The Hits of 1968: Let's Mix It Up
While the summer of love 1967 time travels one more year into the future
1968 was another of those sad years for Americans - Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and the country mourned again, just a few short years after John Kennedy was killed. The anti-war movement continued to grow as more Americans were killed in a far-off land named Vietnam, and warmer weather brought riots, protests and demonstrations all across the land. President Johnson officially announced that he would not run for office again, paving the way for the Nixonian era. The space race was going well, with Apollo missions 7 and 8 achieving manned orbit around the moon and returning safely. Japanese auto makers flooded the country with imports, and the American auto industry began to worry about changes ahead.
What Happened in 1968's Music?
Some of the best rock albums of all time were released in 1968, making it a banner year in musical history. As for worldwide hits, it was a curious thing to see the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Otis Redding (who died in December of 1967) share the top 5 with old-timer Louis Armstrong. The Beatles' White Album and Beggar's Banquet by the Stones signaled a return to more basic stripped down sound from the dizzying psychedelic heights of last year, but San Francisco bands produced classic after classic - Steve Miller, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and many more groups demonstrated the blossoming of the psychedelic summer of love sound, and an attitude that anything goes.
Another clear trend that resulted from this willingness to take other types of music and blend them with classic rock and roll was the growth of genre rock. While the San Francisco sound became acid rock and English bands like Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues made that genre theirs, new hybrids appeared. Canned Heat, Ten Years After and Jeff Beck pioneered blues rock, Blood, Sweat, and Tears and Chicago brought us jazz rock, and the Byrds almost single handedly created country rock with their album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. The heavy metal genre was born this year too, with new music from Steppenwolf (also a San Fran band), Blue Cheer (ditto), Iron Butterfly, the Amboy Dukes (with lead guitarist Ted Nugent), Vanilla Fudge, and Deep Purple showing the way toward a heavier, more aggressive, almost anti-flower power sound.
But the most important of the new genres was something that we generally call roots rock. It was Americana, but it wasn't exactly country, nor was it folk, and it wasn't old-time rock and roll, but it had deep connections to the past. The Band released Music From Big Pink, Creedence Clearwater Revival started chooglin' onto the charts, Bradley's Barn by the Beau Brummels (another San Fran group) melded countrypolitan and pop rock, and Neil Young made his first solo album a compendium of old and new styles. Dylan's influence with the return to simplicity of John Wesley Harding had been huge, and many bands saw a way out of the trendy trap of faddish sound that would soon sound dated and old-fashioned - make your own music sound old and dusty. Even the big albums by the Beatles and the Stones sounded rootsy and more traditional.
The beginnings of the singer-songwriter genre appeared in 1968. Troubadours singing confessional, first-person and poetic compositions over acoustic guitars and soft-rock backing made their initial forays into the music world - James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Randy Newman, Laura Nyro, Tom Rush, and Neil Young all laid firm foundations for future success. It was a genre that was essentially anti-rock with the operative and most appropriate descriptor being "mellow" - no screaming, feedback-laden guitars needed here. It grew from folk with the almost universal use of the acoustic guitar and harmonica, but added touches of country, blues and even jazz to the eclectic mix. It would soon become one of the most popular rock genres in the world.