As the new year draws closer, we’ve decided to take a look the music that’s gotten us to where we are today. So in an effort to broaden our musical horizons and our understanding of contemporary artists, we’re counting down 2012 by counting up from 1952, taking a look at a handful of songs from a different year every day until January 1st. You can find the full list here. Today we’re heading back to 1968!
Johnny Cash – “Greystone Chapel” live at Folsom Prison
“All you have with you in the cell is your bare animal instincts.” So said Johnny Cash in the liner notes of At Folsom Prison, one of popular music’s key achievements. It’s as game-changing and immaculate as all important artifacts are, but fearless in a way that few ever come close to. The quote illustrate’s Cash’s fascination with the prison system and its inhabitants, and the album represents a perfect convergence of passion, creative genius, and social importance. “Greystone Chapel” is one of the album’s most poignant tracks; it’s a cover of a Glen Shirley song, a country artist and then-resident of Folsom Prison, who watched completely stunned as Cash performed his song into rock history.
James Brown – “Cold Sweat” live at Boston Garden
Filmed the day after Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, a civil rights champion of another stripe took the stage, and gave everything he had to put some joy back in the hearts of the audience. Overstating James Brown’s importance to modern music is as impossible as selecting a “favorite” performance when he was at the top of his game, but few have the same powerful context as this.
Canned Heat – “Going Up The Country” and “On The Road Again”
The two best Canned Heat songs, both sung by Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson – so nicknamed because he was all but blind without his glasses – who was part of the classic Heat lineup until his death by overdose in 1970. Though it isn’t considered death by suicide, Wilson had made a couple unsuccessful attempts to take his own life before his eventual demise at 27 years old.
Otis Redding – “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”
The King of Soul’s final recording will always retain an eerie presence, as it was cut just three days before he drowned in a plane crash. While he had began to garner the worldwide acclaim he so deserved, his death cut him off from the barrage of accolades, like an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” would become the first posthumous single to top charts in the US.
The Zombies – “Care of Cell 44″
As we witness a creatively rich psychedelic revival, it pays to revisit one of the original wave’s bonafide genius groups, The Zombies. “Care of Cell 44” is a sweetly earnest, mischievous track, written from the perspective of a spouse awaiting her lover to return from prison. Although dismissed on it’s original release, their album Odessey[sic] and Oracle is now regarded as a classic (personal favorite: “This Will Be Our Year”)
Silver Apples – “Misty Mountain”
If you listen to electronic music, you can thank this drum and synth duo for shepherding in that entire concept. They helped bridge the gap between musique concrete and popular culture, which at the time happened to be psychedelia. And as you couldn’t just buy a synth at the supermarket, the band made their own; The Simeon was made by band member Simeon Coxe III, and helped define both the band’s sound and many sounds to come.
The Beatles – “Revolution 9″
That “Revolution 9” continues to divide Beatles fans as it does is a testament to its force. On its release “Revolution” was a revelation; the exposure of millions of unsuspecting Beatles (read: pop music) fans around the world to the kind of art reserved for the planet’s most cosmopolitan cities. Lennon, who assembled the piece with Yoko Ono and George Harrison, claimed that he tried and failed to paint a picture of a revolution with sound, a concept largely inspired by experimental German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. While it may not have achieved what Lennon intended, it continues to inspire and provoke discussion, and who could ask for anything more from their art?
The Rolling Stones – “Street Fighting Man”
Proving that they could stand with The Beatles in experimental, politically-minded rock, The Stones wrote their own “Revolution” with “Street Fighting Man.” The background sitar (played by Brian Jones) and distinct lo-fi sound (recorded on cassette with a toy drum kit) help solidify the track as one of their best and most enduring songs.