The alternative top 50 records of the 1960s

By in Features, Lists

Initially, we asked writer and music historian Chris May to collaborate with the VF editorial team to explore what we called the “most collectable” records of the 1950s. Not determined by monetary value, we hoped to tease out records that deserved a place in your collection for their importance as artefacts, whether rare, revolutionary or representative of a moment in time.

Moving into the following decade, the second chapter focuses on the 1960s, but instead of defining the selection as “collectable”, we’ve chosen to call it “alternative”. Rather than a generic signifier, we’ve used this as a way to highlight music that doesn’t fit so comfortably into the enshrined narrative of the most feted decade of popular music.

Take a step back from the traditional view of the ’60s musical landscape in favour of nascent disco and funk scenes, electronic experimentation, pop music from across the globe and a few overlooked gems from closer to home.

A few dozen of the most prominent artists of the 1960s are conspicuously absent from this survey. There is nothing by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead or the Jefferson Airplane, among other familiar names. The achievements of these big-hitters were breathtaking, but they have been well documented elsewhere. The world does not need another list of essential 1960s’ albums which includes Pet Sounds, A Love Supreme and Forever Changes.

The intention here is to offer a less obvious, more alternative perspective on the decade. Nothing is included, however, on the grounds of obscurity. Quality is the sole criterion for selection. Some of the discs were widely available on release but, for one reason or another, were overlooked. Others were only available in their countries of origin and, in a pre-internet age, were unknown or unobtainable elsewhere. Many are still overlooked but, in a more connected world, all are relatively low-hanging fruit today.

The first chapter in this series, The 50 most collectable records of the 1950s, demonstrated that the music being released during that decade was by no means the monochrome and conservative entity it is typically portrayed to have been. The idea that the 1960s were all psychedelia and long-form improvisatory epics is similarly inaccurate.

The records are listed chronologically and, even without the usual suspects, a broad outline of the decade emerges, in all its wonderful variety. Some of the items will be known to you; others, hopefully, will not and you will find a few new treasures among them.

The Ventures
Walk Don’t Run
(Dolton LP, 1960)

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By the early 1960s, the days of clean-cut, twangtastic guitar groups such as the Ventures were numbered (as were high-waisted pedal pushers for fashion-conscious women, at least for a time). But what by mid-decade must have sounded like it came from the distant past, today sounds like something from a distant planet. Among the arcane delights on Walk Don’t Run are versions of jazz guitarist Johnny Smith’s title tune, Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’ and R&B juke-box stalwarts ‘Night Train’ and ‘Honky Tonk.’ Soon, the Ventures would be shouldered aside by a new wave of bands inspired by Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and the electric blues of Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Willie Dixon and……

Muddy Waters
At Newport 1960
(Chess LP, 1960)

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Do not be fooled – Muddy Waters may have posed with his friend John Lee Hooker’s semi-acoustic guitar for the cover shot of this album, but he was about to go onstage with a Fender Telecaster and light up a receptive Newport Jazz Festival with 100% electric Chicago blues. Water’s ace band features second guitarist Tat Harris and the made-in-heaven set list includes ‘I Got My Brand On You,’ ‘I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,’ ‘Baby, Please Don’t Go’ and ‘Got My Mojo Working.’

Todd Matshiskiza / Pat Williams
King Kong: All African Jazz Opera
(Gallotone LP, 1961)

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Opera for the people, by the people. Composed by South African pianist and journalist Todd Matshiskiza, King Kong tells the true story of boxer turned gangster Ezekiel “King Kong” Dhlamini. This original-cast album is chock-a-block with great songs and features such township-jazz luminaries as trumpeter Hugh Masekela, saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, trombonist Jonas Gwanga and singers Miriam Makeba and Letta Mbulu.

Various Artists
Jazz Jamaica From The Workshop
(Studio One LP, 1962)

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Jamaican jazz has an A-grade pedigree stretching back to the 1950s and artists including saxophonists Joe Harriott and Wilton Gaynair and trumpeter Dizzy Reece. By the start of the 1960s, these musicians were living abroad, but a new generation had emerged. Among those showcased here are guitarist Ernest Ranglin, saxophonists Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso and trombonist Don Drummond, who became founder members of Studio One’s house band, the Skatalites. The album may not have enjoyed the production resources of contemporary Blue Note hard-bop releases but it lacks none of the artistry.

Francoise Hardy
Francoise Hardy
(Disques Vogue LP, 1962)

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Singer-songwriter Francoise Hardy’s debut album is among the most beguiling sets of pop-chanson of the 1960s, and its opener, the sweetly innocent ‘Tous Les Garçons Et Les Filles,’ is one of the music’s all-time magic moments. Although France was swept along by Beatlemania a year or so later, chanson survived the ensuing Anglophone onslaught – the decade ended with Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg’s altogether less innocent ‘Je T’Aime….Moi Non Plus.’

Attilio Mineo
Man In Space With Sound
(World’s Fair Records LP, 1962)

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A milestone in early electronic music, Man In Space With Sound was commissioned as the soundscape for the Bubbleator, a “worlds of the future” ride at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. The Bubbleator was a 150-seat, bubble shaped, see-through plastic lift, operated by an attendant wearing a shiny silver space-suit. During the ascent, the Bubbleator’s outer shell would appear to shape-shift, giving the impression of seeing the world through a rainbow-coloured lens. Mineo’s score combines modernistic tunes with off-planet sound effects painstakingly produced with pre-Moog technology.

Modern Jazz Quartet
Lonely Woman
(Atlantic LP, 1962)

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MJQ leader, pianist John Lewis’ blend of jazz, blues and Baroque-era counterpoint was never better realised than on this album. It opens with a breathtakingly pretty take on Ornette Coleman’s title song, followed by six Lewis originals and Gary McFarland’s blues ballad ‘Why Are You Blue.’ Fugal counterpoints run through the set, with vibraphonist Milt Jackson, as always, keeping one foot in the blues to balance Lewis’ one foot in the conservatoire.

Haruna Ishola and his Group
Apala Songs
(Decca LP, 1962)


Originating among Nigeria’s Yoruba people, apala music, a complex, cross rhythm-focused style, is closely related to fuji, its simplified 1980s’ descendent. In the 1960s, apala rivalled highlife and juju in popularity. The all-acoustic music was performed by virtuosic talking-drums and percussion ensembles playing layered, multiple cross-rhythms, topped by call and response vocals drawn from Yoruba proverbs. Haruna Ishola was apala’s biggest star and any of his albums should be seized on sight.

Jimmy Smith
Bashin’ – The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith
(Verve LP, 1962)

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Jimmy Smith’s first venture into orchestral jazz is sensational. Side one consists of four tunes atmospherically arranged by Oliver Nelson – Elmer Bernstein’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side,’ Oscar Hammerstein’s ‘Ol’ Man River,’ Duke Ellington’s ‘In A Mellotone’ and Nelson’s ‘Step Right Up’ – side two of more predictable trio tracks. Follow-up The Cat, arranged by Lalo Schifrin, does not quite cut it, although the title track and ‘Blues In The Night’ get close.

Antonio Carlos Jobim
The Composer Of Desafinado, Plays
(Verve LP, 1963)

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Without Antonio Carlos Jobim, bossa nova might never have happened. Jobim’s ‘Chega De Saudade,’ singer and guitarist João Gilberto’s breakthrough 1958 single, established the basic template from which the music developed. The instrumental The Composer Of Desafinado, Plays presents Jobim on piano and guitar fronting a large strings-included ensemble arranged by his longtime collaborator Claus Ogerman, on a dozen of his most celebrated early-period pieces, from ‘Saudade’ through ‘The Girl From Ipanema.’ Pure bliss.

Curtis Amy & Dupree Bolton
(Pacific Jazz LP, 1963)

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Hard-bop heaven, Katanga! is a must-have both for the soulful tenor saxophone of Curtis Amy and the full-tilt solos of the woefully under-recorded trumpeter Dupree Bolton, an obsessively reclusive loner whose life-long struggles with heroin and the law kept him away from the studio for most of his life. Fellow trumpeter Chet Baker was a functioning junkie. Bolton was not. His other album-length release is the equally essential The Fox, made in 1959 with tenor saxophonist Harold Land.

Frank Sinatra
The Concert Sinatra
(Reprise LP, 1963)

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Frank Sinatra’s most accomplished albums are generally agreed to be those he recorded for Capitol in the 1950s with orchestras arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle – sophisticated masterpieces such as In The Wee Small Hours and Songs For Swingin’ Lovers!. Then, in 1961, Sinatra formed his own label, Reprise, and wanting a clean break from the past, at first worked with other arrangers. He reunited with Riddle for The Concert Sinatra, which is as pitch perfect as the pair’s earlier collaborations.

Mighty Sparrow
The Slave
(National Recording Company LP, 1963)

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He has competitors, but Trinidad’s Mighty Sparrow is arguably calypso’s most consistently fascinating singer-songwriter, and the one with the most verbal dexterity. Be it comical or serious, Sparrow’s wordplay is remarkable even by calypso’s advanced standards and The Slave covers both bases. The 7-minute title track is a forensic denunciation of the slave trade to the West Indies and its modern-day legacy, while the upbeat ‘Stupid Married Man’ and most of the other tracks inhabit more light-hearted territory.

Grant Green
Feelin’ The Spirit
(Blue Note LP, 1963)

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Though best remembered for his records with organ trios, Grant Green’s two most distinctive albums were made with nimbler, acoustic line-ups. One is the lovely Idle Moments, made with a sextet including tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. The other, made a year earlier with a hornless quintet, is Feelin’ The Spirit, in which Green stretches out over gospel evergreens such as ‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee’ and ‘Go Down Moses.’ Pianist Herbie Hancock accompaniment is acutely responsive.

Etta James
Rocks The House
(Argo LP, 1964)

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Etta James never achieved the mainstream breakthrough she deserved, but she made some blinding albums. Rocks The House was her first and, most would agree, best live release, recorded in 1963 for Chess subsidiary Argo. Backed by a take-no-prisoners quintet of tenor saxophone, organ, guitar, bass and drums, James works her good-foot magic on blues and R&B standards including ‘What’d I Say,’ ‘Money (That’s What I Want),’ ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do’ and ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You.’

Nara Leão
(Elenco LP, 1964)

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A close associate of the first generation of bossa nova songwriters, who frequently got together to exchange ideas in her Copacabana apartment in the late 1950s, Nara Leão emerged in the early 1960s as an accomplished singer and guitarist in her own right. After a military junta seized power in Brazil in 1964, Leão temporarily abandoned bossa in favour of folk-based protest songs. Her debut album, Nara, recorded shortly after the coup, features material by her like-minded friends Carlos Lyra, Eduardo Lobo, Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes.

Johnny Cash
Original Sun Sound Of Johnny Cash
(Sun LP, 1964)

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By 1964, Johnny Cash had left Sam Philips’ Sun label for the artistic autonomy and bigger budgets offered by Columbia. But Sun still had enough unreleased material in the vault to release this album. Featuring songs by Lead Belly, Charlie Rich and Charlie Feathers, stand out tracks include unpolished but eminently collectable versions of classics such as ‘Always Alone,’ ‘New Mexico’ and ‘Goodnight Irene.’

Dark City Sisters
Star Time with the Dark City Sisters
(His Master’s Voice LP, 1964)

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The Dark City Sisters were the leading female vocal group in South Africa during the 1960s, rivalled only by the Mahotella Queens. They performed an upbeat, dancefloor-focused style of kwela which later morphed into mbaqanga. On their debut album the Sisters are supported by Alexandra Black Mambazo (from which the Ladysmith choir went on to take its name). The beat is infectious, the tunes catchy, the vocal harmonies divine – and ‘Langa More’ (“a new dance”) is so instantly appealing you may get RSI hitting the replay button.

Ray Barretto ‎
Señor 007
(United Artists LP, 1965)

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Born in New York to Puerto Rican parents, conga virtuoso Ray Barretto cut his teeth in Tito Puente’s mambo orchestra. In 1963, with his own hit single ‘El Watusi,’ Barretto became a prime mover in what soon became known as boogaloo, the first truly Nuyorican dance music. Despite its high-kitsch sleeve design, the James Bond-themed Señor 007 is packed with hard driving, incandescent music, arguably the best Barretto recorded during 1960s. John Barry’s, Anthony Newley’s and Monty Norman’s main-title songs and incidental music never sounded like this before – or since.

Ali Akbar Khan
North Indian Master Of The Sarod
(World Pacific LP, 1964)

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Playing the sarod, an instrument that would not look out of place in the band in the Tatooine bar scene in the first Star Wars movie, Ali Akbar Khan was the first Hindustani musician to make an impact in Europe and the US. But George Harrison’s relationship with Ravi Shankar during the latter half of the 1960s meant that he (and the sitar) rather overshadowed Khan (and the sarod). On 1964’s transporting North Indian Master Of The Sarod, Khan, accompanied by Shankar Ghosh on tabla and Sheela Mookerjee on tamboura, plays two side-long improvisations, an evening raga and a morning raga.

Sandy Bull
(Vanguard LP, 1965)

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Multi-fretboard player, sonic adventurer and jazz, folk and rock mixologist Sandy Bull remained strictly underground throughout his 1960s heyday. His chief success d’estime was the 1969 album E Pluribus Unum, but Inventions, made before heroin and cocaine took their toll, is an even deeper hit. Overdubbing acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, oud and bass guitar, and accompanied only by ex-Ornette Coleman drummer Billy Higgins, Bull reinvents tunes by J.S. Bach, Chuck Berry (‘Memphis, Tennessee’) and Luiz Bonfa (‘Manha Da Carnival’), and offers his own extended, genre-defying ‘Blend II.’ Genius.

Jr. Walker & The All Stars
Road Runner
(Soul LP, 1966)

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The Soul label was a Motown subsidiary and Road Runner is essentially a collection of instrumental-centred versions of material by Motown’s family of songwriters. Walker’s highly charged saxophone is backed by various line-ups, including his own band and Motown’s studio band, the Funk Brothers. The title track and ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’ may be near universally familiar, but there plenty of other gritty and lesser known stand-outs, including label owner Berry Gordy’s co-written ‘Money (That’s What I Want).’

The Small Faces
Small Faces
(Decca LP, 1966)

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Over in London, the Small Faces would have been well aware of Jr. Walker, though their pilled-up R&B-based music took a guitars and vocals direction. Their debut album includes the hit singles ‘Whatcha Gonna Do About It’ and ‘Sha-La-La-La-Lee,’ but is all killer, no filler. The group had the mixed blessing of being managed by the thug and fraudster Don Arden, meaning they received little of the money due to them for this album – while Willie Dixon, whose ‘You Need Love’ is listed as ‘You Need Loving,’ received no credit and no royalties.

Basil Kirchin
Abstractions Of The Industrial North
(Music De Wolfe LP, 1966)

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A godfather of British ambient music, Basil Kirchin started out as a drummer in London palais bands in the late 1940s. A decade later, beat-generation style, he hitchhiked across India, and returned to London transformed. Grooves and motor rhythms were still part of his music, but were woven into impressionistic, multi-layered and, later, electronic scores. The elegant, wistful Abstractions Of The Industrial North – an acoustic album made with modernist jazz musicians including Tubby Hayes (saxophone, flute), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet) and Alan Branscombe (vibraphone) – is among Kirchin’s most enjoyable releases.

Davy Graham
Midnight Man
(Decca LP, 1966)

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Davy Graham’s Folk Roots, New Routes, made with Shirley Collins, and solo set Folk, Blues & Beyond, are both essential 1960s British folk albums. Midnight Man is another, but has been overshadowed by the two earlier discs. Tweaking his folk, blues, jazz and world recipe away from the traditional ballads of the Collins album and the blues of the solo set, Graham, accompanied by bass and drums, interprets jazz standards by Herbie Hancock, Lalo Schifrin and Junior Mance, doo-wop, R&B and a couple of originals. You can live with Graham’s singing. You cannot live without his guitar playing.

Ennio Morricone
Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo
(Parade LP, 1966)

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Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for director Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly was the pair’s third collaboration on a spaghetti western and is amongst the most enduring film scores of the 1960s. It is memorable not only for Morricone’s themes and arrangements, but also for the input of Italian jazz guitarist Pino Rucher, then Morricone’s first-call guitarist (who worked on Nino Rota’s soundtracks for Federico Fellini as well). Few film scores work as effectively on screen as Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo. Even fewer are as vivid shorn of the visuals.

The Original Ska-Talites
Ska Authentic
(Studio One LP, 1967)

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A collection of singles released by Studio One’s house band in the mid 1960s, Ska Authentic is a jazz-inflected snapshot of Jamaican music in the year immediately before the arrival of rock steady. Trombonist Don Drummond and tenor saxophonists Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook shine on topically titled floor-fillers such as ‘Lee Oswald’ and ‘President Kennedy.’ Also featured, ‘Christine Keiler’ (sic), an upbeat version of Mel Torme’s ‘Coming Home Baby’ which, curiously, despite the febrile interest in all things Keeler in Britain when it was released as a single, only came out in Jamaica.

Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra
Strange Strings
(Saturn LP, 1967)

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Sun Ra released a steady stream of large-ensemble albums during the 1960s, all of them among the most fascinating records of the decade. On Strange Strings, each member of the 12-piece Arkestra doubles on a plucked or bowed string instrument, amplified and, more often than not, treated with reverb. The main such instrument is Ra’s famous sun harp (known to earthlings as a Ukrainian bandura). Virtually unobtainable for decades, Strange Strings was reissued on vinyl in 2008.

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
(Tamla LP, 1967)

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Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s love affair was Tamla-Motown’s biggest open-secret during the second half of the 1960s – prevailing wisdom held that stars should be supposedly single and therefore potentially available to their fans. Gaye and Terrell’s relationship was billed as on-stage only, but on this, the first of three duo albums, their real-life love shines on every track. Among the standouts is Ashford & Simpson’s ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,’ a hit in 1970 for Diana Ross (whose relationship with label boss Berry Gordy was Tamla-Motown’s biggest open-secret of the 1970s).

Pharoah Sanders
(Impulse! LP, 1967)

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Pharoah Sanders is widely credited with launching the post hard-bop, astral-jazz movement with pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane on Coltrane’s 1970 album Ptah, The El Daoud. In fact, Sanders mapped out the style’s full-blown bells and incense territory three years earlier with Tauhid, on which he directed the vocalisations and split notes he had honed in John Coltrane’s band towards more melodic ends. The slow burning ‘Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt,’ which takes up all of side one, remains the sine qua non of astral jazz.

Rotary Connection
The Rotary Connection
(Cadet Concept LP, 1968)

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Chicago-based Rotary Connection were joint pioneers of the late 1960s psychedelic-soul movement, along with San Francisco-based Sly & The Family Stone. Members included singer Minnie Riperton and guitarist Phil Upchurch, but despite such talents the band never achieved national recognition. Their non-appearance at Woodstock in 1969 had something to do with that. While Sly & The Family Stone were embraced by the international counter-culture following their appearance at the festival, Rotary Connection’s management rejected a slot in favour of a better-paying gig in Canada. This irrepressible first album is a mixture of originals and songs recorded by Sam & Dave, the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

Terry Riley
In C
(Columbia LP, 1968)

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Written in 1964, Terry Riley’s In C may be the first example of modern minimalism, though the early drone music of La Monte Young could be argued to have pipped it to the post. Whatever, In C’s impact on Philip Glass, Steve Reich and other emerging minimalists was profound (Reich was actually part of the line-up which first performed the piece live). The most recent of many cover recordings was made by Africa Express in Bamako in 2014, using traditional Malian instruments. Riley released another massively influential album, Rainbow In Curved Air, in 1969, which did for electronic music what In C did for minimalism.

Jimi Hendrix / Otis Redding
Historic Performances Recorded At The Monterey International Pop Festival
(Reprise LP, 1970)

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Recorded at the 1967 Monterey Festival but not released until after the deaths of both Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding, Historic Performances does not boast the greatest audio quality, but more than makes up for that in atmosphere. For Redding, the event was a far from predictable triumph, as he mesmerised a rock- and pop-orientated audience with a deep-soul set – Sam Cooke’s ‘Shake,’ his own ‘Respect’ and ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ and Jagger & Richards’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.’ Hendrix’s side of the album is no dummy either.

The Ethiopians
Engine 54
(WIRL LP, 1968)

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Close-harmony duo the Ethiopians were among Jamaica’s best-loved vocal groups of the 1960s, emerging during the ska era and transitioning to rock steady. The cover of Engine 54 announces “The Ethiopians Go Rock Steady,” but the album actually finds the group on the cusp of change rather than fully metamorphosed. No matter, the title track and ‘Train To Skaville’ were big hits on the island. The next Jamaican vocal duo to reach comparable artistic heights was the Congos a decade later.

Various Artists
Tropicalia: Ou Panis Et Circencis
(Philips LP, 1968)

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One of the unusual – and creatively productive – features of Brazilian music in the 1960s was the collegiate relationship existing between its leading singer-songwriters. Bossa nova grew out of “reunions” (private get-togethers at which ideas were exchanged), and the tradition continued with tropicália. Participants on Tropicalia: Ou Panis Et Circencis included Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé, Os Mutantes, Gal Costa, Caetano Veloso and Nara Leão (unable to attend the photo session for the cover, Leão’s picture is held up by Veloso). The album is as inventive and off the wall as the Sgt. Pepper-ish sleeve suggests.

Taj Mahal
The Natch’l Blues
(Columbia LP, 1968)

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Taj Mahal was once described as “the thinking man’s Ry Cooder.” Rather tough on Cooder, who played on Mahal’s debut album, Taj Mahal, released earlier in 1968, but the writer had a point, sort of. Mahal is not in the business of reproducing his influences; he is intent on combining them into something new. On The Natch’l Blues, leading a band including keyboardist Al Kooper and second guitarist and brass-section arranger Jesse Ed Davis, Mahal gives a masterclass in how to put a modern spin on roots gospel, soul and the blues without compromising their authenticity.

The Equals
Baby, Come Back
(RCA Victor LP, 1968)

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The Equals are unsung heroes of British rock and soul. Guyanese-born Eddy Grant founded the group – three black guys and two white guys – in 1965, when race relations in mainstream Britain could be really ugly (at the start of 1965, employers were still legally entitled to refuse job applications on the grounds of race). The Equals predated America’s similarly cross-racial, cross-genre Sly & The Family Stone by two years. Baby, Come Back includes the much-covered title track and ‘Police On My Back,’ later covered by the Clash on Sandinista. The Equals’ straight-arrow, uplifting music is still a tonic.

Manu Dibango
(Mercury LP, 1968)

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Cameroon-born, Paris-based Manu Dibango’s recording career kicked off in Africa at the start of the 1960s and reached top gear with the international success of his album Soul Makossa in 1972. Saxy-Party is a solid-gold curtain raiser for the pleasures to come – an infectious blend of soul/funk and the traditional makossa dance music of Dibango’s birthplace. The saxophonist, also heard on organ, is accompanied by an electric rhythm section, two percussionists and four horns.

The Velvet Underground
White Light/White Heat
(Verve LP, 1968)

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The Velvet Underground’s debut, The Velvet Underground & Nico, takes some beating, but its follow-up gives as good as it gets. Again produced by Tom Wilson, one of the few African American producers active in rock during the 1960s, where much of & Nico was pretty and delicate, White Light/White Heat is in the main rough and raw. The title track and ‘Sister Ray’ are aural manifestations of the New York amphetamine culture of which the band were paid-up members – you get a contact rush listening to them. John Cale’s ‘The Gift’ is viciously funny and ‘Here She Comes Now’ reprises the mood of the first album’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties.’

Tiny Tim
God Bless Tiny Tim
(Reprise LP, 1968)

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Psych-pop before the arrival of the term. With a ukulele, falsetto vocals and a repertoire centred on the antique backwaters of Tin Pan Alley, Tiny Tim began his career in demi-monde gay and lesbian clubs in New York. He might have stayed there if producer Richard Perry – who the previous year had recorded another first album by another one-off, Captain Beefheart – had not stumbled across him. With arrangements by Artie Butler, Tim romps through a set including his hit ‘Tiptoe Through The Tulips,’ and delivers a unique, feel-good treasure.

Silver Apples
Silver Apples
(Kapp LP, 1968)

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Silver Apples – synthesiser player and vocalist Simeon Coxe and percussionist and vocalist Danny Taylor – came out of the cross-arts bohemian scene in mid-1960s New York’s East Village. The duo were among the first US rock line-ups to embrace full-blown electronic experimentation and this, their audacious debut album, has Coxe’s home-made, Heath Robinson-esque synthesiser, the Simeon, at its core. On the rear sleeve, Coxe describes the instrument as “nine audio oscillators and eighty-six manual controls…The lead and rhythm oscillators are played with the hands, elbows and knees and the bass oscillators are played with the feet.” Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic……

The Can
Monster Movie
(Music Factory LP, 1969)

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Keyboardist Irmin Schmidt once traced the inspiration for Can to a trip he made to New York in 1966, where he hung out at Andy Warhol’s Factory and with Steve Reich and La Monte Young. He may even have run into the Silver Apples, in their former incarnation, the Overland Electric Stage Band. Certainly, there are occasional resonances with the Velvet Underground on Monster Movie. But the singularity of the band’s music is already apparent, in particular its use of layered sounds, asymmetric rhythms and part-composed, part-improvised long-form structures. Not yet 360° krautrock but within a whisker of it.

(Columbia LP, 1969)

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Tiny Tim may have been outré, but fellow New Yorker Moondog was the ultimate outsider. Championed by artists as diverse as Frank Zappa, Igor Stravinsky, Janis Joplin and Philip Glass, the composer and multi-instrumentalist worked as a street busker in New York for most of his life. His brief spell on America’s venerable Columbia label followed a recommendation from Joplin. A modest commercial success, and an unqualified artistic triumph, this first-of-two Columbia albums featured Moondog fronting a 40-piece orchestra.

Bernard Herrmann / London Philharmonic Orchestra
Music From The Great Movie Thrillers
(Decca LP, 1969)

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Sadly, much of Bernard Herrmann’s big-screen music has never been released on disc, and what is available is mostly CD-only. So this album is doubly welcome. The LPO is conducted by Herrmann on sections from his scores for five Alfred Hitchcock thrillers – Psycho, Marnie, North By Northwest, Vertigo and The Trouble With Harry. Listeners of a nervous disposition may prefer to play the album in a well-lit room.

Leo Kottke
6- & 12-String Guitar
(Takoma LP, 1969)

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Although Leo Kottke is primarily a guitarist rather than a singer, he emerged from the same 1960s folk-music movement which produced Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie and their many associates. Kottke is among the most adventurous and technically accomplished guitarist thrown up by the movement. One of the handful of players to match his skills, and inventive modern spin on roots music, was John Fahey, for whose Takoma label Kottke made this debut studio album. All but one of the pieces are instrumentals based on traditional song structures. Kottke’s virtuosic multi-phonic finger-picking was a major influence on contemporaries such as Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane through to Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth and beyond.

El Camaron De La Isla / Paco De Lucia
Al Verte Las Flores Lloran
(Philips LP, 1969)

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Al Verte Las Flores Lloran (“the flowers cry to see you”) is one of flamenco’s all-time essential albums. It will rip out your heart – in a good way. Singer El Camaron De La Isla was an archetypal hard-living flamencoist, a user of heroin and cocaine in quantities that would have done Charlie Parker proud, who died aged only 41. Guitarist Paco De Lucia was more disciplined and lived longer. The two men recorded 10, potent albums together. This is their first, officially untitled and identified by its opening track.

Frank Zappa
Hot Rats
(Bizarre Records LP, 1969)

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A borderline “obvious” item on this list, but just in case anyone has still to discover it…..Hot Rats was Frank Zappa’s all-time instrumental masterpiece, recorded shortly after he broke up the original Mothers of Invention and while he was producing Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. The band includes MOI saxophonist Ian Underwood, whose raucous tenor solo on ‘The Gumbo Variations’ is a treat in itself; ex-Wes Montgomery and Lee Konitz bassist Max Bennett, plus guest bassist Shuggie Otis on one track; and violinists Don “Sugarcane” Harris and Jean-Luc Ponty. The only non-instrumental track, ‘Willie The Pimp,’ features Beefheart on vocals.

White Noise
An Electric Storm
(Island LP, 1969)

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White Noise were the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s Delia Derbyshire, her partner, classical bassist David Vorhaus, and her Unit Delta Plus fellow electronicist Brian Hodgson. An Electric Storm was conceived as an accessible exercise in avant-garde electronics. The album was not the commercial success Island hoped for, but it is an unqualified creative triumph, a unique blend of pretty vocals, faux strings, industrial noise, mutant doo-wop and exotica, and ground-breaking tape manipulation.

Elaine Brown
Seize The Time: Black Panther Party
(Vault, 1969)

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In 2017, as one terrorist outrage follows another, the Black Panther Party’s love of assault-rifle imagery seems uncomfortable. But though the Panthers meant business, their graphics were designed to shock, not incite murder – the party was originally named the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and more Panthers were assassinated by the police than were ever shot at by Panthers. From 1974–77, poet Elaine Brown chaired the Panthers, the only woman ever to do so. Title poem ‘Seize The Time’ was also the title of Panther Bobby Seale’s history of the party, published a year later. Also memorable: ‘The End Of Silence’ and ‘Assassination.’ The album fuses poetry with jazz, arranged by hard-bop pianist Horace Tapscott.

Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg
Jane Birkin – Serge Gainsbourg
(Fontana LP, 1969)

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#5 in this list is the 1962 chanson album Francoise Hardy. Reminding us that Anglo-American pop hegemony did not go unchallenged during the 1960s, #50 is cultural agent-provocateurs Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg’s first album together. The set includes the couple’s simulated coital-celebration ‘Je T’Aime….Moi Non Plus,’ written by Gainsbourg in 1967 for his then lover Brigitte Bardot (their relationship ended before Bardot recorded it). Aside from ’69 Année Erotique,’ the remaining songs are voiced separately by Birkin and Gainsbourg. And so our journey concludes. How was it for you?

Illustration by Hector Plimmer

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