5 Great Albums Released 55 Years Ago This Month

The year 1969 is one of those iconic times in music for which fans can’t help but be nostalgic. Many of the early, leading lights of rock and roll were coming to a kind of creative peak, while newer artists were making their own mark on the proceedings in a big way.

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What’s interesting about the five albums included here is that a few of them are very much under the radar. We’re hoping that you’re intrigued by our choices and check out the ones you might have missed.

A Salty Dog by Procol Harum

OK, we’re cheating a little bit here, since this album actually arrived first in the U.S. in April 1969 (barely a month after recording was finished). But its UK release was June ’69, which gives an excuse to talk about this unsung masterpiece. If all you know about Procol Harum is “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” you’re missing out, especially when considering this batch of songs loosely connected by a nautical theme. The title track is a landmark of symphonic rock, and secondary songwriter Matthew Fisher really steps up on this record with the bittersweet gems “Wreck of the Hesperus” and “Pilgrim’s Progress.”

Brave New World by Steve Miller Band

Well before he was a rock radio mainstay, Miller was churning out a brand of psychedelic blues rock that still goes down quite smooth when heard today. “Space Cowboy” twists, turns, and grooves, and it introduces us to an alter ego Miller would revisit on his big hit “The Joker.” Changes of pace like the pensive “Seasons” show the kind of variety this cat could pull off. Best of all is the closing track “My Dark Hour,” one where Miller was joined by Paul McCartney, who was letting out all his frustrations in the studio after getting into a squabble with the other members of the Fab Four.

Beck-Ola by The Jeff Beck Group

Because of the volatility of the personalities included, it’s no surprise this collective wasn’t long for this world. Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart were just about to depart to join the Faces and carve out their own niche in the blues-rock world. But they form an impressive support system for guitar legend Beck on this mix of juiced-up covers (“All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock”) and heady originals (“Spanish Boots.”) Even when Stewart is silent on instrumentals like “Rice Pudding,” this collective is thrilling. Bonus points for the inclusion of the lovely piano-driven piece “Girl from Mil Valley,” courtesy of session legend Nicky Hopkins.

Empty Sky by Elton John

To give you an idea of where John was status-wise at this point, Empty Sky didn’t even receive a U.S. release (at least not till many years down the road). His debut record is perhaps a tad too ambitious for its own good, but it’s never dull and there are glimpses of the greatness ahead. The title track previews what John could do out in front of a rocking groove. Perhaps most surprising of all is this record is at its best when dwelling baroque rock territory. “Valhalla” plays up Norse myths well before Led Zeppelin got to them, and “Skyline Pigeon” provides the template for how John’s music and vocals could lend emotional resonance to Bernie Taupin’s lofty lyrical metaphors.

Suitable for Framing by Three Dog Night

Coincidentally enough, this record gave American audiences a preview of Elton John’s Empty Sky via a version of “Lady Samantha.” Guess what: The Three Dog Night version is more effective. But then again, that’s what these guys did. They took the work of songwriters who deserved more exposure and delivered it in their idiosyncratically catchy fashion. Case in point: their somewhat manic take on Laura Nyro’s “Eli’s Coming,” which became a big hit. They could also get earnest, as they took the Hair ballad “Easy to Be Hard” into the Top 5 thanks to Chuck Negron’s emotional vocal.

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