1968, what a year!
1968 was the year that I truly discovered music. My 60's roots were falling away and I felt myself hurtling toward the 70's like a meteor through space. The greatest miracle of 1968 came to me in the form of The Beatles' hit song "Hey Jude". Psychedelia was everywhere; America seemed as mod as England, and there was an energy unlike anything I could possibly explain. It was everywhere; on TV, in the music, radio, film, print media, clothing, attitudes, and the air currents themselves.
I was also an artist, and I was rediscovering myself as such. Toward the end of 1968, we lived the area of Rockwood, close to the city of Gresham. At the time, Gresham was no more than 2 or 3 city blocks with only scant businesses (Now it's Oregon's 4th largest city). In Gresham, what few businesses there were, were small and very interesting, including an art supply store. There was also a small record store.
New TV shows like "The Mod Squad" and "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" were pretty hot stuff in 1968. A long-standing favorite "The Andy Griffith Show", which kept the idea of small-town Americana alive and kicking, died a slow death under the new name of "Mayberry R.F.D." Some hot new stuff came out like "Adam 12" and "Land of the Giants". I really loved "Adam 12", but I was kind of so-so on "Land of the Giants".
Interesting events happened on TV in 1968. One of these was Elvis Presley's 1968 Comeback Special which was very hot. The king was all in black leather and looked better than I think he'd ever looked before. It was very exciting to see. My brother was a major Elvis fan, and kept his music alive in our house constantly, so it almost felt to me like "what's he coming back from? He's never been gone!"
Historically, one noteable event that seems important today was William Shatner's interracial kiss with co-star Nichelle Nichols on an episode of "Star Trek". However, in context of the show's plot, it didn't seem like such a major thing then. They were being forced to kiss by mind control, and couldn't stop each other though they tried. Daytime TV had a huge surprise coming as superstar Joan Crawford did a 5 episode stint on the soap opera "The Secret Storm". She was filling in for her daughter Christina. She was also drunk and slurred her lines making her appearance more of a joke than anything else.
The assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King in April of 1968, and of Robert F. Kennedy in June of the same year were indeed very troubling. I can still recall the emotional reverberations of the time when President Kennedy was shot. This was a time when random assassinations weren't quite a popular thing. Even as a kid it seemed indelibly clear that some people didn't want others in a position of any type of power or influence. The times they-were-a-changing for sure, and a bit of uncertainty began to blanket our country. Robert Kennedy was shot just after midnight of June 5th by Sirhann Sirhann. He was subdued by Rosie Greer-formerly of the New York Giants and L.A. Rams-who worked as one of Kennedy's bodyguards. Martin Luther King was shot by James Earl Ray on April 4th. Our family went to see Robert Kennedy in person as he delivered a speech at Eastport Plaza. This was in our neighborhood. I remember having to wait for a couple of hours before he arrived. He was very late, but the huge audience was so receptive to him that I felt a giant wave of something powerful. 1968 felt like it was going to be a great year.
Newer music had me spellbound, and I tended to lean towards the more progressive, harder rock than the feel good stuff of the earlier sixties. One of my favorites became Three Dog Night. I had a friend that I hung out with night and day who was turning my head to a more definitive music. Bands with a somewhat limited fan base would go on to be world superstars. The most memorable for me back in those days of 1968 were "The Moody Blues". Inarguably one of the most dynamic, world-changing events in rock history would have to be the immensely successful 17+ minute opus of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" by Iron Butterfly. A rather insulting and tedious 2 minute single hack was released, but it offered nothing in the way of the entire piece. I am very proud to have been a part of that tremendous culture, and having been alive when this song reached its peak. The great San Francisco music scene was beginning to invade: Quicksilver Messenger Service, Cold Blood, The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane were among the many that fathered the beginnings of psychedelic sound and progressive rock. My brother introduced me to many more future acts including Steppenwolf and an album that I literally hated by a relatively unknown band called Pink Floyd.
In late November of 1968, The Beatles introduced the world to Apple Records, a great beginning for an even greater new direction. This band was unstoppable, and having their own record company served as the brightest jewel in their crown. "Hey Jude" was a major hit, and the longest song ever for a hit single coming in at 7 minutes and 11 seconds! It was released in August, just before school began, and I remember playing it over and over, so many times that I had to replace the 45.
I remember being so enchanted with the Apple label; the artwork was perfect, being a photo of a green apple, and the B side was always a photo of an apple cut perfectly in half. The Beatles deserved to have their own record company. I only wished that the Apple Boutique had lasted longer, and that the great era of psychedelia would have been lovingly book marked by generations of Apple wear.
It had to happen; a new Beatle album; a two-record set; it was pure white, bootleg in appearance; The album was simply titled "The Beatles", and that title was humbly embossed in white on the cover, barely noticeable. Also on the cover is a gray serial number. That was it, nothing more. Enter The Beatles' White Album.
My first introduction to this album was through piped in speakers in my best friend's basement room. There in the purple glow of black light, listening to "Back in the U.S.S.R.", for the zillionth time, I knew I had to have this album. The record wasn't easy to come by; it cost $7.95 at Fred Meyer, and that was the best price in town. There would be lawns to mow to get the money for it. As it turned out, I got a job maintaining a freshly seeded lawn for 3 days which gave me the money. Soon, I had that album in hand.
Exactly what was the White Album? Today it has been largely dissected with as much speculation as probably Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey". Some call it a series of solo projects, others refer to it as a large experimental project. An even larger consensus is that it is filled with anger, animosity, and personal turmoil within the band. All of this may be, but for me, it was the boldest statement they would ever make in their entire career. Beatle albums, no matter how experimental (as with the masterpiece "Sgt. Pepper"), all had real touches of Beatle polish. None of their albums felt raw and unleashed. The White Album was all of this. It lacked the formal "expected" polish, showing only the veneer of absolute freedom and creativity.
I wrote on my Beatles page:
"The 'White Album' is a culture unto itself; it represented a sort of dark side of the Beatles that even I, during that time, could not put into words. For me, they'd always been easy to understand. However, with the release of this abstract two-record set, they went from young guys with guitars to men with wives, individual attitudes, and quite possibly, secrets. This album was more like a club. In order to join this club, you had to have been faithful to the boys during the years."
The White Album feeling like a club is probably the best way for me to describe the feeling and effect it had on me.
Beginning with John, I will list my favorite songs on this album. "Dear Prudence" features the most mesmerizing chord sequence I've heard from them or anybody in my entire life. The beauty of the song can be widely underestimated and misinterpreted as one John's greatest works of all time. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is a moody, overall technically savvy piece of work from George. George was a very good songwriter; whether he was born with the talent, or it grew from a "watch and learn" perspective of being around John and Paul, I'll never know; I only know that he was a champion songwriter. This was a great song! Of all the songs from Paul on the White Album, I narrow it down to "Mother Nature's Son. This simplistic, heartfelt melody almost feels as if it was written in a glade with the sun shining down. Finally, Ringo. I considered it highly apropos that he sing "Good night" with a whispery closing narrative, "Good night everybody" at the end.
"Revolution No. 9". Even I felt them run out of steam-and material-on this one. A few more George tunes would have sufficed rather than this drawn out piece of garbage. On the opposite side of the coin came "Helter Skelter a delirious, screaming, powerful piece of hard rock that showed true experimental mastery. The only thing wrong with it is the tragic history of the Manson Family that is so associated with it. The fact that they had to do a press interview to defend the song, was ludicrous.
"Sookie, Sookie, Sookie, Sookie, Sookie, Sookie, Sue!"
A light was switched on inside of me; Steppenwolf was responsible for this. My first foray into the world of what could only be described as "hard rock" began with the first Steppenwolf album. Like millions of others around the world, I was transfixed by the song "Born to Be Wild" which has now become the biker's national anthem. Here were five guys who gave us hard, forceful guitar chords honed into sub-psychedelic sequences and augmented by the fierce and raspy voice of lead singer John Kay (an East Prussian refugee whose real name is Joachim Krauledat). Steppenwolf was foolproof; they had instant appeal to those of us who wanted to break the traditional boundaries of mainstream rock and roll. Steppenwolf pushed the envelope and ranked as probably one of the first pre-cursors to the world of heavy metal.
Steppenwolf took chances that at the time, few were willing to do, for a debut album. They included a lyric that repeated over and over again the phrase "God damn the pusher man." They also featured long songs (over 5 minutes), and guitar embellishments that made full use of what was then described as "fuzz guitar". Steppenwolf never failed to disappoint, and they were quite prolific in their production of album after album. They also made use of an organ as a true instrument of rock, and it's warbly Leslie speaker provided a heavy ambient backdrop to much of the music. The keyboard was probably half of what made their sound which is no mean statement. The Steppenwolf legacy features hits like the aforementioned "Born to Be Wild", "Sookie, Sookie", "Magic Carpet Ride", "Rock Me", and "Move Over."