Top 10 1969 Rock Albums
The burst of creativity that came during the late '60s has been unmatched in rock history. The years 1967 and 1968 unleashed some of the greatest records of all time, and 1969 continued the streak. Most of the era's biggest artists released albums that year, and many of them remain cornerstones of their careers. The Top 10 1969 Rock Albums put an end to a decade while opening a new one constructed on its foundation.
After making the country-rock masterpiece 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo' in 1968, Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman left the Byrds and formed the Flying Burrito Brothers. Built on a similar model, their debut album, 'The Gilded Palace of Sin,' is a classic of twangy originals and soulful covers. Parsons stuck around for one more album with the band before splitting for a solo career and eventually dying at the age of 26, leaving a growing legacy that's influenced generations of country-rock and alt-country artists.
At the time, the Stooges' debut album didn't sound like too much other rock music being made in the States (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter). But within a decade, their fuzzy guitars, howled vocals and general sonic assaults would become commonplace among punk practitioners. Hailing from Detroit, the quartet -- led by lanky, manic Iggy Pop -- sounded like its city, all dirty and industrial, as it combed its teenage wasteland. In a way, music is still trying to catch up to this explosive first album.
A classic fusion of Latin, jazz, pop and rock, Santana's self-titled debut uncovered a rainbow of bluesy colors in the stinging guitar of leader Carlos Santana, still in his early 20s at the time. The band was at its most dynamic when settling into extended, full-jam grooves ('Soul Sacrifice') and reworking obscure world-music cuts ('Jingo'). An electrifying performance at Woodstock the month of the LP's release helped send 'Santana,' deservedly, into the Top Five.
Nobody was making outre music quite like Captain Beefheart in the '60s, not even his old pal Frank Zappa. After some garage-rock records, Beefheart steered his Magic Band into weirder territory, and the double 'Trout Mask Replica' is his magnum opus, a rules-breaking excursion into the heart of darkness. It's like the blues, psych-rock and free jazz couldn't exist independently, so they found a compromise that scoops up all the spare parts into a blissed-out masterpiece of avant-garde expression.
The Who had played around with a concept album before (1967's 'The Who Sell Out'), but with their double-LP masterwork 'Tommy,' they changed the game, performing an entire rock opera. Pete Townshend's story about a deaf, dumb and blind boy is steeped in its era, a reflection of hippie idealism and a conscience-torn society. It's gone on to influence tons of ambitious artists (from David Bowie to Green Day) whose literary aspirations also happen to involve electric guitars. A generational milestone.
Jimmy Page was fresh from the Yardbirds when he debated forming a new group under that name. Instead, he went with "Led Zeppelin" and the rest is history. Their self-titled debut album is loaded with blues covers given electric spins (and sometimes new titles). Within a few years, they'd be the biggest band on the planet, but here they're still finding their way around each other, and the results are breathtaking. By the end of the year, they'd release another record (see No. 2 on our list of Top 10 1969 Rock Albums).
The Band looked like Civil War-era refugees on the cover of their second album, and the music they played suited the image too. On the previous year's debut, 'Music from Big Pink,' the Band were still living in former boss Bob Dylan's shadow; on 'The Band' they stepped out of it by exploring musical territories as old as the 19th-century subjects they sang about. The result is an influential work whose impact can still be heard today.
One of the Rolling Stones' all-time greatest albums put an end to the '60s long before anyone else was through with them. While everyone else was still basking in Woodstock's mud-caked afterglow, the Stones chipped away at the decade's dirtiest, darkest secrets. The group's tragic Altamont concert (where a fan was killed in front of the stage) occurred within days of 'Let It Bleed''s release. By the sound of things, it had already happened.
Zeppelin's second album is more of the same turbo-charged blues found on their debut (see No. 5 on our list of Top 10 1969 Rock Albums), but with months of touring under their belts, 'Led Zeppelin II' is more forceful and focused. It's also brimming with riffs -- start with 'Whole Lotta Love' and work your way through 'Heartbreaker.' Even the drum solo, 'Moby Dick,' packs a terrific riff. The album helped launch a new era of heavy, guitar-based music that would be exploited, darkened and diluted for years to come.
Following the fractious sessions for 1968's White Album, the Beatles had hoped to get back to their roots in 1969. But things didn't work out so well, and the album that would eventually become 'Let It Be' was shelved as the group gave it another shot. It turned out to be their last record, but what an epic finale to one of music's greatest runs. 'Abbey Road' includes some of the Beatles' best songs, particularly the medley that takes up the bulk of side two, an awesome achievement of pacing, songcraft and poignancy.