In 1966 London was swinging and though I was learning to walk and could barely string a sentence together, the music of the day somehow seeped into my bones. Nancy Sinatra, Tijuana Brass, Lou Christie, The Beatles, Kinks, Stones, and Motown – producing music I have loved throughout my life.
What struck me most when researching the year was how many songs were big sellers on both sides of the Atlantic. Only “Cherish” by The Association did nothing in the UK, with “96 Tears” only just grazing the Top 40. “Cherish” remains one of the biggest hits and most radio-played songs in US history. The Association is one of the all-time favourite bands of this writer and their commercial failure in the UK is our loss. Please check them out – 6 vocalists mean exquisite harmonies; sunshine pop at its warmest. On that front, it was the breakthrough year for The Mamas and Papas. Boy, was it tough to choose between “Monday Monday”, “California Dreaming”, “I Saw Her Again” and “Words of Love”.
In January, The Byrds recorded “Eight Miles High”, a mini-masterpiece that blended influences from Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane and can lay claim to be the first psychedelic single. It’s a work of genius that still sounds exhilarating half a century later, and is certainly one of the top handful of songs ever pressed to vinyl, even though guitarist and co-writer Dave Crosby says their earlier version (at the time unreleased) was stronger. What does he know?!
The Beatles and Beach Boys released Revolver and Pet Sounds, unarguably two of the greatest albums of all-time, and get two tracks each on this playlist. How can you pick between “Paperback Writer” and “Eleanor Rigby” or “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations”?! The significance of these releases is that they are milestones – perhaps even starting points – on the road to the 33 eventually surpassing the 45 in terms of artistic endeavour and importance. But that is still 2 or 3 years away. At the moment the 7” single is still the boss format for music lovers.
With hindsight, one can see that the pop charts did and didn’t reflect the times. The UK economy was booming, employment rates were high, young people had money in their pockets, and the music is bright, breezy and optimistic. All was not so well Stateside – the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, the Texas University shooting, acid, hippies, student riots...the world was about to change, but this was not yet reflected in pop music. The American songs here wear an equally happy face, except perhaps for “River Deep Mountain High”. Another work of magnificent pop genius that I’ve always felt has something of a dark cloud over it. Something malevolent or foreboding, just a feeling… but Tina, what a voice!
Oh, and did I mention that England won the world cup? In England we never forget this because it is never going to happen again. At least we have The Beatles.