1969: A Watershed Year For Americana Music
Half a century ago, in a single calendar year, an avalanche of albums were released that would go on to have a lasting and monumental impact on what would become known as alt-country and more recently Americana music.
Looking back at 1969 and pursuing the list of albums that were released, it was clearly a watershed moment in the history of popular music as traditional styles of country and folk found common and harmonious ground with soul and rock ’n’ roll. The Byrds, Van Morrison and The Band had all made major statements the previous year but these albums released in final 12 months of the 60s form an undeniably essential part of the DNA of Americana music.
Los Angeles’ The Flying Burrito Brothers released The Gilded Palace Of Sin in February and it still remains one of the key formative recordings in the consolidation of the country-rock sound. Gram Parson’s role in the band was of particular importance given his centrality to the development of the genre. 7,500 miles across the country in Austin, TX the coffee houses were a fertile breeding ground for stark and poetic folk songs. Townes Van Zandt, one of the scene’s most talented and troubled songwriters released both Our Mother The Mountain and his self-titled album in the same year. The latter providing this column’s name.
Creedence Clearwater Revival released three albums in 1969. Twenty six songs that found a cosmic intersection between swamp pop, rockabilly and country music. Similarly influential, Neil Young released his debut album at the start of the year but it was Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere that turned the most heads as a seminal touchstone for alt-country.
It wasn’t just the Americans that were making waves. Across the Atlantic the English folk scene was in full flight with Bert Jansch exploring the possibilities of acoustic guitar, Nick Drake creating fragile and intimate folk music on Five Leaves Left and Fairport Convention leaving a similarly indelible mark with Liege & Lief.
Bob Dylan had already made a monumental impact on modern music but 1969 was an important year as it marked his re-emergence, after three years out of the public eye, with the countrified Nashville Skyline, an important album in that it played a large part in bringing country-rock into the mainstream.
As 1969 came to a close Jagger sang ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ on the country and blues -infused rock of Let It Bleed. The Altamont festival (headlined by The Stones) cast bad vibes over the end of the year, an ominous footnote that put a large dent in the aura of peace and love that preceded it, immortalised by the Woodstock Festival in August. Times were a changing and so too was the music but out of diversity new things emerge and this wealth of seminal albums would prove to be an enduring and vital influence on Americana music for the next 50 years and beyond.
Bert Jansch – Birthday Blues – January
Jim Sullivan – U.F.O. – January
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bayou County – January 20th
Neil Young – Neil Young – January 22nd
The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin – February 6th
Buffalo Springfield – Retrospective: The Best of Buffalo Springfield – February 10th
The Byrds – Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde – March 5th
Townes Van Zandt – Our Mother The Mountain – April 1st
Leonard Cohen – Songs From A Room– April 7th
Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline– April 9th
Joni Mitchell – Clouds– May 1st
Crosby, Stills & Nash – Crosby, Stills & Nash– May 29th
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere– May 14th
Elvis Presley – From Memphis With Love– June 1st
Johnny Cash – At St Quentin– June 4th
Grateful Dead – Aoxomoxoa– June 20th
Michael Chapman – Rainmaker– July 1st
Tim Buckley – Happy Sad– July 10th
Jim Ford – Harlan County– August 1st
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River– August 5th
Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left– September 1st
Townes Van Zandt – Townes Van Zandt– September 1st
Janis Joplin – I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!– September 11th
The Band – The Band– September 22nd
Laura Nyro – New York Tendaberry– September 24th
Charlie Rich – The Fabulous Charlie Rich – November
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy & The Poor Boys – November 10th
Grateful Dead – Live/Dead – November 10th
The Byrds – Ballad of Easy Rider – November 10th
Fairport Convention – Liege & Lief – December 1st
The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed – December 5th
Merle Haggard – Okie From Muskogee – December 29th