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1966 Pt. 2 “My Empty Cup’s as Sweet as the Punch”

March 13, 2016

In 1966, after two years of domination by British groups, American rock and pop music was making a comeback. It was a year in which a number of new or relatively new American groups were to dominate the charts during 1966 and after. 1966 was also the year that I bought my first two singles, “These Boots Were Made for Walkin” by Nancy Sinatra and “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler. However, my listening to WABC radio top 20 countdowns was on temporary hiatus in the Spring of 1966 as I discovered Strat-O-Matic baseball.

New Groups Lead the Way

While folk rock was to dominate American music in 1966, continuing Bob Dylan’s and The Byrds’ successes in 1965, it was a series of new groups or newly popular groups that were to dominate American folk/rock/pop in 1966. Nonetheless, Bob Dylan and the Byrds were still important in 1966. Dylan released his masterpiece, the Blonde on Blonde album which included three particularly noteworthy songs “I Want You”, “Just Like a Women” and the rock anthem “Rainy Day Women #12&35” which intoned “everybody must get stoned!”, but then his recording year was cut short by a motorcycle accident. The Byrds meanwhile had their most electric hit “Eight Miles High” (#14 May), a great rock song with excellent lead guitar work from Roger McGuinn. The song’s chart position may have been hurt by the radio bans across several states due to the obvious drug references (though it was denied by the group at the time). Though more sedate and less popular, “Mr. Spaceman” (#36 October) was also an excellent folk-rock song.

In early January 1966, Simon and Garfunkel had their first top 4o single reach no. 1 on the charts “The Sounds of Silence”. It was the beginning of five years of enormous commercial success for the folk-rock duo which began as Tom & Jerry with “Hey Schoolgirl” in 1957 (which peaked at #49 on the charts). “Sounds of Silence” was originally on the duo’s unsuccessful Wednesday Morning 3 AM album released in late 1964 as an acoustic version, but was wisely remixed with electric guitar and drum tracks in late 1965 and released at the end of the year and reached #1 on the charts in January 1966. The sudden success of the song in early December 1965 convinced the record company that a new album was needed PRONTO and the group quickly recorded or re-recorded a number of songs, several of those that Simon had written while in England for a year on hiatus from the group in 1964-65. (These were included on the Paul Simon Songbook released in the UK in August 1965). The result was the Sounds of Silence album which was released in late January 1966.

Despite several flaws and under production from being recorded so quickly, I always enjoyed this album for its understated folk-rock sound. In addition to the superb title track “Sounds of Silence”, the album also has another up-tempo folk-rock song “I Am a Rock” the second best song on the album and a #3 charting single in June. But all of the tracks are solid. My other favorites include “We’ve Got a Groovy Thing Going” (another up-tempo folk rocker), the interesting “Richard Cory” and the beautiful “April Come She Will”.  Interestingly, the British version of the album also has one of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs “Homeward Bound” ( a song I would often hum to myself while waiting for the train – “I’m sitting in the railway station, got a ticket for my destination” during my college years). This beautiful song was Simon and Garfunkel’s second single (reaching #5 in March) but was not on any U.S. album until later in 1966.

Simon and Garfunkel spent much more time on their next album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme which wasn’t released until October. In addition to the aforementioned “Homeward Bound”, highlights of this album include the beautifully musical and lyrical “Scarborough Fair”,  the simple and happy “59th Street Bridge Song, Feelin’ Groovy” (later successfully covered by Harpers Bizarre in 1967), the achingly sad “Dangling Conversation”, the happy/sad “Cloudy” and the upbeat “Flowers Never Bend”. Obviously, I must also include the beautiful love song “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” which was sung at our wedding some 30 years ago !

The Mamas and Papas debuted in 1966 with a fresh new folk-rock sound featuring wonderful vocal harmonies, leader John Phillips’ excellent song writing and the exquisite voice of Mama Cass. In early 1966, the group had its first major hit with arguably their best song “California Dreamin'” which was to become an anthem for the hippie movement heading Westward to California ( including the Mamas and Papas). Shortly thereafter the group released its first album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears which became one of my early album purchases. In addition to “California Dreamin'” the album also included another excellent song  “Monday, Monday”  the group’s most popular song and second single which hit #1 in May.  The album featured several other original Phillips songs most notably “Go Where You Wanna Go” (later the first single by the 5th Dimension) as well as two very good remakes: Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem” and Lennon/McCartney’s ” I Call Your Name” .

The group never quite topped its success either commercially or critically of early 1966, though it did have two more excellent singles in 1966 which both hit #5 on the charts.  “I Saw Her Again” was another superb Phillips composition with wonderful harmonies throughout and an error by Papa Denny Doherty (who began singing the last verse too soon) which was kept in the recording to great effect. ( Something I learned recently from Sirius XM 60s host Lou Simon) . In December, the group released , “Words of Love” another great song which featured the soaring vocals of Mama Cass.

The Lovin’ Spoonful first emerged in 1965 with the hit single “Do You Believe in Magic”. However, in 1966, the Lovin Spoonful had their best year commercially and musically with four top 10 hits. Once again it was John Sebastian’s songwriting and singing that led to their high quality music. “Daydream” which reached #2 in April 1966, was a wonderful folk rock song which masterfully conveyed a lazy but happy day “What a day for a daydream, custom-made for a day dreaming boy”. “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” which also reached #2 in June was a deliciously good song, ( “did you ever have to finally decide, to say yes to one and let the other ones slide”) with Sebastian poking fun at himself and the love lives of rock stars in general.

“Summer in the City” was the group’s most popular single hitting #1 in August and was also my favorite by the group. It was co-written by John’s younger brother Mark who had been a junior-high school classmate of my sister a couple of years earlier. Lyrically, it wonderfully conveys summer heat in New York city (“Hot town summer  in the city, back of neck feeling dirty and gritty…”). Musically, it was a decidedly different turn for the group being one of the group’s few true rock songs. So much so that when I saw John Sebastian solo performance in Central Park in the late 1970s and yelled out to him to do “Summer in the City” , he dutifully began the song, realized it wouldn’t work with acoustic guitar, and then quickly morphed into “Darling Be Home Soon” a folk-rock standard for the group. The fourth and final hit for the group in 1966 was “Rain on the Roof” a simple yet brilliant folk-rock love song which artfully conveyed being totally unfazed by being “caught up in a summer shower, maybe it will last for hours” with the one you love.

But the most commercially successful of the new American groups was a made-for-TV group , The Monkees, who beginning with the premiere of their show in September 1966, were the best-selling music act bar none. “Last Train to Clarksville” rose to #1 in late September, followed by “I’m Believer” which reached #1 in December. Their first album The Monkees spent 13 weeks at #1 and some 78 weeks on the album charts. The TV show was a major success. Both “Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer” were good songs primarily because of the outside songwriting talent – Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart writing the former and Neil Diamond writing the latter. Mickey Dolenz had a distinctive singing voice that became the signature sound in these first two hits.

However, the Monkees were not the equals musically of so many of the other successful singer/songwriting groups such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Mamas and Papas, Simon and Garfunkel and Lovin’ Spoonful to name a few. For this they were highly criticized at the time and subject to rumors (e.g. “they don’t even play their own instruments”). To be sure, the Monkees were only adequate musicians, and did not write their own songs until guitarist Michael Nesmith emerged as a relatively talented songwriter writing a few of the Monkees songs (later penning “Different Drum” the first hit single of the Stone Poneys with lead singer Linda Ronstadt in early 1968). In fairness to the Monkees, filming a TV show in 1966 plus all the special appearances required working 12 hours a day almost seven days a week, so there was not a lot of time for practice.

In addition to the Mamas and Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Lovin Spoonful and the Monkees, other new or relatively new folk, rock and pop groups helped lead the way in American music:

  1. The Association was to quickly become one of my favorite groups with two excellent singles, the up tempo “Along Comes Mary” and my favorite love song “Cherish” written by group leader Terry Kirkman which reached #1 in October . I even bought their first album later in 1967, which in addition to its first two hit singles, included several other good songs most notably “Enter the Young” and “Don’t Blame it on Me”.
  2. The Young Rascals had their first hit song in 1966 , the lively and utterly fun, “Good Lovin” (#1 in April). The song was a cover of the Olympic’s 1965 version of the song. But it was the Rascal’s upbeat rendition along with a great new blue-eyed, rock n’soul sound that made it the much better record. “Good Lovin” was an exception to the rule as virtually all the Rascals hits were largely driven by the prodigious songwriting talents of organist and vocalist Felix Cavaliere and vocalist Eddie Brigati. This included the under-appreciated “You Better Run” which reached #20 in July, (later covered by Pat Benatar in 1980). 1966 was to begin a three-year run of huge commercial success for the group.
  3. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels blasted onto the scene with the excellent single “Jenny Take A Ride” (#10 January) . By November, the group charted with their best song with another medley , the rocking “Devil with the Blue Dress/ Good Golly Miss Molly” (#4 Nov.) . Though only a cover band, the unique rock-blues-soul sound of the group made their renditions irresistible.
  4. Paul Revere and the Raiders hit it big first in 1966 with their second single “Just Like Me”, a garage rock song which peaked at # 11 in January , but it was the group’s next two singles that were perhaps their best and most memorable . “Kicks” (May #4) and “Hungry” (July #6) . The former was an excellent Barry Mann/ Cynthia Weill anti-drug composition that has stood the test of time. “Kicks keep getting harder to find…” “Good Thing” their last single in 1966 (and the last high quality song by the group) entered the top forty in Mid-December and peaked at #4 in January. After a couple more successful hits in 1967, the group largely faded away (until it was reconstituted as the Raiders for the remake of “Indian Reservation” in 1971), its success limited by lack of any songwriting talent in the group or any particularly good musicianship.
  5. Gary Lewis and the Playboys– Continued their commercial success in 1966 with three more top ten hits in a row with “She’s Just My Style” (#3 Feb 1966), “Sure Gonna Miss Her” (#9 May 1966), and “Green Grass” (#8 July 1966). This represented the end of a streak of a total of SEVEN top 10s in a row. It was hard not to like the groups songs as they were always upbeat and happy, albeit simple. My favorite in 1966 was “Green Grass” which was a wonderful summer song, but I also loved “She’s Just My Style” which simply conveyed the great feeling of falling in love.
  6. Nancy Sinatra– Her first hit single “These Boots Were Made for Walkin” (#1 February) was one of the first two singles that I purchased and was her best. I also liked “Sugar Town” (#5 December).

Other favorites of mine from new or emerging groups or artists included:

  • “See You In September”- The Happenings (#3 Sept) became the most popular cover group in the U.S. in 1966 when they covered the Tempos 1959 version of “See You in September” and turned it into their first single which soared to #3 in September. The Happenings had great harmonies and falsettos which made the song soar and made it one of my first single purchases.
  • “Red Rubber Ball”The Cyrkle (#2 July)had their first single with this folk-rock song which I found myself playing often after relationship breakups during college. “now I know your not the only starfish in the sea, if I never hear your name again, it’s all the same to me”. The song had a nice melody as well. The Cyrkle had a good follow-up song with “Turn Down Day” but after that not much more.
  • “Elusive Butterfly”- Bob Lind (#5 Mar.)- Another excellent folk song. “Across my dreams with nets of wonder, I chase the bright elusive butterfly of love”
  • “Time Wont Let Me”The Outsiders (#5 Apr.) from Cleveland had their first and only major hit with this song. I still play this song a lot to this day. It is has a great melody, an upbeat tempo and seamlessly integrates brass instruments in the recording, long before Blood Sweat and Tears or Chicago did this in the late 1960s.
  • “Black is Black”Los Bravos (#4 Sept) from Spain was one of the first Latin rock groups to hit the charts with the simple rhythmic yet wonderful “Black is Black”. Though not technically “a one-hit wonder”, the group was never again to have a top 40 single.
  • “Flowers on The Wall”- Statler Brothers (#4 Jan.) was the group’s first and only top 40 hit and was an excellent pure folk song with great lyrics “Smokin’ cigarettes and watchin’ Captain Kangaroo. Now don’t tell me, “I’ve nothing to do”
  • “I Fought the Law” -Bobby Fuller Four (#9 March) was the first and only hit of this Texas country-rock group. An excellent song with an irresistible hook “I fought the law and the law won…”
  • Walk Away Renee”- Left Banke (#5 Oct.)– a beautiful tenor love ballad by this new group from Brooklyn.
  •  Several new popular groups/songs came from the “garage rock” genre. My favorites in 1966 included:
    • “Dirty Water”- Standells – ” I love that dirty water , oh Boston you’re my town”
    • “Little Girl”- Syndicate of Sound– “Hey little girl, you don’t have to hide nothin’ no more”
    • “96 Tears”- ? and the Mysterians– “I’m going to cry 96 Tears”
    • “Psychotic Reaction”- Count Five – ” I can’t get your love, I can’t get a fraction, oh little girl psychotic reaction”
    • “Gloria”-Shadows of Knight – Good cover of the Van Morrison song.
    • “Lies” -Knickerbockers- Though not strictly garage rock (i.e. the song included saxophone), this first single was excellent though could do no better than #20 on the charts. “Lies, lies, breaking my heart!”
    • “Little Red Riding Hood” – Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs – Again, not garage rock, more novelty rock, but a fun song nonetheless.

Beach Boys, Four Seasons, Rivers, Sinatra and other US Stalwarts

While new or relatively new groups were dominating American folk/rock/pop music in 1966, U.S. artists that had been around for several years or more still more than held their own.  The Beach Boys had the best U.S. album of the year and arguably the most innovative pop song by the end of 1966. The year began inauspiciously enough for the group with their cover of the Regents song “Barbara Ann” which reached #2 in the US in February. While a very good rendition , the song was more a throwback to the Doo-wop era than anything innovative. However, by the late Spring evidence that Brian Wilson was working on something much more special when the single “Sloop John B” a brilliant remake of an old nautical song rose to #3 featuring unique instrumentation. Then by September the Beach Boys had another top ten song “Wouldn’t it be Nice” another unique sounding song with an excellent tune and lyrics. The b-side “God Only Knows” was even better and is without question the Beach Boys greatest love song and one of the best of the 1960s.

This double-sided hit plus Sloop John B fit well on the Pet Sounds album released in May. The album took almost a year to record, largely owing to Brian Wilson’s perfectionism and the highly complex sounds and instruments (e.g. harpsichord, Electro-Theremin, dog whistles, bicycle bells etc.) used. However, the album failed to sell as well as expected probably reflecting its deviation from past Beach Boys musical styles. In addition to the three above noted songs, it did contain some excellent songs my favorites being “I Know There’s an Answer”, “That’s Not Me” and “Caroline No”, the latter a beautiful, yet scary hint to Brian Wilson’s internal demons.

By December, the Beach Boys had another #1 song and my favorite by the group “Good Vibrations”. The song was developed during the course of the Pet Sounds studio work and actually took 8 months to record. Brian Wilson used a whole array of instruments such as cellos and string bass in the chorus and a number of exotic instruments such as the jaw harp (which produced the high-pitched “woo-hoo” sound). However, it was only when Mike Love worked with Brian to produce and merge in the more conventional chorus “Good, good, good, good vibrations, bop bop, excitations” that the song was fully formed. The song represented the pinnacle of the group’s success and remains critically acclaimed as one of the best songs of the 1960s.

The Four Seasons continued to have success in 1966 with four solid singles, three of them in the top 10. This included “Working My Way Back to You” (#9 in February); “Opus-17 -Don’t You Worry Bout Me” (#13 in June), “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (#9 in October) and “Tell it to the Rain” (reaching #10  in early January 1967). I continue to love virtually all of the Four Seasons songs (and bought both their Gold Vault of Hits and Second Vault of Gold Hits albums in early 1967). However, my favorite in 1966 was their excellent, lively rendition of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, including a great intro and false ending.

Johnny Rivers had his best year in 1966 commercially and musically with two excellent singles: “Secret Agent Man” (#3 in April) and “Poor Side of Town” (#1 in November). The former song was the theme song from the TV series of the same name and a great lively song with an infectious chorus. The latter song was a beautiful love ballad which featured Rivers unique voice and vocal style. In a similar vein, the Righteous Brothers released “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” (#1 in April) featuring their great voices and harmonies. This song was a bit of swan song for the duo as they had no other top ten songs until their comeback hit “Rock and Roll Heaven” in 1974. Meanwhile, Lou Christie had his best and most popular song with the excellent single “Lightning Strikes” (#1 Feb.), his first charting single since “Two Faces Have I” in  1963.

Frank Sinatra was the comeback artist of the year scoring with his first top 20 hits since “Witchcraft” (#6 March 1958). “Strangers in the Night” (#1 in June) was Frank’s biggest solo hit of the rock era and his first #1 since 1955. In addition to featuring Frank’s smooth voice, it also finished with what was to become a signature “scooby, dooby doo”. But my favorite was “That’s Life” (#4 in December), a more upbeat, even feisty song “I’ve been a puppet, a poet, a pawn and a king; I’ve been up and down and over and out, and I know one thing….”. 1966 began fittingly enough for Sinatra when in January he charted in the top 40 with another signature song “It Was a Very Good Year”.

Soul and R&B-  Motown Remains King

While U.S. folk/rock/pop had a great year, soul and R&B music was not far behind. As in 1965, it was led by the continuing success of the major Motown groups. Despite their enormous popularity in 1965 , The Supremes were almost as popular in 1966 with four top ten hits and two #1 hits –  My World is Empty Without You (#5 Feb.), Love is Like an Itching in My Heart(#9 May), You Cant Hurry Love (#1 Sept.) and You Keep Me Hangin’ On (#1 Nov.). The songs were all formulaic but excellent nonetheless courtesy of the songwriting talents of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. At the time, I was not a big Supremes fan, but that changed when I bought their Greatest Hits album the following summer and played it constantly.

The Four Tops  were then and now my favorite Motown group and 1966 included my favorite Motown song  “Reach Out and I’ll Be There” (#1 Oct.) as well as the similar sounding but still excellent followup “Standing in the Shadows of Love” (#6 Dec.). In addition, there was the lively “Shake Me, Wake Me” (#18 Mar.) and “Loving You is Sweeter than Ever” (#45) which though not as popular still were very good songs. As always, the Four Tops featured the great and distinctive lead voice of Levi Stubbs as well as usually a great up-tempo instrumentation and rhythms. And of course, all of their songs were also written by Holland, Dozier and Holland.

The Temptations though unable to repeat the popularity of 1965’s “My Girl”, still had four very good singles in 1966, three of which were later covered by other artists and made even more popular. This included “Get Ready” (#29 March, later #4 by Rare Earth in 1970), “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” ( #13 July, later #17 by the Rolling Stones in 1974), “Beauty is Only Skin Deep” (#3 Sept.) and “I Know I’m Losing You” (#8 Dec. later Rare Earth #7 1970 and Rod Stewart #24 1971). And with the exception of the Smoky Robinson penned “Get Ready”, the other three were written again by none other than Holland, Dozier and Holland. Wow what a year for them!

Stevie Wonder had one of his best songs the rockin’ “Uptight” (#3 in Feb.). He finished the year with an excellent ballad “A Place in the Sun” (#9 Dec.).  The Miracles (featuring Smokey Robinson) had the lively “Going to a Go Go” (#11 Feb.) which had one heck of a drum intro to the song. Smokey also wrote “Don’t Mess with Bill” (#7 Feb) which was the Marvelettes’ biggest hit since 1962 and arguably their best.  The Isley Brothers had their first hit in 4 years also courtesy of the Holland, Dozier, and Holland with the excellent “This Ole Heart of Mine” (#12 April). Jimmy Ruffin (brother of lead singer David Ruffin of the Temptations) scored with a good tune “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”.

Non-Motown Soul and R&B hits included several of my favorites from the year:

  • “Sweet Talkin’ Guy”  – Chiffons (#10 June)- an excellent comeback song by this great girl group.
  • “Sunny” -Bobby Hebb (#2 Aug.)– a great soul ballad. “yesterday my life was filled with pain.”
  • “Cool Jerk” – The Capitols – The one and only hit song for the group had an infectious refrain.

The Bad and the Ugly

Not all of 1966 was good. The year represented the beginning of bubble gum music which became increasingly cloying over time with the Archies in 1969 representing the worst of bubble gum. Tommy Roe‘s “Sweet Pea” and Tommy James and the Shondells‘ “Hanky Panky” were passable but certainly not good records despite their popularity.

But the three worst songs of 1966 (which were also popular) included the horrid “The Men in My Little Girl’s Life” (#6 in Jan) by talk show host Mike Douglas, which fortunately despite its popularity did NOT encourage Mike Douglas to have a follow-up song. In a different vein, “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha” (#3 Aug.) by Napoleon XIV did well on the charts despite being banned by major radio stations such as WABC in New York for making fun of the insane. I’ll admit there was some interest when I heard the first couple of times as it was a very bizarre song, but it wore thin quickly.

But the worst of the lot, was the most popular song of the year in New York , “The Ballad of the Green Berets” (#1 Feb-Mar.) which embarrassingly enough was the first single I bought. I’ll admit I liked the song early in the year, but by the end of 1966 no longer played it, as a song glorifying fighting in Vietnam was becoming increasingly hard to stomach.


However, the bad in 1966 was just a few bumps in the road. 1966 was a year of fresh new rock/folk-rock music in America and the U.K , great Motown music and the forefront of rock music innovation. And there was the promise of more to come in 1967.

From → Music 60s70s

  1. Robert Carey permalink

    I don’t have time to read this this morning, but I have one comment on “I Fought The Law.” I only recently found out it was written by Sonny Curtis of The Crickets, and originally performed by The Crickets – albeit after Buddy Holly’s death. The other piece of trivia is that the original lyric was not “robbing people with a six gun” but rather “robbing people with a zip gun.” Sounds much more 1950s/early 60s to my ear. Not sure where I heard this, but likely candidates are Andrew Loog Oldham’s show on Underground Garage (now replaced by Michael Des Barres, making my morning commute just a little less pleasant) or Tom Petty’s Buried Treasure show.

  2. I did not know that! Also, I failed to mention that I bought the Association’s first album largely because your sister recommended it.

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