1968: The Songs that Went the Other Way

Image result for 1968 time magazine

1968 is often rightly categorized as a year of social upheaval in America. King and Bobby went down. Vietnam was a jungle of violent chaos. Charles Manson went wild on helter skelter, the Beatles White Album was a pastiche of cultural mess (great album regardless), Steppenwolf was "Born to be Wild", the Doors were a dark L.A launchpad of drugged excess, and Eric Clapton's band Cream was spinning in the white room.

Yet, somewhere in this culture of chaos was the antidote of order, simplicity, and true-hearted earnestness. Unsurprisingly, some of the musical world reacted to the swirling world of drugs and disorder by goin' country, setting the stage for the simple and reflective 1970's scene of singer-songwriters a-la the acoustic based music James Taylor, the simple yet profound offerings of Joni Mitchell, and the deeply spiritual ethos of Leonard Cohen.

First, here's the music that laid that groundwork:

Bookends, Simon and Garfunkel

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Old friends Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel released the reflective, longing afternoon of Bookends in 1968. Well represented by soft folk tunes like "America" and "At the Zoo", Bookends celebrated quiet, literary reflection of both the intimate, personal world of youth and aging, and the world at large- long greyhound bus rides, grey raincoats, phone booths, and pastoral landscapes to boot. Even the puzzled look our pals Paul and Art darted at us on their album cover (both donned black turtlenecks) suggested something about the quiet, uneasy reflection the music offered.

Music From Big Pink, the Band

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The Band, part of Bob Dylan's posse that rejected the hippie and psychedelic movement in favor of rural simplicity and musical integrity, released their debut album Big Pink in 1968. A communal, almost agricultural spirit dominated this album full of folklore, loosey goosey country musicianship, and Americana. Big Pink sounds like it could've been made right after the Civil War. The album cover itself looks like a piece of joyful folk art, as the music also suggests. "To Kingdom Come", "Tears of Rage", "Chest Fever", "The Weight"- and many more- all possessed an energy that suggested a slow day on the farm. . . a slow day with the weight of history rolling down the hills. In a year all about the moment, Big Pink was a commentary of the length and weight of tradition, morality, and community relationships.

Wichita Lineman, Glenn Campbell

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Glenn Campbell had a golden voice and guitar chops that soared through the prairie on an open wind. The smiling, boyish man on the cover of his 1968 album Wichita Lineman hasn't come to bring us harm. He's here to sing the family goodnight. Campbell certainly wasn't a hippie. Most notable here is the title track to the album, which is a downright classic, later covered by greats such as Johnny Cash in his American series. Bathed in strings, "Lineman" is a testament to the blue collar worker, emotional landscapes, and faithful devotion (or at least the longing for it). The song centers around the idea of commitment instead of extolling the supposed virtues of freedom and wandering. It stands to this day as a timeless song released in a tearful year.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the Byrds

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While the Byrds jingle-jangle 12 string electric guitars threatened to descend into hippedom with songs like 1966's "8 Miles High", by 1968, our California friends turned country. In Sweetheart of the Rodeo, band leaders Roger McGuinn and Graham Parsons went song-for-song, complete with twangy vocals, and armed with steel-pedal guitars and songs written by Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Merle Haggard. Chris Hillman, who would later front country bands later in his career, also took the lead vocal on a few of these sunset-tinged country tunes. It certainly wasn't gritty, but it was pretty. A year later the band would get even better at this country thing, releasing the all time classic Ballad of an Easy Rider in 1969 ("Gunga Din" is off that album).

1968: A horrible year of chaos. Much of the music suited the year. Still, the alternative, emerging country-folk-songwriter train got rollin'.

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This guy released some Biblical stuff in '67, some country stuff in '69, and some happy-family-farm stuff in '70


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