For the next five installments of the 1001 Albums, we’ll be going by decade, starting from the 1960s (there are plenty of 50s albums on the list, but by this point I’ve listened to them all).
The Byrds, ‘Younger than Yesterday’
The final visit to the Byrds catalogue in the 1001 is also one of their best, with elements of both the psychedelic peculiarities they’d been rolling with on e.g. ‘Fifth Dimension’ (‘C.T.A. – 102’, which sounds like there’s a gremlin on the wing) and the country tinge that completely took over on ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ (e.g. on ‘Time Between’). The most alarming song is the ‘Hamlet’-quoting raga drone ‘Mind Gardens’, but the best song is perhaps the most conventionally Byrds-ian, ‘My Back Pages’.
The Electric Prunes, ‘I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night’
The Prunes had a big hit with the title track, a ‘Nuggets’ staple written by Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz and more famous than the band themselves. Looking to capitalise, the label stuck the Prunes in the studio but retained Tucker and Mantz as songwriters, much to the band’s chagrin. It’s probably unfair to dismiss the band as mere puppets for the songwriters, but the composers’ whimsical taste for cabaret, fairytale whimsy or brassy 40s Hollywood pop means this album is some way removed from contemporaries like 13th Floor Elevators. There are some genuine gems too: ‘Get Me to the World on Time’ is a psych-pop hit in the mode of the title track, while ‘Onie’ has a fragile ‘Femme Fatale’ quality.
Astrud Gilberto, ‘Beach Samba’
The last, I think, of the numerous Gilberto family bossa nova albums on the list. Astrud had sung for the first time on the Getz/Gilberto album, and made a star of herself with ‘The Girl from Ipanema’. This album, the only one of hers on the list, is her fifth, released in 1967. It’s the sort of groovy lounge music that seems to have been common in hip apartments in the era, with occasional stabs (usually in the intros) of other sounds: nursery rhyme glockenspiel, marching band (‘Parade’) and even a duet with her young son. Slight – nothing here lasts more than 2:48 – but charming.
Grateful Dead, ‘American Beauty’
The impression of the Dead in my head was as Fillmore psych-jam experimenters, compounded by ‘Live/Dead’ doing exactly that. ‘American Beauty’, however, shows a different side to them. Seemingly inspired by hanging out with Crosby, Stills and Nash, the album features a sort of folky country rock, heavy on harmonies, and opening with ‘Box of Rain’, a lovely song. ‘Spanish Dance Troupe’-era Gorky’s certainly heard this record. (Must confess this is a bit of a cheat: only after I’d listened to it this week did I find it actually came out in 1970).
Iron Butterfly, ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’
Like the Electric Prunes album, the album and indeed the band are best known for the title track, a far-out jam which demonstrates how far you can push a song when all you’ve got is a riff. The rest of the album is unnotable: 60s rock with a particularly hymnal quality in the organ and monk vocals on some of the tracks. However, the album is 50% ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’, and that’s one of the crucial songs of the era.
The Kinks, ‘Something Else by the Kinks’
By this point Ray Davies was installed as producer as well as singer/songwriter. The production is hardly as ornate as, say, The Beatles: there’s something almost lo-fi about it. The songwriting is on point though, starting with a (possible) gay love song in ‘David Watts’, ending with ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and featuring harpsichords, piratical rags, Dave getting a single and more. One of their most interesting.
The Mothers of Invention, ‘We’re Only In It for the Money’
One of only two Mothers albums on the list (‘Freak Out!‘ is the other), this album, like Zappa’s later ‘Joe’s Garage’, is so driven by satire, peculiar experiments and viciousness that it’s hard to take any of it at face value. This complicates the attempt to critically appraise it, or even to get it, especially 50 years divorced from its context. Zappa and co seem to be swiping at 50s and 60s pop, left and right wing politics, and especially at ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ (the closing track seems to be a spoof of the chaotic crescendos in ‘A Day in the Life’, although it’s completely atonal). At the time, it must have seemed as edgy as, I dunno, Eminem, but the disregard for anything conventional means it’s hard to know whether repeat listens would bring it into focus or dull its edge. I’m glad I heard it, either way.
Next week: We are, of course, looking at seven from the 70s.
Status update: 917 listened to (92%), 84 remaining.