Eight epochal and enticing English rock albums from 1969

1969 was an incredible year for music, and particularly for the album format.
Led Zeppelin Performing in Concert
Led Zeppelin Performing in Concert / Jay Dickman/GettyImages
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7. Then Play On – Fleetwood Mac

Long before the Americans Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham took over lead songwriting duties for Fleetwood Mac, the group was primarily a blues-rock group led by the inimitably gifted guitarist, singer, and writer Peter Green as well as the raucous blues talents of Jeremy Spencer. Since Spencer was not really involved with the group by this time, he had been replaced by the tremendously talented guitarist, singer, and writer Danny Kirwan – who contributed much to the group’s 1969 album Then Play On.

The album was actually the group’s second of 1969, though the first was a compilation album that featured some of the group’s biggest hits thus far – “Black Magic Woman,” “Need Your Love So Bad,” and the stunning instrumental “Albatross,” which was a UK number one hit.

Then Play On is an enthralling listen and sonically it’s a bluesy, psychedelic stew featuring a number of notable standout tracks including the shatteringly morose “Closing My Eyes,” two terrifically moody instrumentals in “Underway” and, especially, “My Dream,” which rivals “Albatross” in terms of sheer musical power.

Two of the group’s best tracks from this era “The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)” and “Oh Well” were non-album singles, but tacked onto the 2013 rerelease of this classic.

6. Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) – The Kinks

This album was part of the tail-end of what could be argued is one of the best five-album runs in music history, as The Kinks were riding high after delivering their magnum opus – the magisterial The Village Green Preservation Society – the year prior in 1968. This album was originally intended to be a soundtrack for a UK film made for television, but it never came to fruition.

As such, this is the Kinks’ first true “concept” album – despite the fact that the group had long produced expertly crafted character studies in their songs – since it follows the trials and tribulations of the eponymous English gentleman Arthur.

Musically, two straight Dave Davies-sung tracks kick off the album with the catchy and engaging “Victoria” followed by “Yes Sir, No Sir.” This was quite unusual for the band, as main songwriter Ray Davies is almost always the first voice heard on any Kinks album.

This album does feature some of the group’s finest harmonies (though their harmonies were long a group highlight). They aren't as high up in the mix as they are in prior albums, likely because Arthur actually features extended instrumental jams at times, which was unusual for a group known for its concise, urbane pop songs, but it did presage their musical direction throughout the 1970s.