songs (he co-wrote the others with Larry Beckett). In the thrilling gallop and stratospheric scat-singing of “I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain,” Buckley soars in desperate need yet defends the wanderlust that was breaking up his marriage. The song was so important to him – the child in the second verse, “wrapped in bitter tales and heartache,” was his then-infant son, Jeff – that Buckley did 23 vocal takes, singing live with the studio band.

Buffalo Springfield, 'Buffalo Springfield Again'

Buffalo Springfield, ‘Buffalo Springfield Again’

Fractious from the moment they formed, Buffalo
Springfield made their superb second album in fits and starts alternately dominated by combative
singer-guitarist-songwriters Stephen Stills and Neil Young. The latter
predicted the wild eclecticism of his solo career with the California Stones-style
fury of “Mr. Soul” and the symphonic restlessness of “Expecting
to Fly,” written after Young briefly quit the group in the summer of 1967. A gilded spider web of guitars
and harmonies, Stills’ “Rock & Roll Woman” pointed to his
subsequent lifetime with Crosby, Stills and Nash: David Crosby is an
uncredited voice on the track. It was left to singer-guitarist Richie Furay,
who later co-founded Poco, to lament the internal warring in the stone country of “A Child’s
Claim to Fame,” written in frustration with Young’s coming and going.
Young took no offense, contributing vocals and sharp down-home guitar.

The Byrds - YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY Album Cover

The Byrds, ‘Younger Than Yesterday’

The Byrds that made this album in late 1966 were a mess: reeling from the loss of
singer-composer Gene Clark and the tensions between singer-guitarists Roger
McGuinn and David Crosby. Yet Younger Than Yesterday was the Byrds’ first
mature album, a blend of
space-flight twang and electric hoedown infused with the imminent glow of 1967 yet underlined with
crackling realism. The galloping “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘N’ Roll
Star” mocked overnight success, including the Byrds’ own (the teen screams
were taped at one of their gigs). Crosby’s ballad “Everybody’s Been
Burned” hinted at the stress that soon culminated in his firing. And in
“My Back Pages,” McGuinn’s stoic vocal captured the crisis and experience
in Bob Dylan’s lyrics, a lesson reflected in his own determination to keep the
band alive.

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, 'Safe as Milk'

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, ‘Safe as Milk’

This debut album could have been Captain Beefheart’s ticket to ride, the bellowing singer and dada-blues lyricist’s 1967 breakthrough. Co-produced with offbeat, commercial nuance by Richard Perry (his first big job on the way to Number Ones for Ringo Starr and Carly Simon) and featuring a young Ry Cooder on lead guitar, Safe as Milk was a thrilling whiplash of cheerfully craggy electric blues and twisted-pop ambition. But Safe as Milk never charted, inaugurating Beefheart’s life sentence as a cult hero. The writing and ruckus here were steeped in the Delta blues and raw R&B that Beefheart and Frank Zappa obsessively studied as teenage pals, and the former’s otherworldly scalded–Howlin’ Wolf voice is a fully formed phenomenon. But the jubilantly twisted roots and futurism in “Sure ‘Nuff N’ Yes I Do,” “Abba Zaba” and “Electricity” are also clear, feral steps to the impending, iconoclastic legend of 1969’s Trout Mask Replica and 1980’s Doc at the Radar Station.

Country Joe and the Fish, 'Electric Music for the Mind and Body' Album Cover

Country Joe and the Fish, ‘Electric Music for the Mind and Body’

At first, Country Joe and the Fish were indie rockers.
Three tracks on this trip-music classic, including the stoner’s hymn “Bass
Strings” and the drifting instrumental “Section 43,” were
initially cut by the Berkeley band for a 1966 EP on singer-songwriter Joe
McDonald’s agitprop label, Rag Baby. He started the Fish as a protest jug band
(the name combines nods to Joseph Stalin and Mao Tsetung) but here temporarily
kept his left-wing zest in check. Flanked by the electric organ of David Cohen
and Barry Melton’s biting-treble guitar, McDonald spread with a preacher’s zeal
and spearing wit the local gospel of chemical travel and carnal freedom in
“Flying High,” “Happiness Is a Porpoise Mouth” and
“Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine.” In fact, Vanguard insisted the Fish
not include one of their most popular tunes, a McDonald zinger that later
became a singalong pillar of the anti-war movement:
“I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag.”

Cream, 'Disraeli Gears'

Cream, ‘Disraeli Gears’

Cream’s best album distilled their prodigious chops and rhythmic interplay
into psychedelic pop that never strayed far from their blues roots. Except for
the electricity, “Outside Woman Blues” is nearly identical to Arthur
Reynolds’ 1930s original. And the riff to “Sunshine of Your Love,”
written by bassist Jack Bruce, is Delta blues in jab and drive. But Disraeli
Gears
decisively broke with British blues purism in the ecstatic jangle of
“Dance the Night Away,” the climbing dismay of “We’re Going
Wrong” (driven by Ginger Baker’s circular drumming) and the wah-wah
grandeur of “Tales of Brave Ulysses.” Producer Felix Pappalardi and
engineer Tom Dowd contributed song sense and studio expertise; lyricist Pete
Brown was unique in his union of Dada and confession. When Bruce sang “And
the rainbow has a beard” in “SWLABR,” you knew that didn’t come
from Robert Johnson.

Donovan - MELLOW YELLOW Album Cover

Donovan, ‘Mellow Yellow’

“Mellow Yellow,” a Number Two hit in the U.S., was a burlesque-brass grind a la Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35,” scored by John Paul Jones (later of Led Zeppelin) with whispering vocals by Paul McCartney. The rest of Mellow Yellow is gently magnificent introspection, rooted in the modern acoustic folk scene then emerging in Britain (“House of Jansch” refers to guitarist Bert Jansch) and draped in John Cameron’s pastoral-jazz arrangements. Donovan later noted that “Hampstead Incident” was partly inspired by Nina Simone and the chord progression in “Anji,” by British guitarist Davy Graham. Ironically, the beauty of Mellow Yellow was obscured by the rumor that the title single advocated smoking banana peels as a legal alternative to marijuana. In fact, the “electrical banana” in the third verse is a vibrator.

THE DOORS Album Cover

The Doors, ‘The Doors’

In a year of historic debut albums, no record by a new American band so immediately electrified the world as The Doors, the first and best documentation of singer Jim Morrison’s Byronic fury and the locomotive jazz-inflected drive of organist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore. The band was just a year old when it recorded these 11 songs in six days in August 1966. But in the crisp funk of “Soul Kitchen,” the extended pop art of “Light My Fire” and the Shakespearean violence of “The End,” the Doors perfected an airtight resolution of their live prowess (refined nightly that summer at the Whisky a Go Go) and Morrison’s improvised explosions of lyric transgression.

The Doors, 'Strange Days'

The Doors, ‘Strange Days’

The Doors’ second album lacks the shock value and cohesion of the first, mostly
because they made it in the manic wake of their Number One hit, “Light My
Fire,” and in the precious time between live gigs. “Moonlight
Drive” and “My Eyes Have Seen You” were already two years old,
first cut as demos in 1965. But the Doors channeled the daily chaos of their
new fortunes into fierce performances – “Strange Days,” the headlong
lust of “Love Me Two Times” – climaxing with “When the Music’s
Over,” an anthem for change driven home by Jim Morrison’s ferocious,
outraged demand: “We want the world and we want it – now!”

Bob Dylan, 'John Wesley Harding'

Bob Dylan, ‘John Wesley Harding’

Recorded in Nashville in three sessions, Bob Dylan’s
first album after the
electric warfare of his 1966 tour and subsequent retreat to Woodstock was
shockingly austere: an almost crooning Dylan with just a soft-shoe rhythm
section and a few sighs of steel guitar. But that calm was a perfect contrast
to the sermonizing fire be unleashed in “All Along the Watchtower”
and the crossroads parable “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas
Priest.” The moral fiber and martyr’s temper in these songs were fierce
and immediate. Dylan wrote “Frankie Lee,” “I Dreamed I Saw St.
Augustine” and “Drifter’s Escape” en route to the first session,
on the train from New York. But there was unembarrassed loving, too: “I’ll
Be Your Baby Tonight,” recorded on the last day, pointed the way to the
country comfort of his next album,
1969’s Nashville Skyline.

The Four Tops, 'Reach Out'

The Four Tops, ‘Reach Out’

This Motown vocal institution’s sixth album was a greatest-hits collection in all but title. Six of the 12 tracks were Top 20 pop singles. Three of those comprised what proved to be the climactic sweep of the Tops’ bond with writer-producers Holland-Dozier-Holland: the theatrical urgency of the late-’66 Number One “Reach Out I’ll Be There”; the galloping Top Ten followup “Standing in the Shadows of Love”; and early ’67’s “Bernadette,” with its hammering keyboard riff and a harrowing shout by lead singer Levi Stubbs in the plunge of silence before the final choruses. The collaborative momentum was so hot that “I’ll Turn to Stone,” originally a B side to the mid-’67 single “7-Rooms of Gloom,” made Billboard‘s R&B Top 50. But Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland soon turned their backs on Motown, over royalties, and stranded the Tops, who shuffled between producers and didn’t score another Top 10 record until 1972 – for another label.

Aretha Franklin - I NEVER LOVED A MAN THE WAY I LOVE YOU Album Cover

Aretha Franklin, ‘I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You’

Aretha Franklin didn’t emerge fully formed from the
head of Jerry Wexler – she had many minor hits on Columbia before Atlantic made
her a goddess. But with its mix of superb new soul songs (Franklin helped write
four) and perfect old R&B standards (from Ray Charles, King Curtis, Sam
Cooke, Otis Redding), this is a living monument to a singer and the style she
first epitomized and then transcended. Wexler wanted the Stax band to ground
his great hope but was refused, so he turned to the white guys down the road in
Muscle Shoals – who cut most of the album in New York.

Grateful Dead - GRATEFUL DEAD Album Cover

The Grateful Dead, ‘The Grateful Dead’

One of the year’s few supposedly psychedelic LPs that wasn’t actually a pop LP (cf. Sgt. Pepper, Forever Changes, Mellow Yellow), the already legendary San Francisco band-collective’s debut stood out and stands tall because its boogieing folk rock epitomizes the San Francisco ballroom ethos – blues-based tunes played by musicians who came to rhythm late, expanded so they were equally suitable for dancing and for tripping out. It’s also the only studio album that respects the impact of Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who died in 1973 of cirrhosis of the liver. McKernan’s organ is almost as pervasive as Jerry Garcia’s guitar. And although Garcia and Bob Weir both take vocal leads, their singing styles are still in Pigpen’s white-blues thrall.

Arlo Guthrie, 'Alice's Restaurant'

Arlo Guthrie, ‘Alice’s Restaurant’

No one captured hippie politics better than Woody’s
20-year-old son on the title cut, an autobiographical tall tale that for
18 minutes reduced pacifist anti-authoritarianism to a diffident,
confident, skillfully timed cops-and-longhairs routine. The B side cuts four
forgettable song poems with two more jokes, one of them “The Motorcycle
Song,” not yet the comic turn it became. NB: Guthrie re-recorded the
entire album 30 years later. The new “Alice” is four minutes longer – and four
minutes funnier.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 'Are You Experienced?'

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Are You Experienced’

Jimi Hendrix’s first album is one of the most exciting and important records ever made, a reconception of the electric guitar as a symphonic instrument that still sounds fresh and unprecedented. So does Hendrix’s fusion of galactic imagination, intense self-examination and deep-blues roots in the raging “Manic Depression,” the R&B sigh “The Wind Cries Mary” and the sexy whiplash “Foxey Lady.” Hendrix, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell made Experienced on the run, on rare days off the road. Hendrix wrote “Purple Haze” backstage at a London club; “Red House,” a blues on the British version of the LP, was cut in 15 minutes. But Hendrix also spent several sessions building the orchestral howl of “Third Stone From the Sun,” with the passionate diligence he would soon apply to his magnum opus, 1968’s Electric Ladyland.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 'Axis: Bold As Love'

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Axis: Bold As Love’

Jimi Hendrix left the original finished masters for
Side One in a taxi and had to mix all of the tracks again in one session.
Today, Axis is Hendrix’s most overlooked album. But it has some of his best writing in the mighty “If
6 Was 9” and “Spanish Castle Magic,” a reflection on his boyhood
in the Pacific Northwest. There was also the heavy soul of “Little
Wing,” which Hendrix later told a reporter he’d started writing when he
was playing clubs in New York’s Greenwich Village. “I don’t consider
myself a songwriter,” he said. “Not yet, anyway.” He was wrong.

The Hollies, 'Evolution'

The Hollies, ‘Evolution’

“Carrie Anne” is the only hit on this
forgotten gem, which with no apparent effort or self-consciousness – you barely
notice the French horn here and violin there – achieves the adolescent
effervescence and lovelorn sentiment that indie-pop adepts of the Elephant 6
ilk spend years laboring after. Signature tracks: “Ye Olde Toffee
Shoppe,” which concerns candy and features a harpsichord, and “Games
We Play,” which concerns teen sex and features a knowing grin.