I think the Spotify playlist below does a pretty good job of capturing the swirling crosscurrents of the Australian airwaves in 1968. From the psychedelic soul blues of ‘Voodoo Chile’ to the frothy bubble of ‘Goody Goody Gumdrops’—via country, Motown, soul, blues, sunshine pop, California harmonies, folk, British invasion groups, the ‘underground’ sound and a myriad of other styles and sub-styles—it was a year in which the musical spectrum really started to stretch.
While the playlist is firmly anchored in songs from 1968 that appeared on Australian radio station Top 40 charts, it also begins to reflect the developments in the music environment (and my own personal listening) in that year. Things did change in 1967. The underground emerged and albums became more important (especially after Sgt Pepper…) as new groups began exploring the spaces beyond the standard three-minute single. According I’ve supplemented the selection of singles to include tracks from some significant albums released during the year.
These included the self-titled debut from Fleetwood Mac; Pink Floyd’s Saucerful of Secrets; The Incredible String Band’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter; In Search of the Lost Chord by The Moody Blues; Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company, Cream’s double album Wheels of Fire as well as the Beatles’ White Album and Beggars Banquet from the Stones.
While some of the above didn’t intrude on my consciousness until the following year, or the year after, the album highlight of my year was undoubtedly Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. My aunt back in England very generously bought a copy on its release in the UK and sent it to me. It was the version with the bevy of naked ladies on the gatefold cover (which must have been somewhat shocking to her Catholic sensibilities). I recall I suddenly had a clutch of new friends from the cool set that frequented the Monday night YWCA dance at Whyalla’s Viscount Slim Hall, all keen to borrow it and have a listen. Not that any of them had a chance. It was much too precious an artefact to lend out.
The same dance held a competition that winter. A board at the entrance of the hall listed twenty questions. The person who got highest number of correct answers won two airfares to Adelaide and two tickets to see The Monkees at Centennial Hall. Hmmm, yup. I won.
The concert coincided with an end of season trip by my under 16 football team Whyalla Wanderers to play a friendly game against the under 16s from Adelaide club Birkalla Rovers. So on Friday 27 September, a couple of weeks after 15th birthday, my then girlfriend Rosalyn Atkins and I flew down (my first time on a plane). When we arrived, she was whisked off to her accomodation at the YWCA in the city, while I went to the family who was billeting me for the soccer trip, somewhere near the Marion Shopping Centre. That afternoon, I met up with Rosalyn and we went to the concert. I was more of a Hendrix fan than a Monkees one, but the show, complete with strobe lights and a Californian psychedelic light show, was quite impressive. Although it was difficult to hear the music over the incessant screaming of the masses of young teenage girls.
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Recently, I’ve been reading a history of UK progressive rock (A New Day Yesterday by Mike Barnes (Omnibus Press, 2020)) and he quotes Peter Daltrey from the band Kaleidoscope about the differences between 1967 and 1968.
‘Psychedelia was this amazing firework that burst into the sky, multicoloured and multifaceted when fashion and music came together in such an intrinsic way. But when the firework died, you couldn’t carry on doing that or you have been out of style and so-called progressive music was coming in. Into ’68 it started to change—you could almost put it down to a season. We couldn’t stay being psychedelic or we’d have been old hat and looked very silly indeed.’
So in many ways, 1968 marks the point at which the growth of ‘rock’ and its preferred format, the long playing 33 rpm album, really starts to accelerate and begins to supplant ‘pop’ and the 45 rpm single as the dominant style of contemporary music for youth.
But that process would take a while, and as the selection of songs shows, there were still some corking pop singles released in 1968. Hope you enjoy the trip.