Wilson and Alroy's Record Reviews - We listen to the lousy records so you won't have to.

Year In Review: 1968

A lot of great music again this year, but mostly consolidating and refining the explosive innovations of the two previous years. Frank Zappa took Sgt. Pepper' studio and stylistic experimentation to their extreme and combined them with a wicked sense of humor on the year's best record. The Kinks served up a wonderfully detailed concept album, while Simon & Garfunkel hedged their bets, combining one concept side with a side of catchy singles on the social commentary Bookends. The Beatles went in the opposite direction, releasing a double album full of important (and frequently groundbreaking) tunes, but so fragmented it verged on incoherence. Jimi Hendrix also moved away from short popwise tunes in favor of sprawling "sound paintings." And the Rolling Stones rebounded with a return to country blues rock.

The San Francisco scene was suddenly in trouble, a victim of its own excesses; only Big Brother & The Holding Company produced a really significant release. The LA rockers were mostly in transition, though Buffalo Springfield's breakup album was quite strong. Though Bob Dylan was silent, his former backup group The Band released a set of intelligent genre-spanning rock and roll. James Brown shifted his focus from singles and unleashed a wonderful syncopated funk LP, Aretha Franklin built on her Atlantic debut's powerful R&B style while Otis Redding's posthumous Dock Of The Bay pointed at an introspective direction the soul singer might have taken. Dionne Warwick continued to bridge the generation gap with her customary elegant ease. Motown struggled as mainstay songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland jumped ship, but the good news was the dramatic development of Stevie Wonder and the continued strong songwriting of Smokey Robinson. Across the water, Traffic came up with another fine outing, the Pentangle explored a variety of traditional music, and the Moody Blues added a symphony orchestra to their Beatle-inspired psychedelia.

There were some duds this year too - perhaps the most egregious was a crass cash-in by the Beach Boys: their proto-karaoke Stack-o-Tracks is a must-miss. Mary Wells tried to embrace change, but her comeback attempt fell flat anyway. Drugs and manic experimentation resulted in a few terrible rock records: the Grateful Dead's Anthem Of The Sun and Eric Burdon's The Twain Shall Meet. R&B legend Ray Charles had been in a slow decline for years, and finally released a truly weak album. The Ohio Players didn't really have their act together on their first release, while Stevie Wonder's pseudonymous instrumental album was just ill-conceived. The jazz album of the year was McCoy Tyner's Expansions. (DBW)

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