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The Velvet Underground, Aretha Franklin, Tiny Tim: An alternate history of music in 1968

The Velvet Underground, Aretha Franklin, Tiny Tim: An alternate history of music in 1968
The Velvet Underground in 1967. (Gerard Malanga / Polydor Records)

"Beggars Banquet." "Electric Ladyland." "Wheels of Fire."

Rock fans know the important albums from 1968 that helped set the table — along with the opening that year of the Forum in Inglewood and Madison Square Garden in New York — for what we now refer to as arena rock.

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But shirtless guitar gods were hardly the only musicians in action 50 years ago. Here are 10 records released in 1968 that point to alternate histories of that important age.

The Velvet Underground, "White Light/White Heat"

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Cut free from their original singer, Nico, and their art-world patron, Andy Warhol, these influential New Yorkers cranked the tempo and the noise for their second full-length, which still crackles with Lou Reed's stylish misanthropy.

Dr. John, "Gris-Gris"

The music of New Orleans gets a psychedelic makeover on the debut album by this Crescent City native, who recorded "Gris-Gris" after moving to Los Angeles and reinventing himself as a kind of mystical medicine man.

Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood
Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood (GAB Archive / Redferns)

Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, "Nancy & Lee"

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Grandiose and deadpan at the same time, Sinatra and Hazlewood's first duets collection sounds like Sonny and Cher getting one over on Hollywood.

Tiny Tim in October, 1968.
Tiny Tim in October, 1968. (Larry Ellis / Daily Express / Getty Images)

Tiny Tim, "God Bless Tiny Tim"

He's best (and perhaps only) remembered for his novelty-hit rendition of "Tip-toe Thru' the Tulips With Me." But Tiny Tim's one-of-a-kind debut is packed with deceptively sophisticated ideas about tradition, authenticity and gender.

The Delfonics, "La La Means I Love You"

The Philly soul sound with which producer Thom Bell would dominate R&B in the early '70s came together early on his shimmering first album with the Delfonics.

The Byrds, "Sweetheart of the Rodeo"

Welcoming singer Gram Parsons (if only briefly) into the fold, the veteran L.A. folk-rock band went country for this twanged-out set of originals, covers and traditionals. Try to imagine Wilco without it.

Various artists, "Tropicália: Ou Panis et Circensis"

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With contributions from Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and Os Mutantes, this compilation announced the advent of the adventurous Tropicália movement, which galvanized Brazilian pop in the late '60s and was still inspiring musicians decades later (including Beck, who titled a 1998 single after the style).

Aretha Franklin dancing for the cameras, circa 1968.
Aretha Franklin dancing for the cameras, circa 1968. (Express Newspapers / Getty Images)

Aretha Franklin, "Lady Soul"

That "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman" and "Chain of Fools" were on the same album shows how many hits Franklin was throwing off in the late '60s. But the songs — one sanctified, the other low-down — also reflect the remarkable range of Franklin's singing on this deep soul classic.

Jose Feliciano
Jose Feliciano (David Redfern / Redferns)

Jose Feliciano, "Feliciano!"

In October 1968, this Puerto Rican singer and guitarist caused an uproar when he performed a gorgeous Latin-jazz-style take on the national anthem during that year's World Series. But Feliciano was just extending the approach he'd popularized here with flowery renditions of "California Dreamin'" and the Doors' "Light My Fire."

Blue Cheer, "Vincebus Eruptum"

Did this San Francisco power trio invent heavy metal with its bludgeoning debut? Maybe. What's certain, though, is that Blue Cheer's members saw no reason not to play as loud and hard as they could.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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