Hidden Revolutions: 15 Classic Obscure Albums from the Second Half of the ‘60s

hidden 60s feature
It should come as no surprise that we’re big fans of 60’s music here at The Fire Note. That decade not only produced some of our favorite bands and records of all time, but its influence can still be felt today.

We also enjoy finding the needle in a haystack—those albums we discover that not many people know about—so that we can then share them with you.

So without any further ado, here are 15 albums from 1966-69 we think any fan of the era should hear—and they aren’t the usual suspects…

#15

argent-argent-coverArgent
Argent
Epic Records [1969]





When the Zombies dissolved in late 1967, lead songwriter/keyboardist Rod Argent and bassist Chris White still needed a way to express their musical selves. While they later became known for their hit single “Hold Your Head Up,” Argent’s 1969 debut is still very much in the Zombies vein, with plenty of vocal harmonies, catchy songwriting, and keyboard acrobatics—it’s no wonder they later went prog.

Key Track: “Schoolgirl”

#14

harpers bizarre Harpers Bizarre
Feelin’ Groovy
Warner Bros. Records [1967]





Named for the cover of Simon & Garfunkle’s “59th Street Bridge Song” that appears on the album, Harpers Bizarre were indeed a strange band. Mixing the sunshine harmonies of the Beach Boys and The Mamas & The Papas with 1920s pop standards, musicals, and tracks from the likes of Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson, they were a one of a kind one-hit wonder whose back catalogue, and this, their most consistent album, are more than worth investigating.

Key Track: “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”

#13

remainsThe Remains
The Remains
Epic Records [1966]





If you’re a fan of the original Nuggets compilation, you’ve probably heard the Remains via “Why Do I Cry” and their best slice of garage snarl, “Don’t Look Back.” Both of those tracks, and many other lost garage classics like the Dylan/Stones mashup “Lonely Weekend” or the thundering “Once Before,” appear on their sole LP. These guys opened for The Beatles on their final American tour—need I say more?

Key Track: “Don’t Look Back”

#12

left-banke-walk-awayThe Left Banke
Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina
Smash/Mercury Records [1967]





Picking up where Brian Wilson left off with Pet Sounds, the Left Banke’s debut is full of lush orchestration, gorgeous harmonies, and haunting melodies. While the entire album is excellent, there’s a reason it’s named after the two singles that spawned it. Heaven-like, classically-influenced pop on the “God Only Knows” tier.

Key Track: “Pretty Ballerina”

#11

monks-black-monk-timeThe Monks
Black Monk Time
Polydor Records [1966]





American GIs in Germany, dressed like monks (bald spot and all), in a band that has an “electric banjo” player—if you think The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat is a pretty wild record by 1968 standards, prepare to be blown away: Black Monk Time is the audio equivalent of an amphetamine-fueled bar brawl. Track names like “Shut Up” and “I Hate You” only hint at the angst in these grooves.

Key Track: “Complication”

#10

soft-macninesSoft Machine
The Soft Machine
ABC Probe [1968]





Soft Machine were the driving force behind the so-called “Canterbury Scene,” a group of bands which also included Caravan, Gong, and others who played an eclectic blend of psychedelic, progressive, and jazz fusion. On their debut album, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers and Mike Ratledge mix avant-garde sound collage with their own heady brand of psychedelic rock. It’s no wonder they frequently shared the bill at the UFO club with another little band called Pink Floyd, and opened for The Jimi Hendrix Experience on their ’68 American Tour.

Key Track: “Hope For Happiness”

#9

sagittarius-present-tense-coverSagittarius
Present Tense
Columbia Records [1968]





The brainchild of early Beach Boys collaborator Gary Usher, Sagittarius was a “studio band” in the style of Pet Sounds: orchestral arrangements and layers of vocal harmonies swirl into a dreamy wall of sound. There are only a few truly “psychedelic” moments, but they are classics—the avant-garde bridge of “My World Fell Down,” for example, or the trippy “The Truth Is Not Real.” Many of the tracks were sung by pop-producer/sonic-wizard Curt Boettcher, but more on him in a minute…

Key Track: “My World Fell Down (Single Edit)”

#8

13thFloorElevatorsEasterEverywhere13th Floor Elevators
Easter Everywhere
International Artists [1967]





Everybody knows the Elevators’ legendary “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” and many psych fans also know their debut Psychedelic Sounds album. But the follow-up might be even better. Featuring tracks like the epic, eight-minute opener “Slip Inside This House,” a dreamy take on Dylan’s “(It’s All Over Now) Baby Blue,” and the blistering “(I’ve Got) Levitation,” Easter Everywhere is one acidic mind trip you won’t soon forget.

Key Track: “Step Inside This House”

#7

idle-race-birthday-partyThe Idle Race
The Birthday Party
Liberty Records [1968]





Before he was aiming to be the next Beatles with ELO, and even before he joined The Move, Jeff Lynne was the mastermind behind psych-popsters The Idle Race. Fans of Paul McCartney’s “granny music” in the Beatles (“When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Your Mother Should Know,” “Maxwell’s Sliver Hammer,” etc.) should look no further. A concept album about a child’s birthday party with some of the catchiest hooks and appealing production this side of Abbey Road Studios, the Idle Race’s debut is a true lost pop classic.

Key Track: “I Like My Toys”

#6

incredible-string-band-hangmanThe Incredible String Band
The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter
Elektra Records [1968]





The ISB are one of the original “psych-folk” bands—by Hangman’s, their third album, the duo of Mike Heron and Robin Williamson had expanded their sound considerably, incorporating anything and everything with strings (and a few things without) into their wobbly, wonderful world. Traditional English folk melodies clash with earthy psychedelic arrangements and lyrics about minotaurs, witches, and amoebas, making for a totally unique experience.

Key Track: “A Very Cellular Song”

#5

tyrannosaurus-rex-unicornTyrannosaurus Rex
Unicorn
Regal Zonophone Records [1969]





Prior to shortening their name, inventing glam-rock, and taking the world by storm with “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” Tyrannosaurus Rex were a psych-folk duo in the ISB tradition, and their early albums are often credited with launching the “freak folk” movement. Marc Bolan sings in his trademark bleat about wizards, unicorns and sea monsters over whimsical and strangely beautiful tunes that sound like they’re straight out of Middle-Earth.

Key Track: “The Seal of Seasons”

#4

millennium-begin-cover The Millennium
Begin
Columbia Records [1968]





At the same time he was working on Gary Usher’s Sagittarius project, Curt Boettcher was busy assembling a pop super-group. Produced by Boettcher in conjunction with future superstar producer Keith Olsen, Begin is the epitome of late 60s sunshine pop (with a touch of psychedelia): the album packed full with stacks of harmonies, impeccable arrangements, and earworm melodies. It was a flop on release, but Columbia’s unprecedented $100K investment (in 1960s dollars!) was worth it from a music fan’s perspective: 60s pop doesn’t get any better than this.

Key Track: “To Claudia On Thursday”

#3

41WXR64GJTLVan Dyke Parks
Song Cycle
Warner Bros. Records [1967]





After leaving his post as lyricist for the Beach Boys’ legendary SMiLE project, Van Dyke Parks went and created his own masterpiece. One of the most expensive albums WB had released up to that point (sound familiar?), Song Cycle is a truly unique album that is hard to describe—pop, rock, folk, psychedelia, baroque, avant-garde and traditional music create musical collage that serves as a cross-section of American music in the 1960s. Groundbreaking, bewildering at times, but NEVER boring.

Key Track: “Vine Street”

#2

tomorrowTomorrow
Tomorrow
Parlophone Records [1968]





Tomorrow deserve to be in the top tier of 60s rock bands, and why they aren’t is anybody’s guess. Featuring a pre-Yes Steve Howe on guitar and genius songwriter Keith West on vocals, the band’s sole LP is a Revolver meets Sgt. Pepper classic, full of exhilarating psychedelic rock, sonic experimentation, and creativity. If backwards guitar, sitar, and unforgettable riffs appeal to you (and if they don’t why are you reading this?), get Tomorrow today.

Key Track: “My White Bicycle”

#1

zombies-odessey-oracleThe Zombies
Odessey & Oracle
CBS Records [1968]





Okay, so this one might not be as obscure as the others, but as the inspiration for this entire list, it deserves a spot at the top. If all you know of The Zombies is “Time of the Season” and “She’s Not There,” you only know the tip of the iceberg. Odessey & Oracle is a true classic, every single track an absolute masterpiece of 60s baroque pop. The album was mostly recorded at Abbey Road around the same time The Beatles were working on Sgt. Pepper, and it sounds like it. Now that you’re done reading this list, what are you waiting for? The Mellotron will be your new favorite instrument.

Key Track: “Care of Cell 44”

-Feature by Simon Workman

Simon Workman

Simon Workman

Simon Workman has loved rock n' roll ever since his dad made him Beatles and Beach Boys mix tapes as a kid. These days his musical interests have a wide range, though he's still got a strong connection to the music of the 60s and 70s. He lives in Dayton and is currently working on a PhD in English literature at the University of Cincinnati. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @simonworkman.
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Author: Simon Workman

Simon Workman has loved rock n' roll ever since his dad made him Beatles and Beach Boys mix tapes as a kid. These days his musical interests have a wide range, though he's still got a strong connection to the music of the 60s and 70s. He lives in Dayton and is currently working on a PhD in English literature at the University of Cincinnati. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @simonworkman.

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11 Comments

  1. There’s some great stuff on your list, Simon!

  2. Realization by Johnny Rivers (Imperial/Liberty 1968) must be on this list.

  3. On long vacation drives, I never go without “Odessey & Oracle”, “Begin” and “Forever Changes” by Love. I would put that album in my list of the Top 15, but otherwise pretty much in agreement here. Good job.

  4. I love that Colin and Rod (The Zombies) tweeted that they got first and last place with “Odessey and Oracle” and “Argent.” I think The Left Banke should have placed much higher! You seemed to have chosen songs from each album which were similar, and not necessarily the best the album had to offer. I’ll take Walk Away Renee over Pretty Ballerina any day from the Left Banke and Friends of Mine over Care of Cell 44 from The Zombies. But, to each his own! All in all, great job!

  5. Great list, I’m excited to check some of these that I haven’t heard out! Here’s a super buried classic I’m sure you’d love if you’re reading this: Story by the Honeybus (although it might be from 70…)

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jT8OrhdTQeo&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DjT8OrhdTQeo

    That’s the title single but the whole albums great!

    Also Tages, Emmitt Rhodes anyone?

  6. Really great stuff on this list, but would have liked to seen Kaleidoscope (either Tangering Dream or Faintly Blowing, but probably the former).

    Also, The Golden Dawn’s album Power Plant. They were AIP contemporaries of 13th Floor Elevators, and actually recorded Power Plant before Easter Everywhere, except their label held it back until after release of Easter Everywhere, so many folks thought it derivative, when it was actually the other way around.

    And, the single album by Morgen, from 1969, which was truly underheard in its time, but is probably one of the heaviest psych rock albums of its entire era.

  7. That was fun! Thanks for researching and creating a great list.

  8. i would have put on the marble phrogg by marble phrogg and miracle nirror by the golden earrings, but otherwise great list.

  9. Great list here. Odessey & Oracle is so perfect. It’s up there on the list of records I would be very sad to live without. I’d also include Love’s “Forever Changes”. I don’t care how many times I’ve heard that record it’s never stale.
    Kudos for including Sagittarius “Present Tense”. While there are a few throwaway tracks that are sort of goofy and dated, there are others that are stunning examples of the genre.

  10. I love this place! Love, “Forever Changes” please.

  11. Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ is a must have addition to this list, extremely surprised to not see it already included. Several on the list I need to check out, thanks for the chance to check out new music(to me) from a period I admire tremendously.

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