Forty years later these 1969 singles still reign supreme
From Marvin and Dusty to Bowie and Dylan, Graeme Ross picks the 12 best singles from 1969 Friday 8 February 2019 00:00 The Independent Culture Marvin Gaye’s timeless classic nearly didn’t make it onto 45 ( Rex )
A s the 1960s drew to a close the record industry was becoming increasingly album orientated but that’s not to say that the disposable three-minute single was not in rude health.
Taking a glance through the musical back pages of 1969, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that it was one of the great years for the 45. They were still selling in shedloads and would continue to do so for many years to come. Read more Get the best of The Independent
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In 1969, there was a huge and diverse array of styles available to pop-pickers with the Beatles , the Stones and Motown still the yardstick by whom all others were measured. And as this list demonstrates, the opposition certainly upped their game to produce some of the most memorable records of not just 1969, but the decade as a whole. Here is my choice of the greatest singles of 1969.
12. The Beatles – Get Back
Famously premiered when the Fabs played live on the roof of their Apple building, “Get Back” was composed by Paul McCartney and as part of the group’s back to basics period, has so few chords it makes Status Quo look like the Grateful Dead. The record is ample proof however, of their credentials as a rock’n’roll band just as popular music was edging towards a harder rock sound.
Credited as The Beatles with Billy Preston, the song certainly benefits from Preston’s funky electric piano, and after a spell of comparatively thin fare for Beatles fans, “Get Back” crashed straight into number one in April, remaining at the top for six weeks, whereupon it was almost immediately replaced by Lennon’s “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. Bob Dylnn at Isle of Wight Festival in 1969 (Hulton Archive/Getty)
11. Bob Dylan – Lay Lady Lay
Post motorcycle crash Dylan channelled his inner Hank Williams and emerged as a honey-voiced country crooner on the Nashville Skyline album. This was the single, a tender evocation of domestic bliss that even those who normally couldn’t stand the man’s voice, fell for. “Lay Lady Lay” made the top five in the UK, attracted numerous cover versions and has no doubt, graced many a bedroom.
10. Booker T. & the MG’s – Time is Tight
Gloriously evocative instrumental from the house band that underpinned so many deathless classics on the Stax label by the likes of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. The peerless rhythm section of Al Jackson on drums (try listening to his work here without playing air drums) and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn find their tightest groove and its all driven by Booker T Jones iconic Hammond organ and the great Steve Cropper on lead guitar.
9. Desmond Dekker & the Aces – Israelites
A hugely important and influential record in the history of Jamaican music, “Israelites” was the first reggae song to top the charts in the UK, even if many who bought the record didn’t understand the lyrics. Read more Playlist: Paul Simon’s 12 greatest songs as a solo artist
Dekker himself explained their meaning best. “It’s about how life was in Jamaica, how we were all downtrodden, just like the Israelites who Moses led to the promised land.” “Israelites” was a song of hope however. “I was telling people not to give up as things would get better,” Dekker explained. “Israelites” opened the door in the short term for other reggae acts like The Intruders and The Pioneers and more enduringly for Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley and the Wailers, while The Specials also credit Dekker as a big influence.
8. Thunderclap Newman – Something in the Air
This anthemic call to arms from the short lived band put together by Pete Townshend captured the mood of the moment in a time of social and political upheaval. Written and sung by former Who chauffeur John (“Speedy”) Keen, and with producer Townshend on bass, Post Office telephone engineer Andy Newman contributing memorable honky-tonk piano and 15-year-old Jimmy McCulloch, later of Wings on guitar, “Something in the Air” sound tracked the summer of ‘69. Spending three weeks at number one, Thunderclap Newman were perhaps the ultimate one-hit wonder, but the song’s message endures, a frequent fixture in movie soundtracks and advertisements. High fliers: Fleetwood Mac had three major hits in 1969 (Getty)
7. Fleetwood Mac – Albatross
Owing a substantial debt to Santo and Johnny’s 1959 instrumental “Sleep Walk”, “Albatross’s” dreamy ambience was the polar opposite of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac’s authentic blues output up to that point and purists yelled “sellout”. Critics too, were unimpressed. “Hardly chart material” they sniffed and watched disbelievingly as “Albatross” soared to number one in January ‘69. It was no fluke as Green followed “Albatross” with two more superb 45s, “Man of the World” and “Oh Well”, both of which made number two, making Fleetwood Mac the biggest selling singles band in the UK in 1969. Shape Bob Dylan: A year and a day Show all 6 Bob Dylan: A year and a day 1/6 1964 On the road from New York City to Buffalo with Joan Baez, November 1964. An important collaborator early in Dylan's career, Daniel Kramer photographed the two extensively, from their infamous joint performances to relaxed moments between shows. Daniel Kramer/courtesy of Taschen 2/6 1964 At a pool hall in Kingston, New York, December 1964. Daniel Kramer was allowed into Dylan's inner world early in his career. Kramer reﬂects, "I would have the opportunity to document many facets of his professional life and to produce three important album covers, and so much more." Photographs Daniel Kramer/courtesy of Taschen 3/6 1964 A game of chess with Victor Maymudes at Bernard's Cafe Espresso, a favorite hangout spot in Woodstock, 1964. One of many unpublished outtakes from the day that produced Kramer's classic photograph of Dylan at the chessboard. Daniel Kramer/courtesy of Taschen 4/6 1965 Bob Dylan and Daniel Kramer photograph each other, Woodstock, March 1965. Kramer had a backstage pass to both the private and public Dylan in the seminal year he became an international superstar. Daniel Kramer/courtesy of Taschen 5/6 1965 One of several rare unpublished photos of Dylan on Fifth Avenue with Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, and guitarist John Hammond, Jr, two of Dylan's frequent collaborators in the mid-1960s, in New York City, January 1965. Daniel Kramer/courtesy of Taschen 6/6 Daniel Kramer. Bob Dylan: A Year and a Day Hardcover, 23.6 x 33.3 cm, 280 pages Published by Taschen 1/6 1964 On the road from New York City to Buffalo with Joan Baez, November 1964. An important collaborator early in Dylan's career, Daniel Kramer photographed the two extensively, from their infamous joint performances to relaxed moments between shows. Daniel Kramer/courtesy of Taschen 2/6 1964 At a pool hall in Kingston, New York, December 1964. Daniel Kramer was allowed into Dylan's inner world early in his career. Kramer reﬂects, "I would have the opportunity to document many facets of his professional life and to produce three important album covers, and so much more." Photographs Daniel Kramer/courtesy of Taschen 3/6 1964 A game of chess with Victor Maymudes at Bernard's Cafe Espresso, a favorite hangout spot in Woodstock, 1964. One of many unpublished outtakes from the day that produced Kramer's classic photograph of Dylan at the chessboard. Daniel Kramer/courtesy of Taschen 4/6 1965 Bob Dylan and Daniel Kramer photograph each other, Woodstock, March 1965. Kramer had a backstage pass to both the private and public Dylan in the seminal year he became an international superstar. Daniel Kramer/courtesy of Taschen 5/6 1965 One of several rare unpublished photos of Dylan on Fifth Avenue with Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, and guitarist John Hammond, Jr, two of Dylan's frequent collaborators in the mid-1960s, in New York City, January 1965. Daniel Kramer/courtesy of Taschen 6/6 Daniel Kramer. Bob Dylan: A Year and a Day Hardcover, 23.6 x 33.3 cm, 280 pages Published by Taschen
6. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bad Moon Rising
One America’s greatest bands had an incredible 1969 with three top quality albums and a run of hit singles that made them the biggest band on the planet as the 1970s dawned. The key was John Fogerty’s distinctive vocals and a gift for channelling the spirit of early rock and rollers like Little Richard into incredibly catchy three minute songs, perfect for radio. CCR had already hit the UK top ten with instant classic “Proud Mary”, which was followed by “Bad Moon Rising” in which Fogerty warned of the impending apocalypse in a world where Richard Nixon was president. UK record buyers didn’t give a fig about the subject matter however – they just loved the raw, rocking immediacy of the record and the result was a three week run at the top of the charts. Cowboy song: Glen Campbell serenades two young fans (Getty)
5. Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman
In 1969 Glen Campbell starred alongside John Wayne in the western True Grit . Thankfully, he didn’t give up his day job and stuck to what he was much better at – making great records, especially in consort with Jimmy Webb, one of the great songwriters of the era. This is the peak of one of the great artist/writer collaborations, achingly wistful and beautifully performed by Campbell, and just think – another masterpiece – the anti-Vietnam lament “Galveston” was still to come.
4. David Bowie – Space Oddity
Full of unusual time changes and strikingly original, Bowie’s first hit came out of nowhere and its success appeared initially to be the launch pad for a career that had been stagnant up to that point. However, it took three years, a couple of radical changes of image and a memorably scandalous appearance on Top of the Pops before Bowie really took off into the stratosphere. Introducing the character of Major Tom and partially inspired by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey , “Space Oddity” was rush-released as a single to coincide with the planned Apollo 11 moon landing on 20 July. Radio stations were nervous about playing it however until the astronauts came back safely and it was a slow burner, eventually reaching the top five in the UK. It was re-released in 1975, by which time Bowie was the biggest musical superstar on this planet and topped the charts. “Space Oddity”’s place as a cultural landmark and part of the public consciousness was confirmed when astronaut Chris Hadfield performed it aboard the International Space Station in 2013. A step above: Dusty Springfield managed to out-sing Aretha Franklin on ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ (Getty)
3. Dusty Springfield – Son of a Preacher Man
“Son of a Preacher Man” was written for Aretha Franklin and has been covered many times, but Dusty’s sultry treatment from the touchstone Dusty in Memphis album is the definitive version. If you ever want to make the case for Dusty as our greatest ever female soul singer, I give you exhibit one. Case closed.
2. The Rolling Stones – Honky Tonk Women
Released the day after Brian Jones’ funeral, “Honky Tonk Women” represented the Stones at their most unrepentantly debauched and was their last great single of the Sixties. Driven by a lazy country-blues riff with a trademark swaggering Jagger vocal and full of archetypal risque lyrics that just evaded the censor’s wrath, “Honky Tonk Women” quickly came to define the heady summer of ‘69, spending five weeks at number one. It was also the Stones at their most defiant, showing that with new member Mick Taylor on board, and after much tragedy and turmoil, they could still cut it as the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band.
1. Marvin Gaye – I Heard it Through the Grapevine
We’ll never know how close we were to not hearing the record considered by many to be the greatest single ever made. Motown label boss Berry Gordy hated it and initially refused to sanction its release. Consequently, it was buried on Gaye’s middling 1968 album In the Groove and just to add insult to injury, Motown released Gladys Knight’s perfectly fine, but nowhere near as great version, and it was a huge hit. Eventually DJs began to play Gaye’s version as an album track, and listeners were hooked by the brooding, anguished majesty of the record. Motown relented and soon, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” was number one on both sides of the Atlantic. This record is such a work of art, that really it should have been included aboard the Voyager spacecraft when it was launched into the Cosmos in 1977, so it seems inconsequential to call it the best single of 1969. But it is. Support free-thinking journalism and subscribe to Independent Minds