10 Classic 1967 Debut LPs by California Bands

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Anyone familiar with music from 1967’s Summer of Love and the latter months of that year is well acquainted with the records that generated most of the heat that season: Sgt. Pepper, Surrealistic Pillow, Are You Experienced, The Doors and more. Not to mix metaphors, but in many ways they’re just the tip of the iceberg, tops among a slew of legendary long-players created or issued in that rich, rightly celebrated time.

They weren’t alone. A look and a listen back uncovers some equally worthy companions, among them these cool 1967 debut albums from fresh West Coast groups.

Safe as Milk—Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
This LP by Frank Zappa’s teenage pal introduces the master sonic-architect behind 1969’s Trout Mask Replica and the artist cited as a major influence by everyone from Tom Waits and Joan Osborne to Jack White and Simpsons creator Matt Groening. He’s super-accessible here, just starting to forge battered blues riffs and off-the-wall wordplay into his unique vision, as in the ode to a popular rolling-paper icon, “Zig Zag Wanderer.”

Big Brother and the Holding Company—Big Brother and the Holding Company
Less high-dramatic but more low-down fun than the epochal Cheap Thrills (which was the nation’s top-selling LP for six weeks in ’68), the band’s first album is wild and quirky. Janis Joplin isn’t the out-front star, but rather just “one of the guys,” her vocalizing on an equal footing with James Gurley’s gnarly guitarring and Peter Albin’s whacked-out songwriting. You want psychedelic? Then check out “Light Is Faster Than Sound.”

Vincebus Eruptum—Blue Cheer
In his notes to the San Francisco compilation Love Is the Song We Sing, Alec Palao set the record straight, noting that “America’s first true hard rock outfit—that’s heavy as in H-E-A-V-Y—was born right in the mellow, folk-soaked crucible of San Francisco.” Blue Cheer’s vinyl arrival is all undiluted power-trio toughness, particularly “Summertime Blues” (1968), which recast Eddie Cochran’s classic in sheet metal well before The Who did.

Canned Heat—Canned Heat
Blues bands were everywhere back then, though few broke out of the boogie-and-bottleneck ghetto to reach the masses. But L.A’s Canned Heat did, notching three hit singles without compromising their funky credibility (excepting maybe the “Christmas Blues” duet with the Chipmunks). Their debut highlights Henry Vestine’s taut, disciplined lead work, Bob “The Bear” Hite’s gruff yet playful vocals and none of the instrumental freak-outs that later led to side-long jams of dubious merit. Listen to their “Rich Woman Blues.”

Electric Music for the Mind and Body—Country Joe and the Fish
No Bay Area band better reconciled the differences between San Francisco acid-eaters and Berkeley politicos than Country Joe and company. LBJ takes it on the nose in “Superbird,” a mysterious hippie snow-queen is profiled in “Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine” and there are few things more truly psychedelic than David Cohen’s spooky organ-playing and Barry Melton’s liquid guitar runs meandering through “Section 43.”

The Grateful Dead—Grateful Dead
They may have favored live over recorded performance, but there’s no denying the impact of the Dead’s debut, which Jerry Garcia once said “comes out sounding more like the way we sound live, just because of the enormous amount of confusion involved.” Cut in four days in L.A., it’s focused and confident and downright fast and furious in spots. “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)” was a Top 5 single in their hometown:

Side Trips—Kaleidoscope
“World music” wasn’t blowin’ in any musicological wind when this SoCal quintet knocked out a first album full of fiddles and banjos, bouzoukis, oud, harp, dulcimer and drums. David Lindley, Chris Darrow and their consorts have a ball tackling blues, folk-rock, Middle Eastern music and ’30s jazz (Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher”)—and devising a wholly original take on psyche-rock. Listen to “Pulsating Dream.”

Moby Grape—Moby Grape
It may be the Great Giza Pyramid of ’60s debut albums. Except that we know who built this monument: five Frisco transplants, each of whom sang, were killers on their respective axes, and wrote consistently soulful ballads and hook-filled shuffles. No justice: all five of the singles issued from the LP flopped, but they provided the foundation for a legacy that hasn’t eroded in a half-century. “Indifference” is one highlight.

Related: The wild, sad saga of Moby Grape

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band—Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Amidst all the old-timey camp and jug-band tunes, there’s plenty to like about the L.A. sextet’s first serving, not the least of which are two sparkling folk-rock performances of songs by early Orange County singer-writers, Steve Noonan (“Buy for Me the Rain,” featured below) and Jackson Browne (“Holding”). “Euphoria” and the instrumental “Dismal Swamp” nod directly toward the group’s bluegrass-country future.

A Whole New Thing—Sly and the Family Stone
They’d have to wait a year for their breakthrough (“Dance to the Music”), but the band’s arrival is a friends-and-family affair that manages an ambitious marriage of funk and psych. An uneven album, it’s nonetheless crammed with cool ideas, and they’re pulled off with a professionalism that scorches the first efforts of many fellow Bay Area groups. Listen to “Underdog.”

Related: What were some of the other musical highlights of 1967?

Gene Sculatti

4 Comments so far

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  1. Bogart Bogaziti
    #1 Bogart Bogaziti 10 August, 2017, 23:41

    Leigh Stephans
    Were you ever in a band with Jeff Jenson? I think they made an album called Armagedon or that was the name of the group. Around 1967 68??? Long time ago.

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  2. pdurpan
    #2 pdurpan 17 September, 2017, 14:57

    Vic Trip needs to read David McGowan’s Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon. (Canyon Laurel to be exact) All these bands were a part of an intelligence community operation. Engaged in massive social engineering. Essentially a eugenics program to cull the herd.

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  3. beatseeker
    #3 beatseeker 9 July, 2021, 08:41

    great stuff, gene… gimme more!

    Reply this comment
  4. Da Mick
    #4 Da Mick 9 July, 2021, 18:25

    Ive never understood why Country Joe and the Fish never received more notoriety than they did, and a bigger audience. Id always found their music to be innovative and emotionally evocative, though the cut featfeatured here is not necessarily the best example of that. It’s kind of a shame but the things Country Joe became famous for at Woodstock seemed to color a wonderfully diverse musical group as kind of a “joke band,” when the reality of their records was far from that. Nevertheless, it seemed like after being falsely branded to a larger audience at Woodstock, they were doomed. They had some of the great essences that made other more successful San Francisco groups well known and loved by national audiences, but never seemed to get the opportunity to show it.

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