Rock music came full circle in 1968. After expanding in several directions throughout the sixties, bands began to return to basics. People, and musicians, tired of the ever changing pace of life and turmoil and longed for something stable. As a result, psychedelic fell out of favor while old school rock n roll returned to the fold.
The Beatles led the foray back to rock’s origins and continued until the band dissolved. In November, they released the White Album which examined a wide variety of musical genres ranging from rock to avante guard to old school pop. It was a departure, or perhaps a return to form, for the band which had been expanding its horizons and repertoire since Rubber Soul in 1965. By the end, The Beatles essentially returned to their own roots in fifties rock.
While the fab four returned to the fifties and explored other genres, The Kinks returned to the English countryside of old. The greatest garage rock band in history released The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, which wove together a tapestry of English town life. The concept album can be seen as a twentieth century Canterbury Tales. As with The White Album, the key component in Village Green is nostalgia.
The Rolling Stones did not need to follow anyone’s lead in 1968. They quickly returned to form following a foray into the psychedelic. Beggar’s Banquet represents the Stones at their peak and most primal. While returning to their blues roots, they also acknowledged the darkness of their times. “Street Fighting Man” and “Sympathy for the Devil” both represent the world of the 1960s and bleak outlook in 1968. War, assassination, and rioting plagued America and the Rolling Stones reflected the reality.
The realities of 1968 made people want to escape into their own fantasies. The movie, The Graduate, tapped into this desire. In the film, a young man is seduced by an older woman. Simon and Garfunkel provide the soundtrack, which also harkens to better days. In “Mrs. Robinson”, the duo ask “where have you gone Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” In the song, the baseball icon represented better times when people related to one another on a more human level.
Johnny Cash related to society’s outsiders on an intimate level. He helped originate the outlaw country genre by creating the image of “the man in black.” In 1968, Cash fought with his record company to allow him to record a live album at Folsom Prison. They eventually relented, At Folsom Prison outsold The Beatles, and revitalized Cash‘s career.
As with the younger acts return to basics, Cash’s reemergence reflected society’s desire for some stability. Ironically, no act could stabilize like Elvis Presley. In 1956, he frightened the older generation with his gyrations and inclusion of African American music. A dozen years later, his original fans were older and wanted their hero. On December 2, Presley’s 1968 Comeback Special aired on NBC and demonstrated why he gained popularity in the first place. The comeback reminded people of better times and motivated Elvis to return to the recording industry. The original template for many of the acts trying to return to so-called basics had returned to the fold.
Rock music returned to its roots in 1968 and remained raw and charged for the next several years. After exploring the recesses of the mind and musical limits, fans wanted stability. The artists seemed to agree and provided what the public craved. This did not mean that rock was limited. Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Frank Zappa continued musical exploration. However, as a whole, rock music became more bare bones.