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1966 Pt. 1 “Beep Beep Yeah”

February 17, 2016


In 1966, I went from being a 11-year-old in sixth grade to a junior-high school student later in the year at Friends Seminary in New York City.  With the doubling of class size, many new students and the end of a single teacher which I enjoyed in 6th grade, it was almost as if my childhood had abruptly ended in September 1966. Similarly, the country was changing with the Vietnam War no longer cloaked in anonymity. Music as always mirrored  the increasing complexity of life and events that occurred during 1966.

In early 1966, I started listening obsessively to WABC radio and their top 20 survey of hits each week . These were typically introduced by Dan Ingram on Tuesday afternoons, and I often kept handwritten chart lists of as many of the top 20 that I was able to hear, while simultaneously doing my math homework. In fact, 1966 was the first year that top 40 radio became a part of my almost daily life.

British Invasion Continues

In 1966, the volume of new artists and songs slowed from the frenetic pace of the British invasion of 1964-65. In fact, in the US , American groups dominated the pop charts. Nonetheless, British music and specifically the Beatles continued to lead the rock music scene.

The Beatles had another strong year, but nothing like the volume of songs, singles and albums it enjoyed during 1964-1965. The Beatles released two albums in the U.S. in 1966. The first “Yesterday and Today” was released in June and was mainly composed of the Beatles A and B sides of three highly successful double-sided hits by the group during late 1965 and early 1966. This included first “Yesterday/Act Naturally” from late 1965 arguably Paul’s best love song ever, coupled with a light-hearted Ringo cover of a country and western tune. Second, there was the outstanding double-sided hit “We Can Work it Out/Day Tripper” from December 1965 which was to hit #1 on the US charts in January. The third hit single from the album was “Nowhere Man” which peaked on the charts in the Spring of 1966. “Nowhere Man” had it all, a great tune and chorus, wonderful harmonies and an upbeat rhythm. “What Goes On” was only an OK b-side, though it did have the rare distinction of a Ringo writing credit.

The remaining five songs from “Yesterday and Today” were hardly album filler. In fact, several are quite notable. “Drive My Car” is a lively and catchy number which is all Paul and kicks off Side 1 with a bang – “beep, beep yeah!”. Side 1 also features John’s interesting and edgy “I’m Only Sleeping”, a precursor of John’s music to come and “Doctor Robert” a more conventional Beatle tune. Side 2 starts with two excellent album cuts. First, there is the rousing “And Your Bird Can Sing” with wonderful guitar riffs and the second, is George’s contribution to the album the excellent “If I Needed Someone”.

In late June, the Beatles scored on the charts again with the single “Paperback Writer/Rain” . I remember first hearing and enjoying “Paperback Writer” on the radio while at my first sleepover summer camp. (It turned out that rock/pop music was about the only positive element of my first sleepover camp experience, as I apparently wrote a letter home just about every day that told my concerned mother how many days I had left ’til camp ended and how much I missed my brother and sister). “Paperback Writer” was a very good song, but it was the less often played, b-side, “Rain” that was the most interesting new Beatles entry complete with interesting rhythms and backwards singing at the end. By September, the Beatles had another hit double-sided hit on the charts “Yellow Submarine/ Eleanor Rigby”, but again it was the B-side that deserved the most attention.  “Yellow Submarine” was an excellent children’s tune, complete with submarine/ship sounds and a band playing in the middle as well as Ringo’s vocal and it was the first Beatles single that I bought.  ( It also was one of the first rock songs that I played for my daughters when they were toddlers. My oldest referred to it as “yellow unterine” which is not a bad pronunciation for a two-year old.) But “Eleanor Rigby” was the more interesting and better song, the lyrics the stuff of many analyses by rock musicologists and critics since then. In addition, the string accompaniment (a string octet apparently) nicely blended with Paul’s excellent singing and enhanced the beautiful melody of the song. More importantly, the song’s arrangement presaged songs such as “She’s Leaving Home” from the “Sgt. Peppers” album in 1967.

The Beatles last album in 1966 was “Revolver” –  another excellent Beatles album. In addition to “Yellow Submarine” and “Eleanor Rigby”, the album featured a number of great Beatle songs. Most notably, it was the first album that George was actually allowed to have more than one composition. On “Revolver” , Harrison had three very good tracks, the lively and guitar laden “I Want to Tell You”, the sneering and sarcastic “Taxman” and the Indian influenced, sitar dominated “Love You To”. Of the three tracks, my favorite still is “Taxman”, it is great lively rock song with an excellent melody and extremely clever lyrics “Should five percent appear too small, be thankful I don’t take it all”. McCartney had four excellent tracks which he composed and sang lead which included the melodic and simple love song “Here, There and Everywhere”,  the wonderfully upbeat rocker “Good Day Sunshine” which instantly improves anyone’s mood, the breakup song “For No One” which was good for wallowing in a love lost, and the upbeat love song “Got to Get you into my Life”. ( Most assumed that this was a love song about a woman, but in fact as McCartney confirmed in 1997 it is an ode to pot). This latter track along with “Good Day Sunshine” are my two favorites. “Got to Get You Into My Life” probably holds some kind of chart record as it was released as a Beatles single some TEN years later (in June 1976) and managed to reach the top ten on the US Billboard charts shortly thereafter. John Lennon had only two tracks which he was the lead composer and the lead singer. “She Said, She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”. The latter track was the most original piece that the Beatles had done to date and may have helped spawned psychedelic rock which was to become the rage in 1967-69. (One critic described the song as “the greatest leap in the future” that the Beatles “had yet taken”).  It included such studio groundbreaking techniques as reverse guitar, processed vocals, and looped tape effects.

While the Beatles remained the dominant force from Britain, the Rolling Stones continued to make great rock ‘n roll music with four more hit singles released in 1966. This began in March with “19th Nervous Breakdown” which reached #2, followed by  “Paint it Black” which became the third Stones #1 hit, the summer double-sided hit “Mother’s Little Helper/ Lady Jane” a top 10 US smash, and another top 10  “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadow? “. The first two songs were outstanding hard rock n roll songs with great lead guitar and drum playing and with trademark dark and sneering Stones lyrics. “Mother’s Little Helper” was the first song to focus on prescription drug abuse and was my favorite Stones song in 1966. “Have you seen your mother baby” was also a good rocker which is noteworthy in that it includes brass accompaniment, a first for Rolling Stones songs.

I didn’t purchase any Stones albums in 1966 as this was a bit beyond my allowance budget at the time, though I did eventually buy the superlative Stones greatest hits album “High Tide and Green Grass” later in 1966, which features all the Stones 1964, 1965 hits as well as “19th Nervous Breakdown” from early 1966. The 1966 album “Aftermath” included another good Stones song “Under My Thumb” which surprisingly was never released as a single.

While the Stones were still the leaders in hard rock, the Kinks were transforming themselves from a hard rock group with rock ‘n roll guitar classics such as “You Really Got Me” and “All of the Day and All of the Night” to a more innovative group in 1966 that released very different rock music with lyrics laden with social commentary. This began in early in 1966 with the release of “A Well Respected Man” an excellent Ray Davies composition which oozed with sarcasm about the British upper class “And he is oh so good and he is oh so fine in his body and in his mind”. Though not as successful as “A Well Respected Man” , the Kinks next single “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” is very similar in structure and sound and was almost as good a song. The target of Davies satire was the pretentiousness and constant changeover of the latest fashions (apparently he even got into a physical fight with one fashion designer at a party over this very issue).  However, my favorite Kinks song of 1966  “Sunny Afternoon” is one of the most infectious songs ever. It too is also about wealth (and high British progressive tax rate a la “Taxman”) and speaks to the idleness of the mega-rich. It was very popular in Britain reaching #1, though it still managed to reach #14 in the US.

The British Invasion also included one of my favorite new groups in 1966: The Hollies. Co-founded by Allan Clarke (the lead singer) and Graham Nash, the Hollies had their first top 40 single in the US with the upbeat “Look Thru Any Window” which peaked at #32. ( I got to know this song only after I bought the group’s Greatest Hits album in the early 70s).  The song was to set a pattern for the group which used a fast tempo and great tenor harmonies to drive most of their singles. The first major hit of the group “Bus Stop” followed “Look Thru Any Window” reaching #5 in the summer and was another up tempo, joyful love song which always made me smile. “Stop, Stop, Stop” also reached the Top 10 in November and featured the guitarist Tony Hicks playing the banjo which provided the song with a very unique sound. This is another wonderful rock n roll, dance song  by the Hollies which per usual features the three-part harmonies of Hicks, Clarke and Nash.

Another comparatively new artist on the singles charts, Donovan from Scotland had his first big hits in 1966 with the psychedelic folk/ rock song “Sunshine Superman” which reached #1 in August. In fact, it was probably the first psychedelic pop hit. In addition to being a great tune, it had a unique guitar sound played  by none other than Jimmy Page (future guitarist of Led Zeppelin), as well as John Paul Jones playing an interesting sounding bass (future bass player of Led Zeppelin). “Mellow Yellow” followed in November 1966 which became Donovan’s second biggest hit (reaching #2 on the charts) featuring the background whispers of Paul McCartney and an infectious drum beat.

Though the Animals failed to match their popularity and the quality of their hits in 1964-65, they did have two good songs in 1966 . First, there was a good cover of “See See Rider”. But my favorite was the Gerry Goffin-Carole King song “Don’t Bring Me Down” released in early 1966.  Similarly, the Yardbirds had lesser success in 1966 than their breakout singles in 1965 (i.e. “For Your Love” and “Heart Full of Soul”).Nonetheless, the Yardbirds did have two interesting, high quality songs with “Shape of Things” and “Over Under Sideways Down” which featured Jeff Beck’s distinctive fuzz guitar sound.

British pop singers continued to shine in 1966:

  • Petula Clark had three major song successes “My Love” ( which reached #1 in February), “A Sign of the Times” (#11 in April) and “I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love ” (#9 in August). All three followed a familiar pattern, excellent pop tunes which featured Petula’s great voice.
  • Dusty Springfield had her biggest solo hit with   “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” which reached #4 in the U.S. A  song it highlighted her strong voice and was her first top 40 in the U.S. since 1964’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’ “
  • Peter and Gordon  had two major hits “Woman” (written by Paul McCartney) and my favorite by them, the end of the year, novelty hit “Lady Godiva” (reaching #6 in November).
  • Though not able to match their enormous popularity in 1965, the Herman’s Hermits still had five top 20 hits. The three best were “A Must to Avoid”  and “Listen People” from early in the year and “Dandy” which peaked at #5 in November. The last tune was my favorite 1966 song by the group and interestingly enough was written by Ray Davies of the Kinks.

Surprisingly, two of the most popular songs in the US from British born artists came from two completely new groups who were to have little success after 1966. “Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band  reached #1 in December (and was the 3rd best-selling single of 1966). However the band was only a studio group , the creation of London born Geoff Stephens. The song was a one of a kind novelty song which featured a whistled verse and then a Rudy Vallee 1930s style vocal arrangement as the second verse. It was catchy ( I liked it at the time) , but it has worn very thin over time.  This was to be the one and only New Vaudeville Band top 40 single, though they did manage a follow-up single “Peek a Boo” which reached #72 on the charts in early 1967. Mercifully, the New Vaudeville Band faded into obscurity thereafter. Meanwhile, the Troggs  also had a #1 hit “Wild Thing” which peaked in the summer while I was at camp. Perhaps because it served as an important reminder of the few things I actually enjoyed at camp ( 1960s rock music), I bought it when I got home in August. However, the song has also worn thin (despite its later use in the movie “Major League”) and is seldom played on oldies stations or classic rock. The Troggs quickly flamed out in the US, with only one other hit record (the top ten hit in early 1968 “Love is All Around”) and then their short-lived success was over.

One standout group in 1964 and 1965 that suffered  in 1966 was the Dave Clark Five. They did manage a couple of decent top 40 songs “At The Scene” and “Try to Hard”, but these were nothing like the excellent hits of 1964-65 (e.g. “Glad All Over”, “Bits and Pieces”, “Catch Us if You Can” and “Over and Over”)

Overall, 1966 was a good albeit not a great year for British rock and pop. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, American music was making a strong comeback, with a number of excellent new groups, and beginning to dominate rock music again. However that is a topic for my next blog post.





From → Music 60s70s

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