I've never officially chosen a favorite year in music but if I did, '69 would certainly be in the running. These three albums make up the best podium yet, as I identify each of them as a cornerstone in my collection. Basically every song on these three records is seared in my memory.
Gold Medal: Abbey Road by the Beatles
Arguably my favorite album by my positively favorite band, Abbey Road is...meh, okay I guess. But seriously, it's a near miracle that it was this good. First of all the formation of a musical collective like the Beatles in their place and time was a minor miracle in itself. But for them to record an album this unified and glorious while these four men were so personally distant is an entirely new brand of astonishing. Each Beatles album has a different feel to it and for some reason Abbey Road is a summer time record in my mind. Maybe it's the blue sky on the cover, or the two songs with the word "sun" in the title, but much like a clear summer's day, this is flawless. Can't be outdone. Never will.
Silver Medal: The Band by the Band
Levon Helm's death last month was a sad day for me, but I was glad to see how many Band-lovers came out of the woodwork to praise this gifted musician and his buddies. What hits me most of all about the music of the Band is the rugged honesty that coats every song on the first two albums. Before they got worn out by the drugs and the touring, this was an all-star team of Canadian Americana. Five versatile guys striving as one to make music that sounded like they chopped down the trees that made the instruments they played on. It's just that genuine, straight from the blue collar. Songs about farming unions and rocking chairs never sounded so...ALIVE.
Bronze Medal: Crosby, Stills and Nash by Crosby, Stills and Nash
It's a strange coincidence that two short years after these albums were released, these three visionary bands were on the decline (or nonexistent). But such was commonplace after the Free Love '60s met its demise. Born out of Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds and The Hollies, CSN was three guys eager to outshine their old bands. There's no consensus on whether they did that or not, but to me, CSN's debut album was a masterpiece. Those harmonies can be described as nothing but golden, with the power to turn lines like "That's not my old lady" into aural heaven. With each member adding a different timbre to both the overall album and the choral landscape, this is a blueprint for so much of the folk rock that followed.