Notes From the Soundboard: A Look Back at 1969

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The Beatles' Let It Be was a sign of the times
Notes from the Soundboard is a new column appearing every Wednesday on Crossfade, focused on pop music's history and ongoing evolution. Lee Zimmerman shares insights and observations on how music continues to connect with the weirdness of the world. 

1969 was, looking back with the benefit of 40 years of hindsight, a year of paradox. It had its highs -- Woodstock, the Isle of Wight Festival, the landing of the first man on the moon, Led Zeppelin, the Stooges, Crosby Stills & Nash, Tommy, Abbey Road, "Easy Rider" and Let It Bleed. It was also populated with shattered myths, disillusion and disappointment -- Vietnam, Altamont, and the demise of rock's first major casualty, Rolling Stone Brian Jones.

The year found Woodstock, CSN (and Y) and Abbey Road documenting the last gasp of the hippie dream, already shattered in the drug-addled embers of the Summer of Love two years before. Past and present morphed into the future, without any clear-cut divide. The Beatles' slow meltdown became Let It Be, Altamont provided a rude awakening to the realities of mob rule, and the steady toll of 1960s casualties, precipitated by Jones' drowning in his own swimming pool, began in earnest. The Manson's family's grisly antics showed how those sunny spires of the 1960s -- the Beatles and the Beach Boys -- were mutated into grotesque symbols of perversion and rage. 
In another graphic illustration of the slow change that had now begun to accelerate, the ever-controversial Smothers Brothers were cancelled by CBS after refusing to submit to censorship. A week later they were replaced by the innocuous and idiotic Hee Haw. At the same time, silliness of different sorts was forged with Monty Python's bow on the BBC and the launch of Sesame Street on public TV.

Meanwhile, in music, the old guard was changing. The Beatles played their last concert on the roof of their Apple offices. Meanwhile Dylan, hair shorn and dressed in white, at Britain's Isle of Wight festival made his first public appearance  following his motorcycle mishap three years earlier. Likewise, both the Airplane and the Dead, iconoclastic symbols of indulgence and experimentation, veered into new terrain. The former did so via the vehement rebellion of Volunteers, the latter with the heartland harmonies of Workingman's Dead.

The Stones mined their menace with Let It Bleed, the Who perfected the Rock opera conceit with Tommy, and the Band established the template for Americana with Music From Big Pink. Still, the year's biggest debut became Led Zeppelin's eponymous offering, a prelude to the uncompromising edge of heavy metal and other equally ominous overtones. The Age of Aquarius gave way to an era of angst and aggression as the idyllic 1960s took a final, frenetic bow.

-- Lee Zimmerman

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