Say 1969 and the first response one gets is Woodstock. But the year is iconic in music history for much more. The 60s saw psychedelic rock, pop rock, folk rock and some obscure genres take over popularity from Rock’n’Roll. Jazz became more mainstream and Latin music caught the dance loving public’s attention. RnB soared in popularity and artists were experimenting by fusing it with pop. Funk/Soul was cementing its place and so was a genre that would become one of the biggest in music, Hard Rock!
What happened in 1969?
1969 was hardly a year of ‘Flower Power’ or the ‘Hippie Movement’ as the entire ‘Summer of Love’ seemed to be dwindling. It was more of a year of transition. The biggest band of the decade, or maybe ever, The Beatles recorded their last album in the studio. The Doors were struggling with Jim Morrison on a spiral in 69 who did survive it, only to kick the bucket in 1971.
But 1969 witnessed some of the biggest album releases in a single year. January saw the debut of Led Zeppelin, the band that would define heavy metal. The fans got to taste their style of blues influenced heavy metal and they took to it like the hippies did with the errm..flower plants. Close on their heels, Dusty Springfield mixed pop and RnB in ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ from ‘Dusty In Memphis’, an album considered to be well ahead of its time.
Bob Dylan took to country music with ‘Nashville Skyline’ and Joni Mitchell strummed her acoustic guitar and sang folk on her album ‘Clouds’. While these two kept it old school, Sly & the Family Stone had different plans. Their album ‘Stand!’ is considered the best and that’s a lot to say knowing that they ruled the ’60s and ’70s’ funk/soul universe.
Keeping rock music on the right path were The Who with the release of ‘Tommy’. The album by the then ‘loudest band on the planet’ was an opera about a “deaf, dumb and blind” boy and Pete Townshend’s experiences with life and his relationship with his family. Pete was apparently inspired to compose the album by the works of a spiritual guru, Meher Baba. When it comes to spiritual gurus, how can one forget The Beatles? The ‘fab 4’’s last recorded studio album, Abbey Road, is one of the most iconic albums in music history.
The ‘Pearl’ Janis Joplin made her solo debut with ‘I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!’ which would unfortunately also be her last album. Joplin died a year later at 27, the dreaded age for musicians also known as Club 27. Another debutant who is now regarded as one of the best man to play the guitar, Carlos Santana released his self-titled album and introduced the world to Latin sounds in a manner it had never heard before.
How does a band make their debut album releasing year special?
Well, if the band is Led Zeppelin, release a second album in the same year. And that is what they did! ‘Led Zeppelin II’ is regarded as the heaviest album of their short lived career and is a gospel for their fans.
Unnerved by the new boys on the scene, Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) cemented their success with the release of not only their second, but also their third and fourth proper studio album in 1969. Starting with ‘Bayou Country’, which includes their most famous hit “Proud Mary”, following up with ‘Green River’ and ending with ‘Willy and the Poor Boys’, asserting them as rockstars.
Another rising star released his second album under several names – self-titled, as “Man of Words/Man of Music” in the USA and later as “Space Oddity”.
Yeah only David Bowie can do that. The album is most remembered for the single ‘Space Oddity’ and also for turning Bowie from just a singer to a master experimental artist who would go on to create a sound that has inspired generations of musicians.
1969 also was the debut year for a preteen child who grew up to be the ‘King of Pop’. The Jackson 5’s debut album ‘Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5’ featured classics like “I Want You Back” and “Who’s Lovin’ You,” and introduced the world to Michael Jackson.
Of course the year hosted the biggest rock music show on earth, the Woodstock festival. The line-up consisted of dozens of the most famous performers in the world at the time, playing together in front of thousands of fans and in keeping with the spirit that the 60s were about. The festival was all about love, peace, harmony and is still one of the largest concerts in history. Indian sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar was one of the performers and he introduced the western world to the mystic of Indian classical music which they lapped up. But apparently, Panditji later said that the 1960s “got India wrong“.
Apart from Woodstock, the Rolling Stones’ concert in Altamont, California, is well remembered, albeit for a completely different reason. A fan was stabbed to death by Hells Angels, a biker gang that had been hired to provide security for the event.
The event led to the conclusion that the violence signaled the end of the “hippie” movement and along with it the ethos of free love and peace which summed up the 1960s.
P.S: ‘Chutney Music’ was also first recorded in 1969, in Trinidad and Tobago by Sundar Popo.
More on that later.