1968 – As I remember it
by Pete Clemons.
1968 was a tumultuous year for news items. Amongst them, The Vietnam War was raging, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated and Enoch Powell was making his controversial speeches. In sport, racing driver Jim Clark was killed, Manchester United became the first English football team to win the European Cup and West Brom won the F.A. Cup. I chose these happenings as they are things I can recall fairly easily. Despite that it is still hard to believe that these events happened fifty years ago.
On television we were watching such stuff as Magpie, Joe 90, Please Sir, Father Dear Father and The Champions. Mary Hopkin appeared, and won, Opportunity Knocks. Mary was then recommended to Paul McCartney who promptly signed her up on the newly formed Apple Records. Mary would then top the singles chart with ‘Those Were the Days’. Again, I chose these programmes as they are, simply, ones that came to mind.
The music charts during 1968 were equally eclectic as the TV stations were. The first few weeks, for example, still found The Beatles ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and ‘The Sound of Music’ original soundtrack still battling it out at the top of the albums chart as they had done through a lot of 1967. But this was soon to change as February saw them over taken by the first Tamla Motown LPs to reach the top of the UK chart. And these records came by way of The Four Tops and Diana Ross and the Supremes.
And so it went throughout the year with the likes of Andy Williams, Otis Redding, Tom Jones, The Small Faces and Simon and Garfunkel all reaching that coveted number one position until, in December, The Beatles returned to number one with their double white album which grabbed attention from all corners. But the imaginative White Album came at the end of a year where popular music was already beginning to stretch itself with a good number of bands, throughout the year, both from the UK and US, challenging peoples listening habits.
Amongst the records I remember listening to, that fell into the ‘against the grain’ category back then, included albums by bands on both sides of the Atlantic such as Family, Spooky Tooth, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Canned Heat, The Soft Machine, The Pentangle, The Eclection, Spirit, Fleetwood Mac, The Steve Miller Band, The Gun, Love Sculpture and Jeff Beck. I’m sure there were others.
Even more remarkable was that for a lot of these bands, they were releasing their debut albums during 1968. Andin fact, Steve Miller, Canned Heat, Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall and The Moody Blues each managed to release a couple of classic albums during this year while bands like Cream were releasing their final albums. This was also the year that Pink Floyd added guitarist David Gilmour and released ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’.
Donovan’s grand boxed release ‘A gift From a Flower to a Garden’ had its UK release during 1968 and, although released some years earlier, listeners caught up with John Lee Hooker’s classic ‘Burnin’ album after it was given its first official UK release on the Joy label. 1968 also saw the release of Jimi Hendrix’s incredible double LP ‘Electric Ladyland’ and the recording of The Rolling Stones concept show titled ‘Rock and Roll Circus’.
Finally on the LP front, and of more local interest, is that of The Ray King bands LP ‘Live at the Playboy Club. 2018 also sees this remarkable recording hitting the landmark of having been released 50 years ago.
Equally as diverse as the albums chart was its equivalent for singles. Number ones here included songs by Des O’Connor, Esther and Abi Ofarim, Tommy James and the Shondells, The Union Gap, The Rolling Stones, Hugh Montenegro, The Scaffold and The Equals.
Other notable singles success I remember from 1968 included releases by Herb Alpert, Status Quo, The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Jose Feliciano, Aretha Franklin, John Fred and his Playboy Band, Judy Clay and William Bell, The Beach Boys, Mama Cass, OC Smith and Booker T and the MG’s.
So that is the way I remember 1968. Others will no doubt see it all so differently. And, as is the case, I am sure I will be kicking myself for failed to mention an obvious release.
Music charts and sales are a fact of life. It is how a lot of people judge a records success. However I personally feel that the benchmark of a good record is its longevity to the individual. By that I mean ‘do I still listen to it’. And after 50 years a lot of the above mentioned records, particularly those that were a part of ‘the underground scene’, still give me an awful lot of pleasure even today. To me, that says an awful lot about them.