The Rock L.P. had been etching out its position as Rock’s chief artistic vehicle for over a year. The Beatles had stopped filling out their albums with covers once and for all when they released Rubber Soul in late 1965. That album directly inspired Brian Wilson to create an even more cohesive piece with Pet Sounds in 1966. The Beach Boys’ album would serve the same inspirational role when The Beatle’s got back in the studio at the end of that year to begin work on the album that would give the L.P. its ultimate foothold. From that point on, the album would be regarded as more than a souvenir for record buyers with money to burn. It would be Rock’s central mode of expression. Consequently, the albums released in the second half of 1967 were as different from the ones released in the first half as the albums of 1966 were from the ones of ’65. So, it makes a certain amount of sense to split the year in half when evaluating it, dividing the less-self conscious pre-Pepper albums from the grander statements of the post-Pepper works. Here are Psychobabble’s picks for the twelve greatest albums released during the five months before The Beatles changed the album forever.
(Release dates in parentheses were mostly pulled from Wikipedia, which means it may be wise to take them with a grain of salt.)
12. Emotions by The Pretty Things (4/18/67)
Even in the months before Sgt. Pepper’s landed on Earth, the old Rock quartet line-up was looking primitive thanks to pre-Pepper items like “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Ruby Tuesday”, and “Good Vibrations”. For The Pretty Things, primitive was as much a way of life as it was for Alley Oop, so it’s no wonder why they were beside themselves when the Powers That Be at Fontana Records slathered their latest batch of songs with strings and brass without their input or even their knowledge. While such a move would have been an unequivocal disaster had it been perpetrated on their earlier blues and booze romps, the tracks on Emotions already found the Pretties in less surly territory. In fact, the brass blurts work quite well on the Kinky character sketch “Death of a Socialite” and the intense, psych vamp “My Time”. Brass adds extra punch to the already hard-driving “There Will Never Be Another Day”. “The Sun”, an elegant stroke of baroque pop, is almost unimaginable without its complimentary strings. At times the embellishments don’t work quite as well, although that may be as much the fault of middling material, such as “Children” and “Tripping”. Emotions is controversial and a bit uneven, but it reveals great growth in the songwriting partnership of Phil May and Dick Taylor, which would flourish fully the following year on an album they recorded a few doors down the Abbey Road halls from the Pepper sessions.
11. More of The Monkees by The Monkees (1/9/67)
On a schedule that would have even been extreme in 1964, the second Monkees album hit shops a ridiculous three months after their debut. From Colgems’ point of view, such rapid releasing must have seemed necessary since no one knew when the phenomenon was going to suddenly end. It was possible because an army of producers were constantly holding sessions in the desperate hope that they’d cut a track that would end up on an album guaranteed to sell zillions. So there was a mass of material at the ready to fill out More of the Monkees, and as was the case with The Monkees, most of it was more fabulous than anyone had any right to expect it to be. Or maybe it should have been expected since pros such as Goffin and King, Boyce and Hart, and Neil Diamond were contributing songs. Despite the hasty and totally inorganic way it was put together, More contains the best-known Monkees double-sided hit— “I’m a Believer” b/w “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”—and their best-known album tracks: Boyce and Hart’s “She”, Goffin and King’s “Sometime in the Morning”, Diamond’s “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)”, and Mike Nesmith’s “Mary Mary”. Each one of these tracks is a pop gem polished to perfection, and “Steppin’ Stone”, “She”, and “Mary Mary” are tough enough to give the impression of a real garage band at work even if this was not at all the case. Nesmith’s clattering and joyful “The Kind of Girl I Could Love” and the driving baroque popper “Hold on Girl” are pretty terrific too. The rest of the album is more of an acquired taste. Fans tend to love or hate Peter Tork’s fart sounds on the novelty track “Your Auntie Grizelda”. Most just seem to hate the lurching, goofy “Laugh” (I’m in the minority of fans who find it catchy fun), and a serious gag suppressant is required to make it through the soppy “The Day We Fall in Love”, easily the worst piece of trash ever to score a place on a Monkees LP. One could only imagine Nesmith’s disgust when he heard this particular track, and totally sympathize with his battle to get The Monkees to make their own records from then on. He won that unlikely war, and the best and truest Monkees albums would be the fruits of it, but no matter how it was made, More of The Monkees was still a pretty great album.
10. Mellow Yellow by Donovan (3/67)
The pastoral strokes The Stones forged on “Ruby Tuesday” were a lot more complimentary to the ethereal Donovan than they were to the nitty-gritty Pretty Things. Don’s third album, Mellow Yellow, is bookended by its two raunchiest tracks: the bumping, grinding title tune, and the name-dropping, Swinging London tribute “Sunny South Kensington”. In between lies the songwriter’s most graceful selection of baroque folk and rainy jazz executed with stand-up bass, lightly brushed drums, piano, occasional woodwinds, and Donovan’s fluidly picked acoustic guitar. Mellow Yellow is also the most credible testament to Donovan’s insistence that he’s a poet above all else. “Writer in the Sun” is the empathetic faux-autobiography of an author whose best days are behind him. “Museum” is a cheeky, picturesque love letter. “An Observation” is Donovan at his most biting, transforming the frustration of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” into outright spite. “Young Girl Blues” is him at his most unexpected; it’s a sensitive but unflinching portrait of a party girl with the kind of explicit sex and drug references that would soon make Lou Reed infamous. Mellow Yellow is Donovan’s most authentically artistic statement and a lovely, sometimes gritty, sepia snapshot of pop’s most mythic era.
9. Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane (2/67)