The Greatest Years In Music #6

by Mostyn Taylor-Crockett


On the 15th August 1969 the Woodstock festival kick into action becoming a three day celebration of ‘60s counterculture. 400,000 people arrived to enjoy some of the most influential band and artists of the decade. The lineup included Joan Baez, The Who, The Band and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Performances started and continued through the night with headliners playing at nine in the morning on the final two days. Woodstock was the scene of Jimi Hendrix’ legendary set and images of him playing in flairs with a red bandana holding up his hair would become some of the enduring images of the festival. Hendrix’ performance of the American national anthem - Star Spangled Banner - is one of the defining performances of the festival, and of the 1970 film Woodstock which documented the festival.

During the recording of The White Album tensions had been high among the Beatles. This tension would continue to haunt the band into 1969 when they would record two albums and releasing one of them. Initially they wanted to record what would become Let It Be the idea behind which was to move away from the increased sophistication of their music and back to the kind of music they were making in the early ‘60s.

Abbey Road, released in ‘69, however, continued the trend of evermore complex Beatles’ albums. The album showcased George Harrison’s ability as songwriter, contributing two of the albums most memorable songs: Something and Here Comes the Sun. Ringo Starr described Something - alongside While My Guitar Gently Weeps - as “two of the finests love songs ever written”. The second side of the album contains an ambitious medley of songs lasting almost 14 minutes - it is comparable to a similar succession of song on the second side of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The album cover - one of the greatest ever - features the band crossing a zebra crossing on Abbey Road outside the studio where the album was recorded, there is a striking simplicity to the image. The Beatles performed live for the first time since 1966 and for the last time ever in January of ‘69 on the roof of the Apple headquarters in London. The ‘Rooftop Concert’ was filmed and captured the bemused passers-by that witnessed the unannounced performance.

In February ‘69 Johnny Cash recorded his second prison concert in San Quentin Prison - after the previous year’s performance at Folsom Prison. At the performance a seminal photo of Cash gesturing with his middle finger at the camera was captured. Frank Zappa released his first solo album after the split of The Mothers of Invention, Hot Rats. It is regarded as on of Zappa’s best albums showcasing the influence of jazz on his music whilst remaining accessible to mainstream music fans. In the world of jazz Miles Davis In a Silent Way was a turning point in the trumpeter’s career moving away from traditional jazz to the emerging jazz fusion. Led Zeppelin helped pioneer a new genre, heavy rock, with their first albums released in ‘69. The second Led Zeppelin II featured Whole Lotta Love which showcased Jimmy Page’s ability in writing some of the greatest guitar riffs.