Rock And Roll Time Machine –
Rock And Roll Time Machine takes a journey back in time to feature a variety of songs that date back as far as the late ’60s.
In addition to appearing on the embedded YouTube playlist below, all songs featured on Rock And Roll Time Machine can be listened to individually by clicking on the hyper-linked song titles above each review.
By Adam Waldman
The year was 1969. Nobody knew it beforehand, but the Woodstock Festival (held in Bethel, NY) would become more than just a music festival. Amidst the outrage and Vietnam protests, the country was divided, but there was no social media platform for everyone to share their opinion with the world. Those who opposed the war and strived for peace made their voices heard by making Woodstock a gathering place for the disenchanted.
Despite the strife in America, much of the rock music of 1969 felt like the calm before the storm in a sense. It can be argued that hard rock is rooted in the late ‘60s, but the momentum really started at the turn of the decade in 1970.
What I noticed as I put together a list of favorite songs from 1969 is how prevalent the use of the acoustic guitar was in the music. The songs were soulful, had depth, and a sparseness that spoke as loudly as a power chord would in the decades to follow.
A number of artists released more than one album in 1969, but only Led Zeppelin released two that were so memorable that it would have been a travesty not to include a song from each on this list. Rather than using traditional rankings, I decided to just use a timeline approach and share these songs in the order that they were released…
LED ZEPPELIN – “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”
Originally written as a folk song in the ‘50s, and recorded by Joan Baez in 1962, Led Zeppelin’s interpretation of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” is one of the most memorable off of the band’s eponymous debut. Though there was controversy surrounding the writing credits, that matter was eventually resolved. Regardless of the writing credit, this song went a long way towards putting Led Zeppelin on the map. The sheer beauty of Jimmy Page’s acoustic virtuosity and Robert Plant’s soul penetrating vocals, combined with the powerful foundation laid by John Bonham and John Paul Jones, helped to make Zep’s interpretation of this ‘50s folk song into classic rock masterpiece.
CREAM – “Badge”
Credit for Cream’s “Badge” also was a bit muddled, but eventually resolved. Eric Clapton enlisted the help of George Harrison to write the song as his contribution to the band’s final album. Ringo Starr also contributed a lyric, but didn’t receive any writing credit. “Badge” is one of those songs that never says the title in the lyrics. The reason for this omission is more comical than deliberate. Clapton couldn’t read Harrison’s handwriting, and read the word “bridge” as “badge.” The rest, as they say, is history. “Badge” is less than three minutes long, but it has a presence about it that makes it feel much more substantial.
THE GUESS WHO – “These Eyes”
The Guess Who released two albums in 1969. By far, the most memorable track from either album is “These Eyes,” a moody, melancholic ode that tugs on the heartstrings. Vocals are usually the thing that gets noticed most, but in the case of “These Eyes,” Burton Cummings steals the show with a performance that is dripping with yearning emotion. The sorrow that he conveys with his delivery would be felt even if you didn’t pay attention to the lyrics. If there’s such a thing as a good kind of sad, “These Eyes” is the epitome of that emotion.
JOE COCKER – “Feeling Alright”
A while back, there was a commercial on television that always struck me as odd, but their tagline stuck with me. It was for BASF. The tagline was “we don’t make a lot of the products that you buy, we make the products that you buy better.” You’re probably wondering what that has to do with Joe Cocker. Cocker is the BASF of rock and roll. He proved that on his debut album With A Little Help From My Friends. The title is more than just a famous song by the Beatles; it is an accurate description of his 1969 debut (where he co-wrote only three of the ten songs). Aside from the title track, his most notable song was “Feeling Alright” a cover of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright?” off of their self-titled debut a year earlier. The original is good. Cocker’s cover is stellar. He took a fairly mellow song and turned it into an upbeat, feel-good song that oozes charisma, soul, and passion. There’s a reason that he changed the title from a question to a statement. His interpretation is a bold statement that far exceeds the original.
NEIL YOUNG – “Cinnamon Girl”
The lead track off of Neil Young’s sophomore effort (following his self-titled debut earlier in the year), is a song that garners as much enthusiasm today as it did when it debuted 50 years ago. Young wrote “Cinnamon Girl” while battling a high fever and the flu. The meaning behind this cryptic love song leaves room for interpretation by the listener. Throughout his career, Young has provoked thought with his insightful lyrics. On “Cinnamon Girl,” the riff is what resonates most, followed by the beauty of the harmonies between Young and Danny Whitten. In 1969, the riff on “Cinnamon Girl” was ballsier than most. It’s probably what inspired the goth rock cover by Type-O Negative years later. In my opinion, this is one of those songs where the original will never be outdone by a cover version.
THE WHO – “Pinball Wizard”
The Who’s 1969 rock opera, Tommy, is the epitome of an album that should be listened to in its entirety to be fully appreciated. The album is filled with great songs that tell a continuing story, but one truly stands on its own…“Pinball Wizard.” Not only does it capture the true essence of the main character, it also sets the tone for the entire story. In later years, The Who would become known as one of the loudest bands in the world (leading Pete Townshend’s hearing problems), but on one of the defining tracks of the band’s career, it’s his acoustic work that shines.
CROSBY, STILLS & NASH – “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is a play on the words “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes.” The unusual spelling is due to the fact that the song is a “suite” of short songs combined to tell a story. The muse…Judy Collins (the former girlfriend of Stephen Stills). Collins was present when the song about her (and imminent breakup with Stills) was recorded. Tinged with sadness over a love lost, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is a four-part masterpiece that captures the raw emotion of a breakup, albeit in a beautiful way because of the band’s brilliant harmonies. Stills has said that he likes parts of the demo better than the released version, but if you ask any CSN fan, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find any that would change so much as a note of this classic.
BLIND FAITH – “Can’t Find My Way Home”
Formed from the shattered remains of the first-ever supergroup (Cream), Blind Faith picked up where Cream left off (which is exactly what Eric Clapton was trying to avoid). With Clapton and Ginger Baker in the fold (just a few months after Cream’s breakup), Blind Faith – a supergroup in its own right – became known as “Super Cream” to the fans. The vocals of Steve Winwood gave the band a sound that was very similar to Traffic. Because they only made one album together, Blind Faith didn’t have enough material to fill out a headlining set, so they were forced to play the hits of both Cream and Traffic in concert. The fans were delighted…Clapton, not so much. He had fallen back into the same situation that he just left. Though they lasted for a short time, Blind Faith is responsible for releasing one incredible megahit in “Can’t Find My Way Home.” The song has more than stood the test of time over the past 50 years.
THE BEATLES – “Here Comes The Sun”
John Lennon and Paul McCartney collaborated on the majority of songs that The Beatles recorded, but the song that stands out most from the band’s Abbey Road album is “Here Comes The Sun” (a George Harrison composition). Both the album and the album cover are iconic, but at the time of its release, there was a mixed reaction to the music. Some thought that the band had lost their way a bit, most likely because there was disharmony and a disagreement about the direction to take. Lennon wanted to do a more traditional album featuring songs that stand on their own. McCartney wanted to continue down the concept album path of Sgt. Peppers. The end result is a compromise where one side went Lennon’s way, the other side McCartney’s. It’s interesting that through all of the drama, one of the greatest feel-good songs of hope emerged in the form of “Here Comes The Sun.” To this day, when I listen to it, I envision the first days of spring.
ELVIS PRESLEY – “Suspicious Minds”
The legend of Elvis Presley is one that needs no elaboration. His rebellious attitude contributed to the rebellion that would become a staple of rock and roll. Elvis wasn’t the songwriter; he was the vessel through which the songs were brought to life. I’ve always respected his contributions to rock and roll, but if I’m being honest, I feel kind of indifferent to most of his music. I remember the day that he died, and the shock that everyone felt, but at the age of 8, it didn’t really have any impact on me. There are a handful of his songs that I really liked though. “Suspicious Minds” is my favorite by a pretty large margin.
LED ZEPPELIN – “Ramble On”
It feels wrong to be cherry-picking one song off of Led Zeppelin II because it was the album that introduced me to the band and carries the most nostalgia to this day. I spent most of my youth listening to this album in its entirety on a regular basis (not just because fast-forwarding a cassette tape was very frustrating). There simply is not one moment on the album that is worth skipping. But there was something different about “Ramble On.” It always struck an inexplicable emotional chord with me, and resides near the top of the list of my all-time favorite Zeppelin songs. It also happens to be a perfect fit within the context of the rest of the songs chosen to represent 1969.
CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL – “Fortunate Son”
Back in 1969, artists used their songs to speak out about the political landscape. It was a way to unite people before the advent of social media, and it was respected by many. These days, if an artist is politically outspoken, they are met with disdain on social media and cries to “just shut up and play.” Personally speaking, I have no problem with artists using their platform to share their views. They do, however, risk alienating some of their fans. While I respect their right to do so, the grandstanding in this day and age has caused me to be more open-minded towards artists with similar views, and turning away from those that I vehemently oppose. Perhaps there is no more poignant song about the inequities between the rich and the poor than CCR’s “Fortunate Son.” Though many thought that it was an anti-Vietnam song, John Fogerty has stated that it’s actually about rich men starting wars that poor men have to fight. Fogerty wrote this song with anger after being drafted to fight a war with no clear reason as to why it was being fought. Its message rings more true today than it did 50 years ago.
DAVID BOWIE – “Space Oddity”
“Space Oddity” – the opening track of David Bowie’s self-titled sophomore album – is one of Bowie’s signature songs. Inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the song is about a fictional astronaut named Major Tom. To say that this song is timeless would be an understatement. Its legend has only continued to grow since Bowie’s untimely passing in 2016. Thankfully, he lived long enough to see the song become the first one ever performed in outer space. In 2013, the song’s popularity soared once again after Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield, performed it while aboard the International Space Station. Bowie will always be remembered as a one-of-a-kind talent. Listening “Space Oddity” in the context of the rest of the music that came out in 1969, it’s easy to see why.
THE ROLLING STONES – “Gimme Shelter”
Last, but certainly not least, is the timeless classic by the Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter.” The theatricality to this song is unlike almost all others. Jagger wrote the song during the turbulent times of the Vietnam War. When discussing the song in interviews, Jagger stated…
“It was a very moody piece about the world closing in on you a bit … When it was recorded, early ’69 or something, it was a time of war and tension, so that’s reflected in this tune.”
What’s interesting is that the musical inspiration for Keith Richards did not come from the war, rather from seeing people scurry for shelter during a sudden rainstorm…
“I had been sitting by the window of my friend Robert Fraser’s apartment on Mount Street in London with an acoustic guitar, when suddenly the sky went completely black and an incredible monsoon came down. It was just people running about looking for shelter – that was the germ of the idea. We went further into it until it became, you know, rape and murder are ‘just a shot away.’”
As brilliant as Jagger is in the song, it never would have had the same impact without the tortured, haunting vocals of Merry Clayton. The story behind her inclusion is interesting. It was around midnight when producer Jack Nitzsche decided that “Gimme Shelter” needed a woman’s voice to complement Jagger’s. The pregnant Clayton was woken from sleep in her home and summoned into the studio. She recorded her part in just a few takes, before returning home to go to bed, totally unaware of he impact that her performance would have on rock and roll history. The Stones have used female vocals throughout their illustrious career, but for my money, none compare to what Clayton delivered on one of my all-time favorite songs.