Looking Through Time: 1968
With the anniversaries of culturally important albums sprouting up each and every year, the CommRadio Arts department will be diving into albums from select years and breaking down their impact. Here are the albums from 1968.
The Beatles – The Beatles
The Beatles ninth studio album, The Beatles, better known as the ‘White Album,’ a double-album released in 1968, was a historic album that produced several trademark songs for The Beatles, but also the album that displayed the eventual demise of the band. Visually, the album cover was a lot different from their previous album covers. Unlike the colorful artwork displayed on their previous album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the art for this album was just a white cover with “The BEATLES” displayed in black writing. It was the first album to appear on their new label, the Apple label, a record label they founded in 1968. Their previous albums displayed them together, usually in the same outfits with the same hairstyle, but the simple white cover and the inside packaging having individual color photos of each member of the band was viewed as being assembled under a time of great stress and the beginning of The Beatles no longer looking or sounding like a band.
The Beatles is not sonically cohesive. It is complex and a mess with the songs being all over the place. It feels more like a collection of songs by solo artists rather than the band as one. Much of this album was written with acoustic guitars, which gave it a more western feel at the time, rather than rock n’ roll. The Beatles production is more stipend down, which let the individual personalities really start to emerge. Songs like “Blackbird,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Dear Prudence” are some of the most popular songs from the album and some of the most recognizable Beatles tunes ever.
The Beatles will forever be considered a classic. Creatively and professionally, each member began to create their own individual sound and persona, which was displayed throughout the songs. Because of that, it will also always be scrutinized as the album that began the downfall of The Beatles. – Lauren Smith
Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends
Dynamic duo Simon & Garfunkel released some of their most memorable tracks on their fourth studio album, Bookends. On this record, the group enforces a narrative style of storytelling in the content of their lyrics. During the sixties, a movement towards music with a message for social change became the norm. In an era dominated by war, civil rights and other tragedies, famous artists like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and more created albums with a theme of justice and change.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were not unique in the messages they sang about, but in the style they sang these songs. When the American duo released Bookends, listeners were invited into the 12 tracks with a soft acoustic guitar intro. Eventually, the bigger messages hit on tracks like “Save the Life of My Child.” With some unsettling musical elements, the song explores the struggle of innocence with the chaos occurring around the world at the time. Bookends quickly became one of Simon & Garfunkel’s most iconic records. With hit tracks like “Mrs. Robinson,” “America” and “At the Zoo,” the folk-duo will always be known for this peak release. – Jenna Minnig
The Kinks – The Village Green Preservation Society
Though the Kinks are best remembered for their early riff-rocking pop tunes like “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night,” their best output came in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, starting with 1966’s Face to Face. In this era of greatness for the band, their biggest triumph came with their legendary 1968 album, The Village Green Preservation Society.
Main songwriter and front man Ray Davies took a more pastoral approach with Village Green, idealizing nature, the past and the simple things in life. It was somewhat of a sharp turn from the band’s previous content, but the shift proved to be effective. Glimpses of this new musical approach by Davies were seen previously on the singles “Sunny Afternoon,” “Waterloo Sunset” and “Days.”
In typical Kinks fashion, Village Green was filled aplenty with short, yet memorable songs. The longest track, “Last of the Steam-Powered Trains,” an underrated blues rock number driven by its signature guitar and harmonica riff, runs just over four minutes long. None of the other tracks reach the three-minute mark. And yet, short, sweet and simple worked well for the Kinks on Village Green. The title track is a favorite among Kinks fans, as is its wistful B-side, “Do You Remember Walter?” “Picture Book” romanticizes the good old days and “Animal Farm” does the same with farm life. “Big Sky” is likely the record’s heaviest song with its thundering guitar riff, while “Starstruck” is as catchy as any pop rock tune from the era.
Although every song follows a similar format, they’re all unique in their own way, creating one cohesive work and the highlight of the Kinks’ career. Oddly enough, Village Green remains the Kinks’ only studio album to never chart in the U.S. or U.K., but what it lacked in commercial sales, it more than made up for in critical acclaim and overall musical influence. – DJ Bauer
The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet
The years from 1968 to 1972 are often known as the Rolling Stones’ “golden era” and for good reason. The quality of the four studio albums released during that period has hardly ever been matched. The era began with 1968’s Beggars Banquet, a clear stylistic change for the band. After years of pop and blues (and a brief stint with psychedelia on 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request), the Stones turned to two different styles: roots rock and hard rock, alternating on these genres throughout Beggars Banquet.
The album kicks off with a contender for the best Stones song ever: the lyrically deep and nearly danceable “Sympathy for the Devil,” a powerful tune that bounces along with its bluesy piano, rocking guitar interludes, Mick Jagger’s wailing vocals and the band’s background “woo-woos,” making for one unforgettable moment in the Stones catalog.
Another fan favorite is “Street Fighting Man,” a hard rock number (at least, hard rock for 1968) with strong political messages about the state of violence in London. Again, piano, drums and guitars are prominent here, but the inclusion of traditional Hindu instruments such as the sitar and tanpura add a dose of psychedelia. “Jigsaw Puzzle” is a nice blues rock number with its signature whining mellotron and the same can be said about “Stray Cat Blues,” which adds a modern aspect to the blues sound with its closing guitar solo. For those with an ear for the roots rock part of Beggars Banquet, there’s the lonesome, slow ballad “No Expectations,” the stomping “Prodigal Son” and the soulful finale “Salt of the Earth.”
The Rolling Stones were ahead of their time in 1968. Their innovations to rock music would continue to impress, as they built on the critical and commercial success of Beggars Banquet with future triumphs, such as Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. It’s no wonder the Stones are considered one of rock’s greatest and most influential bands and it really shows on Beggars Banquet. – DJ Bauer
Lauren Smith is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Jenna Minnig is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email email@example.com.
DJ Bauer is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Lauren is an on-air personality for Penn State’s web-based CommRadio station. She is also a member of the CommRadio arts department writing music reviews. Lauren attended the Confer Radio Talent Institute in 2016 and was accepted to attend the National Association of Broadcasting Convention in 2016 and 2017. She is also certified by the RAB and the Radio Marketing Professional Program For Radio Sales. She aspired to work as an anchor, reporter or on-air for radio and television. Her dream is to work for a station in Nashville.
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Jenna is a General Manager of CommRadio where she manages the student radio station.