December Odds ‘n Year Ends, Pt. 2

12/11/68:  Blood, Sweat & Tears – Blood, Sweat & Tears

By the time Blood, Sweat & Tears released their second album (and second of 1968), they were a considerably different band. Gone were founding members Al Kooper, Randy Brecker, and Jerry Weiss. In with the replacements was the distinctive voice of David Clayton-Thomas. The result was a very big record. It rose to the top of the US charts for several weeks and yielded the smash singles Spinning Wheel and You’ve Made Me So Very Happy. The album won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 1969.

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12/11/68:  The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus

It was a very cool idea, and the Stones weren’t nearly as bad as they supposedly saw their performance as being. Yet it didn’t see an official release on DVD and CD until 1996. I do feel the Stones’ performance – o.k., Mick’s – was a bit contrived, but musically still solid. And, of course, it’s the last the world would see of Brian Jones, who would drown in his pool under odd circumstances a few months later. Jethro Tull is fun to watch here even though the only live parts were Ian Anderson’s vocals and flute. It took me a couple of views to realize that’s Tony Ionni fakin’ it on guitar. The Dirty Mac – now that was a supergroup! (Oh yeah, Yoko…) And of course the Who outdid everyone. I also like the dialogue between Lennon and Jagger. Anyway, the Circus is an important film link in the music scene of 1968.

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12/20/68:  Townes Van Zandt – For the Sake of the Song  

This was Van Zandt’s debut album. Some of the more well-known tracks were later re-recorded with a stripped-down sound with arguably much better results (Tecumseh Valley, Waiting ‘Round to Die, and the title track), but his songwriting was stellar out of the gate. I began hearing and reading the name Townes Van Zandt in the early 90’s, and the Cowboy Junkies did a nice version of his To Live Is to Fly on their Black Eyed Man album from 1992. But it took moving to Texas and becoming friends with a connoisseur of music by Texas troubadour musicians to finally be initiated. I’ve been a fan ever since, and I’m looking forward to revisiting his later albums here down the road. What a talent, and what a loss.

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12/21/68:  Apollo 8 Mission

The second manned spaceflight in the US Apollo program launched on this date 50 years ago with a three-astronaut crew of Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders. They were the first to orbit the Moon and see Earth as an entire planet.

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12/21/68:  Bee Gees – Single:  I Started a Joke 

Sorry, but the 1910 Fruitgum Company and the early works of the Bee Gees probably won’t make the cut…  – Yours truly, January 1, 2018 in my inaugural post on this blog, discussing the parameters of my loosely planned content. This is now an inaccurate statement, but that’s alright. I’ve always liked this track. Richie Havens did a nice version as well.

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12/26/68:  Led Zeppelin make their US debut in Denver

And the Hammer of the Gods came down from the mountain…

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Up next, my Year-End Top 25 Albums from 1968.

Thanks for reading!

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood,_Sweat_%26_Tears_(Blood,_Sweat_%26_Tears_album)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rolling_Stones_Rock_and_Roll_Circus

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_the_Sake_of_the_Song

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_8

December Odds ‘n Year Ends, Pt. 1

We’ve reached the end of the year.  Two years, actually, as pertains to this blog. December was a slower month for 50th album anniversaries, but I’ve also been sidetracked with an unrelated project, hence a few of these “leftovers” from the month really deserved their own dedicated posts which I was unable to make time for. 1969 will not wait – time does this for no one, as somebody once told us in a song – so let’s get to it.

1968:  Gábor Szabó – Dreams

This might be my most random inclusion thus far, and I learned about it in a random manner: the YouTube sidebar of suggested albums. I had one album by the Hungarian guitarist but didn’t know much about him when I came across Dreams on YouTube a couple of years back, and it became an instant go-to album to listen to online at work. It’s a recording of instrumental originals and covers made in August of ’68 and released sometime after, and it includes my favorite session drummer, Jim Keltner. This record brings visions of a Motorola console stereo, paneled walls, shag carpet, highballs, and ashtrays on three-foot stands.

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December:  Elvis – Elvis (The Comeback Special)

Yeah, I blew it with this one. It deserves a lot more attention than this paragraph will give it. It was recorded from Elvis’s TV special taped at NBC’s Burbank Studios in June of ’68. The musical format presented Presley in three different settings: production numbers featuring medleys of his material; an informal small band featuring full songs in front of a live audience; and the two original numbers with Presley backed by an orchestra in front of a live audience. The album subsequently peaked at #8 on the Billboard 200. It was certified Gold in July of ’69 and Platinum thirty years later.  I see and hear Elvis on this great recording, and I can’t help but wonder what could’ve been. (Hey Kim, tell me what could’ve been with Elvis post-1968! :))

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December:  Spirit – The Family That Plays Together

Spirit’s second album of 1968 (and second overall) saw the band reaching a little further into the prog world. The album spawned the single I Got a Line on You, another great track which has been elbowed from homogenized classic rock radio playlists in favor of more plays of Pour Some Sugar on Me. You SUCK, classic rock radio. You suck BAD!

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December:  Soft Machine – The Soft Machine

The debut album by Soft Machine was released this month in ’68. The Canterbury bands have been a slowly acquired taste for me, but it is happening. By their third album (aptly titled Third), it starts getting more accessible to me.

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12/1/68  The Monkees – Head (soundtrack)

I have this soundtrack and movie in a mental file labeled Revisit to Learn What the Hell THAT Was All About. The movie itself was released in November of ’68, and was co-written and produced by Jack Nicholson. It did a whopping $16,111 at the box office. This soundtrack was the Monkees’ sixth album, and the final one with Peter Tork until 1987. It features six proper songs mixed with film dialogue and incidental music. I have a vague memory of seeing at least part of this film around the age of fourteen in the mid-1980’s when the Monkees had become somewhat of a thing again thanks to syndicated reruns. It made no sense to me then, but glancing at the cast, there must be some value in it. A good period piece, at least? Please share any thoughts you may have about this. I need to understand.

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12/10/68  Thomas Merton died

Merton was a famed American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar who was a proponent of interfaith understanding.  He maintained a dialogue with such spiritual leaders as the Dali Lama and Tich Nhat Hanh, and wrote over 70 books, perhaps the most famous being The Seven Storey Mountain (1948). He passed at the age of 53 while attending a conference near Bangkok. He was found dead in his room, possibly the result of a heart issue, possibly from electric shock. There was no autopsy, and some have speculated he was assassinated by the CIA. The more I learn about this man, the more I wish we had voices like his in the West today.

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-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreams_(G%C3%A1bor_Szab%C3%B3_album)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elvis_(1968_album)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Family_That_Plays_Together

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_(film)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_(The_Monkees_album)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Merton

 

 

Memories of December 8, 1980

 

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We’ve arrived once again at that sad anniversary for much of an entire generation, as well as for many music fans regardless of their age. This is not a date I have to look up or be reminded of. As far as sudden losses of individual well-known people go, this is the one of my life to this day, 38 years on. I was nine years old and in the fourth grade when John Lennon was murdered, and every year since then I experience a period of reflection about John and what his and the Beatles’ music means to me. It’s sad and celebratory at the same time. The odd thing about it to me is that the day of John’s death is on my mind more than his birthday, whereas with George Harrison I’m much more aware of his birthday. My only explanation is that it’s due to the shocking nature of John’s passing, which happened when I was at such a young age, yet a huge fan and highly impressionable already.

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That fateful Monday evening, I watched the New England Patriots vs. the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. My bed time on Mondays in the fall was extended to halftime of the games, in this case still not late enough for me to hear the announcement made by Howard Cosell. That’s probably a good thing.

The next morning I shuffled into the kitchen for a bowl of cereal before walking a block to school. Still waking up, I heard a reference to Lennon or the Beatles coming from the 12 inch black and white TV on our kitchen counter. I looked over to see footage of the Beatles stepping off a plane in Tokyo in 1966 wearing kimonos.  It took a minute for what was being reported to sink in. Stunned, I walked to school. It’s so vivid in my mind. I recall a couple of other kids who had heard. I wondered what the teachers thought.  I remember feeling very alone all day at school.

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Two of my biggest music influences growing up, my oft-mentioned older brothers, were away at college, which was an adjustment for me. Fortunately, Christmas break was upon us and they returned for a few weeks shortly after the murder so I had them around to process things. I understand if all this sounds strange for a little guy like I was at the time, but this is how it happened for me. I remember Paul and me walking to downtown Fulton over Christmas break. I begged him to buy me one of the many magazines with John on the cover from a drugstore. He did so, but on the walk back home he explained to me how many of these magazines were just making money off of John’s death – probably my first real-life lesson about the sometimes dark side of capitalism. I remember him playing the Shaved Fish compilation LP over and over those few weeks down in the basement.

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It’s so surreal to think about to this day: John had just released his fantastic comeback album, Double Fantasy (yes, despite having to hear Yoko’s tracks, it’s still a great album – and I don’t even mind Yoko’s songs on it anymore). As I learned years later, serious plans for a concert tour had been made. It was going to happen, and who knows how things would’ve gone down the road with a rejuvenated Lennon. An actual Beatles reunion, perhaps? We’ll never know. One thing is certain: Every year since then, I’ve felt a wistfulness during the month of December, but there is a sweetness to it. It’s a month I really dive back into John’s solo work, as I’m doing today. Some years are a little heavier than others, but not a year goes by without it to some extent.

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About fifteen years ago, Paul shared a real surprise with me. In December of 1980, he was a freshman in college in southwest Missouri. When he heard what had happened, he had the presence of mind in his dorm room to flip his stereo receiver to AM. On winter evenings in the Midwest, one can pick up radio stations from Chicago to Dallas, from Denver to New York City. He popped a blank cassette into his player, hit record, and started scrolling up and down the dial, where he found WABC in NYC coming in quite clearly at times, then fading out. They had a reporter on the scene at the Dakota and were playing Beatles music. He found other stations back east doing the same thing, all creepily fading in and out with their tributes. Down the line, he had converted that cassette to CD, and he gave me a copy which I usually end this date with.

In two years, John will have been gone as long as he was with us. If I’m still blogging then, I’ll probably have more to say.

-Stephen

 

 

December 6 – A Feast for Stones Fans

The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet

The Rolling Stones, rock ‘n’ roll’s original bad boys, did not – as it always seemed to me through more youthful eyes looking back at music history – suddenly come by their late-60’s/early-70’s reputation.  It was there from the start. I know, I know, there’s the axiom that from the day the Beatles donned those collarless suits that the Stones were the Dark Side to the Fabs’ loveable mop top Bright Side.

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David Bailey photo.

I always thought the clothing was really the only difference in terms of their attitudes until 1968. I was unaware until my late teens that they really did possess more of an edge, even if their music didn’t seem dark to me, at least no more so than the American blues songs which they revered actually were as opposed to the Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins influence on the Beatles. But a few earlier tracks notwithstanding, Beggars Banquet – released this day fifty years ago – is really when it started happening for the Rolling Stones to my ears and eyes.

BeggarsBanquetLP.jpg   Beggar_Banquet

My perception of the Stones in ’68 is that they couldn’t shed the paisley, dayglow ick of the previous year quickly enough. And it’s no coincidence that they made a no holds barred return to their blues roots to express it. They’d had a scary legal moment with Keith and Mick’s Redlands bust in ’67, and psychedelia never really fit their image (though I do like much of Their Satanic Majesties Request). In a way, with Beggars Banquet they had their own “get back” album before that other group, and it actually instigated a new Golden Age for the group instead of its demise.

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Other than the early tracks found on Hot Rocks plus a small handful of others, I’ve mostly been a fan of Stones music from 1966-onward. Beggars Banquet was the first of a string of Rolling Stones albums which is unparalleled in rock music history in my mind. Generally speaking, this new phase would be known as the “Mick Taylor years,” which lasted until his departure in ’74. But Taylor didn’t appear until the following release, while this one is the last hurrah for Brian Jones. Brian disintegrated right before the band’s and their fans’ eyes, and his lonely sounding slide guitar on No Expectations is a fitting musical representation of his personal slide.

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I, and I think many other fans of the Stones, probably take for granted Brian Jones’s influence on this band. A great reminder of his contributions, as well as more thoughts on Beggars Banquet, can be found on fellow blogger hanspostcard’s ongoing series currently focused on the Stones’ earlier tracks.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Sympathy for the Devil
  2. No Expectations
  3. Dear Doctor
  4. Parachute Woman
  5. Jigsaw Puzzle

Side Two:

  1. Street Fighting Man
  2. Prodigal Son
  3. Stray Cat Blues
  4. Factory Girl
  5. Salt of the Earth

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beggars_Banquet

December 6 – James Taylor’s Debut

James Taylor – James Taylor

Debut albums by artists who go on to great acclaim are sometimes left left in the realm of the obscure, sometimes fairly, sometimes not.  Often they are clearly works of their era, with production that screams the year of its release. Elton John’s 1969 debut is one such album.  Another album featuring a late-60’s Baroque pop sound is James Taylor’s eponymous debut, released in the UK on this day fifty years ago (February 1969 in the US).  Taylor was twenty years old at the time.

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Taylor was championed by Peter Asher, who secured an audition for him with Paul McCartney – whose girlfriend at the time was Asher’s sister Jane – as the Beatles looked for serious contenders to sign to their fledgling Apple label. James Taylor would be the first release by a non-British musician on that label. It was recorded at London’s Trident Studios from July to August and produced by Asher, at the time Apple’s A&R man.

The two most well-known songs from the release are, of course, Carolina In My Mind and Something In the Way She Moves. The former was written about his homesickness for his North Carolina home, despite the “holy host of others,” i.e., the Beatles, standin’ around him. It was a difficult period for Taylor, who struggled with depression and addiction. A major door had opened for him, but he wasn’t able to take full advantage of it at the time.

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The album was received well by critics, but Apple didn’t promote it well. And due to his hospitalization to treat his addiction, live performances weren’t in the cards. He would continue to suffer setbacks, with a motorcycle accident the following year which broke both of his hands and feet. That recuperation time allowed him to write songs which appeared on his standout next album, Sweet Baby James. Due to licensing issues with Apple, Taylor had to re-record Something in the Way She Moves and Carolina In My Mind for his 1976 Greatest Hits album. While I like the originals a lot, the re-done versions serve his 70’s canon well.  They’re what I grew up with until discovering his studio releases down the line.

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As for Something In the Way She Moves, which includes McCartney on bass and an uncredited George Harrison on backing vocals, it is the well-known seed of Harrison’s Something. Ironically, Taylor wanted to title the song I Feel Fine after the dominant chorus line, but it had already been used by the Fabs. Of Harrison’s nicking Taylor’s song for what would become one of the most famous and covered songs in pop history, Taylor said:

All music is borrowed from other music, so I completely let it pass. I raised an eyebrow here and there, but when people would make the presumption that I had stolen my song from his, I can’t sit still for that.

It turns out they shared more than that song in common, though this time I’m not referring to Pattie Boyd. Long, dark hair, acoustic guitars, and…BIG SWEATERS!

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Obvious standouts to me are the original versions of Carolina In My Mind and Something In the Way She Moves, but there’s plenty more here making it a good listen.  Something’s Wrong sounds like Taylor at his early-mid 1970’s best, but with a bit more strings.  Knocking ‘Round the Zoo is a great, upbeat and ironic track about his stay in a Massachusetts psychiatric hospital. It was originally recorded with his band the Flying Machine.

It’s easy to lump artists into loose categories, but think about the music scene when this record came out.  This album was different.  It portended the new singer/songwriter movement just around the corner. Jon Landau wrote in Rolling Stone at the time, “This album is the coolest breath of fresh air I’ve inhaled in a good long while. It knocks me out.” Discovering and revisiting it for myself many years later, I’d have to concur.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Don’t Talk Now
  2. Something’s Wrong
  3. Knocking ‘Round the Zoo
  4. Sunshine Sunshine
  5. Taking It In
  6. Something in the Way She Moves

Side Two

  1. Carolina in My Mind
  2. Brighten Your Night With My Day
  3. Night Owl
  4. Rainy Day Man
  5. Circle Round the Sun
  6. Blues Is Just a Bad Dream

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Taylor_(album)

https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/james-taylor-debut-album/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/james-taylor-mw0000264104

 

 

 

November 1968 – A Sneaky Classic by the Pretty Things

The Pretty Things – S.F. Sorrow

S.F. Sorrow is the fourth album by English group the Pretty Things, formed in 1963 and still going today. It is a concept album based on the life of main character Sebastian F. Sorrow, from birth to relationships, to war and the disillusionment of old age.  As I’ve learned, there’s also a debate as to whether or not it’s the first rock opera, which would’ve precluded the Who’s Tommy.  One major difference between this album and Tommy and Pink Floyd’s The Wall is that the main narrative is shared through small paragraphs printed between the song lyrics in the liner notes, as opposed to within the songs themselves.

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“Sneaky,” of course, is relative to one’s own journey as a music fan. For me, S.F. Sorrow is perhaps the best example so far this year of the joy of discovering music I was previously unfamiliar with as a result of this blog.  I knew the song Baron Saturday, and had read maybe a blurb or three about this album, released in November 1968 (the same week, actually, as The White Album and The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, but my head would’ve exploded had I tried to write about all three that week), but didn’t pick up a copy and dive in until earlier this year. I’m glad I did, and if you aren’t familiar with it and like the musical vibe of 1968, I recommend giving it a spin (or click, as it were).  It is, as Alexis Petridis wrote in the Guardian, “one of the few consistently brilliant British psych albums…”

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Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. S.F. Sorrow is Born
  2. Bracelets of Fingers
  3. She Says Good Morning
  4. Private Sorrow
  5. Balloon Burning
  6. Death

Side Two:

  1. Baron Saturday
  2. The Journey
  3. I See You
  4. Well of Destiny
  5. Trust
  6. Old Man Going
  7. Loneliest Person

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.F._Sorrow

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Things

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2010/may/06/pretty-things-sf-sorrow-cd-review

https://www.allmusic.com/album/sf-sorrow-mw0000308955

November ’68 Odds ‘n Ends

We’ve come to the end of November, which means that shameless (desperate?) retailers in the US have been shoving Christmas down our throats for the past five weeks.  It’s been a good month, though.  Fall is my favorite season, and this month we had a few big 50th album anniversaries as well as some major reissues.  Let’s tidy up those loose ends from November 1968 before stores begin stocking those heart-shaped boxes of chocolate for February.

November:  Tommy Roe – Single:  Dizzy

This chunk of bubblegum was released in the US in November, but not until January ’69 in Australia and March ’69 in the UK.  With instrumental backing by the Wrecking Crew, it was a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.  It reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks in March of ’69, #1 in Canada in March of ’69, and #1 in the UK in June of ’69.

November:  Tommy James and the Shondells – Single:  Crimson and Clover

Crimson and Clover spent sixteen weeks on the US charts where it reached #1 in February ’69.  It was the group’s most successful single, and it’s a classic track I’ve yet to tire of.

November:  Sly and the Family Stone – Single:  Everyday People

Everyday People was the band’s first single to reach #1 on both the Soul chart and the US Billboard Hot 100.  It maintained the top spot on the Hot 100 for four weeks from February to March of 1969.  Here’s a cool live clip of them performing the song.  Where have you gone, Sly?

November:  Nico – The Marble Index

The Marble Index was German artist Nico’s second solo album, and it was produced by John Cale.  Though mostly ignored upon its release, it became a highly influential avant-garde album.  I started to write a proper stand-alone post on it, but I just haven’t absorbed it enough.  I own and like her previous record, Chelsea Girl, but this one is a bit stark for me despite the amount of depressing music in my collection.  It is a very interesting listen, however, and I’ll probably come back to it down the road.

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11/1/68:  The Turtles – The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands

The Turtles’ fourth release was a concept album with the band pretending to be a different group on each track, and apparently imitating the worst groomsmen photo ever on the cover.  It peaked at #128 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart, but singles Elenore and You Showed Me both reached #6 on the singles chart.

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11/5/68:  Nixon wins

I wonder if someday things will improve to the point where they’re only that bad again.

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11/11/68:  John & Yoko – Unfinished Music No. 1:  Two Virgins 

The title of this album is the answer to the question, “What to you get when an insanely talented and arrogant songwriter/musician gets turned on to an avant-garde artist and heroin at the same time?”  I’m not gonna lie, though – as a child, I had the corner of the page of my brother’s copy of Nicholas Schaffner’s The Beatles Forever with this photo on it bent for quick access to the nekid lady.  Pasty junkies.  Boy howdy.

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11/14/68:  National Turn In Your Draft Card Day

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11/22/68:  Fleetwood Mack – Single:  Albatross

Inspired by Santo and Johnny’s Sleep Walk (1959), this Peter Green-penned instrumental was Fleetwood Mac’s only #1 single in the UK.  They apparently really dug it in the Netherlands, where it also reached the top spot.  It climbed to #4 in the US.

11/22/68:  Canned Heat – Single:  Going Up the Country

The second of Alan Wilson’s big hits for the band, Going Up the Country remains a Counterculture anthem.  Lately, we’ve been repeatedly entertained by a clip of it in a car commercial.  I think that’s what it’s selling, anyway.  I make my wife laugh when I try to sing it.  I sound like I’m imitating Kermit the Frog as a member of Canned Heat.  Or something like that.

11/22/68:  Star Trek – the first interracial kiss on television

Awe yyyyeah…

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Have you ever heard someone defend their degree of open-mindedness by saying something along the lines of “I don’t care what the color of someone’s skin is – black, brown, green, whatever…”?  For Captain Kirk, this was the literal truth.

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Even an Indigenous Spacewoman! (O.k., a white woman wearing dark makeup, pretending to be an Indigenous Spacewoman.)

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11/26/68:  Cream bids farewell at the Royal Albert Hall

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-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dizzy_(Tommy_Roe_song)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crimson_and_Clover

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everyday_People

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Marble_Index

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Turtles_Present_the_Battle_of_the_Bands

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unfinished_Music_No._1:_Two_Virgins

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albatross_(instrumental)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Going_Up_the_Country