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 Moody Blues, 'Days of Future Passed'

The Moody Blues, ‘Days of Future Passed’

In September 1967, the Moody Blues were asked by their label to record an adaptation of Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony – as a stereo-demonstration LP. The struggling Moodies, a former white R&B band that had gone without a hit since 1965, instead created their own orchestral song cycle about a typical working day, highlighted by singer-guitarist Justin Hayward’s ballads, “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)” and “Nights in White Satin.” Days of Future Passed (released in the U.S. the following year) is closer to high-art pomp than psychedelia. But there is a sharp pop discretion to the writing and a trippy romanticism in the mirroring effect of the strings and Mike Finder’s Mellotron.

Van Morrison, 'Blowin' Your Mind!'

Van Morrison, ‘Blowin’ Your Mind!’

Van Morrison’s well-known distaste for the record business starts here. Fresh from leaving the Belfast band Them, he spent three days in a New York studio with producer Bert Berns in search of a hit single. When the cantina-heat lust of “Brown Eyed Girl” went Top 10 that summer (after he and Berns put it through 22 takes), Berns rushed out this eight-song quickie from the sessions, infuriating Morrison. But it catches him in heated, searching form, halfway between his demon bark on Them’s “Gloria” and the Celtic-dream soul of 1968’s Astral Weeks. (Later issues of the Bang tracks revealed early stabs at that album’s “Beside You” and “Madame George.”) The real mind-blower here is “T.B. Sheets,” which crystallizes Morrison’s roots and future in nine minutes of slow-burn blues and brutal honesty.

Wilson Pickett, 'The Best of Wilson Pickett'

Wilson Pickett, ‘The Best of Wilson Pickett’

Not just for the
half-rhyme’s sake was this repurposed gospel up-and-comer called the wicked
Pickett. If there were a genre dubbed hard soul, he’d exemplify it, and the
reason there isn’t is that none of his rivals commanded a voice so tough or an
attack so unyielding. By his standards a love song is something suitable for a
phone booth wall at the midnight hour – “634-5789,” perfect. That’s
one reason dance records that don’t quit such as “Funky Broadway” and
“Mustang Sally” were his wheelhouse. “Man and a Half” would
come later. So on this nonstop collection, make the theme statement a mere
“Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do).”

Pink Floyd, 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn'

Pink Floyd, ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’

The twin peaks of British psychedelia – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
and this historic debut album
were both recorded in the spring of 1967, in adjacent studios at Abbey Road in London. But where the
Beatles’ album was a
hermetic studio triumph, Piper (produced by ex-Beatles engineer Norman Smith)
re-created the nuclear improvisation and double-edged whimsy of the Floyd’s
onstage freakouts. Singer-guitarist Syd Barrett was already fading into the
acid-fueled mental illness that forced him out of the band in early 1968. But
Piper was his triumph, dominated by his incisive songs of paradise gained and
endangered, and charged with his slashing outer-blues guitar.

Procol Harum, 'Procol Harum'

Procol Harum, ‘Procol Harum’

The success of Procol Harum’s debut single, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” – Top Five in the U.S. in the summer of ’67 – has long eclipsed the hard-rock might of the group’s first album. That is partly because of its muddy sound ­– the band was recorded live in the studio, in mono. Nevertheless, lyricist Keith Reid’s surrealist studies in melancholy and mortality rumble with a heavy-R&B noir powered by Matthew Fisher’s ruined church organ, the haunted-Hendrix scream of Robin Trower’s guitar and singer-pianist Gary Brooker’s white-soul growl. British progressive rock rarely sounded this bold and bruising again.

Otis and Carla - KING & QUEEN Album Cover

Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, ‘King and Queen’

The epitome of raw soul, Otis Redding made
better albums than any
other R&B artist of the Sixties. Carla Thomas was daughter to Rufus Thomas
of “Funky Chicken” fame, with the teen novelty “Gee Whiz”
and graduate school in English behind her. Together whenever conflicting
schedules didn’t compel Carla to overdub, the sparrow and the bear chuckled and
moaned through the greatest duet album this
side of Ella and Louis. In addition to reconceiving Clovers and Sam Cooke oldies
and a bunch of current soul hits, they turned “Tramp” into their own
classic and “Knock on Wood” into everybody’s.

The Rolling Stones, 'Between the Buttons'

The Rolling Stones, ‘Between the Buttons’

Accused of psychedelia, Beatlephobia and murky-mix
syndrome, this underrated keeper is distinguished by complex rhymes, complex
sexual stereotyping and the non-blues, oh-so-rock-&-roll pianos of Ian
Stewart, Jack Nitzsche, Nicky Hopkins and Brian Jones. Like all Beatles and
Stones albums till
that time, it was released in different American and British versions. The
surefire U.S.-only “Let’s Spend the Night Together”/”Ruby
Tuesday” single parlay is almost too much because its greatness is
understood – “Backstreet Girl,” bumped to the Flowers compilation released later that year, more closely
resembles such gemlike songs of experience as “Connection,” “My
Obsession” and “She Smiled Sweetly.” Capper: Mick and Keith’s
zonked music-hall “Something Happened to Me Yesterday,” the Stones’
drollest odd-track-out ever.

The Rolling Stones, 'Flowers'

The Rolling Stones, ‘Flowers’

The Stones were cresting so high around 1967 that even this pieced-together hodgepodge of singles and tracks left off the U.S. releases of Aftermath and Between the Buttons has a distinctness of style and invention about it. It re-recycles “Let’s Spend the Night Together”/”Ruby Tuesday,” which shouldn’t have been on Between the Buttons to begin with. It disrespects the rightful owners of ‘My Girl” (the Temptations) and the target of “Mother’s Little Helper” (yo mama). As for “Lady Jane,” what’s that about? Nevertheless, every track connects. That’s more than can be said of Their Satanic Majesties Request, which is better than its rep even so.

The Serpent Power, 'The Serpent Power'

The Serpent Power, ‘The Serpent Power’

Think of the Serpent Power as the Bay Area’s version of the Velvet Underground. Led by poet David Meltzer, with Meltzer on untutored post-folk guitar, Meltzer and his wife, Tina, singing his songs, poet Clark Coolidge clattering behind on drums and the soon-vanished John Payne fixing a hole on organ, their music was minimalist folk rock with noise – the climactic, electric banjo augmented “Endless Tunnel” goes on for 13 minutes. Some songs began as poems, others didn’t, but all feature notable lyrics – some romantic, some gruff, some both. And all but a few are graced by excellent tunes, none more winsome than that of the lost classic “Up and Down.”


The Supremes, ‘Diana Ross and the Supremes Greatest Hits’

In August 1964, “Where Did Our Love Go” began the Supremes’ run of chart-topping singles. By the end of 1967, they’d scored 10 of them. In the same timespan, so had the Beatles. Nobody else came close. All 10 are arrayed on this chart-topping 20-track double-LP along with well-remembered also-rans like “Nothing but Heartaches” and “Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart” and filler sure to grow on you as you down yet another round of upbeat erotic longing. Forlorn more often than fulfilled, Ross’ sexy love is an up either way thanks to the irresistible Motown rhythm section and a soprano so sweet and lucid that half a century on it still gives the gift of optimism against all odds.

Howard Tate, 'Get It While You Can' Album Cover

Howard Tate, ‘Get It While You Can’

Macon-born and Philadelphia-raised, Howard Tate never
went Top 10 even on the soul charts but is remembered along with James Carr as
the great lost soul man. “Ain’t Nobody Home” became a B.B. King
perennial, “Look at Granny Run Run” was the best thing to happen to
senior sex till Levitra, and “Get It While You Can” was taken up as a
showstopper by none other than Janis Joplin. The album didn’t chart at all. But Tate had a supernal falsetto shriek
to complement his rough howl, and writer-producer Jerry Ragovoy knew how to
milk them both – among other things, by adding two blues standards to his own
sharp songs, which even for a guy who retired on “Piece of My Heart”
got pretty peaky here.

The 13th Floor Elevators, 'Easter Everywhere'

The 13th Floor Elevators, ‘Easter Everywhere’

Pioneers have it tough everywhere. But these Texas acid eaters paid especially hard for their zealotry, harassed by local lawmen to the point that in 1969 singer Roky Erickson went to a mental facility on a marijuana-possession bust. In 1967, the Elevators were still true believers and just back from a spell in San Francisco, reflected in this title’s promise of heaven on earth and the sinewy raga guitar all over the record. The Elevators were punks, too, and the spiritualism was salted with the rare intensity of Erickson’s wolf-man bleating and the bubbling-lava menace of Tommy Hall’s electric-jug blowing. Forty years later, when Erickson crows, “I’ve got levitation,” you still get liftoff.

The Velvet Underground, 'The Velvet Underground & Nico' Album Cover

The Velvet Underground, ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’

The hippies and the marketplace both passed on this
NYC classic, which proved as prophetic stylistically as Sgt. Pepper was
conceptually. Its flat beats, atonal noise, bluesless singing, “urban
decadent” subject matter and bummer vibe proved the wellspring of punk
which, culturally if not stylistically, leads directly to the entire alt-rock
subculture. Great songs here include the disillusioned “Sunday
Morning” and “There She Goes Again” and the jonesing
“Heroin” and “I’m Waiting for the Man.” “Venus in
Furs” and “The Black Angel’s Death Song” remain subcultural in a
rather specialized way.

Dionne Warwick, 'Golden Hits/Part One'

Dionne Warwick, ‘Golden Hits/Part One’

By 1967,
“Alfie” and the like had Warwick on the road to divahood, but that
didn’t mean this best-of, marked CIRCA
in gold on the cover, was perceived as an oldies record. Girl
groups weren’t considered quaint yet, and Warwick has never been more tuneful
or charming than when she and Bacharach-David had them to contend with. The
selling points here are Warwick standards like “Walk On By” and
“Don’t Make Me Over.” But obscurities long vanished from her canon
are only a shade less compelling: the delicate “Any Old Time of Day” or her
proud, quiet cover of the Shirelles’ “It’s Love That Really Counts.”

The Who, 'The Who Sell Out'

The Who, ‘The Who Sell Out’

While making a full meal of their most delectable
concept, a pirate-radio broadcast, the Who’s finest album exemplifies how pop this
famously psychedelic year was. The mock jingles – for pimple cream, deodorant,
baked beans – are pop at its grubbiest. The fictional singles, typified but not
necessarily topped by the actual hit “I Can See for Miles,” are pop
soaring like the dream of youth it is – exalted, visionary, even, in their
crafty way, psychedelic. All the rest is English eccentricity.

The Youngbloods, 'The Youngbloods'

The Youngbloods, ‘The Youngbloods’

Founded in Boston and named after an early solo album by singer-bassist Jesse Colin Young, the Youngbloods were a good-time schizophrenia in New York clubs – a Lovin’ Spoonful–style coffee-house menu of courtly-ballad jangle and garage-band blues racket – when the original quartet recorded this modestly delightful debut, heavy on the covers (Jimmy Reed, Fred Neil). But the Youngbloods, who soon emigrated to the West Coast 1969 (losing guitarist Jerry Corbitt along the way), already had leaving on their minds. “I guess she’s gone to Frisco-oh-oh/To dance it there,” Young sang, dragging out the namecheck in “Grizzly Bear,” a prescient allusion to his band’s high rotation on Fillmore-concert posters. And while the Youngbloods were late to Dino Valenti’s Aquarian standard “Get Together” (Jefferson Airplane’s version came out in August 1966), the hint of last-chance dread in Young’s fluid croon and the spare raga-flavored tangle of the guitars definitively caught the fragility of the song’s – and 1967’s – utopian certainty.

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