Pop Top 40 – Top LPs Plus: Week Ending August 30, 1969

It’s the Summer of ‘69 Special, Part II: The Albums Edition

Johnny Cash At San Quentin, Columbia 1969

The albums that were the country’s top sellers in the final week of the summer of ‘69 were not always concurrent with the biggest singles.

Let’s dip into a number of Billboard’s album charts for another angle into what the country’s favorite music was, as summer came to a close at the end of the sixties.

Note: in chart terminology, when I say “pop” I’m referring to the Top LPs chart. Other charts are referred to with capitalized terms (Soul, Country, Jazz).

 

Romeo & Juliet Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Capitol 1968

Top LPs (now the Billboard 200 — the “overall” album chart)

[this week, last week, title, artist (where needed), weeks on chart]

1 1 JOHNNY CASH AT SAN QUENTIN (9) — He didn’t just make better albums, he made better live albums, too. Cash sounds beat up and exhausted here, to his detriment.

2 2 BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS (31) — The horn-soaked band’s sophomore album was a massive success, hitting #1, spinning off a trio of #2 pop singles (“You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel,” and “And When I Die”), and winning the Grammy for Album of the year (beating Abbey Road and the album just above it on the chart, among others). Give producer James William Guercio, working concurrently with Chicago (surprise surprise) plenty of the credit: they’d never have another top 10 single, though their subsequent album did also, briefly, hit #1. Doesn’t lead singer David Clayton-Thomas just sound like a big sweaty guy? That said, guitarist Steve Katz sings lead on “Sometimes in Winter,” and it’s better than most of the album (surprise surprise). Also surprising: the album opens and closes with versions of “Variations on a Theme By Erik Satie” — they had some good stuff. Unfortunately, that stuff was never singles.

3 5 BLIND FAITH (3) — On its way to the top, which is no surprise when you consider that this British supergroup was ⅔ of Cream plus Steve Winwood plus another guy. Ergo, if the idea of Winwood jamming and singing with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker turns you on, you’ll love this one-off. If not, you can easily dismiss this as the wankery it largely is, save for Winwood’s lovely “Can’t Find My Way Home” (which I’d rather hear in its 1989 cover by the Swans).

4 4 BEST OF CREAM (7) — This is the kind of somewhat psychedelic, blues-inflected, hard rock of the era that I can get down with. This is also the kind of Eric Clapton I can get down with; his worst impulses are mostly tempered by Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. And Jack Bruce taking lead vocals on the majority of tracks helps, too.

5 3 HAIR — Original Cast (57) — The last Broadway cast album to top the Billboard album chart (and for a great deep dive into the history of Broadway on the pop charts, check out Chris Molanphy’s recent Hit Parade podcast on the topic) spent 13 weeks ruling the roost, and covers of four of the rock musical’s songs hit the top 4 of the Hot 100 in 1969: the Fifth Dimension’s medley “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” (#1), the Cowsills’ “Hair” (#2), Oliver’s “Good Morning Sunshine” (#3), and Three Dog Night’s “Easy to Be Hard” (#4). About the cast recording, Charles Isherwood wrote in the NYT in 2007, “The cast album of Hair was… a must-have for the middle classes. Its exotic orange-and-green cover art imprinted itself instantly and indelibly on the psyche…. [It] became a pop-rock classic that, like all good pop, has an appeal that transcends particular tastes for genre or period.” I mean, I guess it’s alright, but it’s still inexorably a Broadway cast album, and even with “rock” inflections, it sounds like it — and I don’t give a damn about these damn hippies.

6 6 SOFT PARADE — Doors (4) — They added horns, thus making a bad idea (much of their bullshit cock-rock, the template for Josh Homme’s entire career) worse.

7 7 ROMEO & JULIET — Soundtrack (30) — Including both chunks of dialogue from Franco Zeffirelli’s film and original score composed by Nino Rota, this soundtrack was a huge smash, making it to #2 on Top LPs and spending 74 weeks on the chart. Its parent film made $106M in 2019 dollars and was apparently a big hit with teenagers, as this was the first film version of R&J made with actual teenagers in the leads. Henry Mancini’s version of the film’s “love theme,” not on this soundtrack, had hit #1 earlier in the summer, as well. Personally I’d rather this had more score and much less dialogue.

8 8 THIS IS TOM JONES (12) — This album became Jones’ second US top 10 (making it to #4) after its release in May, coinciding with the conclusion of ABC’s airing of the first season of his variety show, also titled This Is Tom Jones. It featured no singles and was mostly cover versions, but that didn’t matter — so hot was Jones at the time that, this week in ‘69, he had a full six albums on the Top LPs chart, including four in the top 60. At this time in his career especially, Jones was so middle-of-the-road he was walking down the center line of it. Personally, I don’t need to hear him singing “Hey Jude,” but you — or your mother, or your grandmother — may, so there’s that.

9 10 IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA — Iron Butterfly (59) — Iron Butterfly’s second album only (“only”) peaked at #4, but spent so long lingering in the chart’s upper reaches, it was Billboard’s #1 album of 1969. But have you ever listened to the full 17:04 of the album’s title track? It will rip your head open. In it, I hear drone, I hear jazz improv, I hear the roots of Sonic Youth (there’s a very direct line from “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” to, say, “The Diamond Sea”), I hear ecstatic praise, and I hear rock ‘n’ roll in a new way. I wouldn’t call this album heavy metal, but it’s definitely heavy in every way. This is the kind of record for which AOR radio was invented.

10 12 BEST OF BEE GEES (6) — From July 1967 to March 1969, the brothers Gibb had released four albums, all of which had made the US (and UK, and Australian) top 20, so it made sense to release a greatest hits album before the decade turned. This followed suit, getting to #9 in the US, and is full of their early, semi-folky, overly-orchestrated, warbly-vocaled material. I’m, suffice it to say, not a fan, simply because of the sound of it.

 

Also of note:

-Tom Jones wasn’t the only one with numerous albums dotting the 200-position chart. James Brown, Johnny Cash, and Dionne Warwick were each charting a trio of albums, and Steppenwolf had four on the chart! (A number of artists had two apiece.)

-The longest-running album on the chart, and the only one with 2+ years under its belt, was the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Are You Experienced? In its 106th chart week, it was holding at #172. (Their Smash Hits was on the doorstep of the top 10, holding at #11 on its way to a #6 peak.)

 

Isaac Hayes Hot Buttered Soul, Stax 1969

Soul LPs

[this week, last week, title, artist (where needed), weeks on chart]

1 1 HOT BUTTERED SOUL — Isaac Hayes (8) — Three epic songs (9:38, 12:03, and 18:42), along with one clocking in at “just” 5:10 (“One Woman”), that all became an absolute sensation. And the fact that the edited single released from the album, “Walk on By”/”By the Time I Get To Phoenix” didn’t go top 10 on any chart didn’t matter; the album topped the Soul chart and hit #2 on the Jazz chart. By October ‘69 it made it to #8 on the pop chart, as well. Musically, this is astonishing, Hayes playing keyboards and “conducting” the Bar-Kays as his backing band simultaneously, and using that hot buttered voice of his to make soul magic. Plus strings, plus horns, and plus that pre-delay reverb, oh my God. Hayes’ version of “Walk on By” is the definitive one for me. (Pop position: 24.)

2 2 ARETHA’S GOLD — Aretha Franklin (7) — The Queen’s first greatest hits album was her sixth consecutive to top the Soul LPs chart, following — just check out this run — I Never Loved A Man the Way I Love You, Aretha Arrives, Lady Soul, Aretha Arrives, and Soul ‘69. That’s practically a history of soul music in the final three years of the ‘60s right there, and all of the 14 songs on Aretha’s Gold are contained on those five long-players, save for 1968’s “The House That Jack Built,” which appeared on album for the first time here. Think of an Aretha single from ‘67-’69 and it’s on this album, as perfect as a greatest hits album can be. (Pop position: 19.)

3 4 TIME OUT FOR SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES (5) — “Baby, Baby Don’t Cry” had preceded the album and peaked at #3 Soul (#8 pop), while current single “Doggone Right” (#7 Soul) was just starting its chart descent; the album’s final single would be a cover of Dion’s civil rights classic “Abraham, Martin and John.” The album, like many in the Motown family at the time, also included covers of other Motown hits, in this case the Temptations’ “My Girl” (co-written by Robinson) and Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life.” “Once I Got to Know You” is an album cut worth seeking out. (Pop position: 34.)

4 3 STAND! — Sly & the Family Stone (18) — See, when Isaac Hayes does 18:42 of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” he takes it somewhere. Whereas Sly & the Family Stone’s 13:46 of “Sex Machine” (not a James Brown cover) is a meandering mess, with Sly Stone wanking around with a talkbox while the band wanders around the room like they just dropped acid. Many love the likes of “Everyday People” (which I find all too “kumbaya” simplistic) and “I Want to Take You Higher” (another mess, sounding like bad high school jazz band “improv”); I am not one of them. (Pop position: 48.)

5 5 AGE OF AQUARIUS — Fifth Dimension (13) — You know what you really want to hear the Fifth Dimension sing? Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” No, I’m not kidding, it’s here, along with some mediocre Laura Nyro compositions and that damned Hair medley. How in the world did this climb to #2 on the Soul chart? A triumph of marketing, I guess. (Pop position: 17.)

 

Also of note:

-The week’s #1 Soul single, Aretha’s “Share Your Love with Me,” wouldn’t appear on album until This Girl’s in Love with You was released in January 1970.

-Falling a notch to #7 is Herbie Mann’s Memphis Underground, the week’s top Jazz album (see below).

-At #33 is the 1968 album Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord by the Edwin Hawkins SIngers, I believe one of the first gospel records to make much of a chart impact. The reason? It includes “Oh Happy Day,” which had recently become a fluke smash, hitting #2 Soul/#4 pop.

 

Jack Greene Statue of a Fool, Decca 1969

Hot Country LPs

[this week, last week, title, artist (where needed), weeks on chart]

1 1 JOHNNY CASH AT SAN QUENTIN (9) — See Top LPs, #1. His sixth #1 country album.

2 6 FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS — Elvis Presley (11) — Like Herbie Mann’s Memphis Underground (Jazz LPs #1, below), this was recorded under the auspices of Chips Moman at his American Sound Studios, with his Memphis Boys as the backing band. And you can hear it from just about the first note of opener “Wearin’ that Loved On Look”: this is simultaneously a country Elvis record and a southern soul Elvis record, and if you’ve never heard it, it’s a revelation. Released a couple of months before his famed 1969 Las Vegas shows (recently compiled in a new boxed set), this set shows Presley singing loose and relaxed, like he had nothing to lose even though he really had everything to lose — this was only his second new studio album in seven years (and the other was his first gospel record, 1967’s How Great Thou Art). Single “In the Ghetto,” a superb Mac Davis composition, hit #3 pop around the time of the album’s release, but no other singles were dropped from the album, oddly. No matter, though: this is Presley at the peak of his comeback powers, with inspired song selection (including covers of Jerry Butler’s “Only the Strong Survive,” which had just topped the Soul chart months prior, and Chuck Jackson’s 1962 R&B #2 “Any Day Now,” covered again in 1982 by Ronnie Milsap), a red-hot band backing him, and Elvis himself sounding perfect. (Pop position: 32.)

3 4 STATUE OF A FOOL — Jack Greene (10) —  (Pop position: off the chart.) — The album’s title track, falling down the Hot Country Singles chart (16-26 in its 17th week), was Greene’s fifth and final Country #1; the album itself peaked at #3, Greene’s sixth and final top 5 on Hot Country LPs. His specialty was grand/iose midtempo and ballad selections, not surprising when you learn that his primary producer was the great countrypolitan king Owen Bradley.

4 5 WOMAN OF THE WORLD/TO MAKE A MAN — Loretta Lynn (5) — This was also produced by Bradley, but doesn’t have so much of his sonic signature; he knew to leave Lynn country. Of note: many country albums of the time were unfortunately titled with a pair of the album’s singles, divided by a slash, like this one. It didn’t make for memorable album titles, that’s for sure, but was an easy way to indicate to consumers that the hits they’d heard on the radio were featured on the album. Like everything Lynn released at the time (arguably nearing her Imperial Phase), this is solid, hard country, featuring not just the album’s two title singles but covers of hits by Tammy Wynette and Merle Haggard, among others. (Pop position: 158.)

5 2 THE SENSATIONAL CHARLEY PRIDE (12) — Down from its #2 peak, this was Pride’s fifth consecutive top 10 Country album, part of a rather remarkable string of 17 in a row (and after that streak ended, he had yet another 10 more top 10s!). Sensational features his #4 Country single “Let the Chips Fall,” but is worth digging into for its uptempo material — which I’ve generally found Pride’s strongest suit — like the absurdly titled “Come on Home and Sing the Blues to Daddy” and the tricky-rhythm’d “Even After Everything She’s Done.” A great album from a superb country singer and song stylist. (Pop position: 65.)

 

Herbie Mann Memphis Underground, Atlantic 1969

Jazz LPs

[this week, last week, title, artist (where needed), weeks on chart]

1 1 MEMPHIS UNDERGROUND — Herbie Mann (17) — A beyond landmark jazz/R&B fusion album, recorded at Chips Moman’s American Sound Studios and produced by the legendary Tom Dowd, featuring musicians including Roy Ayers, Sonny Sharrock, and members of the Memphis Boys (the house band at Moman’s studio, who played on everything from Elvis’s “In the Ghetto” to Joe Tex’s “I Gotcha”). Atop it all is the flute of Mann, who wrote one original and arranged “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” along with covering the soul classics “Hold On, I’m Comin’” and “Chain of Fools.” I’m here to tell you that this record is a jam. (Pop position: 27.)

2 2 HOT BUTTERED SOUL — Isaac Hayes (7) — See Soul LPs, #1. I don’t hear this record as jazz, but maybe that’s just me?

3 10 CRYSTAL ILLUSIONS — Sergio Mendes & Brasil ‘66 (2) — The follow-up to The Fool on the Hill couldn’t help but be a hit, and it was, though nowhere near as big as its predecessor, climbing to #33 pop and (obviously) the top 3 of the Jazz chart. Neither of its two singles, while big Easy Listening hits (the gorgeous “Pretty World” hitting #4 and a cover of Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” #12), climbed higher than the 60s on the Hot 100 — but as an album, Crystal Illusions is much more compelling. Mendes was taking advantage of the currency he gained from Fool’s success and taking chances: “Empty Faces” skips around daringly, playing with time signatures, while the album’s closing title track features Mendes and Lani Hall (future wife of Mendes & Brasil ‘66’s label boss, Herb Alpert) in a vocal dance, largely in Portuguese, for almost eight minutes. Chalk this up as Easy Listening pablum at your peril, because it’s plenty more challenging and rewarding than you likely expect. (Pop position: 45.)

4 5 THE FOOL ON THE HILL — Sergio Mendes & Brasil ‘66 (38) — The title track, a Beatles cover, made it all the way to #6 pop/#1 Easy Listening (for 6 weeks), and its follow-up single, a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair,” hit #16 pop/#2 Easy Listening — thus propelling this album to #1 Jazz and #3 on Top LPs. As another indicator of the album’s success, note how long it had been charting at this point: 38 weeks, on a chart that at the time only had 20 positions. Mendes hit on a winning formula of samba rhythms, Brazilian percussion, strings, and cooing female vocals that just, frankly, killed. I mean, just listen to the two covers released as singles from The Fool on the Hill: you recognize the melodies and the lyrics, but the songs are completely re-realized. (Pop position: off the chart.)

5 4 AQUARIUS — Charlie Byrd (8) — Byrd was a jazz guitarist who spent a lot of time working with Brazilian artists, but not always to creative ends; this album, as you might guess, is led by a cover of the Fifth Dimension’s Hair medley, and: ew. No. (Pop position: off the chart.)

 

I’m not going to claim to be any kind of expert on classical music — I know bits and pieces — but topping this week’s Classical LPs chart, in the midst of a 153-week run at #1 (and no, that’s not a typo), was Wendy Carlos’ Trans Electronic Music Production Inc. Presents Switched-On Bach, her album of Bach compositions rearranged for and played on the then-novel synthesizer. The album was such a sensation that it even hit #10 on the pop chart and went gold, an extreme rarity for a classical album.

 

If you’d like to see more of the album charts — or any of the charts — of the week, I highly recommend taking a spin through this week’s Billboard, lovingly archived via pdf thanks to the website American Radio History. (The front page alone includes a story about the recently-concluded Woodstock festival, written by a then-teenaged Daniel Goldberg, who’d go on to manage Nirvana among many other acts.) The singles charts give you one view of popular music in ‘69, but I think the album charts have just as much, if not more, to say about where the U.S. was, culturally, at this particular moment in time.

 

AUDIO: Johnny Cash At San Quentin (full album)

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Thomas Inskeep

Rock and Roll Globe contributor Thomas Inskeep is a pop critic with three different music blogs, and a former contributor to Stylus, Seattle Weekly, and SPIN. He lives in Santa Cruz, CA. Follow him on Twitter @Thomasinskeep1.

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