Top 15 Albums of 1969

After some deliberation, I have decided to continue my present series back into the 1960s. While this decision is mainly just an excuse to recommend some of my personal favorites, I’m unsure if I will cover any years before 1965. Not only am I assuming I will hit a lack of variety at that time, but the early 60s also did not value the album form as much as singles. Perhaps I will have to cover those years in a possibly forthcoming top songs series (if I can even finish this one).

1. Abbey Road – The Beatles

This one just had to be first. While it’s not my favorite Beatles album, it shows the band going out on a creative peak and coming out of their disjointed White Album with new, refined styles that each member would take into the 70s and their solo careers. “Come Together” is one of the defining songs of the era, despite its odd lyrics. George Harrison’s two songs, “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun,” are two of the band’s best, indicating his songwriting skills had reached full form. “I Want You” is perhaps the hardest-sounding they ever got, and the medley on the second side, culminating in “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry that Weight,” is a masterful weave of melodies. There’s a song here for almost everyone–and it also has one of the most iconic album covers of all time.

2. The Band – The Band

This album’s one of my all-time favorites, one I recommend almost without reservation. Every song here demonstrates their versatility of songwriting. The more well-known songs, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up On Cripple Creek,” only scratch the surface. The slower songs, like “When You Awake” and “Whispering Pines,” are refreshing. The faster songs, from “Look Out Cleveland” to the rollicking “King Harvest,” confirm the band wasn’t entirely divorced from the times. The more unusual songs, like “The Unfaithful Servant,” showcase their eclectic instrumentation.

3. Let It Bleed – The Rolling Stones

This December album, their first with new guitarist Mick Taylor, took their 1968 return to their roots and deepened it. The apocalyptic strains of “Gimme Shelter” give way to the dark, blues-infused “Midnight Rambler.” “Monkey Man” just might be the most engaging song here. “Country Honk” and “You Got The Silver” are good changes of pace and prefigure some of their later work on Exile. “Live With Me” and the title track are their usual brash material, and the choral section in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is a nice touch.

4. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – Neil Young

With his second album, Young kicked open the doors of country rock and began his long, fruitful partnership with backing band Crazy Horse. “Cowgirl in the Sand,” my favorite Neil Young song alongside “Old Man” and “See the Sky About to Rain,” is a whirl of guitars that unfolds like a fever dream. “Down by the River” and “Cinnamon Girl” continue the same theme, while the title track and “The Losing End” prefigure the Harvest days. A good complement to this album is the 1970 live performance at the Fillmore East, which features two outtakes and even more energetic cuts of the songs here.

5. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

I imagine my placement of I above II could be a little surprising. But this is really where it’s at, the lightning in the bottle. One can tell just from the opening guitar blasts of “Good Times Bad Times” that rock itself was about to change just that much. They demonstrated their blues prowess on “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” They effortlessly stretched out longer songs like “How Many More Times” and “Dazed and Confused.” The songs that rely on acoustic guitar, like “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” employ smart hooks and folkish sensibilities.

6. Tommy – The Who

One of the first rock operas, and, in my opinion, the first solid album The Who put out (sorry, Sells Out fans). The plot is a bit unbelievable and isn’t communicated too well in the songs themselves unless you already know which lyrics to read into, but the songs themselves are on point. The overture, “Pinball Wizard,” and “I’m Free” are all deservedly famous. “Amazing Journey,” “Sensation,” and “1921” are a few of the hidden gems here. There are also lots of repeated themes and motifs. Some of the instrumentals and tracks less than a minute can drag the album’s momentum down a bit, but this is still a very solid effort and an excellent expansion of their earlier efforts in the genre.

7. Green River – Creedence Clearwater Revival

CCR released an incredible three albums in 1969. The first, Bayou Country, depicted the group getting into form after an inconspicuous debut. Green River, the second, is one of their finest. The two openers, the title track and “Commotion,” are crackling with energy. “Bad Moon Rising” is the most famous song here, the runner-up being “Lodi,” a tale of a traveling musician down on his luck. “Wrote A Song For Everyone” and “Cross-Tie Walker” are also notable.

8. Led Zeppelin II – Led Zeppelin

This album’s shadow looms even larger than its predecessor’s. The riffs from both “Whole Lotta Love” and “Moby Dick” are both legendary. John Paul Jones shows his bass chops on the whole album, really, but especially on “Ramble On” and “What Is And What Should Never Be.” The band returns to the blues for “Bring It On Home,” and throw in the heartfelt number “Thank You.” The songs I listen to the most often, “Heartbreaker” and “Living Loving Maid,” go well together and tie down the center of the album.

9. Then Play On – Fleetwood Mac

This album was FM’s only to feature both founder Peter Green and newcomer Danny Kirwan, and so is brimming with untapped potential. The band still clung tightly to its blues beginnings, but most of the tracks show less of a reliance on the same old Elmore James riffs and more forays into new directions. Kirwan delivers the powerful opener “Coming Your Way” and “One Sunny Day.” Green provides some introspective material on “Closing My Eyes” and “Before The Beginning.” And the four instrumentals on the album definitely aren’t filler, either. Also see the album’s accompanying singles, “Oh Well” and “The Green Manalishi.”

10. Crosby, Stills & Nash – Crosby, Stills & Nash

One of rock music’s first “supergroups,” formed by members of three different bands. As such, the album stretches across various styles, from Graham Nash’s whimsical “Marrakech Express” to David Crosby’s guitar-driven “Long Time Gone.” “Pre-Road Downs” and “Wooden Ships” sound much like holdovers from the psychedelic era. However, the album’s main focus is its accessible folk melodies. The “Judy Blue Eyes” suite anchors the beginning, and “You Don’t Have To Cry” and “Helplessly Hoping” (another favorite) demonstrate their intriguing harmonies.

11. Stand! – Sly & the Family Stone

From its first verse, this album speaks of empowerment and jubilation. After three so-so albums, the Family Stone was able to break into the mainstream, aided by a strong mix of funk and soul and a Woodstock performance. “I Want to Take You Higher” and the title track bring the raucous energy, while “Everyday People” and “You Can Make It If You Try” promote racial equality. “Sing a Simple Song” contains one of the immortal funk riffs. If you like the songs here, check out their 1970 greatest hits album, which adds a few earlier tracks and three originals, among them the hit single “Thank You.”

12. Willy and the Poor Boys – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Just three months after Green River came this album, which is a bit more laid-back. There are two instrumentals and two covers, “Cotton Fields” and “The Midnight Special.” The hit single “Down On The Corner” and the burning closer “Effigy” have intense political undertones. “It Came Out Of The Sky” is a tribute to 1950s sci-fi, and “Feelin’ Blue” is John Fogerty’s attempt to create his own blues standard. Of course, the most famous song here is the instantly recognizable “Fortunate Son,” which has weaseled its way into almost every Vietnam movie ever made.

13. Space Oddity – David Bowie

Though technically not Bowie’s first album, Space Oddity launched his career, and although he hadn’t yet reached his “golden stretch” of albums, there’s some very good material here. Like 1971’s Hunky Dory, the album has a rather folky, almost pastoral tone, which is reflected in the dark medieval tale “Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud” and “An Occasional Dream,” as well as the lovelorn “Letter to Hermione.” The longer songs like “Cygnet Committee” do drag a little, but only a little. “Janine” is also good.

14. Nashville Skyline – Bob Dylan

The shortest of Dylan’s albums, and an abrupt turn to full-blooded country music after the folk of John Wesley Harding. The opener is a cover of his own 1963 song “Girl from the North Country,” this time featuring Johnny Cash. Most of the others follow the usual themes. The jubilant instrumental “Nashville Skyline Rag” and “Country Pie” are juxtaposed by the somber “I Threw It All Away” and “Tell Me That It Isn’t True.” Releasing a country album in 1969 wasn’t career suicide (just look at Glen Campbell), but I’m sure it was surprising to Dylan’s fans. But he had to go where his muse led him, and I for one can respect that.

15. Happy Trails – Quicksilver Messenger Service

The cover of this one is deceptive. Instead of the country or folk one might expect, you get served a potent dose of psychedelic rock. The first half, a live “suite” based on the Bo Diddley song “Who Do You Love?”, is the definitive San Francisco ballroom experience, in my opinion it’s on par with Live/Dead. “Mona” is guitarist John Cipollina’s finest moment, and the two following instrumentals aren’t half bad either. The album ends with a cover of the Roy Rogers song “Happy Trails.”

Honorable Mentions: Blind Faith (debut), In A Silent Way – Miles Davis, Arthur – The Kinks, Dusty In Memphis – Dusty Springfield, Ballad of Easy Rider – The Byrds


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