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Separate But Very Equal: The (Other) Important Albums of 1968

Day One: A Sgt. Pepper's-inspired satire, a platter of pure soul sizzle, the second act of rock's Warhol-weaned avant-garde, the beautiful noise of two voices in unison, and a backup 'band' comes into their own. Five definitive LPs. Five statements of solid rock royalty.

Edited by Bill Gibron / Produced by Sarah Zupko

Nowadays, it's just easier to compartmentalize things. It's especially convenient when it comes to describing a specific era or decade. Looking backward, we slight the '70s, referring to it with buzzword terms like 'Watergate', 'Disco', and that introspective insult, 'Me'. We turn the '80s into an example of greed, a personal step into a desktop technological progression, or an oblique blend of New Wave, Hair Metal, and the King of Pop. The '90s, sadly, looses all focus, filtered through ambiguities like dot.com, grunge, and the rise of the Neo-Con. But no period gets more mediocre coverage than the '60s. While you can argue over the enormous amount of scholarship on the subject, the truth is that no single overview can accurately sum up a specific time and an ever-changing place. For many, it will always represent peace and love, hippies and radicals, the counterculture and the Establishment, and without question, the band that set the score to it all -- the Beatles.

But most music fans know that there was much more going on in the musical landscape than the frequent masterworks released by those Lads from Liverpool. All around the world, artists took inspiration from the British Invasion (and the American reaction to it) to redefine their sound and explore the possibilities within the medium. Some ended up suspiciously similar to the muse. Others went beyond the boundaries of commerciality to offer up something unheard and quite extraordinary. As we celebrate the Fab Four's stunning premature career culmination, otherwise known as The White Album, we'd be remiss in not mentioning a few of the other noted classics that came out the very same year. While the selections may seem subjective, the featured essays explain their necessary inclusion quite clearly.

It's important to note that, as with any list, there are certainly other important records to consider, and it's a shame that they all couldn't be discussed. A cursory glance over the outstanding efforts of 1968 finds Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, the Byrds serenading the Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and Sly Stone asking his family to help everyone Dance to the Music. In '69, the public was introduced to John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival, the folksy James Taylor, saw the media-made Monkees release the soundtrack to their beautifully obtuse film Head, and jammed along with Iron Butterfly as they spent 17-plus minutes intoning "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida". The ten albums chosen by the PopMatters staff represent the sonic equal of the Beatles brilliant double LP. In remembering the other examples of excellence being offered at the time, perhaps we can broaden the perspective of the oft-marginalized era.

-- Bill Gibron

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