Album Of The Year: 1968

The idea behind this ‘series’ is that once every two weeks another year will be brought into attention, starting with 1963 and moving onward chronologically. One and only one album will be selected and written about from each year, the criteria being a mix of personal preference and historical relevance. If you stumble upon this article by any chance and end up not clicking the ‘x’ button in disgust, keep in mind that I would love to hear your choice for the respective year – from a simple comment stating the album’s name, to detailed analysis that will destroy my argument and make me reconsider my reasoning. Remember, one of the main reasons I’m doing this is to get a better perspective of what albums I’ve missed out on, from each period of time.

Today’s Pick: The BeatlesThe Beatles (The White Album)

The Beatles [White Album] (Dis

Sometimes, what’s even more interesting that listening to one band’s established masterpiece is seeing how they manage(d) to follow it up. Over the years, great artists proved us that possibilities are many – one can abandon experimentalism altogether and turn to a more traditional, conservative approach (Bob Dylan, The Doors), one can shift the focus to the ‘personal’ (The Who, The Band) or one can simply offer an encyclopedic, unedited image of himself at the time (Aerosmith, Velvet Underground, Jefferson Airplane).

The White Album, released at the height of the Beatles’ critical and commercial popularity, features all this approaches at one point or another and maybe even more. Presented under the form of a double album, this is a journey not only through each Beatle’s state of mine at the time, but also, dare I say it, through popular music up to that point. Rock ‘n’ roll, blues, folk, pop, ska, country, music hall, hard rock and avant-garde among others feel completely at home here.

Place this concept in the hands of your average band and they’ll most likely be bound to come up with one big, confused mess. But this is The Beatles we’re talking about, and their sense of melody as well as humor is as good as ever, providing more than enough accessibility. Another aspect that ties and sews the album like no other is the absolutely perfect sequencing – with every single one of the 30 songs is in its exact right place. And the contrasts that some of the transitions provide are just breathtaking: roaring madness turning into silent contemplation, noisy avalanche of sounds followed by a sappy lullaby, goofy story-telling morphing into meticulous guitar-weeping or biting social critique into a cute, inoffensive throwback. And that’s just naming a few.

What The Beatles have achieved here transcends the idea of what an album should be, just as much as Sgt. Pepper did so the previous year. If there is one particular aspect about 1968 that always fascinates me, it’s how music went into a million directions. But, out of the all the bands we have to thank for that, only one managed to capture that very essence onto their record. To me, The White Album isn’t just the best album of 1968. It is 1968.

Do you agree? What’s your favourite album from 1968?

Find the previous parts here: 1963196419651966, 1967

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11 replies

  1. That is a great point about the variety of genres represented on the album. It was almost as if they said, “Stop. Let’s think about all that has gone before,” and then recorded it. Also, I can’t think of any other artist who has done the same sort of thing in their own history.

    I’m not sure who else could pull it off, because the balance of talent and personalities in the Beatles made a lot of what they did best possible. Zepplin was another band with a similar mix of four, but I think that some of those individuals were more volatile, and I’m not sure they had the range going for them. Plant has demonstrated his range post-Zepplin, as has Page to a certain extend. John Paul Jones of course has as a producer, but I don’t think it was the same thing with those guys.

    Anyway, sorry to go off on a tangent. The White Album is pretty amazing.

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    • I think there were other rock/pop artists who did this type of “throw-it-all” album, but all of them after and most likely directly influenced by The Beatles. Rolling Stones did something similar with Exile on Main Street and Clash with Sandinista, to give some examples.

      Good points in the second paragraph. Do you feel any of the Beatles’ individual solo work is as good as their work as a group? Thanks for commenting, I appreciate it.

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  2. YES!
    There were other strong ’68 albums (Lady Soul, Village Green) but this is the album I’m saving for review #1001/1001. A perfect record with, as you mentioned, the perfect sequencing.

    1969 might be the strongest year of the 60s (if not all time) – looking forward to seeing who gets the top spot!

    Great review as per usual Ovidiu.

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  3. My favorite beatles album!

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  4. Love the last two sentences; one of the two best double albums there ever was and it *deserves* to be the standard by which all double albums are held, and for every weak song (ie. “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road”), there’s about 4 good ones. “I’m So Tired”‘s my favorite.

    That being said, I think for 1968, I’d go for White Light/White Heat and the Village Green Preservation Society before this one.

    I also shudder because I’m guessing Abbey Road’s your pick for ’69.

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  5. I’ve been mulling this one over and reckon that my favourite of 1968 would have to be Spirit’s The Family That Plays Together (Neil Young’s self-titled and Electric Ladyland push it hard, though). It’s an album that I keep going back to and I honestly don’t reckon there’s a band song on there. This is personal preference, obviously, but there were few bands better than Spirit.

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