There are more than a lot of reasons why 1966 was an important year in history. It was fifty years ago this year since England won the World Cup, Carnaby Street in London became the fashion capital of the world and the space race was hotting up between Russia and the USA. But what I’ll always think of when 1966 comes into conversation is the music.
When I think of the mid to late sixties, I recall names like Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys, and I think of psych garage taking over the UK. Obviously, I wasn’t alive back then, but here’s a retrospective look at one of the greatest and most important years in music history. Here are five of the biggest reasons why…
Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
At this point, Dylan was heavily into the throws of his rock n roll/electric guitar phase, which had made him a polarising character in the music world, leaving a lot of his current fans incensed by his sudden evolution. Blonde on Blonde was released in the summer of 1966 and despite the turmoil and indecisiveness he would have encountered at the time; it remains one of his most critically acclaimed albums. It’s easy to see why, and without being there personally, I can only assume that it did serve as a relatively decent compromise, as the album features beautiful folk style classics like ‘Visions of Johanna’ and ‘Just Like a Woman’, blended in perfectly with faster paced rock tracks like ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile…’, ‘Obviously Five Believers’ and ‘I Want You’. The thing that always sticks with me the most is that despite there being a large, full and accomplished band behind him, Dylan’s varied use of harmonica is so striking and strong, featuring as the main element to many of the songs. A classic album and a must have for every record collection.
The Beatles – Rubber Soul
Rubber Soul set a benchmark by a band that had already established them as one of the best and most important in the world, an accolade that hasn’t budged in the past fifty years. It was The Beatles sixth studio album, had George Martin on production, and almost showed the fab four showing off as they blended and merged genres and styles. It was the start of a special evolution for the band as it was a start point for a succession of other favourites like ‘Revolver’ and the household renowned ‘Sgt Peppers…’. The album features a slew of big Beatles tunes, but the kick-off track ‘Drive My Car’ sounds as big now as it ever has. Not bad eh?
The Rolling Stones – Aftermath
The sixties weren’t as much of a time for LP’s as it was singles. A band or artist would normally concentrate on releasing commercially successful singles and try topping the charts with them, and as time went by, full-length albums were released and became works of art, talking points for decades to come and formed a bands legacy. The Rolling Stones released a lot of their most well-known material in the mid-sixties, like ‘Satisfaction’, ‘Jumping Jack Flash’, ‘Get Off of my Cloud’ and more. The Stones would soon after embark on a golden age of music, releasing albums like ‘Beggars Banquet’, ‘Let It Bleed’ and ‘Exile on Main Street’ to name a few. The one that started it all off may well have been Aftermath. The 1966 LP featured the awesome ‘Under My Thumb’ consistently but was released very differently in Britain as opposed to how it was released in North America. The most amazing part being that the UK had ‘Paint It Black’ on it, but the US version had ‘Mothers Little Helper’ instead. Both of these tracks have ended up being two of their most well known and it’s incredible to think that if both versions featured both tracks and the same full listing, it could have been considered a much larger album. Who knew the Stones could have done a better job than they already have.
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Regarded by many as one of the earliest examples of concept albums, but regarded by all as a fine example of Brian Wilson’ genius, Pet Sounds set out to become the greatest rock n roll album of all time, and it couldn’t get much closer to achieving its goal. As a well-known retaliation to albums like the aforementioned Beatles classic ‘Rubber Soul’, the idea was to have no filler and just killer, and with tracks like ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and ‘Sloop John B’ in the mix, it’s no wonder it was named number two in the 500 greatest albums of all time list. It’s well known that within The Beach Boys; drug use and fights within the band were prominent and this was known to serve as a factor that drew positives and negatives alike. They managed it though and we still have the evidence of its genius today. The Beach Boys have always been a group with a signature sound, but they nailed it more than ever on this recording with perfect harmonies and thunderous drum effects. Also, the surf aspect had been made a great deal more subtle which must have served as a relief, then and now, to anyone that just doesn’t know anything about surfing.
The Small Faces – Small Faces
The debut of one of the UK’s biggest garage rock bands set a precedent for 60’s rock n roll that is still heavily celebrated today. The Small Faces remain at the forefront of the mod movement and their self-titled first album started it all. With a humble mix of original tracks and covers or inspirations, the album featured everything from Muddy Waters inspired tunes like ‘You Need Loving’, the Sam Cooke original that everybody covered in the sixties, ‘Shake’ and then some of their own heavy artillery such as the legendary ‘Sha-la-la-la-lee’. From a retrospective angle, it seems to be the perfect taster album, introducing you to a band by saying “this is what we like, this is what we play and this is what we can do. What do you think?” and by the looks of things, with the Small Faces still being a huge part of the retro, the sixties, rock n roll scene, everybody loved it. Rightfully so as well.
Words by Stuart Green (@mojo20_music)