The Music of 1968

Dave from A Sound Day (check out the other posts on Dave’s “Turntable Talk”) posted this on November 5, 2022. He wanted a group of us to write about what we thought was the best year in music…I ended up picking the turbulent year of 1968.

When I think of the best year of music …for me it’s between 7 years. I would pick 1965 through 1971. I cannot pick all so here it goes…I pick 1968. It had some of the greatest albums and singles ever.

It was a turbulent year, to say the least. We lost two proponents of peace—Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. Other events include the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive, riots in Washington, DC, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and heightened social unrest over the Vietnam War, values, and race.

The music was also toughened up by moving away from psychedelic music. The social climate and The Band’s album Music from Big Pink had a lot of influence on this. You still had psychedelic music released but overall, music was more stripped down to the basics.

My favorite album of all time was released by The Beatles. My favorite album by The Rolling Stones was released that year as well. Let’s look at the albums released in 1968…it’s outstanding.

The Beatles – The Beatles (The White Album)

The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet

The Kinks – Are the Village Green Preservation Society

The Band – Music From Big Pink

Small Faces – Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland

Cream – Wheel Of Fire

The Byrds – Sweetheart Of The Rodeo

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Big Brother and Holding Company – Cheap Thrills

Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

The Zombies – Odyssey and Oracle

The Grateful Dead – Anthem of the Sun

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul

Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends

Traffic – Traffic

That list could be on my desert island list… those albums are still being played today. I’ve only scratched the surface of the albums that year.

The Holy Trinity of Rock all released music that year… which would be The Beatles, The Who, and The Stones. I can’t imagine living in the era when these bands were in their prime and roamed the earth. The Who didn’t release an album, but they did release some singles and were gearing up for the following year. Let’s look at some of the singles of that year.

The Beatles – Hey Jude/Revolution

The Beatles – Lady Madonna

The Who – Magic Bus

The Rolling Stones – Jumping Jack Flash

Steppenwolf – Born To Be Wild

The Doors – Hello, I Love You

The Rascals – People Got To Be Free

Cream – Sunshine Of Your Love

Otis Redding – The Dock of the Bay

The Supremes – Love Child

The Chamber Brothers – Time Has Come Today

Janis Joplin – Piece of My Heart

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Suzie Q

Joe Cocker – With A Little Help From My Friends

The year featured the debut album of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Brian Jones made his final album with the Rolling Stones and it was the start of their great 5 album stretch. The Who started to record the album that would break them worldwide with Tommy. Dock of the Bay would be released posthumously after Otis Redding died in a plane crash on December 10, 1967. The Grateful Dead would release their second album Anthem of the Sun and continue to build one of the largest fan bases ever. Jimi Hendrix was breaking barriers with his experimentation in the studio as well as live.

The Band would change the game by releasing Music From Big Pink. It influenced nearly everyone at the time to go back to a rootsy kind of music. Fleetwood Mac would release their debut album this year. Jeff Beck would release his legendary album Truth.

FM radio was getting huge at this time and showed that audiences didn’t have to have top 40 hits to buy albums. Take Van Morrison for instance. Astral Weeks didn’t have a “hit” on the album but continued to be played and sell. The Beatles  The White Album is as diverse as you can get… Pop, Rock, Country, Folk, Reggae, Avant-Gard, Blues, Hard Rock, and some 20’s British Music Hall thrown in for good measure. No singles were released from this album or Sgt Pepper the previous year. They treated singles and albums as two different things. Hey Jude and the hit version of Revolution was recorded during the White Album but yet they left those two off. The Stones would do the same and leave off Jumpin’ Jack Flash from  Beggars Banquet.

1968 set the stage for the coming decade’s rock music. Bands like The Who, Beatles, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin didn’t need hit singles. You bought the album now and listened to the music in the context of that format. There were still pop/rock singles but the albums were gaining traction.

To wrap it up…I think any of the years between 1965-1971 could have a strong argument for my tastes. If you are into disco or synth music…not as much.

The Rascals – People Got To Be Free

A positive message and a positive message. This song peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100 in1968. Rascals co-leaders Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati wrote the song together. The Young Rascals  / The Rascals had had 6 top ten hits in their career. The record sold over 4 million copies.

Felix Cavaliere on writing the song

I was working for Bobby Kennedy’s (presidential) campaign, and you know that Robert Kennedy got assassinated. I just felt compelled to say something. The record company didn’t really like the idea, but they let it [be released as a single] and it became number one in all the places that were oppressed, such as South Africa, Berlin and Hong Kong, So I was always very proud of that. [Writing this song] was a direct result of the assassination. In my eyes, Bobby Kennedy was an idealistic person who had visions for how our country should be, and his brother (John Kennedy) as well. So I was attracted very much to that. I just thought that it would be a good direction for me, and the United States of America.

From Songfacts.

This song has a message that resonated loud and clear in 1968:

All the world over, so easy to see
People everywhere just wanna be free

Freedom lost a champion on April 4, 1968 when Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down, and when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 5, it was dealt another devastating blow. 

Eddie Brigati and Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals wrote this song in reaction to those murders, condensing King and Kennedy’s message into a simple missive calling for unity and understanding. It’s hard to argue with the song’s message, as it’s not overtly political and doesn’t lash out at any person or organization in particular. Combined with an uptempo rock groove, it had all the makings of a hit.

Felix Cavaliere claimed that he had to fight for this song, since Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records was worried that a message song would hurt the Rascals’ career. Cavaliere prevailed and the song became the group’s biggest hit, reaching #1 in America in August 1968, where it remained for five weeks).

This was the third #1 hit for the group (after “Good Lovin'” and “Groovin””), but the first under their original name. In 1966-67 all their singles were credited to the “Young Rascals,” a name imposed upon them by Atlantic Records to avoid confusion with the Harmonica Rascals.

Their followup single, the #24 “A Ray of Hope,” was written for the Kennedy family after RFK’s death and prompted a thank-you letter from the fallen senator’s little brother, Ted.

People Got To Be Free

All the world over, so easy to see
People everywhere just wanna be free
Listen, please listen, that’s the way it should be
There’s peace in the valley, people got to be free

You should see
What a lovely, lovely world this’d be
Everyone learned to live together, ah hah
Seems to me
Such an itty bitty thing should be
Why can’t you and me learn to love one another?

All the world over, so easy to see
People everywhere just wanna be free (wanna be free)
I can’t understand it, so simple to me
People everywhere just got to be free

If there’s a man
Who is down and needs a helpin’ hand
All it takes is you to understand and
To pull him through, ah hah
Seems to me
We got to solve it individually, ah ah
And I’ll do unto you what you do to me
Said, no

Hear the shoutin’ from the mountains on out to the sea
No two ways about it, people have to be free (they gotta be free)
Ask me my opinion, my opinion will be
Natural situation for a man to be free

Get right on board now, huh, huh

Yeah oh, what a feelin’s just come over me
Love can move a mountain, make a blind man see
Everybody sing it now come on let’s go see
Peace in the valley now, we all can be free

See that train over there?
Now that’s the train of freedom
It’s about to ‘arrive any minute, now
You know it’s been a long, long overdue
Look out ’cause it’s a’comin’ right on through
Ha, ha, yeah, ha, ha, yeah