Rock Music's Best Year; The Best Rock Record Releases of 1969

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Some of the best rock music ever recorded was released in 1969. The year that brought us Woodstock and Altamont also brought a significant number of classic rock releases. A case could be made that 1969 was the best year ever for rock records.

By 1969, many bands that had formed within the previous few years were beginning to mature. Led by The Beatles and San Francisco psychedelic scene, artists were looking beyond the typical 3 minute pop radio song in search of more varied and meaningful music. Rock and roll always had country, rhythm and blues and blues influences. Now jazz and eastern music were being incorporated into the mix.

Bands also tended to be more prolific in those days. Several artists released more than one record in 1969 including Joe Cocker, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Miles Davis, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steppenwolf and Grand Funk Railroad. Here are a few of the most significant releases of 1969, in no particular order.

The Band: The Band

Music From Big Pink, The Band’s first official release, came out in the summer of 1968. It contained all the elements that made the group distinctive and influential: a blend of rock, folk, country and southern soul with songs that told stories, even if the lyrics were sometimes cryptic. These elements all solidified in the group’s second album, The Band, released in September, 1969. The sound seems distinctly Southern - even though four-fifths of The Band was Canadian - and of an earlier era. The mystique was supported by the album cover artwork and publicity photos of The Band.

The LP has The Band’s best known tracks, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up On Cripple Creek,” though every song on the record is excellent.

Blind Faith: Blind Faith

Blind Faith was all too short-lived; a victim of bad timing and the hype of being one of the original “supergroups.” The pairing of Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood had the potential to become much more. Still, this is a significant release. “Can’t Find My Way Home” has been covered by dozens of other artists, “Had to Cry Today” has overlapping, simultaneous lead guitar from Clapton and Winwood, and the overlooked “Sea of Joy” is soaring and beautiful. Some may find Ginger Baker’s “Do What You Like” self-indulgent, but it also has a 5/4 time signature and a guitar solo where Clapton is forced to play outside of his usual comfort zone.

Jefferson Airplane: Volunteers

Arguably Jefferson Airplane’s best record, Volunteers was released in November, 1969. The lyrics frequently veer into 60s idealism - and why shouldn’t they? - but a sense of humor is often on display (listen to “A Song for All Seasons” or spend some time with the album cover), along with tight vocal harmonies and a couple of extended instrumental jams (“Eskimo Blue Day” and “Hey Fredrick”) that reveal some of the band’s full potential. “Wooden Ships” is best known as a Crosby Stills and Nash song, but I always preferred the Airplane’s version with the shared male and female vocals.

Grateful Dead: Live/Dead

These days, there are countless live releases available from all eras of the Grateful Dead’s history, but in 1969, this was the closest you could get to the Grateful Dead concert experience without being there. The four album sides and seven songs document some of the best improvisational music of the psychedelic age. Live/Dead contains moments of brilliance, but perhaps only true deadheads will listen to all seven minutes of “Feedback.”

The Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed

There may not be a single best Rolling Stones album, but this is certainly in the top three. It’s bluesy, soulful, sexy and nasty. “Gimme Shelter” is one of the best rock songs of all time, due in no small part to Merry Clayton’s supporting vocals. Let It Bleed marks the end of the Brian Jones era and the beginning of the Mick Taylor era with the Stones and, symbolically, the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s.

The Beatles: Abbey Road

There is little new that can be written about The Beatles or any of their releases. I like a couple of their other records better, but Abbey Road, their best-selling album, is a favorite of many people. “Something,” “Come Together,” “Here Comes the Sun” and the side two medley justify that opinion. “The End” features a few rounds of Paul, George and John taking two bars each on lead guitar.

The Allman Brothers Band: The Allman Brothers Band

The debut album from this band is powerful, heavy, deep and soulful from the opening notes of “Don’t Want You No More” to the final fade out of “Whipping Post.” Their live shows became legendary, but this records stands on its own as a fully realized, 34 minute musical vision. Dual drums, dual guitars, rumbling bass and hammond organ never sounded better than in the Allman Brothers original line up. Southern blues steeped in swamp water, Coltrane and psilocybin.

Additional records of note from 1969

Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline - Not fondly regarded by many at the time, but one of the more interesting Dylan records, if only for the addition of Johnny Cash on a couple of tunes. It has stood the test of time.

The Who: Tommy - The Who’s fourth record, typically noted as the first rock opera.

Crosby, Stills & Nash: Crosby, Stills & Nash - Possibly, the best CSN record. Though they are not among my personal favorites, there is no denying their role in the California music scene and sound, in particular. The sum was always greater than the individual parts, except for Neil Young, who became the last to join and the first to leave. This record does contain some very nice songs; Miles Davis covered Guinnevere.

Santana: Santana - Their second release, Abraxis, is a better record, but the first LP and a strong performance at Woodstock put them on the map.

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II - Long before Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin was recording their own blend of English rock and American blues. Some regard these as their best records.

Frank Zappa: Hot Rats - It has its silly moments (album cover, song titles and lyrics), but it was on this record that Zappa’s serious chops as a composer and musician really came to the forefront.

The Jeff Beck Group: Beck-Ola - The peak of Jeff Beck’s first wave of popularity. The group included Ron Wood - later to join the Rolling Stones - and Rod Stewart.

Nicky Hopkins deserves an honorable mention for playing piano on Beck-Ola, Volunteers and Let it Bleed.

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Abbey Road, sans Beatles
Abbey Road, sans Beatles | Source

A few more releases from 1969

These folks either reached their peak later (or earlier) in their career or, at least in 1969, were overshadowed by many of the bands listed above.

Sly and the Family Stone: Stand!

Traffic: Last Exit

Joni Mitchell: Clouds

Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere

Cream: Goodbye

Johnny Winter: Johnny Winter

Jethro Tull: Stand Up

David Bowie: Space Oddity

The list above should be reason enough to note the importance of 1969 to the history of recorded rock music. These records document an era before touring by private jet and arena rock shows became the norm. A broader overview of this time would include some of the year’s Motown, soul and jazz records. Regardless of your take on the culture and politics of the time, if you enjoy rock and popular music or musical history, 1969’s record releases should be spending some time on your turntable or in your iPhone.

© 2013 chet thomas

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Comments 20 comments

kereeves3 profile image

kereeves3 3 years ago from Salem, OR

I think I would have to agree with you on just about every single one of these albums! My favorite pick from these would have to be The Beatles' Abbey Road. Listening to this album on vinyl just makes me wish even more that I was alive when these guys were at the height of their career. I was definitely born in the wrong era for music. Great Hub!


Act 3 profile image

Act 3 3 years ago from Athens, GA Author

kereeves3 - thanks for your comments. Glad you liked it!


ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 3 years ago from Midwest

Great year indeed, a lot of favorites on here.


Act 3 profile image

Act 3 3 years ago from Athens, GA Author

Thanks Christin!


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

This is the summer I worked backstage at the Filmore in SF....yes, it was a very good year for music. :)


Act 3 profile image

Act 3 3 years ago from Athens, GA Author

billybuc - what a job! There would have been quite a lineup of bands there that summer. I went to my first show at Filmore East that year; Blood Sweat & Tears, but the Allman Brothers were the opening band.


Act 3 profile image

Act 3 3 years ago from Athens, GA Author

billybuc - what a job! There would have been quite a lineup of bands there that summer. I went to my first show at Filmore East that year; Blood Sweat & Tears, but the Allman Brothers were the opening band.


oldiesmusic profile image

oldiesmusic 3 years ago from United States

Great short reviews of each of the albums, there are some that I'm curious enough to give a listen (like "Let It Bleed"). Like everyone else, I wish I were born in that era -- those were the days where true music ruled. Thanks for posting :)


Act 3 profile image

Act 3 3 years ago from Athens, GA Author

Thanks for your comments oldiesmusic. Yes, go listen to Let It Bleed!


MikeMoser profile image

MikeMoser 3 years ago from Florida

So many classics.....Also, David Bowie, so far ahead of the times.


Act 3 profile image

Act 3 3 years ago from Athens, GA Author

Mike - yes, Bowie was way ahead of his time and ahead of me! It was many years later before I grew to appreciate him.


Sherry Hewins profile image

Sherry Hewins 2 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

It was a great year for music. There was something in the air back then.


Act 3 profile image

Act 3 2 years ago from Athens, GA Author

Thanks for reading, Sherry. I think there often was something in the air ;)

And, it was a great era for music.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

Hello, Act 3, Absolutely Right on! Loved this hub and bands!

This is an excellent piece of writing. Amazing, to be honest.

I loved every word. Voted up and all the choices because you deserve it.

You have such a gift for writing. Just keep writing and no telling at how far you will go and how many people you will touch.

I cordially invite you to read one or two of my hubs, and be one of my followers.

That would make my day.

I am so honored to meet you.

Sincerely,

Kenneth/ from northwest Alabama

P.S. would you mind telling me how you get artwork, such as the LP covers to be in those blue text boxes?


Act 3 profile image

Act 3 2 years ago from Athens, GA Author

Kenneth, thanks for your kind comments. For the blue boxes, if you insert an amazon product (for example), click on the "right" arrow. Then there is an option for a gray or blue box. If it is full width, boxes are not an option; it has to go to the right column first.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

Act 3,

You are welcome for the truth I said to you. When anyone starts a discussion about rock, acid and progressive-rock, I go back to 1968, the latter months, which were labor pains for the birth(s) of the bands that you mention here, and when they evolved, most went to the "I want to just be an artist and not for commercialism," while others stuck to the groove and went on to be legends.

Hendrix, Bruce, Clapton, and to me, besides Jon Bohnam, of Zeppelin, Ginger Baker was the best drummer in the business and I read on facebook where he and Bruce are trying to form a new group and tour. They by now, have broken-off negotiations with Clapton, who rules his own empire. But there is my point. These three were close-knit as Cream, so why do they have to negotiate?

I noticed that in the early 70's, a group that had one or two hits, The New Riders of The Purple Sage, and "Red Hot Women," scored a No. 1 on the Top 40 and they made it to Kirshner's Rock Concert.

Oh well. When us old geezers get to rambling, we never find a place to quit. We just shut up.

Thanks for the following--man, when I viewed that YOU were following m. I lit up like a twenty-one dollar Christmas tree from KMart. An expert on music that I know is following me, I said.

And how thankful I am.


Act 3 profile image

Act 3 2 years ago from Athens, GA Author

Thanks again, Kenneth. I remember seeing the New Riders "back in the day" because Jerry Garcia had played with them, but he wasn't at that show.

You may not be too far from Muscle Shoals. Did you see the documentary that came out about it last year? A very good film; I think it's available on Netflix now.


Kenneth Avery 2 years ago

Act 3,

I've yet to see it, but my friend at the local paper, Ed Howell, gave it a great review. I am an hour and maybe 20 minutes from FAME studios and that place should be listed on the Alabama, maybe Federal Historic Land Sites for the talents of Rick Hall, Shenandoah, Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards cut a few tracks there to fuse with the tracks that they had laid down in London, and the list is endless.

If I am blessed to see this documentary, I will be sure to share my thoughts with you.

Keep up the great work and always know that you have a friend and fan in me.


Robert Levine profile image

Robert Levine 22 months ago from Brookline, Massachusetts

Thank you for including The Band.


Act 3 profile image

Act 3 22 months ago from Athens, GA Author

Robert - They deserve to be there!

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