August 12th was Vinyl Record Day, marked by the date Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, so it’s become a day to celebrate the old time traditions of sonic yesteryear, and spin your favorite tunes on those old 33 1/3, 45, and 78 sized spherical objects made out of wax called “records.” And I’m here to give you my Top 12 favorite vinyl records of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, along with a bunch of honorable mentions, but before we get to that, let’s talk a little bit about this thing called “vinyl.”
Up until the mid 1980s, when CDs started to become the musical norm in how one listened to their music proper, records were the norm of the people; not just a communally popular way to hear songs, but it became a giant subculture of the fabric of life, a hobby, a key element in creating parties, in creating gatherings and get-togethers, a source of fun competition in who would have more records than whom and who would have the rare cool records, in essence, vinyl hoarding was a collector’s and layman’s dream for decades upon decades.
With its outer cardboard casings known as “sleeves,” bands and musicians of all musical genres were able to express themselves not only in the music they created, but by the art that was presented on the front and back covers, which spawned an entire new artistic medium in a sense. In a way, every day should still be a Vinyl Record Day in some regard, and as the way music is bought and downloaded these days, in binary coded “bitted and byted” digital forms, not only has the way of the vinyl passed in essence, but also all the visual accoutrements that came with it. It has become a relic of the past like a rotary telephone or a CB radio, a dinosaur’s regime, which ultimately is hence even a more urgent reason to preserve the memory and image of the record alive in the 21st century.
In celebration of the “record,” here’s a fun list of some of the greatest albums of all time from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, in my opinion. Now of course, an undertaking like this is going to bring on great opinion, so before we get started, let’s understand that there is no way a list like this could ever not have personal omissions or an unconscious slight of one’s favorites.
Also, I’ve tried to walk that tightrope of including popular records, but trying not to forget about key seminal ones that weren’t as popular maybe in terms of sales, but ones that still made an influential impact larger than all the cash register receipts added up from the old Sam Goody’s and Tower Records could ever muster up.
The album art as well became a consideration and factor for inclusion on the list, but that of course is another uphill challenge ala scaling Everest. One could make an entire article on just the amazing Frank Zappa album covers if one wanted to, by way of probably 5,000 words or more, or the adventurous sexually suggestive and also in your face album covers that graced the creations of R&B and Funk bands of the 1970s. Or the intricately rendered horror and wild tinged grand creations sussed up by many artists for Heavy Metal records. I’ve also tried to bend genres here, and apply the typical Stoogeypedia folderol; listen, if it was up to me, my top records of all time would include the incredible musical posturings of heavyweight and middleweight jazz titans like John Coltrane, Grant Green, King Curtis, Eric Dolphy, Sidney Bechet, and Boogaloo Joe Jones, records that, if you added up their sales coupled with the amount of people who listened to them in the last 50 years, they would equal the number of people you could fit into a small corner pizzeria in your neighborhood.
So that said, by decade, here are my picks for some of the all-time greatest vinyl releases from the 1950s, 60s and 70s (33 1/3 ones):
Elvis Presley (1956): All the music that came before this release was separated by the concrete sonic wall that was this debut by “the king of rock and roll.” This is like the bridge for American music, the crossroads in which the drab grays of most records released before this one suddenly became a color chart for the musical landscape. The young and raw Presley, light years away from all the ridiculous pomp and traveling circus show circumstance that became his life in his later years, rocks and rolls with an intense innocence he would use as his blueprint for the rest of the decade, before the 1960s British Invasion almost swallowed him whole. The album spent ten weeks at the Number One spot and contains the classics “Blue Suede Shoes” (the album opener, which sets the tone immediately for the rest that follows), the Ray Charles penned “I’ve Got A Woman,” and the classic ballad “Blue Moon.” Just essential to any collection of any style or any genre of one’s personal musical taste.
Here’s Little Richard (1957): This album plays out like a primer for some of the greatest rock and roll ever. Richard, who mixed shades of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, and injected his own fervor and unbridled over the top intensity R&B approach reaches stratospheric heights with this hot off the presses record. All the tunes are penned by others, but are firmly associated with Little Richard and will be forever and ever, “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Jenny Jenny,” the album and just the cover alone for that matter, rocks the musical Richter scale to fever pitch.
The Chirping Crickets (Buddy Holly) (1957): The debut album by Buddy Holly and The Crickets is another landmark album in a decade full of them. Simple, pure, articulately approached, Holly seemed to rattle off songs with an ease unlike his brethren of the times. Along with Bill Haley and the Comets, this was one of the first rock and roll BANDS, many of the other artists pretty much had nameless, faceless session men backing their records and live performances, but Holly and his Crickets were a quartet which had equal weight in what manifested in the success of Holly’s (and others’) songs, and this album proves that statement and then some. “Oh Boy,” “Not Fade Away,” “Maybe Baby,” and especially “That’ll Be the Day,” stand the test of time as some of the most influential and most covered songs of all time.
(Honorable Mentions – Bo Diddley; Bill Haley; Jerry Lee Lewis; Chuck Berry)
Revolver (The Beatles) (1966): Sure, every one of their albums could have made this list, but Revolver is the one I think which reflects The Beatles in the most well-rounded manner, however. It’s the baton that’s passed in which the bookends of the era where Meet the Beatles to Rubber Soul ends and the beginning of the era of Sgt Pepper to Let It Be. From its psychedelically wonderfully single stroked pen-etched cover, to its unabashed risk takings, genres have a field day here with the strings on “Eleanor Rigby” to the childlike “Yellow Submarine,” to the nicely Great American Songbook stylings of “For No One” and “Here, There and Everywhere” to the ode to cannabis “Got to Get You Into My Life,” and finally the LSD-soaked sonic blotter of “Tomorrow Never Knows.” This is a benchmark release, taking the sounds The Beatles harnessed before this record and crystallized after it.
The 13th Floor Elevators (1966): Intensely angelical wretched magisterial forerunner of DIY garage pop and punk, this unknown and largely forgotten on the mainstream radar piece of sonic wax is arguably one of music’s all time unsung releases. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist Roky Erikson’s approach to this easy to dismiss as psychedelic pop music to an untrained ear, but ultimately is arguably one of the most spellbinding records possibly of all time, is breathtakingly original. While many bands of this era were using the Crayola LSD box to paint their sonic releases, Roky and the The 13th Floor Elevators create sounds and moods that hit one’s auditory canals within themselves like a psilocybin arrow straight for the cerebral cortex. It’s hard to explain the machinations of this record, and it’s not any easier to listen to it to get a sense of what it is, but this much is known: it remains an amazing piece of work which opened the doors for many musicians shackled by the inequities of the straight-laced, mainstream times. The cover in hindsight looks like a quick work piece of pseudo-psychedelic art, but that may be part of the point here, like the music included within, there’s a fresh approach that isn’t expected on a surface level. The small hit “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” the powerful and sweeping “Monkey Island,” the quietly intense “Kingdom of Heaven,” and the title tells it like it is acid soaked warbling of “Reverberation,” all with Erikson’s neurotic signature guitar tones, this album is at first listen quite puzzling, then quite thought provoking, and ultimately out of this world stupefying.
The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967): Every record of music that speaks of decadence, of dark sides of society never hinted at in popular music, of subjects previously taboo like drug usage and sado-masochism, owes a heavy debt to this release. Upon its original appearances in record stores across the North American continent (and especially New York City), it was considered a product of Andy Warhol’s Factory, but which is now regarded as a legendary release by the man considered (however possibly erroneously) as “The Godfather of Punk,” Lou Reed. Whether Reed wants to admit it or not, he brought “Heroin,” “I’m Waiting for The Man” (nee Drug Dealers), and the black-leathered booted, whips, and chains visuals of “Venus in Furs” to a 1960s mainstream that was truly unprepared and in many ways unable to handle it. With other eye opening, highly experimental and ambient tracks for its time like “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and “European Son,” Lou and the Velvets not only changed a musical genre, but also unexpectedly brought in a fashion sense and a style which still endures to this day, although arguably just on surface levels. From the memorable Warhol designed banana cover against the stark white background to the simplicity of the music on the grooves, this remains a record as important as Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, in terms of how it changed the music game and its rules.
Axis Bold As Love (The Jimi Hendrix Experience) (1967): Platitudes for this all time great guitar player and group run as high as making a tower of Marshall amps that stretch to Neptune and back again. You’ve heard it all before and will continue to hear how Hendrix set new bars, raised them and then put them so up in the stratosphere that in his wake, every guitar player owed something to this Seattle maven regardless of genre, approach, attack, attitude and one’s personal bent. There is a lot of truth in that statement. Hendrix, who came from R&B beginnings with another Titan, Little Richard, made imprints and sculpted throughways and highways that will be tread down forever. This album, his second with his “Experience,” (bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell) has the plight of being bookended by two more well known classic Hendrix “sides” (“Are You Experienced” and “Electric Ladyland” and FYI: “sides” is old record slang that means “albums”), but is still on equal par with both of them. With a great, color blinding, Middle Eastern quasi-raga album cover and great songs such as “Wait Till Tomorrow,” “Castles Made of Sand,” and especially “Spanish Castle Magic,” Axis quakes with a rock fervor that still has immense muscle to this day. One just simply cannot call themselves a rock fan without having this one in their record collection bondage.
(Honorable Mentions: The Doors debut album; The Velvet Underground – White Light, White Heat; Cream – Disraeli Gears; Blind Faith Debut; Pink Floyd – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn; Frank Zappa – We’re Only In It For the Money; The Yardbirds; The Sonics; Love – Debut Album and Forever Changes; The Standells; The Stooges debut album; The MC5 debut album; Led Zeppelin I and II; The Who – Tommy)
Funhouse (The Stooges) (1970): If Rock and Roll is supposed to have a certain set of “life rules” to it, in which one needs to be a fucked up soul and have digested the dirty communion wafers in their formative years, then Iggy Pop is the grand prince of growing up in the metaphoric “railroad shack behind the tracks” that is the preface to singing the blues and rock and roll “properly.” He and his Stooges, musical grand marshall’s of the seminal Detroit Michigan sounds which birthed punk music in a metaphoric caesarian bloody breech, plants and stomps a big spiked leather boot right on the chest of the listener with its second release, Funhouse. Music so simple even the most staunch layman could easily emulate it, however, no one but this quartet could come up it. Imagine if you took the blues and ran it through a blender, ran over it with a tank and then hung it out to dry, beating it with a cat of nine tails as it hung on the drying line, and then filtered it through the loudest stack of Marshalls known to man. That’s about a quarter then of reaching the decibel bending notes that waft out of the speakers like mauled tigers in flux. Like a pneumatic hammer going straight to the veins, Funhouse, from the opening snare hit and guitarist Ron Asheton’s guitar riff raff on “Down on the Street” to the unrestrained panther trapped in a burlap sack chaos of “Loose,” to Iggy’s pained passions of “Tv Eye” and the hypnotic caught in a loop dizzying sounds of the title track, to the final uncontrolled beautiful crumpled helpless sounds of “LA Blues,” on “Funhouse,” The Stooges sound at once like The Doors if Morrison really did have the balls he made us believe he did (and that’s really saying something there) and your worst nightmare. A scary, superb, loud and kick ass album that isn’t a welcome addition in everyone’s rock collection and that’s exactly the fucking point.
Sticky Fingers (The Rolling Stones) (1970): Following the death of their co-founder and spiritual leader Brian Jones in 1969, The Rolling Stones were at a semi-stand still. The dizzying success they achieved almost a decade earlier by 1971 put them almost side by side with the global domination that The Beatles had musically conquered. Jones left the band, and then died in a swimming pool accident (some speculate he was murdered, but that’s a whole other article here). The Stones had just finished a show at Altamont Speedway near San Francisco, California which was the antithesis of the previous summers’ peace and love folly gathering “Woodstock.” Whereas that festival went peacefully, as over half a million people listened and grooved and dosed and harmonized all things calm and hippie style sedate, the Stones’ excursion at Altamont was anything but, beset by bad mojo and vibes, which culminated in a fan being murdered and constant altercations with fans and the Stones’ ill gotten bodyguards, the Hells Angels. The Stones had just put out “Let it Bleed” in the record shops, which was full of late 60s confused and attitudinal gusto, and was a top seller. As the 1970s rolled in and they were still sleeping off the hangover of the aforementioned events, they plundered into the studio and created “Sticky Fingers”, their first for Atlantic Records and their own “Rolling Stones Records” label, and created a bonafide masterpiece. With an Andy Warhol designed cover, of a photo of blue jeans with a real working zipper, there wasn’t much left to the sexual imagination. The songs on the vinyl also kept that sexual vibe full tilt, with the explosive opener “Brown Sugar”, an ode to hot times on slave ships, “Can You Hear Me Knocking” an out and out pot boiler with a saxophone that sounds like tigers on Vaseline, “Bitch” with its irons in the fire horn section rhythms, and the intense ballads “Wild Horses,” “Sway,” and “Moonlight Mile” which brings the atypical Mick Jagger swagger up a few notches. The band is in fine form here and wonderful musical fettle; Keith Richards pumps up the rhythm volume and newly acquired Mick Taylor doesn’t simply play notes left in the void of Brian Jones’ wake, he raises the blues ante in wonderful splendor. One of their best for sure, and set the stage for what followed, the 2 record set “Exile on Main Street,” which arguably even tops Sticky Fingers.
There’s a Riot Going On (Sly and The Family Stone) (1971): Sly and the Family Stone, the multi-racial, funk/pop ensemble which enjoyed great chart success in the mid to late 1960s, with songs such as “Everyday People”, “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Dance to the Music,” and “Stand” did a 180 and began to approach their music more relevantly with “There’s A Riot Going On.” This album, which is a definite forerunner to Gil Scott Heron’s musings and even later hard edged political yelpings by hip hop greats Public Enemy and rock hop’s Rage Against the Machine, “There’s A Riot” still has the sound which made Sly and The Family Stone their musical bones, but this time, the attack has a darker, sharper edge to it. It’s heavy funk mixed with dense bottom end, the lyrics and singing and the drum sounds seem to be caught in a opaque prism haze this time around, like shadows on the sun drenched sandlot which used to sport their musical lemonade stand. Great funk laden tracks like “Luv n’ Haight,” “Africa Talks to You The Asphalt Jungle,” “Brave and Strong,” “Poet,” and the number one hit “Family Affair” mingle with sublime slower numbers like “Just Like A Baby” and “Time.” Leader slash cum eccentric genius Sly Stone exudes a confidence and a sure footed style that’s absolutely stunning. And to top it off, it’s got a great cover, in which an American flag is seemingly frozen in the breeze, suns replacing stars in its blue field.
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (Black Sabbath) (1973): This album, the fifth by this doomy, bluesy gone wild English rock ensemble, is another great one in a long line of superb releases by Black Sabbath. The first to start to employ complex arrangements, keyboards, strings, and even session men (Rick Wakeman of Yes), the new tricks don’t diminish the sound one iota, it actually elevates the band to a new level. The lineup of Tony Iommi on guitar, Geezer Butler on bass, Bill Ward on drums, and one John “Ozzy” Osbourne on vocals crunch their way through this one on tracks like the title one, “A National Acrobat,” “Sabbra Cadabra,” “Looking for Today,” and “Spiral Architect.” The band actually matures in a way here that enhances a heavy sound that was already innovative in many forms, and continues to be innovative to this day. And to boot, it’s got a great devil DOES care red, black, and yellow album cover illustrated by Drew Struzan, best known for his Indiana Jones and Back to the Future (among many other) movie posters.
Ramones (1976): Like Elvis Presley was influenced by black blues from deep in the delta which was turned inside out and presented as early rock and roll via Sun Records, New York’s The Ramones took all the influences of 1960s rock and roll and surf music in particular, and the burgeoning Detroit sound of the late 1960s, and made it positively, absolutely their own. Whereas many bands like The New York Dolls and The Stooges were pretty much channeling Mick Jagger posturings with the frontmen David Johansen and Iggy Pop respectively albeit successfully, the late Joey Ramone sang alongside the Ramones’ music which were 2-minute sonic musical epigrams like no one before him or since, utilizing an original yelp, hiccupping but intense style. The band pretty much invented the term DIY as the album was recorded on a miniscule budget in a substantially short amount of time, and went on to become a masterpiece debut, influencing and pretty much ushering in the second wave of punk, the first waves of which rippled in New York City and England. Yet, they never got the respect nationally that it should have in its time. But now, with three of its original members passed on, time has carved The Ramones’ place in musical history for sure. Strangely enough, however, they remain still mired in a cult to the true fans who have always stood by them, yet known to almost everyone just by the strength of “Blitzkrieg Bop” alone, which has had later gestations in advertisements and films, since it’s original release on this album. “53rd and 3rd,” “Loudmouth,” “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” and “Chain Saw” are standouts on an album that has no duds whatsoever.
(Honorable Mentions: Marvin Gaye – What’s Goin’ On; New York Dolls – Debut; The MC5 – Back in the USA, High Time; Frank Zappa – Chunga’s Revenge, The Grand Wazoo, Roxy and Elsewhere; Neil Young – Harvest; Rush – 2112; Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny; Deep Purple – In Rock; Boston – Debut; David Bowie – Hunky Dory; T-Rex – The Slider; Kiss – Love Gun; Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti; Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak; Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals; The Police – Outlandos De Amor)
There a sampling of some great albums that most of you probably own from those key eras in sonic history, maybe some, maybe all of them, but they are absolutely essential items that should belong in anyone’s record collection.
In today’s era, in today’s ear, a lot of music is collected and owned by novelty for novelty’s sake, lots of media today is acquired because of a keeping up with the Joneses kind of mentality, the “well, everyone else has it, so should I, everyone else watches it, so do I.” The key about media and medium, music especially, is that it allows ones freewill to be challenged, and that’s what’s missed the most about records and record stores in particular. There used to be something amazing about going to a record store and being able to wander around within its walls, exploration at a paramount level, going in maybe for a Metallica album and walking out with Diamond Head and early Whitesnake (from the 1970s) and Thin Lizzy records. The fun of records was the game of “what can I find today?” One walks into a record store looking to spend ten dollars, and walks out having spent 50, with a cachet of a great amount of new music to listen to, running home to the turntable, excitedly and hurriedly putting on the wax, taking the time to make sure not to scratch the vinyl when placing the stylus down on it. And the beauty of finding a lyric sheet included within or cool band photos or cutouts (Kiss’ Love Gun comes to mind more than anything else when I was a kid) also contributed this collective yet very personal and individual universe and that’s a universe that’s almost defunct for sure, but one never to be forgotten.
With this fast paced, I-Tuned, Rhapsody, Pandora, quickly mixed and assembled and playlisted musical world that we exist in, there was something back then about vinyl in which the process of the hobby of vinyl was just as fun as the playing of the vinyl itself. And for that, as I mentioned earlier, every day should be National Vinyl Day. You say you want a “revolution”? Keep spinning the Black Circle peeps.