1968 was a sociopolitical crossroads at which a war, political schisms, activism, youth culture, style, the arts and the widening gender gap all converged in a fast moment of change. The exhibit 1968: The Year That Rocked History at History Colorado, which officially opens to the public on Saturday, February 7, at the History Colorado Center, brings all of those divergent directions together; in advance of the show's debut, we're rolling out a suite of lists to prep you for the 1968 experience.
To understand the music of 1968, you have to first understand the year as a turning point where Top 40 hits collided with the age of crafted albums and underground radio. Top 40 was all about the song -- rock, folk, soul, funk, r&b and country tunes mingled freely across the airwaves -- while albums of the late '60s became more complex, with tunes that stretched out and segued into each other. Following is a sampler of what we were listening to in 1968.
See also: Seven Films That Opened Our Eyes in 1968
14) Cream: "Sunshine of Your Love" From the 1967 breakout album Disraeli Gears but released as a single in '68, "Sunshine of Your Love" is driven by Cream's blend of poetry and pure power -trio sonics. As a band whose members always seemed to be working with -- and against -- one another in a web of dynamic tension, the amalgam of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker still sounds fresh decades later. "Sunshine of Your Love" breaks the aesthetic down to its true nitty gritty.13) The Beatles: "Hey Jude"
Originally written by Paul McCartney for John Lennon's son Julian during a rocky time, "Hey Jude" was a sing-along Beatles anthem/ballad in its purest form, stretching out in the familiar repeated coda of "Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey Jude" -- an ear worm if ever there was one. Everyone needs a sad song that makes things better; "Hey Jude" served that purpose in 1968. It was also the first single released by Apple Records and was named Billboard's tenth-biggest song of all time in 2013.12) Otis Redding: (Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay"
"The Dock of the Bay" was an unintentional swan song for one of the period's most revered soul singers -- Otis Redding recorded the tune, which he wrote with a Stax regular, the groove-worthy guitarist Steve Cropper, in late 1967, and a few days later died in a plane crash. Released early in 1968, "Dock of the Bay" blasted to the top of the charts, a fitting -- and peaceful -- tribute to a major talent.
Continue reading for more songs that rocked 1968.
11) Simon and Garfunkel: "Mrs. Robinson" In 1968, The Graduate, the Mike Nichols film that signaled new directions in movie-making and made a star of /Dustin Hoffman, included the theme song "Mrs. Robinson," a perfect blend of witty songwriting, upbeat guitar and impeccably blended voices from the album Bookends. The song displays Simon and Garfunkel at their best.10) Laura Nyro: "Stoned Soul Picnic"
"Stoned Soul Picnic" was a bigger hit in 1968 for the Fifth Dimension, but to hear it straight from the lips of the songwriter is far more sublime. Funky and heartfelt, and self-accompanied by Laura Nyro on the piano, the tune epitomizes the softer side of the rise of youth culture.9) The Rascals: "A Beautiful Morning"
The Rascals, by 1968 a more with-it version of the Young Rascals, kicked off the year with "A Beautiful Morning," a continuation of the relaxed mood of 1967's "Groovin." The million-selling song is an evocative Italo-soul walk in the park from the songwriting team of Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati.
8) The Rolling Stones: "Jumpin' Jack Flash"
Right from the opening riff, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" -- along with the albumBeggars Banquet
-- signaled a move back to the Stones's dirty roots after a period of psychedelia. A first look at the stellar and mature rock to come from Jagger/Richards, the tune took the blues into new country.
Continue reading for more songs that rocked 1968.7) Big Brother and the Holding Company: "Piece of My Heart"
The raw force that was Janis Joplin was first unleashed on the radio with this song by the songwriting team of Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Berns. A perfect example of Joplin's tough yet plaintive hurt-woman voicings, "Piece of My Heart" brought the San Francisco sound to the people, front and center.6) The Chambers Brothers: "Time Has Come Today"
The Chamber Brothers dipped their toes into the psychedelic revolution with "Time Has Come Today," a tune that came in two versions -- the shorter one for Top 40 play and the long version, which tripped out in a tick-tock generated wave of reverb. Urgently sung and evocative of a youth culture seeking change, it was a high point of the late '60s vibe.5) Aretha Franklin: "Think"
The '60s wouldn't be the '60s without a hit from the Queen of Soul, and in 1968, it was "Think," a quick-stepping admonishment to two-timed women to keep their eyes open and fend for themselves. Songs like this one anticipated the growing feminist movement without even trying.4) Dionne Warwick: "Do You Know the Way to San Jose"
Dionne Warwick's gentle soul stylings crossed with tunes from the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David during a light-hearted stretch of years, and the Grammy-winner "San Jose" was the collaboration's biggest hit.
Continue reading for more songs that rocked 1968.3) Jimi Hendrix: All Along the Watchtower
This powerful interpretation of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" is a controlled masterpiece showcasing Hendrix's trademark screaming guitar and vocal phrasing from the Electric Ladyland album. It also portends thoughtful changes in the guitar god's direction as he stretches out and tries new things.
2) Marvin Gaye: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" Sophisticated soul singer Marvin Gaye stands out as a giant of the '60s, and "Grapevine" is one of his greatest moments: The carefully crafted Motown beat and Gaye's inspired slow-tempo interpretation both stand out on what became one of the label's biggest -- and catchiest -- hits.1) The Byrds: "You Ain't Going Nowhere"
Gram Parsons would go on to influence Keith Richards and the Stones in magical, drug-heavy ways, but he did it first with Roger McGuinn and the Byrds on the albumSweetheart of the Rodeo
, a headlong dive into country-rock that foreshadowed a whole movement to come in the music world. Though it wasn't a huge hit as a single, "You Ain't Going Nowhere," with its lilting refrain and pedal steel guitar, set off a whole new way of looking at pop music.
To keep up with the Froyd's eye view of arts and culture in Denver, "like" my fan page on Facebook.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.