Six Songs Each From Six Great 1966 Albums
If the Beatles of 1963 were the arrival of modern rock, 1966 was the year it moved into its second phase. I think of 1966 as a year of pregnancy. The momentum built by the British Invasion and the American Response signaled support from the record companies and sureness from the artists, as record sales, the radical facelift of Top 40, Dylan, the Stones and Beatlemania attested to…so many creative folks in their 20s had engaged through rock, and something was going on here, and no one was really sure of what it was. The Doors, Hendrix, Monterey Pop, Sgt. Peppers, The Band, the Summer of Love, Pink Floyd…none of those ships had landed, but the pregnant expectation was there.
I don’t include Revolver on this list, because it automatically is: we all know that entire album, UK and US versions, very well. It is the prime indicator. Rubber Soul (1965) was like nothing the Beatles had ever done before, and Revolver was nothing like Rubber Soul. The creative faucets of the Beatles were turned on full blast and leading the charge, and there were many great artists and albums joining in that inspiration.
These six aren’t the best albums of 1966; they are simply among the best. One could just as easily choose Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence or Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme; The Mamas and the Papas If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears; Buffalo Springfield, their debut, the first country-rock album? John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, the greatest British blues-rock album ever? Cream’s debut, Fresh Cream (score two for Eric Clapton); The Byrds’ Fifth Dimension, they were leaders of the change in rock, it was already their third album. The Monks’ Black Monk Time that predicted punk and may be the most amazing one-shot wonder album of all time. Or Phil Spector’s gorgeous production of Ike and Tina Turner, River Deep, Mountain High.
But a serious dip into each of these six albums gives a richer view of the era than a sound bite singles survey. I select so you can delect.
The band whose creative arc was best keeping pace with the Beatles was the Beach Boys, who released their timeless masterpiece Pet Sounds. The Kinks’ Face to Face signaled their transition from a great singles hard rock act to a creative force whose songs addressed class issues in Britain; they unveiled a more sophisticated sound and set the stage for their next four albums, all classics(Something Else; Village Green Preservation Society; Arthur; and Lola versus Powerman and the Moneyground, Part One). The Rolling Stones were in transition as well, though it was less ubiquitous than that of the Beatles. They released Aftermath, with a critical five-song variance and different song sequencing between the US and UK versions. The album veered between fidelity to their R&B roots and the songwriting maturity of the Glimmer Twins. Leapfrogging over the recycling of Between the Buttons and the mostly failed Satanic Majesty’s Request, Aftermath is the true mother of the creative burst of their next four albums that unveiled Jagger/Richards’ muscular ballads and redefined the hard rock sound: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street.
Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde is a special case, and I quote the Allmusic review: It’s the culmination of Dylan‘s electric rock & roll period—he would never release a studio record that rocked this hard, or had such bizarre imagery, ever again. Thus he was perhaps ahead of everyone, done with rock and roll and heading for the country and the more stable and storied imagery and sounds those Americana roots offered. Yet after John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline, for the first time since his debut, Dylan would release albums that were less than excellent (Self Portrait; New Morning; Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid; Dylan; Planet Waves), until 1974’s Blood on the Tracks. It’s ironic that he detoured when others were having their artistic orgasm, yet his overall artistic profile outlasted and out-produced just about the entire 1966 crowd.
By 1966, modern rock had been established long enough to be satirized, on the one hand, and on the other, for the musical foundations to have rock’s harmonic and rhythmic ideas expanded. No one defined themselves by this opportunity better than Frank Zappa, and the Mothers of Invention debut in 1966 with Freak Out! There had not really been music like this before, and even though the Mothers continually went to the 50s doo-wop archives for some of their sounds, they pretty much invented progressive rock with their others.
And as the Mothers began their journey, another great artist concluded his. Complete and Unbelievable: Otis Redding’s Dictionary of Soul was the last studio album released by Otis Redding during his lifetime. Though his catalog is substantial and provides hours of great listening, his death at age 26 cut short a major voice. His appearance at Monterey Pop the following year cracked the divide between rock and rhythm and blues. His influence on the music—besides his iconic and soul-wrenching singing he brought the Stax/Volt Booker T. band and the Memphis sound of soul to prominence—is still hard to articulate more than 50 years later…because there is no one like him. Listen to Mick and the Stones, complete with a Memphis-style horn section, play their homage to Otis, I’ve Got the Blues off Sticky Fingers. It’s really really good. It’s not Otis. At any rate, Dictionary of Soul is a paramount achievement and essential music.
So here they are, I’ve assembled these songs as a 2-cd in-depth survey of that year. Disc One for the adventurous, and Disc Two for those who have built a ramshackle barn out in the country of Old Weird America with a neon sign that crackles and sputters out the word Authentic.
The Kinks: Face to Face
The Mothers of Invention: Freak Out!
The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds
The Rolling Stones: Aftermath
Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde
Otis Redding: Dictionary of Soul