1967 is the year that the ‘Summer of Love’ fully blossomed into a psychedelic flower. The epicentre of the golden age of counter-cultural psychedelic rock began in San Francisco but found its influence spreading all over the world like wildfire.
The heart of the movement found its perfect symbolic representation on March 31st when Jimi Hendrix burnt his guitar on the stage for the first time. Setting yourself apart in 1967 was no easy feat, perhaps Hendrix knew this and decided to go through with an outrageous act, or perhaps he knew he was teetering on the precipice of greatness, and needed that extra nudge to free-fall with the gods and goddesses of rock.
In March, Jimi Hendrix was on a British tour with an eclectic mix of acts, including The Walker Brothers, Englebert Humperdinck, and Cat Stevens. The tour had made a stop at Finsbury Park Astoria in London and Hendrix was hanging out backstage with his manager and ex-Animals bass player, Chas Chandler, along with music journalist, Keith Altham. After Altham had suggested to Hendrix that he include his song ‘Fire’ in his setlist that night, a roadie was sent out to fetch lighter fluid according to Ultimate Classic Rock; Chandler had suggested to the fledgeling rock god that he literally set fire to his guitar.
After Jimi Hendrix and his fellow Experience band mates, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding burnt through an electrifying set of ‘Fire’, Hendrix distracted the crowd while Chandler doused his white Fender Stratocaster with butane. Shortly thereafter, Hendrix knelt beside the sodden axe and performed his timeless act. The stunt wasn’t without consequences, however. Hendrix burnt his hands, as well as burning the emcee who went to extinguish the fire.
More than that, however, the most defining consequence was that rock ‘n’ roll had witnessed an apex of rock perfection, a stunt that was truly hard to outdo at that point.
Perhaps it was because of impassioned acts like this that incentivised the best musicians of the time to create their masterpieces. Jefferson Airplane had released their sophomore Alice-in-wonderland esque masterpiece, Surrealistic Pillow; Jim Morrison and The Doors changed the musical landscape by allowing people the means to expand their minds; The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were going at it head to head to see who could create the worlds greatest ‘summer of love’ paragon. Ultimately, it was unanimously decided that The Beatles won that title, with their defining record, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, beating out Pink Floyd’s kaleidoscopic debut, and Love’s dystopic yet liberating message of Earth’s imminent demise in two years; an album whose title defies the boundaries of time and space, called Forever Changes.
It was no easy task creating this definitive list of the six best albums released in 1967, and by no means will everyone agree with it, simply because there are too many great albums from this year. Nevertheless, below you’ll find the list.
The 6 best albums released in 1967:
The Rolling Stones – Between the Buttons
Between the Buttons was The Stones’ follow up to their highly acclaimed record, Aftermath, and was the precursor to their psychedelic apex, Their Satanic Majesties Request. By this point in their career, Brian Jones lost interest in playing the electric guitar and, instead, began playing other less-traditional rock ‘n’ roll instruments, like the recorder, which he used to play a defining part in ‘Ruby Tuesday’.
Like a lot of the Stones’ albums during this decade, there was a considerable difference between the British and the American edition. I would say the American version is better, as it contains ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ as well as ‘Ruby Tuesday’, whereas those songs were released as singles – ‘Ruby Tuesday’ was the A-side – in the UK.
‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ slid more off into obscurity because of its suggestive lyrics and therefore did not receive as much air-time. When they recorded ‘My Obsession’, Brian Wilson was present in the studio and has since commented that it is his favourite Stones’ song. Overall, Between the Buttons is a highly underrated album and often overlooked as it is sandwiched in between two of their biggest records. I would go so far as to say that it is one of their best records.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced?
Built on a massive risk that both Jimi Hendrix and his manager, Chas Chandler took after meeting in New York City, Hendrix signed onto the latter and they both moved to London. Up until then, Hendrix had been struggling as a side guitar player on the R&B circuit; Hendrix’s innovative playing set the young psychedelic blues player apart from everyone and believed he stood a chance to take it to the next level.
Once in London, the two began recruiting members for his band who would entail Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass; The Jimi Hendrix experience began playing all the London clubs. His first single, a cover of a traditional blues song, ‘Hey Joe’ charted and he followed it with an original composition, ‘Purple Haze’. Playing various shows around London eventually caught the attention of the likes of Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney who quickly realised the kind of genius they were witnessing develop.
Hendrix’s debut was released in May of ’67 and it became an instantaneous hit, spending 33 weeks in the charts peaking at number two. Writer and archivist for the Smithsonian institution recognised it as a cultural landmark and archived it for historical purposes, he described it as “still a landmark recording because it is of the rock, R&B, blues musical tradition. It altered the syntax of the music, in a way I compare to James Joyce’s Ulysses.”
Are You Experienced? features some of Hendrix’s best songs, including ‘Foxey Lady’, ‘Fire’, ‘The Wind Cries Mary’, ‘Purple Haze’, and ‘Highway Chile’ – it’s an album that truly defined the summer of love era.
The Kinks – Something Else
The Kinks are simultaneously the most underrated band of the British invasion phenomenon but nevertheless are given credit as part of this posse. The Kinks have always stood out from the rest of the typical classic rock groups; this 1967 album is no different. Where everyone else was singing about love, drugs, free-thinking and creating long-form psychedelic musical trips, The Kinks were so English that they took into consideration the mundanities of everyday British life and created pop gems telling the stories of somehow deeper meaning.
This is the album that contained ‘David Watts’, ‘Waterloo Sunset’, ‘Sunny Afternoon’, and ‘Death of a Clown’. Simply nobody else was writing the kind of songs that The Kinks were. The material on this record seemed like it was so out of touch with the bigger picture of the ‘summer of love’ global movement, but still had that sentimental feeling that made it just as relevant – the only difference is, however, this album is so timeless it could fit into the context any decade.
Shel Talmy produced the majority of the record, who worked with a lot of other British bands from the early ’60s, however, he would end up leaving and Ray Davies would assume responsibilities. However, in retrospect he had some regrets about this; “I feel that I shouldn’t have been allowed to produce Something Else. What went into an album required someone whose approach was a little bit more mundane,” observed Davies.
Love – Forever Changes
Despite the beautiful orchestrations and the collage-like compositions of these songs that felt like they belonged perfectly in the context of this period, Forever Changes is the underbelly of the summer of love and is very dark. Leader, songwriter and singer Arthur Lee had become disillusioned with the ’60s counterculture. Writer, Andrew Hultkrans explained very well Arthur Lee’s mentality at the time: “Arthur Lee was one member of the ’60s counterculture who didn’t buy flower-power wholesale, who intuitively understood that letting the sunshine in wouldn’t instantly vaporize the world’s (or his own) dark stuff.”
Lee placed his scepticism into the context of a much darker reality that people weren’t truly aware of at the time. The fact that people were attempting to escape through psychedelic drugs and soaking in the sunshine, meant that there was growing darkness lurking underneath.
Forever Changes, in regards to its music, was a mosaic of folk, classical, psychedelia, and even some mariachi styles. Despite critics praising Love’s third record as their most sophisticated one, it did not perform as well in the States, but in the UK it did considerably better.
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico
Perhaps somewhat of a controversial choice for this list, especially considering that the list has been mainly focused on this idea of ‘the summer of love’; when we attempt to place works of art into one category too vigorously, it has a way of becoming ironically trivial and within its self-righteous attitude, it fails to hit the mark, more times than not. Velvet Underground & Nico is the antithesis of the self-assured and self-referential; it is the perfect attack against everything that reeks of conformity.
Released through Verve Records, based on the strength of the band’s association with Andy Warhol; the first record only sold 30,000 copies – but they say that everyone who bought the record started a band because of it. Over the years, it has proven to be one of the most influential albums of the decade and of all time.
While it is not a psychedelic record in the bigger context of this article, it is psychedelic in its delivery of the message – in the way that we experience the record. With John Cale’s background in the avant-garde, Lou Reed’s provocative lyrical imagery and distorted and dissident guitars, it takes the imagination to new places.
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
What makes Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band such a masterpiece is that it bridged a gap between pop and serious high art. The record combined theatrics, a concept, new styles of songwriting, and innovation in production. It also received recognition for reflecting contemporary youth culture while also still representing the ’60s counterculture.
Not unlike The Velvet Underground & Nico, the psychedelic aspect to the record was its presentation and the way listeners perceived the record, as opposed to actual psychedelic overtones in the music; although having said that, it possesses psychedelic undertones and also within its production quality. Paul McCartney conceived of the idea based on a conceptual band who were dressed in Edwardian uniform outfits.
This fictional band would perform in music halls via the style of a travelling vaudeville fashion. This concept included an element of the marching band – except – a marching band in a fantastical acid-induced world. The psychedelic also found its place within the lyrical imagery of the songs, sometimes they were quite non-sensical and cartoonish. Sgt. Pepper’s remains one of the greatest Beatles albums.