Seriously, do things really have to get worse? I mean, it’s not enough that we are in the midst of the worst pandemic in one hundred years and the leadership of this country refuses to view its citizens as human beings, which as led to thousands more deaths than should have ever happened so quickly. But now, we have racial tensions blowing up everywhere? It’s simply too much! This country appears to be run by the lunatics.
Before my last teaching job, I had been pretty been a white teacher teaching white kids. Nothing wrong with that because I had more in common with the poor kids than the wealthy ones, even though my parents were college education. They were teachers who had been vastly underpaid early on in their careers, so, much like they did, I kind of embraced their working class values. Initially, when I began teaching at a very affluent high school, I was experiencing culture shock. When that school was split into two schools, I went to the new one.
It was at that high school where I actually got my education in multiculturalism, true sexual identities and tolerance. Today, many of the former students and athletes with whom I am closest are not from the same race, social standing or sexual identity as me. Back during these final years of my education career, I used to laugh that I was teaching the U.N. as I had students originally hailing from all areas of the U.S. and all over the world. But, the one thing I really noticed about all of them was, no matter their background, they were all silly teens. And, that’s what matter to me the most which made me determined to reach them.
So, what did I do? I focused on two things. First, I was going to learn as much from them as they did from me. And, second, I was going to try my best to treat them all the same. That simply meant that I expected the same effort from them but would show them compassion when needed. Also, I just kept to my self-deprecating humor in order to attempt to defuse any built in tension. I played up the irony that a guy who seems like a hick from a redneck town could possibly be teaching these highly intelligent kids from different cultures. I feel as though playing up my cultural stereotypes and making fun of it helped us all bridge the gaps between our cultures. Somehow, we connected.
So, when I see the tensions building between different segments of our society, it really pains me now. We cannot be pointing our fingers at each other and bitching about our differences. So, when what happens in Louisville or Minneapolis, as the most recent examples, I feel the pain much more acutely today than I did two decades ago. I know the African-American community is hurting, as I feel it too. I know the LGBTQ+, Muslim-American, rural white, Asian-American, Jewish, and all the other communities are troubled and scared as well. And, I feel it even more when my former students are posting things on social media that expresses their troubled souls.
But, empathy is not enough. Nor is a simple celebration of our differences. I strongly believe that are our similarities are what should be celebrated. I am sick of the finger pointing and the violence toward one another. As England Dan and John Ford Coley once sang (it’s a Todd Rundgren song!), “Love is the answer.”
Sorry! I just needed to get this off my chest. Plus, I really didn’t want the trolls on social media ruining this thought. Anyway, let’s finish off the Sixties portion of my huge list of albums.
The Band – The Band (1969). The former backing band of Bob Dylan reach their creative pinnacle on this album that examines the culture of rural American more deeply than on their debut the previous year. It’s also the last album on which The Band actually sounds unified. This album has classics like “Up on Cripple Creek,” which was their only Top 40 hits, believe it or not, and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which became a surprise hit for Joan Baez. This album gave birth to the whole Americana movement of the late-Nineties up to today.
The Beatles – Abbey Road (1969). This was the more fitting epithet for The Beatles than Let It Be was since Abbey Road was actually the band’s final creative work together. Everyone remembers the hits: “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Come Together” and “Octopus’s Garden.” But, we all know the real highlight is Side Two’s medley. You just knew the Fab Four was not long for the world by the end of the album.
The Flying Burrito Brothers – Gilded Palace of Sin (1969). So, after inventing country rock with the International Submarine Band and The Byrds, then partying and writing with The Rolling Stones, Gram Parson goes to California to put together arguably the greatest country rock combo of all-time. At least, they were on this album. To me, this is the true sound of country rock and not the Eagles, who were countryish pop in my book. Or, maybe Parsons & his Burrito Brothers were truly making American Cosmic Rock? Time for a bit of honesty: I got into this band because of Elvis Costello’s Almost Blue album, his collection of country songs. My favorite song on that album was “I’m Your Toy” which is The Flying Burrito Brothers’ timeless song “Hot Burrito No. 1,” which Elvis re-titled.
The Kinks – Arthur (Or the Decline of the British Empire) (1969). Man, could Ray Davies ever tell a story. And, since Face to Face, he has been tackling British culture so compassionately and thoroughly not only in a lyrical sense, but in a musical history narrative as well. This album only continued The Kinks’ hot streak of the last half of the decade. As I have said before, everyone from Paul Weller to Madness to The Stone Roses to the whole Britpop movement owe their whole careers to segment of The Kinks’ career.
The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed (1969). So, what happens to a band whose original creative force unexpectedly passes away? That’s what happened to The Stones upon the death of guitarist Brian Jones. But, the band grabbed Mick Taylor and continued working on another classic album. The tracklist of this album nearly reads like a greatest hits package, as it contains such classic rock standards as “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Midnight Rambler” and arguably the greatest Stones song “Gimme Shelter.”
The Stooges – The Stooges (1969). The other proto-punk album released in 1969, The Stooges’ lineup contained one of rock’s more intriguing characters, Iggy Pop, who personified all things punk both in life and on the stage. I think it was required that all Seventies punks had to play “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “No Fun” live. There is a reason this band is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and this album just scratches at the surface of that reason.
The Temptations – Cloud Nine (1969). Motown is full of so many cool artists, but The Tempts have always stood head and shoulders above all of them, save for Stevie Wonder. The reason? They took chances in the late-Sixties, setting the stage for Marvin Gaye and Wonder’s fantastic political statements during the next decade. The Tempts took bits and pieces from James Brown, Sly Stone, psychedelia music, added their silky smooth harmonies and brought the Motown sound into the future once again. “Cloud Nine,” with that stunning Wah-Wah guitar sound, and “Runaway Child, Running Wild” bring Motown into the Civil Rights age.
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground (1969). After two loud and abrasive albums for their time, The Velvets went a little softer, allowing the songs to breathe a bit, which sounds as jarring as their first two albums did. By allowing the songs some room, now your can fully appreciate just how beautiful their music was all along. “Pale Blue Eyes” remains one of my all-time favorite songs, and it seems like it has been covered by everyone.
The Who – Tommy (1969). It’s not the first rock opera. That honor goes to The Pretty Things with the very strange S.F. Sorrow, which a record store clerk tried to get me to purchase back in the early Eighties (I should have listened to him). But, it was the first one to catch on with the public. So, much of it sounds dated (that deaf, dumb and blind kid) and Uncle Ernie (“Fiddle About”) is way too creepy now, but there is something magical and quaint about the album. Even though I much prefer the band’s later rock opera effort, Quadrophenia, I still love so of the songs, especially “Pinball Wizard.” And, the album did make for a pretty freakishly entertaining film.
And, that wraps up the Sixties portion of the list of My 1000 Favorite Albums. Of course, the closer we get to 1975, the more passionate I will become about these albums. Anyway, enjoy your weekend!