If I had more time to write here, I would have written a lot more about 1968. This year was the 50th anniversary of a so many significant events, whether we’re talking about history (MLK and RFK assassinations, Chicano walkouts, repression at Tlatelolco, Nixon election) or culture (Elvis’ “comeback” special, the release of 2001, the start of “60 Minutes” and the end of “Batman”).
So, in honor of the many anniversaries I didn’t commemorate, let’s give props to my 5 favorite songs from albums released 50 years ago this month.
5. “For Once in My Life” by Stevie Wonder
The title track of Stevie Wonder’s tenth studio album is a pop gem from a period when he seemed to record those on a regular basis. Stevie was only 18, but he was already a veteran of the industry. His legendary greatness was still to come, but his brilliance was still on display in these and other tunes.
4. “Something in the Way She Moves” by James Taylor
The source of inspiration for George Harrison’s “Something” a year later (Harrison actually takes his first line from Taylor), this song was from James Taylor’s debut album, released on Apple Records (the Beatles label). This album version is different than the single track that plays today. He had better ahead of him, but this flirts with perfect a couple of times.
3. “Anything” by the Mothers of Invention
When we moved to Claremont, there was this old man with a super long beard who just hung around the Village everyday. He’d say hi to folks on most days, but he could keep to himself, too. What stood out most, was that when my infant son would see him, even from a block away, he’d start to freak out like he was staring down a hungry dire wolf. That man was Ray Collins, the Pomona-born, original member of the Mothers of Invention, what would become the band most associated with Frank Zappa’s early career. The album Cruising with Ruben & the Jets is the last Collins participated in (he actually left before everything they recorded became “the album”), and it’s one of their most interesting. An homage to 50s/60s doo-wop, the songs (especially under Collins writing) are little bits of Chicano culture from a non-Chicano guy who grew up in a very Chicano area. The conceit of the album is that they’re a group called Ruben & the Jets. Early pressings had that band listed as the talent on the 45 records.
2. “Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
The bands eponymous second album, released December 11, was their biggest hit. It won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1970 (it was released to late in ’68 for the ’69 awards) and generated three hit singles, this one included. This is my favorite of their songs, an audio panoply of 1968.
1. “Street Fighting Man” by The Rolling Stones
Beggar’s Banquet was released in December 1968, the latest album in a string of albums where the Rolling Stones top themselves each time. Upon listening you’d easily say this band is at the top of their game. You’d be right, too, until you’d hear their next. While some of the best was still to come, there’s a 1968 sound here that feels pretty special.