Fifty Year Friday: Singer/Songwriters; Additional Groups and Artists
2017 is soon coming to a close, and so must our fifty year anniversary reflection on 1967. If we had started these posts earlier in 1967, instead of starting mid-year, we could have highlighted many more albums. Those we chose were personal favorites. Some of those not included are also worth noting.
1967 provide of wealth of albums by singer songwriters from Arlo Guthrie and his captivating “Alice’s Restaurant” album to Van Dyke Parks first album, “Song Cycle.”
Warner Brothers Records hired Van Dyke Parks with high hopes based on his previous work with Harper’s Bizarre, The Byrds, Tim Buckley, and Paul Revere & the Raiders, and then spared no costs for Parks to record his album — racking up session hours and using a full orchestra. When “Song Cycle” was played for the president of Warner Bros. Records, his reaction was apparent confusion: “Song Cycle? Okay — where are the songs, then?” The label didn’t release the album until December 1967, a year after it was recorded, until, as the story goes, Jac Holzman of Elektra records offered to buy if from Warner Bros. Once released, it’s sales where less than expected, and prompted Warner Bros. to run full page newspaper and magazine advertisements that said they “lost $35,509 on ‘the album of the year’ (dammit)” and offered owners of the album the chance to send in their worn-out LPs of “Song Cycle” in exchange for two new copies, so one could be passed on to a friend.
Harry Nilsson authors his second album, Pandemonium Shadow Show, originally intended to be titled after Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, which is a mix of Nilsson songs and several covers including two Lennon/McCartney songs. Nilsson’s droll lyrics and musical arrangements provide character to a well-executed and produced album. The album includes the definitive version of Nilsson’s “Without Her”, sparsely arranged with flute, electric bass, strummed guitar and cello. The album fared better in Canada then in the US, eventually catching the attention of Beatles publicist Derek Taylor who sent copies to the Beatles. Purportedly, John Lennon listened to the album over and over again, playing it back to back for a total of 36 consecutive hours.
1967 provided the release of two Bob Dylan albums, Dylan’s eighth studio album “John Wesley Harding”, an album filled with songs that appear were written first as poetry and then Dylan added music to them, and a greatest hits album compiling classic Dylan songs from his first seven albums. For many of us, born between 1954 and 1960 this was our first exposure to Dylan besides what was played on AM radio.
Also for many of us born in that mid to late fifties time frame, the great North American singer songwriter of our time was not American Bob Dylan, but Canadian Roberta Joan “Joni” Mitchell. At this time, Joni had not recorded an album but, after moving to the U.S. and performing in various clubs, was gaining attention from these performances and in several of her songs that more established artists recorded.
The most notable 1967 Joni Mitchell song, was recorded by Judy Collins on her 1967 album Wildflowers album (released in 1968.) This song, “Both Sides Now”, would reach #8 on the U.S. pop singles, making it Judy Collins biggest hit and being the most contributing fact to the Wildflowers album peaking at the number 5 best selling album on December 1968.
Laura Nyro released her debut album, More Than a New Discovery. Recorded in 1966, initially released in 1967, and then reissued in 1969 and again in 1973, this album showcases Nyro’s songwriting skill and versatility with many of the songs being covered by other artists, including “And When I Die” (Blood Sweat and Tears), Wedding Bell Blues” and “Blowin’ Away” (The Fifth Dimension), and “Stoney End” (Barbara Streisand.)
Recorded in 1966 and early 1967 the Deram label releases Cat Stevens’ first album, Matthew and Son. The album makes the UK Top 10, and has several successful singles. Later that year, Stevens records New Masters which is released in December 1967, and sells significantly less copies than the first album.
Also in 1967, Tim Buckley released his second album, his most popular and generally most acclaimed album, Goodbye and Hello. Tim Hardin released his second album, simply titled Tim Hardin 2. Leonard Cohen’s releases his first album, the captivating and engaging Songs of Leonard Cohen, after Judy Collins’ recording of his song “Suzanne” brought Cohen to the attention of legendary record producer John Hammond. Cohen’s debut album begins with “Suzanne” and includes several fairly profound songs like “The Stranger Song”, “Sisters of Mercy”, and “Stories of the Street” as well as the well known “So Long, Marianne” referencing his close companion, Marianne Ihlen.
Additional Notable Albums of 1967
The Beach Boys release two excellent albums, Smiley Smile and Wild Honey.
Pretty Things releases their distinctly interesting, and accessible “Emotions” album, full of life and musical vibrancy with brass instruments adding further energy. Recorded in late 1966, and early 1967, it did not sell well, perhaps this was a result of ineffective distribution or marketing or perhaps the album was a bit ahead of its time, sounding more like it was recorded in 1968 or early 1969.
The first album of what many consider the first rock supergroup, Cream, sets the stage for later heavy rock bands (and by extension, heavy metal bands) with their second album, Disraeli Gears. Though there were many influences that spawned hard rock and heavy metal, Cream had a significant impact on many such younger rock musicians.
Art (Art essential being an earlier formation of the group, Spooky Tooth), infuses rivulets of blues and wisps of psychedelia into their only album, Supernatural Fairy Tales creating a thick-textured album, perfumed with an aroma of cannabis. Earlier to the recording of this album, several of the same musicians under the name “Hapshash and the Coloured Coat” recorded an album earlier in 1967, titled “Featuring The Human Host And The Heavy Metal Kids” — this being, as far as I can tell, the first reference to “heavy metal.”
Other notable albums, many heavily psychedelic (and some incorporating elements of free jazz) were released by groups such as 13th Floor Elevators, The Aggregation, Ten Years After, AMM, Chocolate Watchband, Clear Light, Country Joe and the Fish, The Grateful Dead, Kaleidoscope, Mesmerizing Eye, Moby Grape, Orbital, Pearls Before Swine, Red Krayola (The Parable of Arable Land), Rupert’s People, Sagittarius, The Seeds, Sly and the Family Stone, Sopwith Camel, Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Steppeulvene, Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Animals, The Beethoven Soul, The Box, The Ceyleib People, The Easybeats, The Factory, The Fire Escape, The Freak Scene, The Incredible String Band, The Lefte Bank, The Motions, The Serpent Power, The Smoke, Smoky Robinson and the Miracles, The Turtles (Happy Together), The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, The Yardbirds, Thomas Edisun’s Electric Light Bulb Band, Vanilla Fudge, and various more accessible or highly commercial groups like The Association, The Grass Roots, The Ventures, The Monkees (put together for a U.S. television series), and The Young Rascals.
This only scratches the surface. I have not mentioned artists like Albert King (Born Under a Bad Sign), Nina Simone, Miles Davis, John Coltrane (Expression), Sam Rivers, Charles Tyler (Eastern Man Alone), Bill Dixon, Blue Mitchell, Freddie Hubbard, Gary Burton, Graham Collier, Herbie Mann, Roland Kirk, Marvin Gaye, Magic Sam, Otis Spann, John Mayall, Miriam Makeba, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Buddy Tate, and many others, some of which I have covered in previous “Fifty Year Friday” posts: there are a number of incredible jazz albums as well as blues, rhythm and blues, and soul music albums.
Though the term progressive rock is more formerly applied to many of the more adventurous and classically influenced bands of the early 1970s, for my money 1967 was the childhood of progressive rock with the birth perhaps occurring in 1966 with Beach Boys Pet Sounds, the Beatles’ Revolver and many psychedelia-tinged albums released in 1967, but recorded at the end of 1966. I challenge anyone to deny the progressiveness of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Procol Harum, Van Dyke Parks, or even groups like The Who, The Beach Boys, or The Doors.
This was a vital period in the expansion and diversification of rock music, the like of which has not been seen since. Fortunately for us, even albums that were nearly impossible to get a hold of in 1967 are now relatively readily available, not only on CD, or in some cases freshly, pressed LPs, but also available through streaming services or on Youtube.
Most importantly, have a happy and fulfilling 2018, and don’t neglect to broadly explore the immensity of great music available to those of us alive today.
Previous Fifty Year Friday Posts for the year 1967:
The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour
Jimi Hendrix: Are you Experienced
Jimi Hendrix: Axis: Bold as Love
Moody Blues: Days of Future Passed
Byrds, Hollies and Buffalo Springfield