The 30 Best Albums of 1969

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The 30 Best Albums of 1969

We’ve heard that 1969 was when a certain singer/songwriter got his first real six-string at a five-and-dime, but plenty of others were already releasing some damn fine albums. They call it classic rock (and jazz and folk and soul) for a reason. The final gasp of the tumultuous 1960s was an incredible year for music as adventurous albums from the best acts of the ’60s (The Beatles, Dylan, The Stones) collided with those who would dominate the following decade (Led Zeppelin, Bowie, Sly & the Family Stone). Experimentation abounded as genres blended into country-rock, noisy Krautrock, psychedelic funk and jazzy art-rock. We’ve already looked at all the year’s many milestones from The Beatles’ final concert to Woodstock to the disastrous Altamont, and here we look at the albums that shaped the end of a decade.

The following list includes iconic albums from iconic artists, wonderfully strange avant garde albums that pushed genre boundaries, and a few underrated gems that we hope will be new discoveries for some of you.

Here are the 30 best albums of 1969:

janis-kozmic.jpg30. Janis Joplin, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!
Janis Joplin’s I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! is special for a few reasons: First, it’s Joplin’s only solo album ever to be released in her lifetime (Her first band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, released albums prior to her death in 1970, and one other solo record, Pearl, was released three months after). Second, and thusly, it’s really the only autonomous studio effort we have from Joplin, a soulful snapshot of her life just a year before her death. And third, Janis Joplin was actually a hell-of-a bandleader, and this album proves it. Joplin’s ability to completely command and control the song with her voice even as five brass horns and two electric guitars swarmed up behind her is unparalleled. The Kozmic Blues Band, who provided the album’s robust horn section and backing instrumentation, played a major part in defining this album’s soul-forward sound. Joplin was an invigorated performer, and many of her recorded hits have even better live counterparts, but on Kozmic Blues, she sounds just as energized. The album opener “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)” is Joplin at her loudest and proudest. —Ellen Johnson

joni-clouds.jpg29. Joni Mitchell, Clouds
If you’re a fan, there are many Joni Mitchells from which to choose. There’s folky Joni. There’s ’80s Joni, who so gleefully embraced the synth spirit. There’s Blue Joni. And there’s painter Joni (Joni’s favorite Joni, as she told Jody Denberg in 1998). On her second ever album, Clouds, Joni’s just Joni, fully herself and almost untarnished by production. As on Blue, she sticks almost exclusively to acoustic guitar, an instrument that, like her paintbrush, allowed her to tell stories about relationships (with herself and with others) in the most colorful ways possible. It’s fitting that painter Joni has a place on this record, too: The album cover, like many of hers, is a self-portrait, which is especially appropriate for this exploratory album, a deep-dive into her own psyche and the anatomy of her romantic relationship. On Clouds, Mitchell takes delight in the sunlight coating the streets of her New York City neighborhood (“Chelsea Morning”), confronts fear (“I Think I Understand”) and packs on the natural imagery (most every track). Clouds is by no means flashy, but it’s still home to some of Joni Mitchell’s most beautiful compositions. —Ellen Johnson

jb-black.jpg28. James Brown, Say It Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud
They don’t call James Brown “the Godfather of soul” for nothing. Though he was best known for his later funk masterpieces like 1973’s The Payback, his 27th studio album, Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud was a successful combustion of his soul and pop leanings. The funkiest and most famous cut on this album is the bold title track with its unapologetic pro-black message that sought to reclaim “blackness,” which in the ’60s was often used as a form of disparagement. The album’s tantalizing grooves, smooth brass and swaying gospel organs elevate the record, but the main attraction is Brown’s vocals—sweet and sanguine one moment and ramping up to fiery and sensual the next. Brown’s output was always robust—releasing three original full-lengths and an album of jazz standards in 1969 and dropping four LPs and a Christmas album the previous year—so it’s easy to become numb to his greatness, but make no mistake: Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud is a soul vocal masterclass. —Lizzie Manno

ccr-bayou.jpg27. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bayou Country
Creedence Clearwater Revival was a commercial juggernaut, with nine Top 10 hits between 1969-71, even outselling The Beatles in 1969. Although encamped right across the bay from San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, CCR never injected the slightest hint of peace, love and understanding into its canon. The band had a different inspiration. The strange subterranean world of an imagined South—twisted, eerie and nefarious—inflamed John Fogerty’s mind with images of voodoo ceremonies under gnarled trees dripping with Spanish moss and portent. A fan of horror flicks and Edgar Allan Poe, he urged his band to cover Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You,” penned the dirge freakout “Gloomy,” and put a brittle bite into Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q,” adding dirty, side-winding guitar that slithered into Fogerty’s heart of darkness for an extended jam. By the time Creedence released Bayou Country, the band had two years of hard touring under its big-buckled belts. Fogerty pared down the overwrought lyrics and psychedelic flourishes but, unfortunately, very few of the overlong jams. “Graveyard Train” and “Keep on Chooglin’” were unnervingly good songs, twitching with dread, but were diluted by being strung out too long. Creedence was best in three-minute bursts like the antebellum rumble of “Proud Mary,” Bob Dylan’s favorite single of 1969. But it was cautionary tale “Born on the Bayou” that really elevated this album, and—along with “Bootleg”—fired the first shots of social criticism and working-class ire Fogerty later fanned into a righteous rage on “Fortunate Son,” perhaps his greatest song. —Jaan Uhelszki

scott-4.jpg26. Scott Walker, Scott 4
After the breakup of his hugely successful pop trio The Walker Brothers, crooner Scott Engel (best known before and since as Scott Walker) moved his music as far away from the radio-friendly pop universe as he could. Symphonic renditions of Jacques Brel songs, arch takes on Broadway standards and, on his fourth solo album, original material that evoked the grandeur of Serge Gainsbourg and Ennio Morricone with lyrics inspired by bleak modernist cinema and the invasion of Czechoslovakia. A commercial dud upon its release in late 1969, Scott 4 has slowly earned a place in the pop pantheon thanks to artists like Jarvis Cocker and David Bowie who recognized the elegance and complexity that Engel had written into these shattering classics. —Robert Ham

charlie-haden-lmo.jpg25. Charlie Haden, Liberation Music Orchestra
In 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, bassist Haden delivered this musical protest by his potent 13-piece Liberation Music Orchestra. The seed for this self-titled debut was planted when Haden heard songs from the Spanish Civil War. He included three of those songs on the album (the 21-minute trilogy of “El Quinto Regimiento,” “Los Cuatro Generales” and “Viva la Quince Brigada”), each recast by pianist-arranger Carla Bley. The lone Haden original here is “Song for Che,” dedicated to Cuban revolutionary figure Che Guevara. Another highlight is a radical reimagining of “We Shall Overcome,” inspired by a moment at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago when the California and New York delegations spontaneously began to sing “We Shall Overcome” after the minority plank on Vietnam was defeated in a vote taken on the convention floor. Inspired music with stellar soloing by the likes of Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Gato Barbieri and Roswell Rudd. — Bill Milkowski

mc5-kick.jpg24. MC5, Kick Out the Jams
It might not have been until 1977 when punk rock became somewhat of a household name, but its foundation was set in 1969 with the Motor City Five’s roaring arrival, Kick Out the Jams. The album was recorded live, appropriately enough at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom, but as the band’s later studio albums would prove, it was the only way to capture the restless amp-crankers. The band, who was also notoriously political with their association with the White Panther party, kicks the album off with a speech from crowd riler and “spiritual adviser” Brother J.C. Crawford. The album doesn’t lose pace from there, launching into the jarring “Ramblin’ Rose” before the unmistakable intro to the album’s title track: “Kick out the jams, motherfucker!”—Tyler Kane

lc-songs.jpg23. Leonard Cohen, Songs from a Room
So many of Cohen’s songs thrive because of their monumental size or lyrical density, but the oft-covered “Bird on a Wire” from Songs from a Room is just the opposite; a few simple lines, delivered humbly, both please the ear and engage the mind. On the same album, though, “The Story of Isaac” uses a Biblical tale as a framing device, but his application of the theme of filicide leads to an explicit rebuke to the way the youth of the sixties were being treated by their elders, especially those who would draft them for Vietnam: “You who build these altars now to sacrifice these children, you must not do it anymore.” In that way, it’s less like Dylan’s take on the same myth on Highway 61 Revisited and more like his “Masters of War.” —Nate Logsdon

stooges-st.jpg22. The Stooges, The Stooges
Although the cards weren’t necessarily stacked in their favor (their own label, Elektra, didn’t necessarily believe in them), the only thing that was quiet about The Stooges’ 1969 debut was its impact on the Billboard Charts. The band’s self-titled effort introduced the spastic, howling Iggy Pop behind a studio-tamed backing band. Although the album doesn’t quite capture the band’s bombastic live show, it does showcase their unique (and oddly meticulous) take on songwriting, best showcased in the sludgy “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”—Tyler Kane

fbb-gilded.jpg21. The Flying Burrito Brothers, Gilded Palace of Sin
There were other albums that set a precedent for the rock and roots crossover, a sound that would eventually morph as Americana. The Band, the Byrds, Poco and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band all played roles in that transition, but none made as emphatic an impression as this, the debut album from the Flying Burrito Brothers. Several of its members had flown with the Byrds—bassist Chris Hillman, drummer Michael Clarke and, most notably, the cosmic cowboy himself, Gram Parsons. Indeed, Parsons’ contributions to the Byrds’ classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo segued well into the Burritos’ brand of country cool—longhairs wearing nudie suits paying homage to both the Brothers Everly and Louvin. Several songs, mostly penned by Hillman and Parsons (“Sin City,” “Wheels,” “My Uncle”), left an indelible impression on later generations, but covers of classics by Chips Moman and Dan Penn added respect and reverence to an inevitable insertion of tongue firmly in cheek. —Lee Zimmerman

can-monster-movie.jpg20. CAN, Monster Movie
Yes, this is the album with the palette-swapped Galactus on the cover. I wouldn’t call Monster Movie a planet-eater—at least not on the level of their later albums Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi—but Can’s first album is about as accessible an entry point as you’ll find into the experimental German band. The droning, noise-drenched take on blues rock on the first side is Velvets-influenced in the best way, taking its lead from White Light / White Heat more than anything else. And then “Yoo Doo Right,” the 20-minute epic that makes up all of side two, points at the cosmic voyages Can would embark on throughout the early ’70s, while still retaining the basic language of rock ’n’ roll. Monster Movie is also the only official Can album that original singer Malcolm Mooney performed on, and his fractured phrasing and passionate ranting are as intoxicating as the band’s music. —Garrett Martin

drake-five-leaves.jpg19. Nick Drake, Five Leaves Left
Nick Drake was only 21 when he released his debut album Five Leaves Left. Two albums and five years later, Drake had passed on, leaving the world absent of his melancholy lyrics and unique voice. While Drake only needed a guitar to have an impact, Five Leaves Left gives him a string arrangement on many tracks, like “Way to Blue” and “Day is Done,” making his songs transcendent. Drake wasn’t here for long, but Five Leaves Left shows the beginning of a short career filled with music that is astoundingly gorgeous.—Ross Bonaime

frank-zappa-hot-rats.jpg18. Frank Zappa, Hot Rats
In 1968, you could have dismissed Frank Zappa as an unsavory-minded joke rocker with a hideous mustache. You would have been wrong, of course, but you could, conceivably, have believed such a thing. In 1969, Zappa, temporarily exiled from his Mothers of Invention, released an album with no jokes and very little rock-and-roll. Hot Rats, a kaleidoscopic exercise in jazz-rock fusion, introduced fans to Zappa’s virtuosic compositional abilities and near-limitless fascination with lengthy guitar solos. The rocker’s approach to jazz bursts with cartoonish energy, in part due to his unusual use of speed manipulation to rev up the rhythm tracks. Of particular interest are the opening numbers: “Peaches En Regalia,” an astonishing circus orgy of melodic ideas, and “Willie the Pimp,” a sleazeball anthem sung by gruff-voiced Zappa associate Captain Beefheart. Zappa would follow it up with two subsequent fusion records: Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo. —Zach Schonfeld

csny-st.jpg17. Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crosby Stills & Nash
The self-titled debut album from this supergroup made up of former members of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies starts with the flooring and intricate harmonies on “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and doesn’t let up. While their musicianship—blending the rootsy sounds of blues, jazz, country and folk—was undeniable, Crosby, Stills & Nash’s legacy is also heavily politically vibrant. Later albums would include responses to police brutality during peaceful protests, but their involvement with activism stems from “Long Time Gone”—a response to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. The reflection of their bold viewpoints begins on this friendly pop-medley album that became a cornerstone and a launching point for many musicians’ activism. —Adam Vitcavage

isaac-hayes-hot.jpg16. Isaac Hayes, Hot Buttered Soul
One of the best and most grandiose soul albums ever recorded, Hot Buttered Soul made Isaac Hayes a superstar and changed the face of black pop music for the next decade. Then a prominent songwriter and backing musician at Stax, Hayes was fascinated by traditional songcraft and drawn to the work of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, whose “Walk On By” opens this 1969 album. Rather than heed the song’s concise, compact charms, Hayes explodes it from the center, turning it at first into a symphonic ballad and then a tight jam with The Bar-Kays. “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” is a sweaty funk workout, and “One Woman” a conflicted ode to monogamy, but it’s the third cover, Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” that blows minds with its nine-minute spoken intro and superlatively heraldic horns. —Stephen M. Deusner

fairport-liege.jpg15. Fairport Convention, Liege & Leaf
1969 was the most substantive year of Fairport Convention’s long and still-active history. The folk-rock ensemble had welcomed vocalist Sandy Denny into the fold and with her ringing, aching voice—and the masterful guitar work of Richard Thompson—leading the charge, hit a creative stride that resulted in three albums all released with that span of 12 months. The group hit their collective peak with Liege & Lief, an album that wound jazzy influences into their loose-knit sound (pushed to the fore primarily by their new drummer Dave Mattacks) and which concentrated their writing on material that built off of centuries’ old English folk tunes. The psychedelic influences of the time were unavoidable, too, heard mostly through Thompson’s fleet, slippery leads, but it all felt rooted deep in the British soil, like a giddy walk in a dense forest fueled by camaraderie and a microdose of psilocybin. —Robert Ham

bowie-space.jpg14. David Bowie, Space Oddity
David Bowie’s 1969 album, Space Oddity, would be the record that transitioned him from his early music to the ’70s Bowie who established the essence of glam rock. Bowie’s folk-rock sound at this time provided a humble platform for his unmistakable vocals, and his commentary about the politics and climate of the era are apparent. Displaying his maturation as a musician and visionary, this album is a staple in the musical history of the ’60s. —Nicole Oran

dusty-memphis.jpg13. Dusty Springfield, Dusty in Memphis
For her 1969 magnum opus, the English soul queen hopped across the pond, recording in Memphis with producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin and singing tracks penned by heavyweights like Randy Newman (“I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore” and “Just One Smile”) and Carole King (“So Much Love” and “Don’t Forget About Me”). The album’s crown jewel, however, is the classic “Son of a Preacher Man”—a landmark moment for blue-eyed soul. —Bonnie Stiernberg

velvet-underground-st.jpg12. The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground’s third effort is their first to feature Doug Yule. In addition to playing bass, Yule handles lead vocals on “Candy Says,” the album’s opening ode to Candy Darling (who would later famously become a subject of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”). The album marks a departure for the art rockers as they began to shift from their experimental Warhol years into calmer, mellower—but no less outstanding—sonic territory. —Bonnie Stiernberg

who-tommy.jpg11. The Who, Tommy
On 1967’s excellent The Who Sell Out, guitarist-composer Pete Townshend attempted his first “concept album,” a fake radio broadcast which blended original acid-rock tracks with brief, silly commercial jingle interludes. The “concept,” of course, was just cutesy fluff—nobody was likely prepared for the band’s sprawling 1969 rock opera, Tommy, which (in slightly confusing fashion) chronicles the rise of a “deaf, dumb and blind,” pinball-playing, child-abuse victim who finds fame and a (literal) cult following after being “cured” by a smashed mirror. Or something. While Tommy’s borderline-silly narrative nearly ODs on hippie-fried Summer of Love excess, the music is simply majestic, from psych-pop gems like “Amazing Journey” and “The Acid Queen” to classic rock anthems like “I’m Free,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and the legendary “Pinball Wizard.” —Ryan Reed

captain-beef-trout.jpg10. Captain Beefheart, Trout Mask Replica
Not only the most challenging and polarizing album on this list, but quite possibly ever recorded, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band’s 1969 relic, Trout Mask Replica, still remains ahead of its time over four decades after its initial release. But, speaking from personal experience, it’s an album that will likely break you down and bitch-slap you repeatedly before it blows your mind. Holed up in the studio with producer/longtime buddy Frank Zappa and his gang of musical freaks, Beefheart and company recorded a batshit-crazy 28-track behemoth—one which sprawls from free-jazz noise to bluesy wailing to hypnotic avant-garde doodling, with Beefheart obtrusively moaning his acid-hippie poetry (occasionally in time) over the whole sprawling mess. The first time you hear it, you’re likely disgusted, grasping for dear life to Bill Harkleroad and Jeff Cotton’s wild slide-guitar lines, squeezing out every ounce of rhythm from John French’s cacophonous drum kit. But after three or four listens, the insanity starts to click, and before you know it, your notions of pop music have been irrevocably altered, for better or worse (but probably better). —Ryan Reed

miles-silent.jpg9. Miles Davis, In a Silent Way
Polarizing is just one word out of many (some much more colorful) that jazz enthusiasts would use to describe Miles Davis’ 1969 foray into electric jazz, In A Silent Way. Though a far cry from his seminal Kind of Blue, it’s still just as transportive: two different means to the same end. Davis has a way of using his solos like sentences to express a certain thought or feeling, and here, Davis’ solos delineate a newness of vision that his previous material didn’t. The social and political climate of the late 1960s had huge influences on many artists of the time, and Davis’ takeaway was incorporating some more rock ‘n’ roll sounds while still staying true to his jazz roots, a line he expertly toes on In A Silent Way. —Patty Miranda

king-crimson-court.jpg8. King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King
Although it’s tried ever since, progressive music has never been as heavy-hitting as the opener of King Crimson’s debut album, “21st Century Schizoid Man. The song, which was dressed up with over-distorted guitars, finger-flying note runs and radio-filtered hooks, brought a new focus to rock music by leaning on jazz and classical influence over the English love of blues music. The result was a highly influential album that will be referenced by progressive acts for years to come. —Tyler Kane

dylan-nashville.jpg7. Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline
Bob Dylan has adopted many a persona throughout his career—rebel kid, political provocateur, rock star—but on his ninth studio album Nashville Skyline, he takes on the role of country crooner. And though he’s more often heralded for his influential folk discography and stature as a cultural figure, when Dylan decided to make a country album, he decided to do it right. Like any great country record, Nashville Skyline is the perfect amount of twang, stomp, weepiness and longing. Dylan bemoans his romantic mistakes on “I Threw It All Away” and expertly folds in slide guitar on the suggestive bedroom ballad “Lay, Lady, Lay.” He even recruited Johnny Cash to duet with him on the album opener, “Girl from the North Country,” one man’s nostalgic pining for a lost love (“Remember me to one who lives there / She once was a true love of mine.”) But don’t mistake Dylan’s categorical pivot for softening: The songs on Nashville may have been less socially urgent, but during this time Dylan himself remained an American symbol as political turmoil continued to swarm in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Richard Nixon’s inauguration in early 1969 and the raging on of the Vietnam War. Cowboy or cultural icon, in 1962 or ’69, there are few who stack up to Dylan. —Ellen Johnson

band-band.jpg6. The Band, The Band
By the time The Band released their self-titled follow-up, they were fairly well-established and even had some detractors in the upper echelons of rock criticism. In one particularly notable instance, the Dean of rock critics, Robert Christgau, expected to hate The Band based on his dislike of Music From Big Pink, but went on to suggest it was better than Abbey Road. Nowadays, even and especially in the wake of the recent passing of Levon Helm, nothing about The Band’s greatness shocks us, and for many fans, choosing between this album and Music From Big Pink is like choosing a favorite child. Here, the group showcases its knack for telling stories and, through lyrics and pure power, inspiring empathy in listeners, whether it be for the poor family farmer (“King Harvest (Has Surely Come)”) or the enemy of enemies, the Confederate soldier (“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”). —Lindsay Eanet

lz2.jpg5. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II
Let’s all pause for a second and reflect one of the most astounding facts in rock history: The first four Led Zeppelin albums were released over a period of three years. Led Zeppelin II is the pioneering quartet’s most hastily assembled work, written and recorded largely on tour (occasionally the result of extended in-concert improvisation), laid down on the cheap with breakneck speed at various studios in both Britain and the U.S. The band’s sophomore opus takes the psychedelic blues-rock template of their debut and amplifies it, cranking frontman Robert Plant’s mystique and raw sexuality to 11. And the album never sounds like a patchwork, partly due to guitarist Jimmy Page’s groundbreaking production, and also due to the band’s well-rehearsed power and finesse. And for every voodoo-blues riff anthem like “Whole Lotta Love” and “Heartbreaker,” there’s a tasteful reinvention like the groovy, harmony-filled “What Is And What Should Never Be” or the folky-turned-heavy “Ramble On.” —Ryan Reed

ny-everybody.jpg4. Neil Young, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
After the commercial success of the singer/songwriterly Neil Young, the iconoclastic rocker tore down everything he’d built with the fractious Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Built on long jams, jarring guitars and a sense of looseness that bordered on sloppy, there were few records as thrilling as the churning build of the 9:27 “Down By The River” or the ebb and flow of the 10:06 “Cowgirl In The Sand.” Crazy Horse was kerosene to Young’s spark, and Danny Whitten (guitar), Ralph Molina (drums) and Billy Talbott (bass) created a churning foundation for the songwriter to work against. From the opening blasts of “Cinnamon Girl,” it was obvious Young wanted to blaze; even on the more expected “The Losing End (When You’re On),” there was a brio that spoke to this newfound raucousness. —Holly Gleason

sly-stand.jpg3. Sly & the Family Stone, Stand!
Years before Sly Stone’s drug addiction and enigmatic persona fully materialized, he was changing the way people viewed soul and pop music from a musical, cultural and racial standpoint. Stand! catapulted Sly & the Family Stone into mainstream success, combining ample doses of lyrical consciousness and infectious pop songwriting into one cohesive record. Before transitioning into psych-soul pioneers on their subsequent record, There’s A Riot Goin’ On, the group achieved a near-perfect balance of both sides of their career—refining their earlier work (“Stand!,” “Everyday People”) while hinting at the experimentation to follow (“Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey,” “Sex Machine”). —Max Blau

beatles-abbey.jpg2. The Beatles, Abbey Road
It’s the last thing the Fab Four ever recorded (though Let It Be would be released after the fact), but listen to Abbey Road and there isn’t the slightest sonic indication that you’re hearing The Beatles falling apart at the seams. Despite whatever band turmoil was going on during the recording sessions, it’s arguably their most balanced record, with Lennon and McCartney each contributing songs in their distinct styles and George Harrison penning two of his finest tracks (“Here Comes The Sun” and the brilliant “Something”). Even Ringo has his moment in the sun with “Octopus’ Garden” and contributes his only drum solo in the group’s history on “The End.” It’s packed to the gills with classic tracks like “Come Together” and “Oh! Darling,” but there’s a wonderful cohesiveness to Abbey Road—it feels like a unit rather than merely a collection of strong tracks. Exhibit A: side two’s epic, 16-minute medley, which blends together song fragments to create an album kicker greater than the sum of its parts. —Bonnie Stiernberg

rs-letitbleed.jpg1. The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed
The Rolling Stones released Let It Bleed on Dec. 5, 1969. One day later, one murder and three accidental deaths occurred at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival. While it’s likely that the proximity of the two dates was coincidental, the end of the hippie era came right after The Rolling Stones released an album that spoke to the tumultuous times surrounding the present day. “Gimme Shelter” infamously opens their album, warning about the violence and crime lurking just around the bend. Keith Richards wrote some of his finest riffs on Let It Bleed, filling out their songs alongside Mick Jagger’s darker lyrics on war, drugs and loneliness. Ultimately, as with many Stones albums, the tales of redemption and glimmers of hope reign supreme. Let It Bleed closes with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” wrapping up the last great album released in the ’60s. In closing out a volatile decade, it offers reassurance and hope in the simplest of messages—complete with a celestial choir to bring it all on home. —Max Blau

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