Brightwell’s Top 10: 1968

In 1857, Frenchman Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville patented his invention for recording sound, the phonautograph. Twenty years later, in 1877, someone first realized that his phonautograms could also play back recorded music. It was the same year, coincidentally, that Thomas Edison patented the phonograph and thus the age of recorded music began. In 2015, former Amoebite Matthew Messbarger posted an NME “Best of 1990” on my Facebook timeline and I decided to began reviewing the best songs of each year, from 1877 to the present, in random order.

May 1968 riots
May 1968 riots (source unknown)
The closest I came to experiencing 1968 was watching The Wonder Years, the first season of which was set in that year. From what I can tell it was a tumultuous year not just in the fictional Arnold household but throughout much of the world. There was the War in Vietnam, Black Power, Richard Nixon became president, the Prague Spring, Mai 1968, 68er-Bewegung, the Rote Armee Fraktion, the 日本赤軍, the Zodiac Killer, the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination, the Robert F. Kennedy assassination, and the attempted assassination of Andy Warhol. In music both Red Foley and Frankie Lymon died prematurely; Hair debuted on BroadwayThe Beatles created Apple Records; and a whole lot of good music was released.
10. Donovan – “Hurdy Gurdy Man”

Donovan‘s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” has a descending melody and tells that tale of a meaningful encounter with a stranger — rather like The Small Faces“Green Circles,” released the previous year. Turn up the heavy psych, add a dash of tanpura and lines like “histories of ages past” though, and you have a winning and sufficiently different formula.

9. Jeannie C. Riley – “Harper Valley P.T.A.”

“Harper Valley P.T.A.” was written by Tom T. Hall and first offered to fellow Kentuckyian Skeeter Davis, who shockingly passed on it. That it sounded more than a little like Bobbie Gentry‘s “Ode to Billie Joe,” a hit the previous year, didn’t seem to work against it and Jeannie C. Riley, had a big hit.

8. Glen Campbell – “Wichita Lineman”

My favorite Jimmy Webb composition is this song which has the magisterial tone of the best songs by Lee Hazlewood or Scott Walker. For younger readers, ask your grandparents what linemen and telephones were.

7. Jimi Hendrix “All Along The Watchtower”

Bob Dylan
‘s constipated-man-shouting-into-a-bucket singing style has always, for me, been an insurmountable stumbling block to enjoying him. Luckily, more musically inclined musicians like The Byrds or, in this case, Jimi Hendrix, were capable of polishing them into something precious. I especially love the fantasy rock lyrics of this one which are are pure proto-prog pretension and apparently inspired by the Book of Isaiah.

6. Dionne Warwick – “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”

Composed by Missourian Burt Bacharach with his most celebrated lyricist, Hal David for the musical Promises, Promises, the soundtrack of which I discovered amongst my mom’s records as a kid (although the plot of the musical for me remains a mystery). Whatever the context, the song is Brill Building Pop at itsmost perfect, wonderfully sung by future psychic hotline hostess Dionne Warwick when she was still a paragon of class and fashionability.

5. The Doors – “Hello, I Love You”

Baseless arguments made by humorless haters require that the boors making them conveniently ignore the fact that in 1968 no American band was as handy with the two minute pop ditty as The Doors. “Hello I Love You” dates back to 1965, when they first recorded it as a harmonica-driven garage rocker. In 1968 it was re-recorded as a Seeds-ish, fuzzed out garage rocker. For all the criticism of Morrison’s admirable lyrical ambitions, here was a number one hit written about a very serious subject, being interested in a pretty woman strolling through Venice.

4. Leonard Cohen — “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye”


Leonard Cohen
‘s “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” was the B-side to the similarly-wired “Suzanne”and maybe my preference for the former stems mostly from the fact that it’s slightly less overplayed… and over-covered. When it has been covered its been by the likes of Ian McCulloch and Michael Monroe — two more points in its favor.

3. Pink Floyd — “Remember a Day”

One of the last instances where The Pink Floyd were able to approach the brilliance they’d known under the guidance of English rock’s greatest genius, Syd Barrett. Tellingly, it wasn’t written by either Roger Waters nor David Gilmour but organist Richard Wright. Also, it was relegated to the B-side of Waters’s enjoyable but frankly inferior “Let There Be More Light.”

2. The Zombies – “Time of the Season”

The ZombiesOdessey and Oracle is a brilliant album whose classics like “Brief Candles” and “Beechwood Park” should’ve been massive singles. Instead their label made strange choices for singles with “Friends of Mine” and “Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)” which, as with “Time of the Season,”were all flops. “Time of the Season” would become a massive hit when re-released, though, after which The Guess Who recorded their derivative (and best) song, “Undun,” and the psychedelic jazz-rock classicwould go on to be used to convince consumers to purchase Tampax, Fidelity Investments, Sprite, Nissan Tiidas, and Toyota RAV4s.

1. The Small Faces – “Mad John”

In 1968 The Small Faces released “Lazy Sunday,” “Mad John,” and “The Universal” as singles. “Lazy Sunday” would probably win in a landslide over the other two (does anyone really love “The Universal”?) but “Mad John” gets my vote as the best single of 1968. It’s not an obvious single, taken from from the band’s psychedelic Finnegans Wake-esque quasi-concept album, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake and bookended with Stanley Unwin‘s strange recounting what happened when a large fly brought Happiness Stan to a hermit so that he might learn the cause of the moon’s waning. Whenever I attempt to prepare myself for the possibility of one day becoming homeless it pops into my mind. It was only released as a single in the US, on Halloween.

Other great songs of 1968: Brigitte Bardot et Serge Gainsbourg – “Bonnie And Clyde,” Deep Purple‘s cover of “Hush,” Hugh Masekela‘s “Grazing In The Grass,” Otis Redding‘s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” Stevie Wonder‘s “For Once in My Life,” Classics IV‘s “Spooky,” Tammy Wynette‘s “Stand By Your Man,” Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride,” The Bee Gees“I Started a Joke,” The Turtles“Elenore,” Iron Butterly‘s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” and Tommy Roe‘s “Dizzy.” Let me know what songs would you add to the list.

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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