Welcome to Rocktober, kids! This year we here at Chunky Glasses are gonna strap the site to a chair and force feed it some history for a whole month. Like any surly teenager, it claims to hate history, but we know it secretly loves it because there’s NO WAY IN HELL to hate the knowledge we’re going to drop for the next 31 days. Join us now as we start in 1969, when Led Zepplin released their first album AND their second album, The Who released a rock opera about pinball, seat belts were optional, and a man walked on the Moon...if you believe that sort of thing. Seriously, good times never seemed so good.
If you don’t already know that 1969 was quite possibly the greatest year ever in music history, and one of the most influential - there was this thing called “Woodstock” that you may have heard of. The concept of the super group kicked into overdrive with Led Zepplin and Blind Faith, Sly & the Family Stone and Crosby, Stills & Nash put out brilliant first albums, and we were introduced to Bob Marley, Santana, the Jackson 5, and Genesis (remember back when Genesis had their original lead singer, and did not suck?). Chicago also put out its first album (See parenthetical for Genesis). Debut albums by the Stooges and MC5 kicked rock and roll in the ass, shit got weird with King Crimson, and the Beatles had one or two things to contribute on their way out the door. Also, the Hells Angels drank $500 worth of beer at a Rolling Stones concert at Altamont, and it all ended very, very badly, so maybe you’d better grab that seat belt after all.
Led Zepplin performing in 1969 for about 100,000 people less than they would in a few years
While stuff now seems to move at warp speed, we have to wait and wait and wait for new material from groups we love - it may be two or three years in between releases of new material, even though technology has advanced to a degree undreamt of in 1969. However, in the late 60’s and early 70’s most groups put out at least an album a year, and a lot of them put out two. Credence Clearwater Revival managed to release three albums in 1969, one of which included a little song called “Proud Mary.” Think Ike and/or Tina Turner wrote it? Think again. Whether you’re a CCR fan or not, releasing three albums in ten-month span, all of which hit the annual Top 10, is simply an incredible work ethic. Which means that James Brown was known as the hardest working man in show business when that actually meant something - and the title track of 1969’s Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud had already been released both as a mega single and as a track on Brown’s Christmas album, making it the hardest working track in show business at the time. Unless you count “Proud Mary.” Or “Sweet Caroline,” which by the way, was released in, um, 1969. And also “My Way.” Shit, we’d better keep moving or we’ll be here all day.
Top 100 songs of 1969
Like any year, there were births, deaths, and a lot of transition. For Pink Floyd, 1969 was the final transition from the band’s original lineup, as they segued a drug-riddled and mentally unraveling Syd Barrett out of the band and David Gilmour cemented his position in the line-up. Ummagumma was the last Floyd album bearing Barrett’s name in the liner notes, merely because it included one of his songs. The Velvet Underground moved John Cale out and released a mellow, folk-influenced third album from a rocking chair in the corner, while John Lennon and Yoko Ono sang songs about peace from a Canadian bed and signaled the death of The Beatles - thanks a ton, Yoko. They still managed to release Yellow Submarine AND Abbey Road in 1969; Abbey Road and 1970’s Let It Be were released after the band had effectively broken up, which kind of makes that whole Tupac thing seem not so spectacular.
Bowie’s “Space Oddity” was huge when Neil Armstrong took the ultimate brotastic voyage to the Moon, and thankfully the song was not prophetic. Stephen Stills was pretty busy in 1969, what with being one-third of CSN and also playing on Joni Mitchell’s haunting and stunning second album Clouds. Mellowed-out hippies who wore a hole in their Clouds albums could also zone out to Nick Drake’s debut Five Leaves Left.
Genesis released its first album, and even though Peter Garbriel started the band, From Genesis to Revelations sounded more like some weird Burt Bacharach/The Thamesmen hybrid than the ideal of brilliant, progressive material early Genesis and Gabriel’s solo work usually evokes. Near the end of 1969, Frank Zappa disbanded the Mothers of Invention after personally financing the band for years, only to reform and release two albums in 1970. He also managed to produce a Captain Beefheart album in the middle of all that.
There’s been enough ink and film draped over the original Woodstock festival that we need not go into it here, but rest assured that whatever you got up to at Bonnaroo this year, some hippie did it better, and did more of it, 43 years ago.
Lest you think that the year was all Woodstock-y peace and love and shiny happy hippies, back-stroking in an almost embarrassing amount of shit-kicking music, 1969 was also the year of the Manson Family murders. Vietnam warred on, and Dick Nixon was sworn in as president. And while Woodstock still dominates our lexicon, the festival at Altamont that closed out 1969 ended in four deaths and should never be forgotten.
Mick Jagger at the Altamont Speedway in 1969 right before things took a turn for the worse
The Rolling Stones, still recovering from the loss of former founding band member Brian Jones and touring on Let It Bleed, tried to stage a free festival at the Altamont race track in California on December 6, 1969. Popular mythology says they hired the Hells Angels to provide security, but the actual story appears to be that they gave members of the group $500 worth of beer to sit on the edges of the stage simply to ensure the crowd didn’t mob the performers. By the end of the night, the crowd had pelted members of earlier bands with beer bottles, the Grateful Dead was so freaked out by the increasing violence they left before performing, and the crowd had gotten completely out of hand. The Hells Angels responded with broken pool cues and motorcycle chains, and stabbed an 18-year-old who tried to get on stage - he was later determined to have pulled a revolver. Two additional people were run over next to a campfire, and someone ended up in a ditch. The event was horrific by all accounts, and was a textbook example of how NOT to run a festival.
It’s too bad that such a monumental year had to end on such a downer note, but just as Altamont pummeled the end of the decade of the Flower People, 1969 signaled a sea change in the direction of rock music. It all boils down to what should have been the final line on Abbey Road, save for a production error in the studio: "… and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." Well played, 1969.