In 1960, The Beatles were naff skiffle-beat teens; by 1970, they'd overseen a revolution. In a decade, rock'n'roll had exploded into a global phenomenon; become an artform of genuine expression and experimentation. Whilst The Beatles were superstars, the time was just as fertile for underground counter-culture. The seeds of alternative music —punk, indie, alternative, electronic, noise, you name it— were sown back then; a range of strange musicians concerting to take recorded audio into new, uncharted terrains. For many, the fruits of this labor weren't felt 'til years later. Here, then, are 30 revolutionary '60s LPs.
1964, West Germany. Five American GIs in a rockband combat Beatlemania by attempting to be the "anti-Beatles." Managed by Situationist-minded German advertising gurus, they're wholly branded as The Monks: dressed in black cassocks, tonsures shaved on heads, nooses hung around their necks. They strip the drum-kit of its cymbals, bash a banjo as a percussive instrument, and grow ever tighter and nastier as they tour Germany constantly, playing for audiences who usually despise them. They make one viciously-rhythmic record, Black Monk Time then implode in the face of the public's disinterest/dislike. But they leave their mark: the subsequent generation of German krautrockers owing an obvious debt to The Monks' devotion to repetition.
If there was an American rock underground in 1965, The Fugs were it. But the band —vocalists Tali Kupferberg and Ed Sanders and 'percussionist' Ken Weaver— would've never defined themselves as rock'n'rollers; they were poets, burnouts, beatniks, punks; impish provocateurs out to slyly satirize America by co-opting popular music form. Taking their influence from the volumes of ethnomusical folksongs unearthed by Harry Smith, The Fugs made largely-vocal music that was staggeringly simple, their sing-song ditties driven forward by vocals. Such tribalism happily masked the fact that The Fugs had no idea how to play instruments. The Fugs First Album stood proud in its unmusicality decades before the DIY movement would take hold.
3. The Misunderstood 'Before the Dream Faded' (1966)
It's cheating listing Before the Dream Faded as a classic '60s album, given it was first assembled in 1982. But The Misunderstood —a band whose name couldn't be more appropriate— never got to release it, or any other album, in their day. Though they boasted a bubbling UK following and a run of strong singles produced by English DJ John Peel, the ex-pat Californians fell apart when frontman Rick Brown was conscripted into service via the Vietnam draft. This collection of their studio recordings shows a band dappling their pop-songs with psychedelic effects and garage-rock passion; all quicksilver guitar licks, fuzzed-out bass, and the unhinged howls of Brown. Before the Dream Faded marks an important remnant of underground rock's salad days.
The 13th Floor Elevators —a gang of Texan teens doped up on péyote and LSD— came up with their own term for their swirling, heavily-reverberated, demented take on jug-band blues: psychedelic rock. Whilst the raw, ready-to-explode yelps of Roky Erickson were their defining element, the Elevators were rewriting rock back when their peers were still doodling with skiffle riffs: Stacy Sutherland's dark, gnarly guitar crackling with a snarling, sinister tone; Tommy Hall's 'electrified jug' creating bizarre patterns of unquantifiable arrhythmia. Yet, whilst it hinted at new frontiers for sprawling psychedelia, the Elevators' debut also delivered the eternally awesome two-minute blaster "You're Gonna Miss Me," which still kills to this day.
6. The Godz 'Godz 2' (1967)
The Godz are one of music history's most overlooked outfits, not least in that their name was, in the '70s, stolen by a dire hard-rock combo from Ohio. These Godz were a New York-born co-op out to explode blues-rock tropes into free-form noise-scapes of provocative avant-gardism. After their first LP, 1966's Contact High with The Godz, introduced them as avatars of the burgeoning '60s drug culture, Godz 2 pushed their psychedelic tendencies to further extremities. The album is nothing but a delirious din; its handful of scratchy, scrappy songs surrounded by zoned-out, neo-primitive exercises in percussion bashing, wordless wails, and willful amateurism. The result was a radical record that redrew the parameters of what a rockband could be.
As a black man living in Los Angeles through times of intense civil unrest Arthur Lee had every reason to be pissed. But, as befitting the frontman of a band named Love, Lee used Forever Changes' regal closer, "You Set the Scene," to croon this life-philosophy: "this is the time and life that I am living/and I'll face each day with a smile." The third Love LP —whose sessions were infamously tense— was hardly a work of brainless bubblegum, Lee telling tales of a mythologized Sunset Strip populated by sad-eyed down-and-outers, as rainbow swirls of guitar, searing strings, and Latina brass oom-pahs make the record play like a regal coronation. In some ways, it was; its most devoted acolytes crowing Forever Changes the greatest album ever made.
No band so exploded the normative musical models of the mid-'60s as did those ultimate alternative legends, The Velvet Underground. A ragged, haggard flophouse of deconstructed rock'n'roll, the Velvets invented new combinations as they went: John Cale's prepared-piano repetitions and caustic bows of viola; the ghastly, ghostly, tuneless, Teutonic moan of Nico; Mo Tucker's rudimentary, thumped-out percussion; Lou Reed's raga-riffic guitar. Yet, the VU debut is no dusty museum-piece, no dull rock-history lesson. Filled with a host of three-minute pop classics, it sounds alive —still, somehow, happening in this instant— each time you play it. It's hard to think of another record so blessed with that mythical, alchemical musical 'timelessness.'
No other band earns two spots on the list, but no other band is The Velvet Underground. The infinitely-influential act are a unique historical proposition: after making an amazing debut, they completely reinvented themselves for their second LP, yet made something else —something different— just as amazing. Beating away the tender melancholia of And Nico, the combo found beauty in ugliness; pounding out ragged, raucous, saturated-in-feedback jams. But, rather than slowly flowering or reaching for a higher place, White Light/White Heat's jams grow more tense, more irritable, and more vicious as they go. It's New York street hustle turned into high-art; a band growing a menacing protective shell after a so-so reaction to their first album.
Few albums —few careers, really— kick off with statements-of-intent as clear as "Oscillations," the opening track on the eponymous debut by New York outfit Silver Apples. The experimental duo were powered by the self-built synthesizer of Simeon Coxe III, who was more mad-inventor than simple songsmith. And, on "Oscillations," Coxe takes us into his audio world, beginning: "oscillations, oscillations/electronic evocations/of sound's reality." Silver Apples' highly-rhythmic drum/synth workouts were met with complete disinterest at the time; and the band broke up after 1970's Contact was permanently shelved by their label. Time has proved far more kind; Silver Apples now heralded as synthesizer sages whose music was years ahead of the curve.