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1968 Albums

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Tomorrow > Tomorrow

February, 1968
United States
Parlophone
4
As the In Crowd, a London-based mid-60s soul band, bassist John "Junior" Wood and singer Keith West (born Keith Alan Hopkins) found middling success, but after teaming with ex-Syndicats guitarist Steve Howe and drummer John "Twink" Alder, the quartet rebranded themselves as Tomorrow and launched straight into the popular psychedelia of 1967. Highly regarded as a live act, they had the honors of performing the first-ever radio session for BBC's DJ John Peel, although they missed out as the house band in Michelangelo Antonioni's cult film Blow Up (to The Yardbirds). Released in May 1967, their classic single "My White Bicycle" b/w "Claramount Lake" stalled on the charts, and a second single, "Revolution" b/w "Three Jolly Little Dwarfs," released in September, fared no better. This left a tenuous relationship with EMI and their debut album, recorded in the spring, missed out of the psychedelic boom of 1967. West and friend Ken Burgess composed most of the album, although it also contained a spirited cover of The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever." "Now Your Time Has Come" gives an early clue to Howe's talent, unique more for referencing the influence of Chet Atkins than the then-typical blues roots of most British guitarists. West had scored a No. 2 single with EMI producer Mark Wirtz's "Excerpts from a Teenage Opera" the previous July. His solo success put unreasonable pressure on the band, and shortly after their appearance at the Christmas on Earth Continued concert in December 1967 at London's Roundhouse, Tomorrow broke up. Twink would join The Pretty Things, while Howe would meander in Bodast for the next year, before eventually defining prog rock guitar with Yes.

The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter > Incredible String Band, The

March, 1968
US
Elektra
0
Over its near ten-year existence, The Incredible String Band revolved around the psychedelic folk of mainstays Robin Williamson and Mike Heron. In 1965, Williamson first teamed with Clive Palmer in Edinburgh, Scotland as a folk duo. The following year, they auditioned Heron and headed to London, where Joe Boyd signed them to Elektra Records. Their debut album was a traditional folk record, but earned accolades from Melody Maker. The trio then split. However, under Boyd's continued watch, Williamson and Heron reunited and released the more promising The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers of the Onion in July 1967. The record reached No. 26 in the UK charts and quickly The Incredible String Band became fixtures in the London underground. Their next album, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, saw release in March 1968. Heron's "A Very Cellular Song" is the album's crown achievement. The 13-minute song shifts between its different sections, whether the Bahamian spiritual "I Bid You Goodnight" or the closing "May the Long Time Sun Shine;" the interim section, "Amoebas Are Very Small," offers an account of mitosis! Another of the album's highlights, "Waltz of the New Moon," is all Williamson until Heron comes in on harpsichord. Both Williamson and Heron offer a uniquely emotive vocal delivery throughout, one that would offer a blueprint for artists such as Peter Hammill and Syd Barrett to follow. The album's seemingly Spartan arrangement is mostly a ruse; armed with a chestful of acoustic instruments, ranging from gimbri and sitar, whistle and Jew's harp, harpsichord and various percussion instruments, there's a trance-like quality to the album's many layers that captivates the listener. The album soared to No. 5 on the UK charts, and while only reaching No. 161 in the US; yet it earned a Grammy Award nomination. Later in the year, the duo released the double-album Wee Tam And The Big Huge, now with girlfriends Christina "Licorice" McKechnie and Rose Simpson in full-time roles. The Incredible String Band continued releasing albums throughout the early 70s until Williamson and Heron split in 1974. Both continued successful solo careers for many years.

Odessey And Oracle > Zombies, The

April, 1968
UK
CBS
4.444445
Formed in 1962 in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, The Zombies comprised the talents of keyboardist Rod Argent, vocalist Colin Blunstone, bassist Chris White, guitarist Paul Atkinson and drummer Hugh Grundy. Like most bands of the British Invasion, they combined equal parts soul and beat, yet The Zombies had that something extra: incredible musicality. Released in July 1964, "She's Not There" b/w "You Make Me Feel So Good" was their first and only chart hit in the UK, reaching No. 12. But it eventually rose to No. 2 in the US in December, quickly followed by "Tell Her No" b/w "What More Can I Do," which rose to No. 6. However, further singles faltered and their 1965 album Begin Here (released as The Zombies in the US) only managed to reach No. 39 in the US. In 1967, the band signed with Columbia and entered EMI Studios on Abbey Road to record what would be Odessey And Oracle. Awashed in Mellotron, "Care of Cell 44" opens, telling the tale of an incarcerated girlfriend. "A Rose for Emily" follows, based on the story of the same name by James Faulkner. "Beechwood Park" is both delicate and beautiful, with a haunting vocal from Blunstone, while "Butchers Tale (Western Front 1914)" ambles under Argent's harmonium. Throughout the album, the songwriting of Argent and White is unparalleled, building upon the influence of The Beach Boys and the sophistication of The Beatles, and the execution from the band is perfectly captured on record. But the pressure of self-financing a required stereo mix broke The Zombies' will, and well before the album's release in 1968, the group had split up. Only after being re-released as a single in February 1969 did their "Time of the Season" b/w "Friends of Mine" reach No. 3 in the US, and the album eventually entered the US Top 100. However, there would be no afterlife for The Zombies.

Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake >

May, 1968
UK
Immediate
0
Hailing from East London, guitarists Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane and drummer Kenney Jones formed Small Faces in 1965, adding keyboardist Ian McLagan a year later. Originally signed to Decca, the band was a mod group to the core, offering hip appearances and hit pop singles. Switching to Immediate Records in 1967, Small Faces' soulful rock began to embrace psychedelia, as the drug-referenced "Here Comes the Nice" b/w "Talk to You" attests. Two further singles, "Itchycoo Park" b/w "I'm Only Dreaming" and "Tin Soldier" b/w "I Feel Much Better" broke them again into the UK Top 10 and, for the first time, the US charts. Their crowning achievement however was the excellent Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake. The title track opens the album, an instrumental beauty with phasing and fuzzy guitars galore that basks in the record's lo-fi sound. The deft string arrangement adds to the main theme, yet never overpower the powerful rhythm of Lane and Jones. After a tentative start, Marriott offers the prototypical power ballad with "Afterglow." McLagan's "Long Agos And Worlds Apart" offers him a rare vocal, while "Rene" gives Marriott a chance to crank his guitar to the proverbial eleven. "Song of a Baker" has a psychedelic edge, while the goofy "Lazy Sunday" harks to the band's past. As a single, it rose to No. 2 on the UK charts. Interspersed with Stanley Unwin's unique "looney links," the second side follows a song cycle about a young "Happiness Stan" that's looking for the moon's missing half. "Rollin' Over" hints at the Small Faces' brand of soul, while "The Hungry Intruder" opts for popsike. McLagan's keyboard's shine on "The Journey," propelled by Jones's neat fills. The side comes to a somewhat predictable conclusion with "Mad John" and "Happy Days Toy Town." The album, while topping the British charts at No. 1 for some six weeks, also proved to be the band's undoing: there was no way the group could perform the album live. Marriott was off to Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, while the others formed the Faces with ex-Jeff Beck Group Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood.

The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown > Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, The

June, 1968
United States
Track Record
4.5
Another stanchion of the London underground scene, Arthur Brown had huge success with the single "Fire" b/w "Rest Cure." Released in June, it rose to the top of the UK charts, while reaching No. 2 in the US that September. The single was a tough act to follow, perhaps even overshadowing the rest of his career. But let's not sell the man short. Brown's real contribution to rock music was theatre: his on-stage antics-from fire helmet to crucifixion-set the standard for most every act to follow. Plus, Brown's musical partner, Vincent Crane, was nothing short of genius. The Who's Pete Townshend and Kit Lambert produced their debut album, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. As covers of Screamin' Jay Hawkins and James Brown songs attest, the R&B influence is obvious, but the album's highlight is the five-song "opera" that comprises the first side of the record. Alternating from swinging pop to psychedelia, Crane's swirling organ playing and songwriting act as perfect counterpoint to Brown's distinct voice. Crane was no flash either. Having a formal musical education from Trinity College, his arrangements are first-rate. There's sophistication on "Child of My Kingdom" that transcends his age at the time, and his virtuoso performance certainly rivals any contemporary; perhaps even setting the standard for the organ. The album was extremely successful, reaching the UK No. 2 and the US No. 7. A young Carl Palmer replaced original drummer Drachen Theaker shortly after the album's release, yet after a second US tour, the band broke up, with Palmer and Crane forming Atomic Rooster. Brown's attempt to resurrect the band failed, but he would soon catch the progressive bandwagon with Kingdom Come.

Bare Wires >

June, 1968
US
London Records, London Records
0
Hailing from Macclesfield, Cheshire, John Mayall came to London in the early 60s to join in on the blues explosion, which he solidified with the formation of his Bluesbreakers and their debut album (aka "The Beano Album") with ex-Yardbird Eric Clapton. Mayall was a bandleader-in the 40s or 50s sense of the word-and the sheer number (and caliber) of musicians he would enlist is a virtual who's who of Britain's blues players, including future members of Cream, Free, Fleetwood Mac, Colosseum, The Rolling Stones and others. In 1967 he brought young guitarist Mick Taylor into the fold, along with saxophonists Chris Mercer and later, Blues Incorporated veteran Dick Heckstall-Smith. Following his first US tour in early 1968, Mayall introduced drummer Jon Hiseman and bassist Tony Reeves-both previously in the New Jazz Orchestra, the former via the Graham Bond Organisation. Henry Lowther rounded out the lineup, playing cornet and violin. Thus constituted, Mayall set out to record his epic Bare Wires album, released in June 1968. The album's centerpiece is the "Bare Wires Suite" medley which encompasses the record's first side. With the jazz chops of his band, Mayall lays down an amazing hybrid of blues: one compelling not only musically, but lyrically as well, with his own personal storytelling offering the form something uniquely British. The opening "Bare Wires" ambles over a humble harmonium, moving slowly to the acoustic blues of "Where Did I Belong," featuring violin from Lowther. "I Started Walking" lets Taylor fire his guitar, while the horns on "Open up a New Door" swing jazzily before yielding to Mayall's haunting vocal on "Fire." For "I Know Now," Mayall switches to organ, offering something more soulful and somber before wrapping it up with the straight-up "Look in the Mirror." It's an epic suite of music and mood, completely overshadowing the record's second side. The album was a great success in the UK, reaching No. 3; while in the US it became Mayall's first to chart at No. 59. Yet Mayall broke up the Bluesbreakers shortly thereafter and headed to L.A.'s Laurel Canyon to begin another chapter in his lengthy career. Hiseman, Reeves and Heckstall-Smith went on to form Colosseum.

A Saucerful Of Secrets > Pink Floyd

June, 1968
United States
Tower
3
With Syd Barrett's unpredictability on stage reaching the point of embarrassment for the band, Pink Floyd-bassist Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Rick Wright-forged ahead into 1968 with fellow Cambridge guitarist and friend David Gilmour in tow. Driven by pressure from EMI for another hit, they first released a single, "It Would Be So Nice" b/w "Julia Dream" in April, but it was mostly throwaway. However, the album, A Saucerful Of Secrets, fared much better. A few of the songs, including Wright's "Remember a Day" and Barrett's "Jugband Blues," were recorded the previous year and sound it. The remaining tracks illustrate the transition to the post-Barrett Floyd. Clearly, it's Waters who came in to deliver the goods; just check out the wicked opening bass riff of "Let There Be More Light," the first track recorded without contribution from Barrett. Gilmour steps up to the microphone on the track, revealing a voice that would become a signature for the band. Brooding and pulsing, the title track and "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" are propelled by Mason's deft but never busy drumming. Pink Floyd take a step toward progressive rock, relying on both their performance and the recording of the track to make their point. The ride is still psychedelic, but now more similar to the dark avant-garde of their live set than what they did previously with Barrett's gleeful compositions. But the album isn't without some duds: Waters's attempt at Barrett-like song-craft, "Corporal Clegg," and Wright's second tune on the album, "See-Saw," both miss the mark. Nevertheless, the record's marvel is that it existed at all. It was a definite success, breaking into the UK Top 10 at No. 9. The band released another single, "Point Me at the Sky" b/w "Careful with That Axe Eugene" in December, their last for almost a decade.

Fairport Convention > Fairport Convention

July, 1968
United States
Polydor
4
Fairport Convention got its start in the same London underground as their more psychedelic counterparts and eventually became England's first (and finest) electric folk band. Fairport too was absorbing their influences, here considerably West Coast (e.g. The Byrds) with the requisite Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell covers. Their debut is a pleasant and gentle affair that showcased the talents of guitarists Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol. "Sun Shade" and "The Lobster" both portend the King Crimson debut in some respects-except of course there's no Mellotron. Underneath the subdued recording, the compositions have more dynamics than one may expect; the guitar work is simply sublime. Judy Dyble would leave the band after the album's release. However, this seemingly innocuous event would be serendipitous to the timeline. Working with Ian McDonald, she enlisted the services of Giles, Giles & Fripp, and in doing so, sowed the seeds for King Crimson's rise. As for Fairport, her replacement, Sandy Denny, was previously in the Strawbs and would impart significant momentum into the direction Fairport Convention would follow. Similar to prog rock's relation with classical music, Fairport would take cues from traditional British music and within a few albums set a new standard for electric folk rock. Over the next few years, that scene would experience a musical renaissance in England, one that was certainly progressive in its own right. Along with Pentangle and Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention would enjoy a long career and international success.

July > July

July, 1968
United States
Epic
4.5
Hailing from Ealing, in west London, were two R&B groups, The Tomcats and Second Thought. In 1965, they combined, renamed themselves Los Tomcats and headed off to Spain for a couple of years for some moderate success. Returning to London in 1967, psychedelia was in full swing, prompting a change. Rechristened as July, the band included vocalist and guitarist Tom Newman, percussionist Jon Field, lead guitarist Tony Duhig, bassist Alan James and drummer Chris Jackson. Their debut album, July, was released in 1968 on Irish label Major Minor Records, but not before their first single, "My Clown" b/w "Dandelion Seeds" in June. The B-side is pure freakbeat, a hybrid of heavier R&B and psychedelia, and representative of the band's sound on the album. "Jolly Mary" though owes more than a passing resemblance to Barrett-era Pink Floyd, while "The Way" nods towards The Pretty Things, and the middle section of "Move on Sweet Flower" opts for some Procol Harum-inspired poetry. But that's not to say July weren't original. "You Missed It All" begins with a rudimentary conga beat, then offers a cool breakdown, while "Friendly Man" harnesses all the power of a studio available in 1968. The album's a perfect example of all that's good about the psychedelia of the era, poor sales notwithstanding. Following the band's breakup in 1969, Duhig and Field departed for Jade Warrior, where their music blossomed with originality. Newman became the house engineer for Virgin Records' The Manor Studio, producing Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and many other recordings, while also recording two of his own solo albums later in the mid-70s.

Music In A Doll's House > Family

August, 1968
United States
Reprise Records
4.4
Family centered on the talents of guitarist John "Charlie" Whitney and vocalist Roger Chapman, and found early acceptance in the London underground scene. The pair was originally in the Leicester-based Farinas, along with sax/flute player Jim King and bassist Ric Grech. American producer Kim Fowley gave them their name, a reference to their "mafia" appearance. Rob Townsend then arrived on drums, and after recording one single for the Liberty label, they were signed by Reprise Records. Two further singles failed to chart, but the band quickly gained a considerable reputation from their live act; legend has it that Jimi Hendrix would never follow the band on stage. Family's debut album, Music In A Doll's House, was produced by Traffic's Dave Mason and Jimmy Miller, and had a predictably psychedelic, if not Traffic-esque, feel. Immediately, Chapman's raspy vocal on "The Chase" establishes one of the band's most recognizable signatures. But digging deeper, the album reveals sophistication few bands of the era would achieve. Their influences are wide. Both "Hey Mr. Policeman" and "The Breeze" hint at the blues, while "Voyage," with its roaring feedback and Mellotron breaks, is truly experimental. Inventively too, the album reprises themes from its selections between tracks. But songwriting would remain Chapman and Whitney's strong suit, and their debut has little shortage: "Mellowing Grey" and "Me My Friend" begin their long tradition of uniquely original song craft, as does the closing track "3 X Time" which-you guessed it-goes through three rhythmic changes. Well received, the album earned a No. 35 spot in the UK. No less than eight BBC appearances that year certainly helped the cause.

The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles And Fripp > Giles, Giles & Fripp

September, 1968
United States
Deram
3
This was by no means a major release; these are, however, the first recordings from guitarist Robert Fripp, and as such, of interest to the timeline. The band came to London from provincial Bournemouth, on England's south coast. Brothers Peter Giles and Michael Giles, bass and drums respectively, had spent the last seven years as a rhythm section together, performing mainly R&B covers. In London, they managed to secure a deal with Deram Records, who released two singles and the album, The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles & Fripp. Unfortunately, the album's highlight is on the opening track: "North Meadow" reveals a concise arrangement and the tight interplay of the Giles brothers. Otherwise, the tracks are predictably of the era. Each album side presents a musical story as terminally dated as the other: Fripp's "The Saga of Rodney Toady" on the first side, and on the second, Michael Giles's "Just George." The closing track "Erudite Eyes" finally gets electric and eclectic, but good luck getting that far through the record. Lyricist and jack-of-all Pete Sinfield would later remark "if one wondered what my contribution to King Crimson was, they should simply listen to this album!" But the album's failure was portentous: GG&F met up with Fairport Convention's Judy Dyble and her boyfriend Ian McDonald in response to an ad Dyble had placed for a backing band. Dyble remained for a short while (a version of "I Talk to the Wind" appeared on The Young Persons' Guide To King Crimson in 1975) before the men took over. And a few months and one wealthy uncle later, King Crimson was born.

Shine On Brightly > Procol Harum

September, 1968
United States
A&M Records
4.4
Procol Harum's second effort starts off predictably: Gary Brooker's monochromatic wail over Matthew Fisher's swirling Hammond chords on the title track offer elegance, while the pitter-patter of the following "Skip Softly (My Moonbeams)" gives way to something deeper. "Wish Me Well" even attempts some blues, obviously at guitarist Robin Trower's suggestion. Although the first side of the record could have easily come from their debut, the second side, containing the epic "In Held ‘Twas in I," is the real accomplishment here. Originally titled "Magnum Harum," it's a suite of intertwining songs, but serves as the template for the most progressive of all accessories: the album-side-long track. This idiomatic trait would remain the ultimate expression for the progressive artist: creating a composition with only the physical limitation of the vinyl record as the boundary. Opening with Keith Reid's ramblings about the Dalai Lama, the band breaks into some uncharacteristically complex runs, in a theme they would return to throughout the piece's various transitions. The success is the landscape; the track shifts between seriousness and folly, each movement well-integrated into the next, and culminating with Trower's soaring guitar over the final refrain. The track combines the writing and arrangement talents of both Brooker and Fisher, and the execution of the entire band-no small achievement. Like their debut, the album charted in America, reaching No. 24, but would again falter in their native Britain. Procol Harum would weather some personnel changes over the years, as they followed a similar musical path until their breakup in 1977. Their 1972 live album In Concert With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra was a career zenith on both sides of the Atlantic; but Shine On Brightly would remain their shining achievement, and a milestone for progressive rock.

This Was > Jethro Tull

October, 1968
United States
Reprise Records
3.6
The story of Jethro Tull begins with the John Evan Band in Blackpool during the mid-60s. Like most other bands from the era, they played soul covers before moving on to the blues. The summer of 1967 brought Ian Anderson and Glenn Cornick to London. Adding Mick Abrahams on guitar and Clive Bunker on drums (both from McGregor's Engine), Jethro Tull-named after an 18th century agriculturist-was complete, although they gigged for several months under different names (ostensibly to get repeat gigs); Even their first single, "Sunshine Day" b/w "Aeroplane," was released as "Jethro Toe" (typo, if you can believe it). By 1968, the band had gained a residency at the Marquee Club and national recognition, based partly on their Sunbury Jazz and Blues performance that summer. Having picked up his technique from virtuoso Roland Kirk, flautist and vocalist Anderson was the obvious frontman. On This Was, the band plays incredibly tight and raucous-just listen to "Dharma for One" or "Cat's Squirrel." Anderson's songwriting is strong and already developing into his own style, evidenced in particular on "A Song for Jeffrey." Their self-financed debut offers a classic hybrid of hard blues with a jazzy edge that was an instant hit upon release. The album reached No. 10 in the UK charts, while earning a respectable No. 62 in the US. Such was the buzz on Jethro Tull that The Rolling Stones chose them (with a pre-Black Sabbath Tony Iommi miming on guitar) for their Rock ‘n' Roll Circus TV special in December 1968 over another freshman band-Led Zeppelin.

Genesis > Gods, The

November, 1968
UK
Columbia
4
Hailing from Hatfield, Hertfordshire, guitarist Mick Taylor and brothers John Glascock and Brian Glascock, bass and drums respectively, were originally in groups as schoolmates. Adding Ken Hensley on keyboards and vocals, they changed their name to The Gods in 1965. Taylor soon left to join John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (replacing Peter Green), while the Glascocks also strayed from the band. In Autumn 1967, Hensley, with Joe Konas on guitar, Lee Kerslake on drums and a returning John Glascock (replacing interims Paul Newton and Greg Lake), kept it together long enough for a residency at the Marquee Club and an album with Columbia Records. Produced by David Paramour (Simon Dupree, Koobas, Cliff Bennett) and engineered by EMI Studio's Peter Vince, Genesis is a fantastic slice of late 60s psychedelic rock, complete with inter-song transitions. The 60s vibe is evident on "Candles Getting Shorter," but added Mellotron is a nice touch. "Looking Glass" is the veritable classic: riding a sturdy Hammond organ, it features Hensley's distinctive falsetto and those trademark harmonies that would make Uriah Heep what it became. "Plastic Horizon" drags a bit, but the psychedelic romp of "Farthing Man" quickly picks up the pace. The album is spirited throughout and features superb songwriting from Hensley and Konas, forming a blueprint for Hensley's later success. But a single of The Beatles' "Hey Bulldog" b/w "Real Love Guaranteed" didn't chart, and by the time their second (also excellent) album To Samuel A Son was released in late 1969 the band had all but split. They released a one-off album as Head Machine in 1970, but that too failed to generate interest. Konas immigrated to Canada, while the other members joined rocker Cliff Bennett and regrouped as Toe Fat, releasing two albums of pedestrian rock.

Ars Longa Vita Brevis > Nice, The

November, 1968
United States
Immediate
3.833335
With David O'List gone, Keith Emerson firmly took charge of The Nice. It should be no surprise then that their second effort finds the trio diving deeper into the classical music realm to further flaunt Emerson's keyboard histrionics. Their six-minute rendition of Leonard Bernstein's "America," from the musical West Side Story (recorded while O'List was still with the band), was released as a single and nearly reached the UK Top 20 in July. Whether this was based on musical merit or controversy is another story: The Nice drew sharp criticism from Bernstein after they burned an American flag during their Royal Albert Hall performance of the number. Bad taste was one of the band's unfortunate legacies; in fact, the interminable "Daddy Where Did I Come From" actually attempts to explain the obvious! But the big switch in direction on the album is witnessed in Jean Sibelius's "Intermezzo from ‘Karelia Suite'." It's this deconstruction of classical music that would become the band's enduring legacy, and heavily influence legions of progressives, English, Italian and otherwise. The second side found Emerson and company (more or less) extending J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 into mammoth proportions. The first movement is interpreted with a drum solo from Brian Davison, while the second benefits from a contribution from a lingering O'List. The third section adds orchestration from Robert Stewart, while the fourth is dominated by Emerson's organ soloing. Ultimately the issue is interpretation versus appropriation. The album's title Ars Longa Vita Brevis translates to "Art is boundless, life is short." Whatever your verdict, here The Nice laid the foundation for much of prog rock.

S. F. Sorrow > Pretty Things, The

December, 1968
United States
EMI Columbia
4.57143
An original member of the proto-Rolling Stones, bassist Dick Taylor hooked up with singer guitarist Phil May at London Central School of Art in 1963 to form The Pretty Things. Moving to London, their R&B-influenced rock was an instant success. In June 1964, "Rosalyn" b/w "Big Boss Man" scored the group the first of many hits in the UK, while their self-titled debut album, released in early 1965, would rise to No. 6. A few years of crazy antics and drummer Viv Prince behind them, Jon Povey and Alan "Wally" Waller (both previously in The Fenmen) joined the band in 1967 for the lavishly produced (but disappointing) Emotions. A couple of singles, including the excellent "Talkin' About The Good Times" b/w "Walking Through My Dreams" signaled the band's newfound affection for psychedelia beginning in early 1968. Drummer Skip Alan (born Alan Skipper) then went on extended holiday, with Twink from Tomorrow lending a hand on the ensuing album. The Pretties recorded S.F. Sorrow at EMI Studios with Norman Smith at the controls, around the same time that The Beatles were recording The White Album and Pink Floyd were filling A Saucerful Of Secrets. Originally a short story penned by May, the album's place in history stands as the first rock opera or, more precisely, an album that told a (rather oblique) story. Musically, it's a veritable psychedelic soundtrack, with The Beatles influence ("Private Sorrow" and "Trust") ever-present. The Pretties manage to create one of the most consistent and cohesive albums of the era by avoiding the clichés: no songs about bikes, no children's rhymes or silly effects; just a poignant, even dark exposé on the human condition. The well-written songs are sewn together with one of EMI Studios' finest productions. "Baron Saturday" approaches the epic, while the riff from "Balloon Burning" is timeless rock. Yet, like Tomorrow's debut record, the album suffered a belated release under the hand of EMI. Thus, though the album was a critical success, it was a commercial flop, failing to even secure a US release until the following year. However, Pete Townshend did take notice; The Who's Tommy would eclipse S.F. Sorrow as "the" rock opera that most would remember. Sadly, Sorrow remains a largely overlooked gem of the era.

The Soft Machine > Soft Machine, The

December, 1968
United States
Probe
4
Originally from the provincial town of Canterbury, the Soft Machine split off from The Wilde Flowers in 1966. And by the time the Softs got around to recording this album, they had already undergone substantial changes: Daevid Allen, St. Tropez and the London underground were well behind them. That version of the Soft Machine released one single "Love Makes Sweet Music" b/w "Feelin' Reelin' Squealin'", recorded some demos with Giorgio Gomelsky, and alongside Pink Floyd, had become one of the pillars of the London underground. Now a trio of Mike Ratledge on organ, Kevin Ayers on bass and guitar, and Robert Wyatt on drums, their debut album was recorded with Chas Chandler and Tom Wilson in New York, on the heels of a US tour backing the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Let's make no mistake: the Softs always had much more to do with jazz than rock. The continuity of the record - it plays like a performance - is certainly derived from jazz, yet the Softs never fail to rock out. Ratledge's fuzzed-out organ is over the top, and heavier than any guitar - just witness "Plus Belle Qu'une Poubelle". Unique among organists of the era (as was the Softs among bands), he never appropriated the classics; rather he relied on the intuition of a jazz musician to complement the rest of the band. Wyatt's drumming, whether the soloing on "So Boot If At All" or the precise groove of "We Did It Again", is also as original as is his voice. His distinct English accent and cadence lend a genuine innocence to the progressive proceedings. Tracks like "Why Am I So Short" and "Save Your Yourself " are throwbacks to the Allen era band, though none the worse for it. Ayers' sublime baritone voice matched his bass, and graced the album's closer "Why Are We Sleeping". All in all, The Soft Machine is one of the more unique and idiosyncratic albums of the era. It saw release in the US only.