Saturday Single No. 640

Here are the top ten albums in the Billboard 200 released fifty years ago yesterday, May 10, 1969:

Hair by the original cast
Blood, Sweat & Tears
Galveston by Glenn Campbell
Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan
Donovan’s Greatest Hits
Cloud Nine by the Temptations
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
Bayou Country by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Help Yourself by Tom Jones
Led Zeppelin

Four of those ten, the LP database tells me, never showed up in the vinyl stacks: the records by the Temptations, Iron Butterfly, Tom Jones and Led Zeppelin. I had some other Zep and a Temptations anthology, and I once made the misguided decision to buy Iron Butterfly’s live album. (The live version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was even more aimless than was the studio version.) No albums by Tom Jones ever showed up in the vinyl stacks.

A few of those – the BST, the Campbell, the CCR – are great albums. Nashville Skyline is enjoyable, but somehow seems slight; if we’re listening to Dylan from 1970, I prefer New Morning. And the Donovan album is pleasant, but my judgment on his work has been the same since it first came out of the radio speakers in the mid- to late 1960s: It’s for the most part a series of trifles with little substance.

The most interesting of those ten might be Hair. I think the cast album was more a marker of a social moment than a record one listened to (unless one had seen the musical, I suppose), but what I noticed about the music was the number of cover hits it inspired: “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” went to No. 1 for the 5th Dimension, “Hair” went to No. 2 for the Cowsills, “Good Morning Starshine” went to No. 3 for Oliver, and “Easy To Be Hard” went to No. 4 for Three Dog Night. The Happenings tried to get in on the trend, too, but their medley of “Where Do I Go/Be-In/Hare Krishna” stalled at No. 69. And there may be other covers I’m not aware of.

As to current listening, a fair number of tracks from those albums are among the 3,900-plus tracks on the iPod: a couple from Nashville Skyline, a couple from Galveston, and seven each from Blood, Sweat & Tears and Donovan’s Greatest Hits. (Yes, I said Donovan’s works are basically trifles; that doesn’t mean they’re not fun to listen to.)

As it happens, I drove to the train station in Big Lake the other day to head to a Twins game with Rob, and I let the Blood, Sweat & Tears album keep me company. Even with David Clayton-Thomas’ tendency to over-sing, the album is pretty high on my list. (How high? In my top fifty, maybe.) I had kind of forgotten how jazzy things get during the instrumental breaks.

And I was also reminded as I listened that Blood, Sweat & Tears was the first album I got after I got my tape player during the summer of 1969. I’ve long since added it on vinyl and CD, which puts it pretty close to the front of the line in terms of music I’ve listened to the longest.

So here’s “Smiling Phases” from Blood, Sweat & Tears’ 1969 self-titled album. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

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