When Treble writer Dave O. brought up his idea of a feature on the best sixties music, I wasn’t quite sure where he was going with it. He had very specific guidelines he wanted to follow. For sure, he felt that the best sixties music didn’t start in 1960; he wanted his timeline to start in 1964, the year the Beatles broke in America. A lot of other acts broke then too. Bob Dylan had released two albums prior, including the legendary The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but it was 1964’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ that solidified his folky protest stature. There were a slew of great jazz albums, but John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme blew even jazz greats away. 1964 also saw the emergence of frequent Beatles counterparts The Rolling Stones, and the two beautifully voiced troubadours that made up Simon & Garfunkel. It was a monumental year, and as Dave O. theorized, the year where it all really began.
Let’s face it, Beatlemania changed the world. Elvis had a lot of screaming fans, but he was only one guy, cashing in on his sex appeal. Never had a pop group seen so much acclaim from so many as the Beatles had in 1964. The Ed Sullivan show in February, the subsequent American tour, the release of the film and album A Hard Day’s Night — all of these created a massive avalanche of popularity that could not be stopped. There is hardly a single band today who cannot owe their success to the Beatles. Just listen to the Shins’ “So Says I” and you’ll hear that jangly, head-bobbing sound that made The Fab Four so famous.
1965 saw Bob Dylan anger a lot of his folk fans by going electric at the Newport Folk Festival and following it up with a completely electric album, the now essential Highway 61 Revisited. The Beatles were at it again, now committed to changing with the times, as was shown with their marijuana-influenced Rubber Soul. Van Morrison got his start with Them, Otis Redding went blue, and Frank Sinatra won the Grammy Award for September of My Years, a concept album about his growing older.
If 1965 was a somewhat transitional year, especially for the Beatles and Dylan, then 1966 was the year where a lot of artists set their feet firmly in the ground and staked their positions in rock history. The Beach Boys, and specifically the homebody Brian Wilson, influenced by Rubber Soul, put together Pet Sounds. Not to be outdone, the Beatles came back with Revolver. The Stones had their first real `classic’ album release with Aftermath, and Mr. Dylan shocked the senses with the world’s first rock double album, Blonde on Blonde.
1967 got weird. That year marked the `Summer of Love’ and the emergence of the San Francisco hippie psychedelic sound. It was the year of the Monterey Pop Festival which launched the careers of both Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. The first issue of Rolling Stone magazine was released. This is all not to mention the debut of The Velvet Underground, The Doors, and Buffalo Springfield. Throw on great album releases by Love with Da Capo and Forever Changes, Bob Dylan with John Wesley Harding, Cream with Disraeli Gears, and Pink Floyd with Piper at the Gates of Dawn and you have a pretty amazing collection.
The snowball that was popular rock and roll music, gathering influences from the blues, country, soul, and R&B just kept building. In 1968, a sad year in history with the deaths of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, a year that saw riots at the Democratic National Convention and the election of Richard Nixon, the music began to reflect the times more and more. The Beatles’ White Album took on darker turns as did The Stones’ Beggars Banquet. Van Morrison went solo with a contemplative album in Astral Weeks while the Kinks tried a bold new direction with The Village Green Preservation Society. Jimi Hendrix released two more albums, and Janis’ group, Big Brother & the Holding Company broke out with Cheap Thrills.
1969, an end to a decade both literally and figuratively, brought on huge changes in the rock and roll scene. Abbey Road marked the last time the Beatles would ever record together. Let it Bleed foreshadowed a horrific event to come for the Rolling Stones at Altamont. The Who created a rock opera with Tommy. Miles Davis created fusion with Bitches’ Brew. But there were some astounding debuts that would also change the face of popular music. Neil Young broke off from Buffalo Springfield and created his Crazy Horse band, Nick Drake sang his hushed lyrics before their time, The Stooges made the name Iggy famous, the MC5 kicked out the jams, and Led Zeppelin screamed and riffed their way into rock legends.
The sixties, it goes without saying, were a dichotomy. There was massive civil unrest and peaceful protest. There was a war being waged in Vietnam and free love finding a home in the states. There was a pop music phenomenon and music that reflected the troubled times it inhabited. The drug culture flourished and made its users feel alive while they also claimed lives such as those of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, and many more with massive overdoses.
There was a conscious effort on our part here at Treble to avoid a Beatles lovefest. But when a decade, or the six years that we focused on, is bookended by the formation, success and breakup of the band, it’s hard to avoid. From 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night to Abbey Road‘s “The End,” the Beatles dominated the airwaves, constantly changing their styles and images, from poppy mop-tops to shaggy hippies. But this feature is not just about the Beatles. What you’ll see here is a year by year breakdown of the albums that we here at Treble voted on, tallied, and then solidified as the best of the sixties, presented in a year by year format. We have also included our “Personal Bests” — albums that individual writers have a personal fondness for, though the Treble staff as a whole wasn’t as familiar. So here it is, for your viewing and listening pleasure, Treble’s best of the sixties. (And thanks to Dave O. again for the impetus).
The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night
“A Hard Day’s Night was more than just a soundtrack to a film featuring a new pop band, it was the breakthrough for the most influential and important band of rock history.”
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
“[A Love Supreme] paved the way for deeper expression in jazz and stands as one of the best selling jazz albums of all time.”
The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go?
“…for a few minutes, through only a couple of tracks, The Supremes are once again a young and hopeful group of sweet-singing girls, who have no idea that they will become stars.”
Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’
“Bob Dylan’s third album The Times They Are A-Changin’ is a work defined by its compassion, its all-but-buried hope and the cultural tumult that brought it about.”
The Rolling Stones – 12X5
“Unlike its predecessor, the album offers some early Stones originals, which, though they stand on forgivably shaky legs, give a taste of what’s to come.”
The Beatles – Beatles For Sale
“Even as uneven as some consider Beatles for Sale, it exhibits flashes of pop brilliance…”