1968 in Rock Music: A Look Back

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When we think back to 1968, it’s often the trouble that comes to mind first: the raging Vietnam War, the assassinations of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, the riots and protests in our city streets. It was a year of tension and turmoil, to be sure.

But 1968 is also remembered as a year of phenomenal music. Rock had, by then, become a huge umbrella, under which everything from the highly experimental to the deeply soulful to the deliberately fluffy sat side by side comfortably.

While psychedelia was still in full bloom, there was a back-to-the-basics reaction to it in 1968: Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding (released in the final days of 1967, his first since being waylaid by a motorcycle accident in ’66), the Byrds’ country-informed Sweetheart of the Rodeo and the debut album by the band called the Band reflected a new movement to escape the craziness and live a simpler life. Three refugees from other popular bands, simply calling themselves Crosby, Stills and Nash, got together to explore harmony and, along with emerging singers like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, launch the singer-songwriter genre that would flower in the ’70s. We’d hear from them all soon enough.

Meanwhile, the earliest stirrings of hard rock and progressive rock (a.k.a. prog) marked a desire among some musicians to push beyond psychedelia into new territories: Bands formed in 1968 included Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Free, King Crimson, Rush, Yes and the New Yardbirds, who would become better known very soon as Led Zeppelin.

While all of this was happening, AM radio still played the hits, and there were so many memorable ones. Some of them were admittedly lightweight: the term bubblegum music was coined to describe purposely frothy tunes like “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” and “Simon Says” that couldn’t be any further from the turbulence that ruled the news.

Motown was still turning out gold and platinum seemingly weekly, with hit after hit from Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and others. James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone pointed the way toward funk. Some rock musicians started new bands—the Electric Flag and Blood, Sweat and Tears—that incorporated horn sections, looking toward soul and jazz for inspiration. And blues-rock was also still going strong.

And of course, we still had the Beatles, whose self-titled double-LP that came to be called “The White Album” let us know that they were drifting apart even as they continued to collaborate on some of the most diverse and brilliant music in their canon.

Scrolling below it’s that diversity that is most impressive about 1968’s rock, pop and soul. But it’s also the tenacious quality of the music that amazes—so much of what we listened to 50 years ago not only holds up today but still sounds so fresh and innovative.

Check out the timeline and singles list below for a capsule reminder of just how rich the music scene was during 1968.

1968 Music Timeline

Jan. 6—The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour album begins an eight-week run at #1 on the charts

Jan. 13—Johnny Cash records live album at Folsom State Prison

Jan. 15—The Byrds release The Notorious Byrd Brothers

Jan. 16—Blue Cheer releases Vincebus Eruptum

Jan. 21—The soundtrack from The Graduate is released, as is Boogie With Canned Heat

Jan. 22—Dr. John’s Gris-Gris, Iron Butterfly’s Heavy, Aretha Franklin’s Lady Soul and Spirit’s self-titled debut album are released

Jan. 30—The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat is released

Jan. ?—Album releases include Steppenwolf’s self-titled debut, Kaleidoscope’s A Beacon from Mars, Richie Havens’ Something Else Again and the Electric Prunes’ Mass in F Minor

Feb. 4—The Bee Gees make their U.S. television debut on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

Watch the Bee Gees perform “Words” on The Ed Sullivan Show

Feb. 16—The Beatles, as well as Donovan, Beach Boy Mike Love, actress Mia Farrow and others travel to India to stay with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets album

Feb. 18—Guitarist David Gilmour joins Pink Floyd

Feb. 19—The Rascals release Once Upon a Dream

Feb. 21—Child is Father to the Man, the debut album by Blood, Sweat and Tears, is released

Feb. 23—Otis Redding’s The Dock of the Bay album is released posthumously

Feb. 24—Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled debut is released

Feb. 27—Frankie Lymon, singer of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” dies of a heroin overdose at 25

Feb. ?—Albums released this month include the Chocolate Watch Band’s The Inner Mystique, Vanilla Fudge’s The Beat Goes On and the Bee Gees’ Horizontal

March 1—Johnny Cash and June Carter are married

March 3—Laura Nyro releases Eli and the Thirteenth Confession

March 4—The Mothers of Invention release We’re Only in It For the Money

March 8—Promoter Bill Graham opens the Fillmore East in New York City. Big Brother and the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin) headline opening night

March 25—The final episode of The Monkees airs

March—Other album releases this month include the Incredible String Band’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, the Electric Flag’s A Long Time Comin’, the Move’s The Move and Joni Mitchell’s Song to a Seagull

April 5—Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, James Brown appears on television from Boston in an attempt to quell rioting in the streets

Watch James Brown perform several songs at his 1968 Boston concert

April 19—The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle is released in the U.K. (A U.S. release will follow in June.)

April 22—The Monkees’ The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees is released

April 27—Sly and the Family Stone’s Dance to the Music is released

Watch them perform the title track the following year

April 29—The first rock musical, Hair, opens on Broadway

April ?—Albums released this month include Tiny Tim’s God Bless Tiny Tim, Linda Ronstadt’s Linda Ronstadt, Stone Poneys and Friends, Vol. III and Eric Burdon and the Animals’ The Twain Shall Meet

May 3—Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends and Moby Grape’s Wow/Grape Jam are released

Buffalo Springfield (Photo © Henry Diltz; used with permission)

May 5—Buffalo Springfield performs their final concert

May 14—The Beatles introduce their new business enterprise, Apple Corps, Ltd., at a press conference

May 24—Small Faces’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake is released

May 26—Blues singer Little Willie John (“Fever”) dies in prison at age 30

May 30—The Beatles begin recording their self-titled double LP known as “The White Album”

May ?—Albums released this month include Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison, Blues Magoos’ Basic Blues Magoos, the Mamas and the Papas’ The Papas & the Mamas, Richard Harris’ A Tramp Shining and the self-titled debut from Quicksilver Messenger Service

June 14—Iron Butterfly’s In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida album is released

Related: Our feature story on the title song

June 20—David Ruffin is fired from the Temptations

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June 21—John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers’ Bare Wires is released. Also on this day, the Rascals’ Time/Peace: The Rascals’ Greatest Hits is released

June 24—The Beach Boys release their Friends album

June 29—Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets is released

June ?—Album releases this month include the Steve Miller Band’s Children of the Future, Fairport Convention’s self-titled debut, Pentangle’s self-titled debut and Randy Newman’s first, also self-titled

July ?–Music from Big Pink, by the Band, is released

July 3—The Doors’ Waiting for the Sun is released

July 5—The self-titled debut from Creedence Clearwater Revival is released. Also on this day, My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair…, by Tyrannosaurus Rex (later T. Rex), was released

July 7—The Yardbirds perform their final concert

July 12—Tom Jones’ Delilah album is released

July 18—The Grateful Dead release Anthem of the Sun

1968’s Super Session

July 22—Super Session, featuring Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Stephen Stills, is released

Related: Our Album Rewind of Super Session

July 26—The Moody Blues release In Search of the Lost Chord

July ?—Other album releases for July 1968 include Buffalo Springfield’s The Last Time Around, Savoy Brown’s Getting to the Point, Deep purple’s Shades of Deep Purple, Cream’s Wheels of Fire and Phil Ochs’ Tape from California

Aug. 1—The Jeff Beck Group releases Truth

Aug. 4—Yes performs for the first time

Aug. 10—Ten Years After’s Undead is released

Aug. 12—Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills (which features Janis Joplin) is released

Aug. 26—Marvin Gaye’s In the Groove album (later re-titled I Heard It Through the Grapevine) is released

Aug. 30—The Byrds release Sweetheart of the Rodeo

Related: Our Album Rewind of Sweetheart of the Rodeo

Aug. ?—Other album releases this month include Donovan In Concert, Eric Burdon and the Animals’ Every One of Us, James Brown’s Live at the Apollo Vol. II and Country Joe and the Fish’s Together

Early Led Zeppelin

Sept. 7—Led Zeppelin plays debut concert

Sept. 19—The Who begins recording Tommy

Sept. 27—Status Quo’s Picturesque Matchstickable Messages from the Status Quo is released

Sept ?—Album releases this month also include Jefferson Airplane’s Crown of Creation, the Bee Gees’ Idea, Sly and the Family Stone’s Life and Procol Harum’s Shine on Brightly

Oct. 16—The Jimi Hendrix Experience releases Electric Ladyland. Also on this day, Three Dog Night releases their self-titled debut album

Oct. 25—Jethro Tull’s debut, This Was, is released

Oct. ?—Albums released this month also include Deep Purple’s The Book of Taliesyn, the Beau Brummels’ Bradley’s Barn, the self-titled debut from the Nazz (featuring Todd Rundgren), Donovan’s The Hurdy Gurdy Man, the Steve Miller Band’s Sailor, Otis Redding’s In Person at the Whisky a Go Go, Traffic’s self-titled second album and Steppenwolf’s The Second

Nov. 1—Canned Heat releases Living the Blues and George Harrison’s soundtrack Wonderwall Music is also released

Nov. 4—Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman album is released

Nov. 8—John Lennon and wife Cynthia are divorced. Three days later, John and Yoko Ono release Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins. Also on this day, Diana Ross & the Supremes Join The Temptations is released

Nov. 12—Neil Young releases his self-titled solo debut album

Listen to Neil Young sing “On the Way Home” live in 1968

Nov. 22—The Beatles, aka “The White Album,” and The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society are released. Also out is Elvis, the soundtrack to his TV special

Related: The White Album facts and trivia

Nov. 26—Cream plays final concert

Nov. ?—Other album releases in November include Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Ars Longa Vita Brevis by the Nice, John Mayall’s Blues from Laurel Canyon, Melanie’s Born to Be, The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands and the Incredible String Band’s Wee Tam and the Big Huge

Dec. 1—The Monkees release the soundtrack from their film Head

Dec. 2—Janis Joplin plays final concert with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Also on Dec. 2, Elvis Presley’s Elvis TV special airs and the Mothers of Invention release Cruising with Ruben & the Jets.

Watch Janis Joplin sing “Piece of My Heart”

Dec. 6—The Rolling Stones release Beggars Banquet and James Taylor releases his self-titled debut

Dec. 8—Stevie Wonder’s For Once in My Life album is released

Dec. 11—The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus is filmed, with appearances not only by them but also the Who, Jethro Tull and others. Also on this day, the self-titled second Blood, Sweat and Tears album is released

Dec. 20—Peter Tork announces he’s leaving the Monkees

Dec. 23—Taj Mahal releases The Natch’l Blues

Dec. ?—Album releases include Tom Rush’s The Circle Game, Joan Baez’s Any Day Now, Spirit’s The Family That Plays Together, Soft Machine’s self-titled debut and Eric Burdon and the Animals’ Love Is

Other albums released in 1968, for which the release dates are unknown, include Harry Nilsson’s Aerial Ballet, Pearls Before Swine’s Balaklava, Terry Reid’s Bang Bang You’re Terry Reid, Caravan’s debut, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s self-titled LP, Al Kooper’s I Stand Alone, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s In My Own Dream, the Fugs’ It Crawled Into My Hand, Honest and Tenderness Junction, Spooky Tooth’s It’s All About, The Left Banke Too, the 13th Floor Elevators’ Live, B.B. King’s Lucille, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood’s Nancy & Lee, Hour Glass’ Power of Love, Johnny Winter’s The Progressive Blues Experiment, Johnny Rivers’ Realization, the Everly Brothers’ Roots, the Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow, Booker T. and the MG’s’ Soul Limbo, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ Special Occasion, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band’s Strictly Personal, Taj Mahal’s self-titled debut and Archie Bell and the Drells’ Tighten Up.

Related: One year later… 1969 in rock music

Watch the Doors perform “When the Music’s Over” in 1968

And finally, a selection of the year’s hit singles…

1910 Fruitgum Co.—“Simon Says” and “1-2-3 Red Light”

Herb Alpert—“This Guy’s in Love With You”

The Amboy Dukes—“Journey to the Center of the Mind”

Related: The Amboy Dukes’ guitarist and songwriter, Steve Farmer, died in 2020

The American Breed—“Bend Me, Shape Me”

The Band—“The Weight”

The Beach Boys—“Darlin’” and “Do It Again”

The Beatles—“Hey Jude/Revolution,” “Hello Goodbye/I Am the Walrus” and “Lady Madonna/The Inner Light”

The Bee Gees—“I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” and “Words”

Archie Bell and the Drells—“Tighten Up” and “I Just Can’t Stop Dancing”

Big Brother and the Holding Company—“Piece of My Heart”

Blue Cheer—“Summertime Blues”

Watch Blue Cheer perform “Summertime Blues” on American Bandstand

Booker T. and the MG’s—“Soul Limbo” and “Hang ’Em High”

The Box Tops—“Cry Like a Baby”

Brooklyn Bridge—“Worst That Could Happen”

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown—“Fire!”

James Brown—“I Got the Feeling” and “Say it Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud”

Eric Burdon and the Animals—“Monterey” and “Sky Pilot”

Jerry Butler—“Hey, Western Union Man”

The Byrds—“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”

Glen Campbell—“Wichita Lineman”

Canned Heat—“Going Up the Country” and “On the Road Again”

Chambers Brothers—“Time Has Come Today”

Classics IV—“Spooky”

Related: Radio hits of 1968

Joe Cocker—“With a Little Help From My Friends”

Judy Collins—“Both Sides Now”

Cream—“Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room”

Creedence Clearwater Revival—“Suzie Q”

Deep Purple—“Hush”

Dion—“Abraham, Martin and John”

Donovan—“Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Jennifer Juniper”

The Doors—“Hello, I Love You” and “Touch Me”

The Equals—“Baby Come Back”

Georgie Fame—“The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde”

Fifth Dimension—“Stoned Soul Picnic” and “Sweet Blindness”

The First Edition—“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”

The Foundations—“Build Me Up, Buttercup”

Aretha Franklin—“Chain of Fools,” “Since You’ve Been Gone,” “Think,” “See Saw” and “The House That Jack Built”

John Fred and his Playboy Band—“Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)”

Marvin Gaye—“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”

Watch Marvin Gaye sing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” in 1968

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell—“Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”

Bobby Goldsboro—“Honey”

The Grass Roots—“Midnight Confessions”

Richard Harris—“MacArthur Park”

Jimi Hendrix Experience—“All Along the Watchtower”

The Hollies—“Jennifer Eccles”

Mary Hopkin—“Those Were the Days”

The Intruders—“Cowboys to Girls”

Iron Butterfly—“In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida”

Tommy James and the Shondells—“Mony Mony” and “Crimson and Clover”

Tom Jones—“Delilah” and “Help Yourself”

The Lemon Pipers—“Green Tambourine”

Mama Cass—“Dream a Little Dream of Me”

Manfred Mann—“Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)”

Hugh Masekela—“Grazing in the Grass”

The Monkees—“Valleri”

Ohio Express—“Yummy, Yummy, Yummy”

Gary Puckett and the Union Gap—“Lady Willpower,” “Young Girl” and “Over You”

The Rascals—“People Got to be Free” and “A Beautiful Morning”

Otis Redding—“(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay”

The Rolling Stones—“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Street Fighting Man”

Diana Ross and the Supremes—“Love Child”
Diana Ross and the Supremes and The Temptations—“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”

Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts—“Angel of the Morning”

Sam and Dave—“I Thank You”

Simon and Garfunkel—“Mrs. Robinson” and “Scarborough Fair/Canticle”

Watch a scene from The Graduate set to “Mrs. Robinson”

Sly and the Family Stone—“Dance to the Music” and “Everyday People”

Small Faces—“Lazy Sunday”

Joe South—“Games People Play”

Dusty Springfield—“Son of a Preacher Man”

Status Quo—“Pictures of Matchstick Men”

Steppenwolf—“Born to Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride”

Johnnie Taylor—“Who’s Making Love”

The Temptations—“Cloud Nine” and “I Wish it Would Rain”

The Turtles—“Elenore”

Watch The Turtles perform “Elenore”

Vanilla Fudge—“You Keep Me Hangin’ On”

Dionne Warwick—“Do You Know the Way to San Jose”

The Who—“Magic Bus”

Watch The Who perform “Magic Bus”

Mason Williams—“Classical Gas”

Stevie Wonder—“For Once in My Life”

Brenton Wood—“Gimme Little Sign”

Watch the Beatles’ classic 1968 video of “Revolution”

Best Classic Bands Staff

4 Comments so far

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  1. Madmatt
    #1 Madmatt 1 January, 2018, 11:17

    1968 was the year I was born,I often refer to it as 68 the year of hate,because of the war and the protest.i believe that Chicago’s first
    album, was either out,or soon to be!,what a great album,even
    in2018.The 60’s and 70’s produced
    music that is timeless,and without
    equal,that was heartfelt and of
    substance, unfortunately,I don’t think it will ever be as good,there
    are a ton of talented people and
    bands,but they all lack

    Reply this comment
    • Kay
      Kay 10 July, 2021, 09:22

      You’re right, today’s music lacks something, maybe heart, originality, all the female singers sound alike. Where have all the great guitar bands gone to? Seems like everyone wants to make money, not great music.

      Reply this comment
  2. Gene
    #2 Gene 2 March, 2018, 01:10

    Long list but brought back great memories, and realization, I’m getting ok’d. . The first CD I happened to buy, I was stationed in Okinawa in 1992 and someone gave me a cassette, CD boom box, was a compilation Hits of 1968. No particular reason, since I graduated HS in 1975, just the base exchange in Okinawa had very limited CDs available and it was the only compilation CD they had. So I guess this article brings back more of 1992, other than I recall most of these events as they occurred being musically inclined from age six and listened to music constantly.

    Reply this comment
  3. dennisl59
    #3 dennisl59 5 July, 2018, 18:57

    I was 18 in 1968. And 50 years later every single hit record had three(3) things in common: Great Vocalists, Lyrics and Melodies.

    Reply this comment

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