1967 – How was Music Changing?

Remember These?
Remember These?

I remember seeing a blog post that called 1967 ‘The Year That Changed Music’ or something like that. I’m always somewhat skeptical of titles or headlines that sound so dogmatic. So, how was popular music changing in 1967? There was certainly an abundance of music that I liked from that year. I recently created a playlist in Winamp for 1967. I had 126 entries, over 7 hours of music, with only a few artists having more than one song each (for example, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix).

I view music history as a continuum rather than a punctuated equilibrium. That is to say that, whereas the popular view is that music is punctuated every so often by so called “revolutions”, I don’t discount the influence of what came before on those who become the iconoclasts. Yet, even though I don’t think everything changed overnight, I would agree that 1967 was a year in which diverse styles of music were gaining levels of popularity that they didn’t previously enjoy. The music business was surely changing. Billboard magazine articles tell a tale of mainstream labels scrambling to hire “hippie” songwriters and trying to get “underground” radio airplay. This reminded me of what Frank Zappa said about some fat, bald record exec chomping a cigar and saying “I dunno what it is but maybe it will sell”.

Here is what I found in the year 1967:

1. Blues :  Albert King releases his watershed album “Born Under a Bad Sign”. None other than Eric Clapton would try to reproduce his solo from “Crosscut Saw” note – for – note on the song “Strange Brew” by Cream later that year, as a tribute. Nevertheless, ’67 was a lean year for the blues. There were far more blues artists on the Billboard charts in the early 1960’s. Yet, even though the blues had waned in popularity Albert’s approach caught on with a young audience, paving the way for the comeback of two other Kings (B.B. and Freddie) a few years later.

2. Jazz : Again, the jazz roster looked thinner than it did in the early part of the decade.  Miles Davis waxes “Miles Smiles”. Cannonball Adderley hits big with “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. Rahsaan Roland Kirk records “Now Don’t You Cry Beautiful Edith”. Nina Simone issues “Nina Simone Sings The Blues” and “Silk and Soul” which contained my all time favorite (and first song I heard her sing) “I wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free”. Wes Montgomery’s “A Day In The Life” was released. Also notable, Horace Silver’s “The Jody Grind” , McCoy Tyner’s  “The Real McCoy” and “Tender Moments” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave”.

3. Soul : Soul was born in the 1950’s when Ray Charles fused the blues with gospel. Nevertheless, it reached its peak in 1967. Here are some of the highlights – Aretha Franklin releases one of her best albums “I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Loved You)” featuring the single “Respect” and later in the year, “You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)” and” Chain of Fools”. Her sister Erma Franklin gives us the original “Piece of My Heart”.  Etta James charts with a single from her sessions at Muscle Shoals; “Tell Mama\ I Would Rather Go Blind”, Other notable songs of 1967 include The Bar-Kays “Soul Finger”, The Impressions (Curtis Mayfield) “We’re A Winner”, James Brown “Cold Sweat”, Parliaments (George Clinton) “I Wanna Testify”, Stevie Wonder “I Was Made To Love Her and For Once In My Life”, Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrell “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, Otis Redding “Hard to Handle & Tramp (with Carla Thomas)”, Sam & Dave “Soul Man”, James Carr “Dark End of the Street”, Gladys Knight “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, Eddie Floyd “Knock On Wood”, Dyke and The Blazers “Funky Broadway”, Arthur Conley “Sweet Soul Music”, Aaron Neville “Tell It Like It Is”, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles “I Second That Emotion”, The Four tops, “Bernadette”, Sly and the Family Stone “Dance to the Music”. And I’m sure I’m leaving many out.

4. Folk : Folk was experiencing changes once again. A few years earlier Dylan went electric. Now he was preparing the way for the roots or Americana movement which he would hand over to The Band the following year. His “John Wesley Harding” came as sort of a shock to his fans who were expecting more “Blonde on Blonde”. Yet, it yielded the apocalyptic “All Along the Watchtower” which would be transformed into one of the greatest rock songs by Hendrix in 1968. Phil Ochs recorded the ambitious and melancholy “Pleasures of the Harbor” and garnered radio play with “Small Circle of Friends”. Tim Hardin gives us “If I Were a Carpenter”. Fred Neil released his eponymous LP that contained “Everybody’s Talking” which, in a few years time would be a big hit for Harry Nilsson. And, Richie Havens emerged as one of the best interpreters of song that folk would ever produce with his “Mixed Bag” album.

5. Rock: The Beatles gave us Sgt. Pepper and the singles that would become Magical Mystery Tour. British psychedelia is also represented by releases from Pink Floyd and Traffic. Folk-rock gets a British treatment from Pentangle, The Incredible String Band and Donovan. While, the Rolling Stones give radio programmers a dilemma with “Let’s Spend the Night Together”. The Who were also starting to gain momentum.

San Francisco is now well represented with first albums from Big Brother and the Holding Company and Grateful Dead and two releases from Jefferson Airplane (Surrealistic Pillow and After Bathing at Baxter’s) as well as entries from Country Joe and the Fish and Moby Grape.

Meanwhile the L.A. scene, while not as hyped by the media, is actually quite influential with Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Love (whose “Forever Changes” was way ahead of its time), The Doors, Captain Beefheart, and let’s not forget Frank Zappa and the Mothers. Interestingly, Zappa was named Pop Musician of the year by Jazz and Pop magazine and in an interview from Sept. ’67 he calls the peace and love scene of San Francisco “bullsh*t” and says that it isn’t going to work because it is much easier to get people angry than it is to get them to love one another. This would become painfully evident a few years later at Altamont.

Blues may have largely disappeared from the charts, but, blues-rock was strong with fine records from Canned Heat, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Ten Year’s After, and Cream.

ProcolHarum broke in ’67 with “Whiter Shade of Pale” (a huge hit) and their first album. I can only describe their contribution as the beginning of progressive rock. It is not psychedelic; contrast it if you like with Pink Floyd of 1967. It contains all the hallmarks of prog-rock: classically inspired keyboards, intellectual sounding, yet inscrutable, lyrics, set over a driving rhythm section with a heavy guitar (on the album).

And then there was Hendrix. He released two albums in 1967, “Are You Experienced” and “Axis Bold as Love”. Jimi credibly fused the blues and soul with psychedelia like no one else could (a year later he would introduce classical elements to his compositions) . He took a song that was kicking around LA for some time, “Hey Joe” (The Byrds, The Seeds, Love) and made it a tour de force.’ Axis’ amazes me to this day. Listen to” Little Wing” – Lyrically as sophisticated as a Dylan song, his rhythm playing incorporates soulful double stops and extensions and his solo is soaring yet beautiful and concise. All in all the playing, the production, and recording of the album were miles ahead of most of what was released in 1967.

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