In the spirit of last year’s top ten albums of 1959, here are my personal top ten albums of fifty years ago.
1960 was not the best year in music history. Part of the problem today is we know what would follow during the rest of the decade, and it would make many of the early sixties album releases pale in comparison. Some of the number one albums of the year were by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Billy Vaughan, Bob Newhart, Enoch Light, Bert Kaempfert, and The Sound Of Music Broadway Cast; none of whom made my list. On the positive side The Kingston Trio and Elvis Presley also topped the charts, although the first are a little dated today and Elvis’ G.I. Blues, while not a bad soundtrack, was not the equal of his studio work.
Still, there were some gems to be found fifty years ago and they are still enjoyable today.
10) Rockin’ At The Hops by Chuck Berry
This studio album by Chuck Berry does not contain any of his bigger or well known hits, which forms part of its charm. Chuck Berry released a lot of material during this part of his career that has slipped under the radar. Here we find “Bye Bye Johnny,” “Too Pooped To Pop,” “Let It Rock,” and “Childhood Sweetheart” which is not bad. It remains a good album to explore the Chuck Berry legacy a little deeper.
9) More Gunfighter Ballads by Marty Robbins.
Robbins’ first album in his Gunfighter series topped my 1959 list last year. This second in the series may be a little weaker overall, due to the fact it does not contain any big hits such as “El Paso” or “Big Iron.” What is there is a very consistent country/pop release that would help cement his popularity. Story songs such as “Five Brothers,” “Ride Cowboy Ride,” “Prairie Fire,” and “The Streets Of Laredo” are a nice ride through the old American west.
8) The Joan Baez Album by Joan Baez
Joan Baez was an important part of the American folk revival of the early 1960s. Her debut album was comprised of traditional folk songs which may sound a little dated today, but it made an impact in its time. What makes the album memorable is the tone and clarity of her voice, which was and is still mesmerizing. The album remains an American folk history lesson.
7) Teensville by Chet Atkins
The album was created and titled to make Chet Atkins more appealing to the young rock generation. Such songs as “Django’s Castle,” “Oh Lonesome Me,” “ White Silver Sands,” and “Hot Toddy” were not rock but they did prove popular with the album reaching number 16 on The American Pop Charts. What the album has going for it are some of the best performances by one of the supreme guitarists of the 20th century. This is one of the Chet Atkins albums that remain a guitar clinic.
6) The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery by Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery was one of the few guitarists of the era who could match Chet Atkins note for note, even though the notes were vastly different. This album catches Montgomery at the height of his career. If you want a crash course in the history of the jazz guitar, it all flows through this 1960 release.
5) The Eddie Cochran Memorial Album by Eddie Cochran
This album was originally released a few weeks before Cochran’s fatal car accident under the title 12 Of His Biggest Hits. It was reissued a month later under its well known title. The album was comprised of a number of his single releases. His death cut short the career of one of the true, early rock ‘n’ rollers. Songs such as “Sitting In The Balcony,” “Something Else,” “C’mon Everybody,” and especially “Summertime Blues” with one of the great guitar lines in rock history, are all worth the price of this gem.
4) At Newport 1960 by Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters live was a far different animal than in the studio during the late fifties and early sixties. His appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960, with pianist Otis Spann in tow, has the raw appeal and energy of his old 78s, which is how the blues should be heard. Muddy Waters helped to electrify the blues and here he is at his best.
3) Have Guitar, Will Travel by Bo Diddley
Just about any album by Bo Diddley is worth a listen as he was as good as even he thought he was. Have Guitar, Will Travel was one of three albums he released during a very prolific 12 month period. They are more rock than blues, but come close to an early fusion sound. Tracks such as “She’s Alright,” “Mumblin’ Guitar,” “Run Diddley Daddy,” and “Cops & Robbers” help make for a quick 32 minutes of listening enjoyment. Willie Dixon on bass is an added bonus.
2) His Hand In Mine by Elvis Presley
G.I. Blues was good and Elvis Is Back just missed my top ten, but when Elvis sang gospel, it was always memorable. Elvis may have cruised through some of his recording sessions at times but when he ventured into gospel, he meant it. Songs such as “His Hand In Mine,” “Joshua Fit The Battle,” “Swing Down Sweet Chariot,” and “I Believe In The Man In The Sky” are still worth a listen today. “Surrender” and “Crying In The Chapel” were also recorded but left off the original release for use as singles. They would have made an excellent album stronger.
1) Brenda Lee by Brenda Lee
If you want to know why Brenda Lee is in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, The Country Music Hall Of Fame, and The Rockabilly Hall Of Fame, just check out this album. “Dynamite” and “Jambalaya” are rockabilly at its best. Top ten hits “Sweet Nothin’s,” “That’s All You Gotta Do,” and the number one “I’m Sorry” present a different side to her music. Add in the likes of “Wee Wee Willies,” “Weep No More Baby,” and “Let’s Jump The Broomstick” and you have the best album of the year.