Not entirely ‘unheard’, but 1966 proved to be such a wonderful year for music that I felt it worth documenting some of these great tracks that didn’t make the big selling lists back then.
I’ve gathered a wide range of genres: jazz, beat, soul, Latin, garage, avant-garde rock, and straight-ahead pop from the UK, US, France, Germany, Brazil, and maybe elsewhere. Included are lesser-known numbers, album tracks and B-sides, by artists you may know well – The Kinks, The Mamas and Papas, Tom Jones, Love, Jefferson Airplane, The Turtles, and a teenager from South-East London called David Bowie.
I’ve included tracks that somehow avoided the radar in ’66 but have since reached new audiences via the popularity of ‘northern soul’ (Jamo Thomas, The Ad Libs, The Artistics, Andre Brasseur) and the interest in US garage bands (The Shadows of Knight, The Misunderstood, The Blue Things, We The People) and British ‘freakbeat’ groups (Wimple Winch) since reissue compilations began to surface in the 1980s. Also, in Europe, it wasn’t just the English making great music. Polnareff and Dutronc were huge stars in France and for good reason. Both made wondrously great pop music.
One song, however, you will know (and love) is Sergio Mendes & Brasil ‘66’s superb ‘Mas Que Nada’ – a song that instantly conjures the eternal sunshine of the Rio carnival and Copacabana beach for anyone who has never been anywhere near Brazil. It surprised me to discover that this wasn’t a hit back then.
One band you may not know – and it’s a complete mystery as to why not because The Action seemingly had everything. Kings of the Swinging London mod scene, they were signed to The Beatles’ label Parlophone and even had their producer George Martin at the controls, but the hits didn’t arrive. Take a listen to their fantastic version of ‘I’ll Keep On Holding On’ and you’ll be as mystified as I am.
Now, do you and your friends ever play that game ‘if you had a time machine which gig would you most like to see?’ The Beatles at the Cavern? Woodstock? Live Aid? Elvis, Bowie, Dylan, Madonna, Jackson? For me, the answer is simple, every time – The Sands Hotel, Vegas, 19th June 1966.
‘This record is being recorded and, as I look at my watch now, it is a quarter after 5 [in the morning!].
Las Vegas is still swinging...For the next 10 or 12 sides, just relax, sit down and swing with us if you will.’
Those are the words of Cool Cat Supreme Sammy Davis Jnr as he introduces 30-odd minutes of the most exciting and exhilarating entertainment I’ve ever heard, backed up by the Buddy Rich Orchestra. The record of this show (The Sounds of ‘66) captures the sounds and maybe even some of the smells of the smoke-filled room (let’s face it – everyone would have been smoking!), but it’s not quite the same as actually being there. ‘Come Back to Me’ is the opening number. Having said that, whilst we’re in 1966 Love at Bido Lito’s in LA would be my next stop on the time machine.
So, as we near the year’s end, a week before Christmas, Polydor release a single by an unknown American dude who had landed at Heathrow airport three months earlier. ‘Stone Free’ is the B-side of ‘Hey Joe’. The world would be hearing a lot more from James Marshall Hendrix in 1967, but that’s for another day…