1/26/2009

Sounds of 1967 (UK)

1967 was an unusually glorious year in the world of music, a year in which it appeared that everything was happening at once. It was the year in which rock'n'roll began to move beyond the primitive qualities that had served as its foundation in the 1950s and went on a mind-expanding trip, growing to become fully psychedelic as it spread its wings and soared toward a higher and more colorful realm. It was the sort of year that probably comes along only once in a lifetime.

As with most things in the United Kingdom during the 1960s, The Beatles were at the forefront in 1967, leaping ahead of other musicians and leading the way in creating new sounds. At the end of 1966, after giving up performing and touring, they had withdrawn themselves from public examination, preferring to seclude themselves in a recording studio in London to begin work on their next album. In February of 1967, several months before the album was finished, The Beatles offered two new songs, "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever," on a single. Both songs gave ample signs of mental growth and musical daring on the part of the musicians who, several years earlier, had been known as the Fab Four.

When the new album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, was released in June of 1967, it was hailed as an unquestioned masterpiece. It greatly expanded the accepted boundaries of rock'n'roll, causing The Beatles and their producer, George Martin, to be more highly esteemed than ever. The quartet that had begun its fame by singing "Love Me Do" and "Please Please Me" was now being taken quite seriously by academics and intellectuals. When the final chord of "A Day in the Life," the last track on the album, thundered down and faded into nothingness, listeners could scarcely believe what they had heard. Rock'n'roll would never be the same again.

The Beatles released another single in July, making their triumph in 1967 even more complete. Their new song, "All You Need Is Love" (with "Baby, You're a Rich Man" on the flip side), was sung by John Lennon, and embodied a hopeful, almost childlike, outlook that resounded with young people around the world. The Beatles soon found themselves being reverently acknowledged everywhere as the undisputed kings of hipness, musical and otherwise.

The Rolling Stones, second only to The Beatles in their musical stature, were having a less propitious year in 1967. In February, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the singer and the guitarist who wrote nearly all of the songs that The Rolling Stones performed, were questioned by police officers in England, and then were charged in connection with the unlawful possession of drugs. They were prosecuted as an example to others, and were convicted and briefly imprisoned. Keith Richards later had his conviction overturned, but owing to his dangerous habits, the celebrated trial in 1967 proved to be only the first of many encounters that he would have with the authorities.

Brian Jones, the blond-haired guitarist who founded The Rolling Stones, also came under suspicion in regard to drugs in 1967, and was arrested, charged, tried, convicted, and put on probation. His problems with the law had a deeply injurious effect on his life, deeply unsettling his mind (which already was in a bad state) and sending him into a swift decline. Two years later, in July, 1969, mere weeks after it was announced that Brian Jones had parted company with The Rolling Stones, he drowned in the waters of his own swimming pool.

The infamy that resulted from the trials helped to further the widespread view of The Rolling Stones as outlaws and rebels, a view that the musicians themselves had blithely encouraged in the past, but the attendant stress acted as a hindrance to their musical activities. The album that The Rolling Stones recorded and released in 1967, Their Satanic Majesties Request, was poorly received by many listeners, who judged it to be contrived and uninspired. At best, it clearly was an ill-conceived attempt to match the breathtaking range of musicality that The Beatles had achieved with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Rolling Stones were back in form on their next album, Beggar's Banquet.

The Kinks, one of the other leading bands in the United Kingdom during the 1960s, released what now is generally regarded as their greatest single, "Waterloo Sunset," in May, 1967. The stately track, which was written and sung by Ray Davies (and enhanced by a dignified underpinning of restrained tones from the electric guitar of Ray's younger brother, Dave Davies), is a tender and yearning description of everyday life among the busy inhabitants of London, as seen from the resigned and melancholy perspective of a lonely observer, who plaintively declares, "As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset, I am in paradise."

In addition to being a praiseworthy single, "Waterloo Sunset" also was the final track on Something Else, the album released by The Kinks in September, 1967. In the context of those experimental times, Something Else was a somewhat contrary offering. It was quaintly determined in its fey expression of English eccentricity, and distinctly out of step with the psychedelic disposition that prevailed in 1967, but it contained a wonderfully varied collection of tracks with "David Watts," "Two Sisters," "Tin Soldier Man," "Situation Vacant," "Lazy Old Sun," and "Afternoon Tea" establishing themselves as being among the best songs that Ray Davies had ever written, and among the best tracks that The Kinks had ever recorded.

Another British album released in 1967, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was much more in keeping with the current mood. It was the first album (having been preceded by two singles, "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play") by Pink Floyd, four students who had turned to making music, and it featured the free-form compositions of Syd Barrett, an unstable guitarist who took too much LSD and later drifted into mental illness. When his madness became pronounced and forced his dismissal from Pink Floyd, his shoes were filled by David Gilmour, a guitarist who had been his friend in younger days. Syd Barrett later recorded two albums under his own name, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, but in time he gave up music entirely and returned to his home in Cambridge, living out the rest of his life as a famous recluse.

"A Whiter Shade of Pale," the first single by Procol Harum, was one of the biggest hits to come out of the United Kingdom in 1967. It featured the soulful voice of Gary Brooker and the haunting organ of Matthew Fisher, and had a plaintive melody that was borrowed from Johann Sebastian Bach. The perplexing lyrics, which were written by Keith Reid, defied all attempts at casual interpretation. It was heard everywhere during the summer months of that year.

Also during the summer of 1967, The Small Faces (Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, Kenney Jones) released a single that became one of their biggest hits (and their only hit in America): "Itchycoo Park." It was a high-spirited record (with a cheerfully impudent vocal by Steve Marriott) that perfectly expressed the heady mood of the times. The trendy quartet of British mods, who were known for their diminutive statures, perky manner, and stylish apparel, followed up with another stirring track, "Tin Soldier," later in the year.

Steve Winwood, a British musician who excelled as a vocalist, a keyboardist, and a guitarist, left The Spencer Davis Group in April of 1967, and then retreated to a cottage in the English countryside, where he applied himself to creating music with the other members (Dave Mason, Chris Wood, Jim Capaldi) of his new band, known as Traffic. Mr. Fantasy, the first album by Traffic, was released in December, and comprised a varied range of tracks, from flights of hallucinogenic fancy ("Heaven Is in Your Mind," "Berkshire Poppies") to heavy freak-outs ("Dear Mr. Fantasy," "Coloured Rain").

Keith Emerson (keyboards), Lee Jackson (bass, vocals), David O'List (guitar), and Brian Davison (drums), known collectively as The Nice, joined their talents in 1967 and released their first album, The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack, at the end of the year. (When David O'List was removed from The Nice in 1968, the others chose to continue as a threesome.) The music of The Nice was mainly shaped by the sophisticated abilities of Keith Emerson, who was both a well-rounded keyboardist, comfortable with either Brubeck or Tchaikovsky, and an extremely active performer, famed for his fearless showmanship, which included his onstage practice of stabbing his Hammond organ with a knife. After The Nice ended in 1970, he achieved even greater fame as one third of Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

The Bee Gees, three brothers (Barry Gibb and his twin siblings, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb) who were born on the Isle of Man, and then grew up partly in Manchester, England and partly in Queensland, Australia, had their first breakthrough in 1967. Their single, "New York Mining Disaster 1941," which was recorded after the brothers had returned to England, brought them instant fame in both the United Kingdom and the United States. It was the first of many hits ("To Love Somebody," "Massachusetts," "Words," "I've Gotta Get a Message to You," "First of May") to be written and sung in the late 1960s by Barry, Robin, and Maurice.

Among other British musicians receiving favorable notice in 1967 were The Move, The Creation, The Herd, Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger and The Trinity, Eric Burdon and The New Animals, Ten Years After, Amen Corner, Tomorrow, The Soft Machine, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Blossom Toes, Cream, The Incredible String Band, and The Moody Blues. British musicians would continue to be in the vanguard of rock'n'roll through the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s.