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THE ROOTS OF ROCK & SOUL, SONG BY SONG: THE LATE ’60S

Click on any song title below to play it on Spotify. The full 66-song playlist can be found on both Spotify and Apple Music.



THE SUMMER OF LOVE TO WOODSTOCK

In ’67, the world exploded into supersaturated color, drenching the musical universe: Sgt. Pepper, Monterey, a freaky Yank in London, the Summer of Love in San Francisco, arms locked in Selma, all the way to Woodstock, as music—and a generation—embraced inclusiveness.

The Chambers Brothers, “Time Has Come Today” (Columbia, 1967): Recorded in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, this scrappy rocker (11 minutes long in its original version) made a convincing case that a new time had, indeed, come—on the far side of “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” It had to seem that way to the four Chambers Brothers, young black men who’d grown up in segregated Mississippi before heading west and getting their souls “psychedelicized,” as the lyric puts it, transforming themselves into something brand new: a gospel-steeped African-American rock ’n’ roll band. The tools of celebration include a fuzztone guitar riff bathed in echo, a beat that slows down and speeds up like a heart at rest and enflamed, and a reverb-drenched cowbell that might as well have been the lead instrument. “Time!” they shout in unison, over and over, as the cowbell clangs, in an aggressive message of change—one filled with hippie idealism but containing not a trace of “kumbaya” sappiness. More than 40 years later, “Time Has Come Today” retains every ounce of its primal, blistering power, a visceral reminder of a moment when anything seemed possible, even amid sweeping and massive problems—a moment not unlike right now.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience,Purple Haze” (Track U.K., 1967): The shuddering proto-metal guitar riff, the swaggering vocal and the memorably trippy payoff, “’Scuse me…while I kiss the sky,” marked the beginning of Jimi Hendrix’s transformation of the electric guitar into a mythical weapon with unlimited powers—a six-string Excalibur. The trailblazing “Purple Haze” fused that primordial riff—which blew away manager/producer Chas Chandler when he heard Jimi messing around with it on his upside-down Strat—with a song idea that was knocking around Hendrix’s head, inspired by “a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.” After weeks of overdubs and innovative effects overseen by legendary engineer/producer Eddie Kramer, the under-three-minute masterpiece was completed to Jimi’s satisfaction, and with its release, a guitar hero like no other would take over rock ’n’ roll, while previous guitar heroes stood in awe.

Mahalia Jackson, “We Shall Overcome” (Columbia, 1968): Imagine what it must’ve been like to be on a bus full of blacks and whites heading to Selma, Alabama, on a peaceful protest against segregation during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. You’re rightfully scared, because people have been killed doing just what you’re about to do. But you push back your fears and raise your voice with your brothers and sisters to sing a song—this song. It gives you the strength to overcome your doubts and the determination to do what must be done. The most soul-stirring piece of music ever to rise out of America’s tradition of protest will forever be linked to Martin Luther King Jr., who led this crusade for change, and with the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who sang it time after time as she accompanied King on his freedom marches. The earthbound arrangement of this recording, with its marching beat, church-on-Sunday piano, and male-female chorale, only serves to accentuate the fire and conviction of Mahalia’s mighty voice as it surges upward toward salvation, barely tethered at times. “A voice like hers comes along once in a millennium,” King marveled. Listen to it and you’ll hear the struggle, the yearning, the distance we’ve come since those dark days—and the distance we still have to go.

Aretha Franklin, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Atlantic, 1968): Percy Sledge slept out in the rain because his woman demanded it; Aretha stands out in the rain feeling so uninspired—but give her a minute. Co-writing with then-husband Gerry Goffin, Carole King came up with a song that tells the female side of the story, and it gets Aretha so inspired that the Pearly Gates vibrate. Urged on by The Sweet Inspirations, a crush of horns and strings, and a gospel piano rising and falling like a fountain, she shows what love can do to any female who finds herself in its thrall. When she hits the chorus refrain, she doesn’t just kick it up a notch; she elevates; in that rapturous moment mating the physical and the spiritual. Some critics have dissed the song because they say that it portrays women as submissive victims, but Aretha’s thundering performance obliterates PC quibbles on the way to something recognizably real, something intensely human. Besides, she’d already given the world “Respect,” the immortal feminist anthem. As Jerry Wexler put it, “Her middle name was Respect.”

Otis Redding, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” (Volt, 1968): Otis Redding was inspired to start writing “Dock of the Bay” by his surroundings—he was booked to play the Fillmore and decided to stay on a houseboat in Sausalito, on the other side of the San Francisco Bay. The view of the city skyline shimmering above the expanse of sun-dappled water was, of course, spectacular, and the ballad concisely but vividly captures Redding’s contemplative mood, the beauty of the setting deepening a sense of melancholy that can be interpreted as more than simply personal in nature. “Looks like nothin’s gonna change,” he laments in the bridge, his laidback voice suddenly rising, laced with emotion. “Everything seems to stay the same.” Just a few days later, Otis lost his life as his private plane crashed into a Wisconsin lake. Issued posthumously, the single and the LP of the same name both topped the charts.

Sly and the Family Stone, “Stand!” (Epic, 1969): In the midst of San Francisco’s hippie revolution, along came funk avatar (and former Beau Brummels producer) Sly Stone, who formed an interracial, co-ed band in ’67, was signed by Clive Davis after the CBS Records chief was blown away by the group’s Monterey Pop set, and came up with the winning formula a year later on “Dance to the Music.” That ecstatic breakthrough initiated a heady run of Dayglo hits and electrifying live performances. Stand!—released just before Sly’s triumphant Woodstock performance—then broke the group wide open with a hit-packed tour de force paced by “Everyday People,” “I Want to Take You Higher” and the title track, an uplifting call for solidarity and inclusiveness topped off by a blistering funk coda. “He took his music very seriously then,” photographer Stephen Paley, who hung out at the sessions, said of Sly. But by then the disciplined artist had begun his romance with cocaine, which would come to change him profoundly.

B.B. King, “The Thrill Is Gone” (ABC Bluesway, 1969): “It was a different kind of blues ballad, and I carried it around in my head for many years,” B.B. King said of Roy Hawkins’ 1951 song, “The Thrill Is Gone.” The career of the 44-year-old bluesman, reinvigorated by the accolades of a host of young guitar heroes, reached its zenith with an inspired performance of the minor-key lament during a 1969 session in which “all the ideas came together.” Overdubbing a string section, producer Bill Szymczyk (James Gang, Joe Walsh, Eagles) recast the song as a Gershwinesque pocket symphony. The widescreen arrangement was dominated by King’s 100-proof tenor, strident with resignation, and his elegant guitar, towering over the arrangement like a heroic aural sculpture, in a perfect encapsulation of what B.B. has referred to as “the juice mixture.”

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