AOTY 2023

My Review of Pitchfork's Top 200 Albums of the 60's

As I go through my reviews of each of Pitchfork's Top 200 Albums of the 60's, I'll drop them here.

The Peter Brötzmann Octet - Machine Gun
Pitchfork's Rank: 168

"8 jazz improvisers get together and see if they can make their instruments sound like weapons, they succeed. The disorienting and at times, frightening chaos found on the titular track somehow seems to be a more devastating critique of the Vietnam era than Bob Dylan or Phil Ochs could ever hope to produce."
The Kinks - Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
Pitchfork's Rank: 186

"Maybe this is why Ray Davies was such a threat to the great British Empire. He had a knack for sneaking a brilliant and critical political message into an inventive and brilliant pop song. So that the British youth would be singing 'Shangri-La' as the British Empire collapsed all around them."
Townes Van Zandt - Townes Van Zandt
Pitchfork's Rank: 176

"That's what made Van Zandt such a special artist. His characters were complicated and dynamic. They were deeply flawed but they were still capable of something more. We drink, we gamble, we fall in and out of love, and often times we find ourselves deeply alone. But we also are capable of love and laughter and deep, deep joy, and perhaps we can only experience these things because of our flaws."
Charles Mingus - Mingus Plays Piano: Spontaneous Compositions and Improvisations
Pitchfork's Rank: 185

"At times it feels like Mingus is trying to craft beautiful, sentimental piano ballads but then he'll take a sharp turn into left field and blow the whole thing up in a flurry of chaos. "Mingus Plays Piano" is on the surface, a collection of nice piano ballads, but there's an undertone of madness here as well. It is in this tension between beauty and chaos that we find Mingus' genius."
Eddie Palmieri - Justicia
Pitchfork's Rank: 172

"Palmieri's magnum opus is, without a doubt, his 1969 effort 'Justicia'. Ambitious in it's scope, exploratory with it's sound and rich in texture, Justicia is comparatively cerebral to Palmieri's previous works which fit comfortably in the realm of pop. While there was certainly artistic merit to songs like "Cinturita" it was easy to imagine those songs at a party or a barbecue of some sort. Try imagining the same barbecue with 'My Spiritual Indian' blasting over the speakers."
The Byrds - The Notorious Byrd Brothers
Pitchfork's Rank: 166

"From the jump 'Artificial Energy' sounds like it could have been a Beatles song and 'Goin' Back' is a mesmerizing and dizzying track. And throughout the record, things only get more experimental and strange. But the underlying rootsy, Americana ethos is still there, songs like 'Wasn't Born to Follow' sound like country songs that have been hijacked by aliens, or worse, hippies. Even songs as trippy as 'Change is Now' have elements of the Americana that the Byrds would become known for."
Amon Düül II - Phallus Dei
Pitchfork's rank: 191

"'Phallus Dei' sounds like a spiritual revival. Like a tribe of people embracing freedom with all the pain, struggle and general weirdness that freedom entails. It's as if all the messy chaos of West Germany coalesced into one monstrous album. It feels like more than a piece of music. It feels like a piece of the human spirit."
Ennio Morricone - Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo
Pitchfork's Rank: 200

"Ennio Morricone composes one of the finest sound tracks of all time. It's hard not to feel the sand blowing in your face and the sun beating on your back as you listen to these invigorating tracks."
Mickey Newbury - It Looks Like Rain
Pitchfork's Rank: 183

"On Mickey Newbury's record, he sounds like he is in mourning for his life. The choir and organs on some of the tracks lend it this quality but it's the depth of feeling he puts into the music that really sells it. On "I Don't Think Much About Her No More," an excellent piece of songwriting, when Newbury sings "It's a poison red berry that clings to the mind" his earnest delivery is what really gives the choral eruption it's power."
Herbie Hancock - Empyrean Isles
Pitchfork's Rank: 177

"'Empyrean Isles' is the record where Herbie Hancock first establishes himself as an artist in his own right...With classics like the swaggering 'Cantaloupe Island' and the monstrous 'The Egg' this album is truly a remarkable achievement for a young Hancock."
Ella Fitzgerald & Count Basie - Ella and Basie!
Pitchfork's Rank: 175

"What makes the album so irresistible is the combination of the childlike happiness and optimism from Ella pairing with the joyous energy of Count Basie. Every song is so shamelessly upbeat and catchy that it's infectious. Even the hardest cynic will find themselves smiling along to this record."
Soft Machine - The Soft Machine
Pitchfork's Rank: 182

With hazy guitars, free jazz percussion and Robert Wyatt's raspy vocals The Soft Machine takes us all on a labyrinthine sonic adventure like no other. The jazz-psych rock fusion has been done and redone in what we now call prog rock but this LP still manages to sound fresh over 50 years later which is perhaps why so many tried to emulate it's sound.
Andrew Hill - Point of Departure
Pitchfork's Rank: 198

"Andrew Hill's piano playing often sounds chaotic and messy and other times it sounds tight and controlled. Sometimes it even sounds like he's playing the wrong note and at other times he'll run through a frenetic set of notes perfectly. The result is a sound that's incredibly well put together, that seems to intentionally fall apart every now and then."
BBC Radiophonic Workshop - BBC Radiophonic Music
Pitchfork's Rank: 184

"Pitchfork cites Aphex Twin and the Chemical Brothers as people who were impacted by this sound, but I would also add that it's hard to imagine the music we hear in video games today emerging without the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Animal Crossing couldn't have sounded the way it does without tracks like 'Autumn and Winter' having come first."
Patty Waters - Sings
Pitchfork's Rank: 174

"Thematically, the record is sorrowful to the point of madness. Tracks like "Why Is Love such a Funny Thing" would be slightly sad and probably forgettable in the hands of any other vocalist. But with her wispy, almost inaudible vocals make it a horrifying experience."
Harry Nilsson - Aerial Ballet
Pitchfork's Rank: 195

"Nilsson is a bizarre, enigmatic character. His songs are simple in nature (he's even got an ode to his desk on this record), and instrumentally they share a similar simplicity."
The Beach Boys - Surfer Girl
Pitchfork's Rank: 193

"It's hard to not feel like the Beach Boys struck a magical chord with their euphoric beach music. This album fires on all cylinders and the misty-eyed teenage joy is so dizzying that it's hard to examine this album critically because you get so caught up in the naive happiness and youthful fantasies that abound on every track. "
Rahsaan Roland Kirk - The Inflated Tear
Pitchfork's Rank: 170

"Inflated Tear is a thoughtful and diverse jazz album. If I have any complaints it's that Kirk is such a masterful performer that it feels wrong to listen to his music outside of the context of a live performance."
Judy Collins - Wildflowers
Pitchfork's Rank: 190

"While most of the songs on "Wildflowers" are not original (with almost all of the tracks being covers of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen) Collins' angelic performance gives the record a unique and utterly gorgeous character. Collins sounds like a mystical forest spirit, her voice is at once powerful and delicate, as if it were the mighty voice of nature itself."
Dave Van Ronk - Folksinger
Pitchfork's Rank: 188

"But Van Ronk's vocals are a violent, emotional fury. The anguish and suffering in his voice is so dense that it feels tangible, and the quiet and simple instrumentation allows his vocals to be the centerpiece of the record."
The Sonics - Here Are The Sonics!!!
Pitchfork's Rank: 169

"This is quintessential garage rock. It's lofi, irreverant and jacked up with teenage sexual energy. While this album is known for it's influence on the coming wave of punk rock, it's kind of hard to imagine why the Sonics didn't achieve the same kind of fame that the Rolling Stones were enjoying. "Here are the Sonics!!!" sounds like the early Stones on steroids. Maybe the Sonics were too much even for a notoriously debaucherous era which says something about their frenetic, enormous sound."
Various Artists - Golden Rain
Pitchfork's Rank: 171

"The music here, while earthy and primal, is hardly simple. There are dozens (and on the ketjak track hundreds) of musicians coming together in these brilliant compositions to create a tribal feeling. It feels as though, in one great big community, you've made contact with the divine."
Donovan - Sunshine Superman
Pitchfork's Rank: 199

"On Sunshine Superman, Donovan often seems like a mystical shaman from a Carlos Castenada style spiritual drug trip."
Art Ensemble of Chicago - Message to Our Folks
Pitchfork's Rank: 179

"The record is primarily a sonic experiment, with a momentary detour through jazz in the second track. As with all of the Ensembles' music, this record is hard to make sense of and demands multiple listens but it's certainly a record with compelling moments."
Donald Byrd - A New Perspective
Pitchfork's Rank: 194

"At first I wasn't crazy about Donald Byrd's spiritual jazz. It didn't seem as mystical and awe-inspiring as someone like Pharaoh Sanders. But there is something subtly fantastic about Byrd's album."
Wilson Pickett - The Exciting Wilson Pickett
Pitchfork's Rank: 180

"When Wilson Pickett calls himself "exciting" in the title of the record, it's a hell of an understatement, and if you don't believe me listen to the opening track. 'Land of 1000 Dances' is a fucking banger and while no other song comes close to it's tremendous energy, it sets the tone for the rest of the record, which is a joy to listen to."
Cecil Taylor - Unit Structures
Pitchfork's Rank: 197

"Taylor makes it known that his piano is the centerpiece of the album, the sax takes the forefront form time to time and the percussion is certainly worth listening to, but Taylor's piano is impossible to ignore. It often sounds panicked, like the manic ravings of an insane man turned into music."
Duke Ellington - The Far East Suite
Pitchfork's Rank: 173

"While the title of the album might mislead you to believe that Ellington is going to explore Eastern sounds and make some pale imitation of Hindustani Classical or some other brand of Eastern music. He thankfully doesn't do this and instead is content to produce a set of songs inspired by the feelings and emotions he encountered while exploring worlds that were likely very foreign to him. The feelings are his own, so there's nothing particularly Eastern-sounding about them, which is the way it probably should be."
Cannonball Adderley - Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at 'The Club'
Pitchfork's Rank: 189

"At the end of the first track of Cannonball Adderly's great live album. Adderly tells the audience that the song was called "Fun" after which a loud voice can just barely be heard shouting "We're having fun!" This isn't the only time the joy that the Adderly Quintet brings to their audience can be heard in the background."
Link Wray & The Wraymen - Link Wray & The Wraymen
Pitchfork's Rank: 192

"The songs are concise bursts of jagged energy. Link's surf-rock inspired guitar has teeth. It sounds reckless and dangerous but also exciting. One can't help but understand what made this rugged musician so appealing."
The Impressions - Keep On Pushing
Pitchfork's Rank: 167

"That said, [Mayfield's] talents are put to good use here. This is a great collection of pop songs. Mayfield leads the group magnificently and the production, led by a punchy horn section brings each song to life with joyful excitement."
Jefferson Airplane - Surrealistic Pillow
Pitchfork's Rank: 187

"This is another one of those albums that I feel bad for not appreciating as much as I feel I should. No record embodies the hazy spirit of the San Francisco scene more than 'Surrealistic Pillow'. Unfortunately, this is not a scene I'm particularly crazy about."
Wanda Jackson - Rockin' With Wanda
Pitchfork's Rank: 196

"I respect the historical legacy of artists like Wanda Jackson, and I support any attempts to revise the short sighted history of early rock n roll, and I can even recognize the historical value of songs like "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad" for coming movements of women in music (such as the riot grrl movement), but I really don't care for her music if I'm being honest."
Lesley Gore - I'll Cry If I Want To
Pitchfork's Rank: 181

"Where the Beach Boys' "Surfer Girl" (which I covered earlier in this series) captures all the joyful and fun parts of youth, Gore's debut captures all the melodramatic parts (the first seven tracks are themed around crying). The production is enough to save a handful of tracks but in the context of the rest of the record, even those songs are hard to listen to."
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November Playlist