Top 10 Albums of 1968
Nineteen-sixty-seven was the year that rock 'n' roll grew up — 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,' 'Are You Experienced' and other milestone albums carried music into brave new worlds during the Summer of Love. Nineteen-sixty-eight was all about further exploration by many of the same artists (the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix), as well as counteractions by some others digging their roots (the Byrds, the Band). And in a way, 1968 was just as fertile as 1967 for great music — maybe even more so, as you'll see by our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1968.
Beck's first solo album following his departure from the Yardbirds in 1966 picks up where he left off with the influential British blues rockers: covering blues classics, standards from the Great American Songbook and even one of his old band's songs. The guitar hero's group on 'Truth' — including singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood — would get co-billing on the follow-up album, 1969's 'Beck-Ola.' They deserve it here too.
More so than any other record on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1968, the Mothers' third record is the one with the most direct link to 'Sgt. Pepper's.' And not just because its original parody cover photo — which ended up inside the LP after the Beatles' management objected — is a fierce slap to the earlier record. Frank Zappa and crew's concept album satirizes tons of Summer of Love standbys, including hippie idealism, left-wing thought processes and over-the-top concept albums.
On their fourth album, Simon & Garfunkel put aside some of their wandering-folk-troubadour tendencies and filled the vacant spots with some of the era's most gloriously produced songs. The duo, along with producer Roy Halee, rarely get the credit they deserve for the aural wonderland they sculpted on their last two albums. 'Bookends' is a rich, warm-sounding recording. Of course, the great songs — including 'America,' 'Mrs. Robinson' and 'At the Zoo' — help.
The Kinks' sixth album, and final record by the original quartet, bombed when it came out in November 1968 (it didn't even crack the Top 200 in the U.S.). But it's now considered the band's best LP, a straight-faced concept album about Victorian-era mores. It's lush, pastoral and brimming with gently strummed songs about small-town England that rank among the best that Ray Davies has ever written.
Even though David Crosby was booted from the Byrds in late 1967, the band had a pretty great 1968. In addition to the excellent 'Notorious Byrd Brothers' album, the restructured group released 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo,' the granddaddy of all country-rock records. Credit goes to newcomer Gram Parsons, who helped steer the Byrds in this new direction. By the time the album came out in August, Parsons was gone and most of his vocals had been replaced (you can hear his recordings on the various reissues). But it didn't matter in the long run — his, and the album's, influence still resonates today.
Like the Byrds' 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo' (see No. 6 on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1968), the Band's debut record took an entirely different path from 1967's candy-colored psych-rock explosion. Bob Dylan's former backing group stripped down and excavated a form of American roots music that was somewhere between country and folk. Dylan had a hand in some of the songs, but the quintet proved to be one of the most significant groups of their time.
After doing the blues and R&B thing with Them and then the pop thing for a brief moment (which yielded the hit 'Brown Eyed Girl'), Morrison settled in with an acoustic guitar, a harpsichord player, a flutist and a jazz-influenced acoustic bassist for his most remarkable album, an eight-track pastoral song cycle that ranks as one of the loveliest albums ever made. It's not an easy album to get into: There are no hooks, half the tracks clock in at more than seven minutes and one song is about stalking a teenage schoolgirl. But the rewards on this timeless chamber-music classic are immeasurable.
The Beatles followed up their stellar 1967 — 'Sgt. Pepper's,' 'Strawberry Fields Forever,' 'Penny Lane,' etc. — by basically becoming each other's backing bands on this double-LP opus that includes some of the group's best solo songs. The Fab Four would come together the following year for 'Abbey Road,' which sounds like a band recording, but on the occasionally difficult, always fascinating 'White Album' they let their individual bests share the spotlight.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience's third and final album was like a cross between the tight songcraft of 'Are You Experienced' and the space-age experimentation of 'Axis: Bold As Love.' And since 'Electric Ladyland' was a double record, the trio had plenty of room to play around with both sides. The LP features some of Hendrix's greatest guitar tricks, as well as some of his best original cuts, including 'Crosstown Traffic' and 'Voodoo Child (Slight Return).' And with 'All Along the Watchtower,' he nails the best-ever cover of a Bob Dylan song.
Following 1967's silly psychedelic bummer 'Their Satanic Majesties Request,' the Stones, like a few other artists on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1968, unplugged and settled into a more gutsy rock 'n' roll groove for their seventh LP. Acknowledging, but without directly borrowing from, the usual R&B and blues influences, the Stones crafted an album that's simultaneously raw, scary and sinister. More than that, it launched a staggeringly fruitful creative period (which continued through 1972's career milestone 'Exile on Main St.') when the Stones more than earned their title as the World's Greatest Rock 'n' Band.