1968 was a watershed (counter-) cultural year for much of the globe, not least of all in Brazil. In rebellion to a military dictatorship, a crew of student provocateurs in Salvador —lead by Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Os Mutantes— used musical transgression as a greater form of protest. Mongreling Brazilian popular music —the establishment's sound— with strains of Sgt. Pepper's, psychedelia, the Afro-Brazilian folk of the Brazilian North-East, and the people's music of bossa nova, these 'tropicalistas' blooded a new sound that stirred up a furore in its native land. Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis served as their manifesto: mixing experimentalism with sweeping orchestrations and archly-ironic lyrics in a stand of stylish defiance.
Made at the same time as Tropicália, Gilberto Gil's second record —the first of his three self-titled LPs, oft clarified as 1968— found him collaborating with members of Os Mutantes and the orchestral overseer of tropicalismo, Rogério Duprat. Duprat dresses Gil's songs in flutters of woodwinds and sumptuous strings, giving a sense of orchestral grandeur to a suite of sambas delivered with a groovy rock'n'roll touch and marked with strange found-sound flourishes. Though 1968 ripples with sweetness and beauty —especially on the glorious "Êle Falava Nisso Todo Dia" and "Luzia Luluza"— it was proved too avant-garde for Brazil's ruling junta, who, in 1969, jailed Gil and his fellow tropicálista Caetano Veloso for being subversive influences.
None of Brazil's treasonous tropicalistas quite so mutated musical form as did Os Mutantes. Inspired by The Beatles' use of the studio as experimental tool, the outfit's outlandish debut LP is marked by manifold monkeyshines: overdriven guitars swamping a song in distortion, false endings fading in and out at random, traditional Afro-Portuguese rhythms broken down then brought back to Frankenstein-ish life. It's a longplaying monster as ridiculous as it is radical, as theatrical as it is musical. Authoring this freaky fusion of culture and genre, high-brow and low-brow, pop-song and experimentalism, it's as if Os Mutantes peered into the future; their hyper-modernist, genre-juggling, boundary-pushing pop still sounding utterly contemporary.
15. Pearls Before Swine 'Balaklava' (1968)
16. Tyrannosaurus Rex 'My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair...' (1968)
Veteran listeners were aghast when bearded freak-folk pin-up boy Devendra Banhart arrived in the mid-'00s, all ridiculous warble and flower-child mysticism. Banhart's shtick was a veritable facsimile of Tyrannosaurus Rex, the bizarre folkie beginnings for Marc Bolan. Bolan's cosmically-titled debut, My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... but Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows, finds his swooping, screeching voice and guitar-flaying playing matched to zoned-out bongos; the whole sounding as if lost in a psychedelic, fairy-tale forest filled with magic mushrooms. Bolan would soon rebrand has band T. Rex, and find fame peddling glam-rock boogie, but in such success his strangeness —his uniqueness— was completely lost.
Shirley Collins is the defining voice of the folk-revival; its purest practitioner, its spiritual sage, its most gracious —and, perhaps, greatest— presence. And Anthems in Eden is her undoubted magnum opus, a work of dizzying ambition, savage beauty, and cultural resonance. Its Side A is a single 28-minute work; a nine-part "Song-Story" that repositions a host of traditionals into a narrative charting the destructive effect of World War One casualties on rural England. Working with London's Early Music Consort, the song-cycle matches Collins' rough-hewn voice to archaic instruments called things like crumhorn, sackbut, sordun, and rackett. It's undeniably a product of '60s idealism, but Anthems in Eden sounds timeless, ancient, eternal.
The regal prince of folkie melancholy delivered his debut album with the decade dwindling, and he'd follow it up with two more tender, tortured LPs before dying, in 1974, at just 26. Five Leaves Left introduced the singular, near-perfect sound Nick Drake achieved across all three records; his honeyed croon and fingerpicking guitar dressed in the sumptuous orchestrations of Robert Kirby. The production, by studio sage Joe Boyd, makes everything sound warm and glistening, songs glowing like newly-blown glass. Despite Drake's youth, the album feels filled with resignation and regret; a lamentation born from a life of hard-earned wisdoms. He was barely 20 at the time, but Drake was, it seems, already in the autumnal years of his life.