The Hits of 1969: The 60's Are Over, Long Live the 70's!
Music loomed large in the last year of the decade
On July 20, 1969, America celebrated the triumph of the moon landing. The hard work of the space race years had finally paid off, and it was a proud day to be an American. The peace movement became more popular and public sentiment against the war in Vietnam continued to grow. Richard Nixon was inaugurated as our new President, Elvis would soon visit the White House, Charles Manson and his followers committed their heinous Hollywood crimes while listening to the Beatles, and it seemed like something huge was ending and something else beginning at the same time. With the end of the decade in sight, it was a time of change and transition from one state of mind to another.
What happened in 1969's Music?
For seven years, Elvis Presley had been fading from the public view and from the top 40. In 1969 the King made a successful comeback and had a worldwide number 1 hit with the song Suspicious Minds. The other top songs that year were The Beatles' Get Back, The Rolling Stones' Honky Tonk Women, Sugar Sugar by the Archies, and 2525 by Zager and Evans. The Beatles performed live together for the last time on the rooftop of their Apple Corp offices in downtown London, still a band in name only - the official breakup was just ahead. Brian Jones, founder and namer of the Rolling Stones, was found dead in his swimming pool under suspicious circumstances and joined the infamous forever 27 club. The largest music festival and countercultural gathering of historic proportions happened in Woodstock, New York, and a few months later, the tragedy at the Altamont Free Concert effectively snuffed out peace and love, hippies and the counterculture movement. Bob Dylan recorded a country album in Nashville, and Creedence Clearwater ruled the charts by releasing 3 complete albums in 1 year. It was the start of the 70s.
Combining the grandiose tendencies of some of the early psychedelic bands and a new emphasis on instrumental virtuosity, a new genre was born: progressive or prog rock. Exemplified on albums by King Crimson, Procol Harum, The Moody Blues, The Nice, Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd, prog rock developed an original vision blending rock, jazz and classical influences to produce lengthy, sometimes difficult to listen to slabs of music. Rejecting the simple, 3-chord song in place of side-long complex compositions, prog rock quickly became popular and bands in the genre would produce some of the great albums of the 70s. All of this in a year that propelled bubblegum pop group the Archies to worldwide celebrity status for a 3-minute piece of fluff - and they were a cartoon band! Yes, it was the beginning of the 70s.
Besides Woodstock and Altamont, there were dozens of outdoor rock festivals during 1969. Fans of the new music wanted to see their idols perform the music from the albums they loved in live situations. The Atlanta festival, and the Isle of Wight were 2 of the largest of these gatherings. Dylan didn't make it down the road to Woodstock, where he lived at the time, but he and The Band played at the Isle of Wight, his first public appearance since the motorcycle accident in 1966. The Woodstock event spawned a hit movie
Arena rock and the 70s
The Who performed their rock opera Tommy in its entirety all year long, Led Zeppelin released their first and second albums, and became worldwide celebrities, Crosby Stills and Nash made a record and then filled up stadiums with fans who wanted to hear it, and Elton John began his rise to arena stardom. Playing sold-out shows in huge sports arenas was a big change from the smaller auditoriums of the 60s, and it was a sign of things to come. So were debuts and hits by John Denver, Kenny Rogers, and Bob Marley. Have I mentioned that the 70s were right around the bend?