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Was 1969 the best year for rock? 25 classic albums that turn 50 this year

Was 1969 the best year for rock? 25 classic albums that turn 50 this year

Fifty years ago, rock ‘n’ roll had, definitively, its greatest year, featuring a landmark run of debut albums and artistic achievements that make 1969 an unrivaled mini-era in the genre’s history.

It was a year of ends and beginnings. The Beatles closed the book on the most storied career in classic rock with their final recording, “Abbey Road” (“Let it Be” was released in 1970, but much of it was recorded before the “Abbey Road” songs). Many acts were born that more than filled the void left in their wake: Led Zeppelin, Crosby, Stills Nash, the Allman Brothers and more greats released their debut collections in 1969.

Read on for 25 releases that made 1969 so special.  

Led Zeppelin, ‘Led Zeppelin

Release date: Jan. 12, 1969

Fittingly, the debut album from one of rock’s all-time most influential groups kicked off one of the genre’s most influential years, with fans getting their first taste of the burgeoning genre of blues-influenced heavy metal that Zeppelin would pioneer.

Dusty Springfield, ‘Dusty in Memphis’

Release date: Jan. 18, 1969

Home to the British singer’s defining single, “Son of a Preacher Man,” “Dusty in Memphis” melded pop and RB on a sophisticated release that sounds well before its time.

Neil Young, ‘Neil Young’

Release date: Jan. 22, 1969

Young kicked off 1969 by introducing himself as a solo artist after his departure from Buffalo Springfield, remixing and releasing his debut album in January, followed shortly by May 1969’s even-better “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.”

The Flying Burrito Brothers, ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’

Release date: February 1969

A foundational text of modern country rock, former Byrds members Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman presented a blueprint pairing the two genres and inspired a generation of imitators.

The Velvet Underground, ‘The Velvet Underground’

Release date: March 31, 1969

The band’s self-titled third album was the first after the departure of the band’s co-founder John Cale and marked a sonic shift for the band to stripped-down compositions and ballads, resulting in one of their most emotionally touching releases. 

Bob Dylan, ‘Nashville Skyline’

Release date: April 9, 1969

In the late ’60s, Dylan pivoted from lean rock ‘n’ roll and rambling acoustic folk to country on “Nashville Skyline,” a new direction for Dylan that matched his newly debuted baritone croon, which he attributed to quitting smoking.

Joni Mitchell, ‘Clouds’

Release date: May 1, 1969

Mitchell’s second album, an expressive collection of folk songs soundtracked solely by acoustic guitar, shows how quickly she was refining her considerable talents as a singer-songwriter and features the Mitchell classic “Both Sides Now.” 

Sly the Family Stone, ‘Stand!’

Release date: May 3, 1969

Sly the Family Stone were an unstoppable force in the ’60s and ’70s’ funk/soul universe, and “Stand!” is considered the peak of their output, along with the album’s beloved single “Everyday People.”

The Who, ‘Tommy’

Release date: May 17, 1969

“Tommy” wasn’t just the Who’s most ambitious work to date when it was released in 1969. It endures as one of the band’s crowning achievements, a rock opera about a disabled child who becomes a religious messiah. 

Crosby, Stills Nash, ‘Crosby, Stills Nash’

Release date: May 29, 1969

The debut album from one of folk’s most storied groups, “Crosby, Stills Nash” combined the talents of David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash on an album that featured some of the band’s defining tracks, “Marrakesh Express,” “Helplessly Hoping” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”

Isaac Hayes, ‘Hot Buttered Soul’

Release date: June 1969

A monumental achievement for the genre of soul, Hayes’ second album features just four songs, all of which are absolute epics of performance and composition. 

Nick Drake, ‘Five Leaves Left’

Release date: July 3, 1969

The debut album from the virtuosic British singer-songwriter influenced the next 50 years of insular, moody folk-rock singers.

The Stooges, ‘The Stooges’

Release date: Aug. 5, 1969

The Stooges’ debut album introduced rock to the indelible personality of Iggy Pop and paved the way for the birth of punk rock as we know it. 

Santana, ‘Santana’

Release date: Aug. 30, 1969

The debut album of one of rock’s most influential guitar personalities, “Santana” previewed the influence that Carlos Santana would impart on Latin rock. 

Janis Joplin, ‘I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!’

Release date: Sept. 11, 1969

The first and only solo album from one of ‘60s rock’s most tragic figures, who died at the age of 27 a little more than a year after its release.

The Band, ‘The Band’

Release date: Sept. 22, 1969

A landmark achievement in Americana recordings, the Band’s self-titled second album – featuring the band’s classic “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” – was released four days before “Abbey Road” and is arguably the more influential collection.

The Beatles, ‘Abbey Road’

Release date: Sept. 26, 1969

Of all the storied releases that came out in 1969, the Beatles’ album may top them all in signifying the end of a rock ‘n’ roll era.

‘Abbey Road’ turns 50: All the album’s songs, ranked

King Crimson, ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’

Release date: Oct. 10, 1969

Released on the same day as the similarly influential “Hot Rats” from Frank Zappa, “In the Court of the Crimson King” helped birth the prog-rock movement that would shape rock over the next two decades. 

Led Zeppelin, ‘Led Zeppelin II’

Release date: Oct. 22, 1969

In furiously prolific fashion, Led Zeppelin released their second album  months after their debut, largely seen as the heaviest album the heavy metal greats would release over their short but wildly influential career. 

Jefferson Airplane, ‘Volunteers’

Release date: November 1969

The San Francisco rockers ended the ’60s with a politicized rallying cry of an album, calling for listeners to fight in the streets in the face of escalating violence abroad in Vietnam. 

Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Willy and the Poor Boys’

Release date: Nov. 2, 1969

A standalone classic in its own right, featuring possibly the band’s defining track, “Fortunate Son,” “Willy and the Poor Boys” is notable for being the third of three blockbuster releases the Southern rock greats released in 1969, along with “Bayou Country” and “Green River.”

David Bowie, ‘David Bowie’

Release date: Nov. 4, 1969

Bowie’s second album was released under several names – self-titled, as “Man of Words/Man of Music” in the USA and later as “Space Oddity” – and previewed the accomplished pop innovator that the British singer was turning into. It’s best remembered for the “Space Oddity” single.

The Allman Brothers, ‘The Allman Brothers’

Release date: Nov. 4, 1969

The Allman Brothers’ debut studio album was another defining accomplishment in Southern rock, featuring the favorites “It’s Not My Cross To Bear,” “Dreams” and “Whipping Post.”

The Rolling Stones, ‘Let it Bleed’

Release date: Dec. 5, 1969

Kicking off the tracklist with “Gimme Shelter” and ending with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Let it Bleed” encapsulates the qualities fans loved about the Stones: their demonic playfulness and their hard-rocking sensibilities alongside moments of introspection. 

The Jackson 5, ‘Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5’

Release date: Dec. 18, 1969

The debut album from the quintet of brothers featured Jackson 5 classics “I Want You Back” and “Who’s Lovin’ You,” and most importantly to rock music history, introduced the world to Michael Jackson.