Top 10 Albums of 1967
1967 was a banner year for rock music. The Summer of Love hosted everything from the Monterey Pop Festival, which gave Jimi Hendrix his big break, to the Beatles' landmark 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.' A whole new world opened up to artists, who weren't content to just record great singles and fill out their LPs with halfhearted covers anymore. From the Beatles to the Rolling Stones to the Beach Boys, everyone had a grand statement to make at album length. It wasn't easy, but we managed to pull together a list of the Top 10 Albums of 1967.
Following the game-changing success of 'Sgt. Pepper's,' the Beatles set out to indulge their slightest of whims, including writing, directing and starring in a plot-free TV movie about traveling the countryside. Needless to say, it wasn't very good. But 'Magical Mystery Tour''s soundtrack album is loaded with great songs, including some older singles ('Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny Lane,' both recorded during 'Sgt. Pepper's') and a few recent ones ('I Am the Walrus').
Jefferson Airplane's second album shifted the folk-rock leanings of their debut LP to more psychedelic sounds. Along the way, they also picked up a new singer, Grace Slick, and a batch of great songs, including 'Somebody to Love' and 'White Rabbit.' 'Surrealistic Pillow' features their best work, moving from burgeoning hippie idealism to brain-blowing freak-outs.
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention's 1966 debut, 'Freak Out!,' is often credited as one of the first concept albums, but this follow-up LP is no less ambitious. Like most Zappa albums, 'Absolutely Free' features a wild mix of cultural skewering, political parody and showoff musical skills that come together as a singular piece of '60s exploration. It's like free jazz adapted by rock musicians.
Cream's 1966 debut album, 'Fresh Cream,' was mostly rooted in Eric Clapton's beloved blues; their second LP took a headier (i.e., psychedelic) turn. It also swerved toward more song-based tracks, applying the trio's instrumental prowess to classics like 'Sunshine of Your Love' and 'Strange Brew.' Cream never sounded more focused.
The earliest record on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1967 (it was released on Jan. 4, 1967), the Doors' self-titled debut preceded all of the classic LPs that came out that year. But it still sounds like a consequential part of a predestined movement. The band would go on to make more ambitious (and pretentious) albums, but their debut remains their least self-indulgent, 'The End' notwithstanding.
The Stones would contribute a more typically mind-blowing offering to the Summer of Love, 'Their Satanic Majesties Request,' which was released later in the year. But 'Between the Buttons,' which came out in January, is a much better record, a paisley-patterned relic that's as much about Swinging London as it is holding on to their roots. You won't find any of the band's classic songs on the LP, but the non-album singles 'Let's Spend the Night Together' and 'Ruby Tuesday' came from the same sessions.
Hendrix's second album is the one where you realize that he had more in store than just blowing people's minds with his guitar playing. A true freak-out record, inspired as much by 'Sgt. Pepper's' (and other records found on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1967) as by his own creative restlessness, 'Axis: Bold As Love' paints a kaleidoscopic portrait of the era through studio wizardry, genre-jumping songs and, of course, mind-blowing guitar playing.
Buffalo Springfield were falling apart when they made their second album. In addition to MIA members, the relationship between the group's core songwriters -- Neil Young and Stephen Stills -- was fractured at best. Even so, the LP, like so many others on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1967, injects a tab of psychedelia into the band's native folk-rock sound.
Hendrix's other two studio LPs took more risks (see No. 4 on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1967), but his debut unloaded an explosion of guitar pyrotechnics unlike any heard before. From 'Fire''s ricocheting riffs to 'Purple Haze''s fret theatrics to the closing mind-blowing bomb of the title track, 'Are You Experienced' would have launched a guitar revolution if it wasn't so intimidating. Nobody's come close to the universe-shaking sounds Hendrix delivered here.
Of all the records on our list of the Top 10 Albums of 1967, the Beatles' art-rock milestone is the one most associated with that fruitful year. It's not only the most representative LP, with its sound collages and psychedelic shadings, but it's also the one that set the stage for pretty much everything else that followed. Plus, 'Sgt. Pepper's' reads like a checklist of what made 1967 so great: It's a concept album, it's packed with druggy undertones, its nostalgia is as ironic as it is genuine and it spills a cornucopia of sounds across the listener's ears. All these years later, it still matters.