Music reviews for albums originally released in 1966.
1. The Beatles: Revolver (10/10)
It’s difficult to understate the importance of Revolver, despite the summer it emerged in, where it has stiff competition in terms of greatness. But Revolver is a decisive departure from earlier pop and rock music. First off, it sounds more like music today than anything the Beatles had recorded before – we’re used to sound effects, groups of session musicians on every track, and the huge variances in style from track to track, all of which originated on Revolver. Say what you will about Blonde on Blonde or Freak Out! – and I am a huge fan of both – but neither contains the stylistic differences Revolver contains, which have become part of the conventions of popular music. As a rock musician, you are now expected to tackle different styles of music. Dylan was a better songwriter and Zappa was more musically aware – and would soon eclipse the Beatles as the most innovative rock musician on the planet – but neither combined both songs and innovation to the same effect as the Beatles and, consequently – at least I would like to believe this is the reason – the Beatles were more popular.
“Tax Man” is the loudest thing the Beatles had yet recorded, featuring absolutely ferocious (for its time) lead guitar playing from McCartney. It is hilariously prescient as well, as soon the Rolling Stones would go into tax exile – and write their greatest music as a result. Harrison co-wrote the lyrics with Lennon, though of course the tradition of the time didn’t mention such things. This probably explains why they are so funny. I suspect that McCartney didn’t play bass on this but who knows. If he did then I don’t know what Harrison did. Unless Lennon didn’t play on it. But anyway, it’s not important really. The only important thing is that, when he wanted to, McCartney could blow in the studio.
“Eleanor Rigby” is the first Beatles song to be devoid of any conventional rock instrumentation – as even “Yesterday” had a guitar. Martin contributed a classic arrangement by doubling the conventional string quartet. (McCartney is sometimes attributed for helping with it, though, since he didn’t write music, it’s hard to know what he did beyond saying “I want it to sound like this” and then humming.) Starr apparently contributed some lines, which is funny because of all the songs that I would have thought he contributed to, this would be the last one – and “Yellow Submarine” is the first one that I would have thought of. It is also the most serious and penetrating song McCartney – with help – had yet written and it is certainly one of the earlier pop songs to deal with death and loneliness. It has rightfully become a standard.
“I’m Only Sleeping” is a marked contrast to “Eleanor Rigby.” It is one of the earliest uses of a backwards guitar fill in pop music history, and Harrison apparently spent five hours working it out – something that could be done more and more often given that they quit touring during the sessions for the album. The song is fairly obviously about a drug-induced stupor – attributed as sleepiness or laziness by some – which is at least hinted at by the sound of Lennon’s voice, a sound again achieved by the types of tape manipulation they used on “Rain.”
“Love You To” is another landmark as it is the first piece of Indian music – rather than rock music inspired by Indian music – recorded by a rock band. As such, it drastically breaks from musical traditions as much as the final and far more infamous track on the album. Raga rock was just an emerging style, but this goes beyond that, leaving out the rock element pretty much altogether. It’s impossible to really explain how far of a departure this was from rock music for a rock band. It might have been expected by a forward-thinking jazz ensemble – Indian music had been influencing jazz musicians for at least half a decade at this point – and it certainly would have been not very far out for a composer in the early part of the 20th century, but for a rock band in 1966 it was absolutely, utterly unheard of. The only other way I can convey that to you is to get you to listen to popular music pre-1966 and play “spot the Indian ‘classical’ music!” FYI, the virtuoso sitar performance was likely not from Harrison himself – though credited to him by many – but rather from an uncredited Indian session musician, as with the tamboura; the tabla was credited.
“Here, There and Everywhere” is apparently McCartney’s attempt to sound like the Beach Boys, which is funny because he recorded it before he heard Pet Sounds. The song has been covered a gazillion times. It is a far cry from the Indian music before it or the novelty shit after it. It is what I might call “tasteful” though it doesn’t do anything for me as it is not a genre I like. But it’s definitely astutely arranged pop. And, like so much other stuff on Revolver, it involved tape manipulation – again with the lead vocal.
“Yellow Submarine” is an incredibly popular novelty song – so popular they made a movie, so popular it became a camp song – that I personally detest. It makes sense Donovan helped write the words because it reminds me of some of his hippy nonsense. However, it should not go unnoticed, even though it is a novelty song; it is notable in the Beatles canon for a number of reasons. First off, it is the first time the Beatles employed obvious, easy to spot sound effects. The song features more people on it than any pop song previously featured, probably, and certainly any Beatles song, as the credits for the gang vocals and people creating noises is far longer than any of the Beatles’ album credits so far. It is, for all its silliness, a remarkable recording and sometimes I wish I didn’t hate it so I could at least try to appreciate the progressive nature of the it: for example, they once again employed the ever more common trick of varying the instrumentation backing the verse from one verse to another. This technique has found its way into post-rock-influenced indie rock.
“She Said She Said” has a confusing lyric in part because, as the story goes, Lennon took many of the lyrics from a conversation he had with some rather famous people while they all did drugs. But I guess that fits the mood of a number of songs about drugs – and really wasn’t that all psychedelia was about, anyway? Like many of Lennon’s and Harrison’s other songs it is in an unconventional mode and it is in two different time signatures. Apparently Starr’s drums are really great on this – I guess I should listen to it once again to see if I agree. The song is as close to what became standardized as “psychedelic rock” as anything on the album so far.
“Good Day Sunshine” is one of those McCartney songs that just oozes so much positivity it is almost suffocating – for those of us who prefer our songs a little dirtier. It was the first sign of McCartney’s growing nostalgia for old-timey music – though in this case it’s not very old timey – which would come to be a regular feature of his efforts even after the Beatles stopped making “psychedelic” music. Like many of those efforts, it is mostly his work, with Starr helping him out. Leonard Bernstein reportedly liked it.
“And Your Bird Can Sing” is somewhat in the same musical vein as “Tax Man,” though obviously its lyrics are a lot more vague. It features some excellent guitar playing from Harrison – originally on a 12-string but for the final version he went back to a 6 – which is apparently inspired by some baroque techniques – the ritornello, for example – common to concerto grossos of the 17th century.
“For No One” is a ballad McCartney wrote which is an early example of the badly named “baroque pop” style in which chamber instruments are used for pop songs. It is actually his attempt at writing a lieder, or 19th century “art song.” It is another example of McCartney increasingly turning into a one-man band for his ballads and throwbacks. It features perhaps the most famous French horn solo in pop music, by classical musician Alan Civil. It is a near standard, based on the multiplicity of cover versions. It is also one of the earliest uses of a clavichord on a pop song, I believe. Like pretty much everything else here, it was recorded at different speeds and then altered to be put together for the final version.
“Doctor Robert” is another rock song about drugs for which there is some controversy over whether Lennon wrote it by himself or with McCartney. Unlike “I’m Only Sleeping,” this one is very explicitly about buying drugs, certainly one of the earlier rock songs to be obviously about the participation in illegal activities – unless you include driving under age. The most notable musical trick about it is that it is the key of “For No One” but sonically misleads your ears into thinking the song is actually in the key of “I Want to Tell You.”
“I Want to Tell You” is an altogether different piece from the first two Harrison songs: it’s significantly more confessional then previous outings – though Harrison was generally somewhat more confessional than the other songwriters from the very beginning. Though it is certainly conventional sounding relative to his other recent efforts, it features inventive vocal arrangements, and the discordant piano feature is also striking. There are subtle Indian influences all over the place – check out the backing vocals, for example.
“Got to Get You into My Life” was McCartney’s attempt at writing a Stax song and I think it’s rather successful. It was a hit for another band the same year; just one of the numerous examples of the Beatles writing others’ hits. This is the first recorded instance of the Beatles’ engineers recording orchestra instruments non-traditionally, as the horns were extremely closely miked to get that gritty Stax sound. Though it sounds like it’s about a girl, apparently it’s about weed. It is a good example of McCartney’s rather incredible vocal abilities, otherwise less on display on this album.
There is nothing on the rest of Revolver to prepare the listener for the final track, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” except maybe “Love to You,” and that still somehow seems a stretch. Though the rest of the album broke all kinds of new ground musically and showcased the Beatles as on the whole becoming better songwriters – save “Yellow Submarine” – there was nothing to suggest something so forward looking that 40 years later it might remind one of the Chemical Brothers. Lennon’s vocal was run through the same speaker Harrison’s guitar had been on Help!, flange was used, the music sounds vaguely Indian – there is a drone – and is in a mode yet again – a now common device for the Beatles. And there are numerous tape effects. Lennon’s lyrics were inspired by Timothy Leary’s manual to The Tibetan Book of the Dead and LSD trips. Though Lennon was clearly the most indebted to Stockhausen in the end – Pollack actually claims an Elliott Carter influence on the ending – this song’s most Stockhausenian contributions actually came from McCartney, who had just heard him for the first time. The Beatles created the loops themselves and then Martin and Emerick assembled about half of them to create the song. When Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead – who had yet to go into the studio, but who would soon record the nearly as revolutionary Anthem of the Sun – heard the song he thought something along the lines of “finally someone is making music like we are thinking about it.” There was nothing else like it in popular music until Zappa released Absolutely Free in May of ’67, itself also influenced by musique concrete.
There are pretty much 14 separate genres on Revolver, as compared to say the four or so on Blonde on Blonde and the genre mashups of Freak Out! If you’re keeping track: R&B, “classical” / film-score-influenced pop, “psych folk,” Indian music, soft rock / pop, novelty / children’s, psychedelic rock, traditional pop, baroque-influenced hard rock, lieder, rock, Indian-influenced pop rock, southern Soul, avant rock. The Beatles used the latest recording techniques and improvised new ones. They did more in this one record than they – or anyone else, even Brian Wilson – ever had before and they set the new benchmark for what could be done.
2. Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde (10/10)
The release date of this record is up for debate, but whether it was released in May, June or even July of 1966, it was probably the greatest rock album ever released up until that point.
Dylan expands his sonic palette (particularly on the drunken revelry of a opening track) and this may be his strongest set of songs on one album (which is a bit of a surprise given that it’s a double album – possibly the first pop rock double album ever, by the way).
Dylan’s lyrics are as dense and cryptic as ever, and it’s worth noting that this is the last Dylan record where every song would be like. Dylan has used a considerably more direct approach in the years since, to the point where some of his albums are full of lyrics where you can understand the meaning of every line without a codex.
The band is as strong as Highway 61, even if they have a little bit less time to show off.
This is one of the landmark albums in the history of rock music (much as Highway 61 was and it was the final salvo in Dylan’s initial run as the greatest songwriter the (English) world had ever seen.
2. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: Freak Out! (10/10)
It’s quite hard for our ears to put this record in perspective but literally nothing had ever sounded like this before. The closest thing I can think of for the most radical music here is maybe a track on the Fugs album from earlier in the year, and that is about it. But, basically, this was the most radical, forward-thinking rock music album ever released when it came out. And, as much as Revolver might be the better record, you could argue that Freak Out! remained the most innovative rock record ever made until the Mothers topped themselves the next year. Why is that so?
For the first three sides, Zappa mixes doo wop, rock and roll and rhythm and blues with ideas taken from modernism, one of the forms of classical music that emerged at the turn of the century. This isn’t just some Baroque-inspired vocal arrangement for one part of a song, or the use of conventional orchestra arrangements; this is music that most people – certainly most rock fans – had never ever heard before. The ideas of modernism infuse most of the songs on the first three sides, which are almost all otherwise conventional; weird little fills happen all the time, there are drastic changes in tempo (albeit brief ones) and other things that I cannot explain because I have no musical education, but I hear them (I just can’t put them into words). And on top of this is some biting satire – of teenage and rock and roll culture and of the greater social problems. It’s so snarky and sarcastic that when the serious social comment song appears you aren’t ready to take it seriously (even though it’s one of Zappa’s best serious lyrics, if not his best).
And then, on side 4, everything is thrown out the window for the most avant garde “rock” music the world has ever heard outside of one track on a Fugs album, and certainly that anyone who had ever heard who wasn’t a keen listener to the “classical” avant garde. Yes, this part of the album has dated particularly poorly, but that’s just because Zappa and many others found better ways to incorporate radical ideas into rock music. It’s still a watershed moment in the history of popular music. The first three sides were already radical enough – essentially inventing art rock and prog rock in one record – but this last side breaks the last remaining conventions in rock music.
After Freak Out!, anything is possible. Nietzsche but for popular music.
4. Miles Smiles (10/10)
5. The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds (9/10)
I wrote the following in 2011, about the reissue:
Well I made the mistake of reading the liner notes and…where do I begin? Though the technical notes on the recording and remastering are interesting, the notes on the album itself – by one David Leaf – is the kind of maddening revisionist history that makes one crazy – and should teach one not to read liner notes by fans who lack all objectivity. To begin with, they are excerpted from the box set and they aren’t even excerpted properly! It cuts off mid-sentence! This botch job isn’t Leaf’s fault but the deplorable content is. From Leaf we get all sorts of crazy claims, bolstered in part by quotes from Martin and McCartney so that the Beach Boys cult can finally feel that they are right in claiming that the Beach Boys were somehow better/more important…who relly knows? Pet Sounds is ostensibly the most innovative album of the ’60s and possibly all time. Pet Sounds is the best album of the 60s – and again, perhaps of all time. Pet Sounds changed rock and roll – the idea that Pet Sounds is rock and roll is about as apt as the claim that the Beach Boys’ cover of “Louie Louie” is garage rock. Brian Wilson was “innovative” by excluding his band from most of this process, rather than paranoid or egomaniacal or anything like that. Etc.
Unfortunately I have read these ridiculous notes which read like a spurned friend/lover. They colour my hearing of the album for the first time ever. But only the mostly American Brian Wilson cult can truly believe that Pet Sounds changed all music forever. What a strange idea.
Let’s get this straight. This is a pop album in the Phil Spector mode (only with a few less instruments and a lot more vocals). There is nothing rock about it. As a pop album it is remarkably well composed, arranged and producer (the engineer claims that it is the greatest production feat in musical history, another ridiculous aspect of the notes) for the work of a 22 year old in early 1966. The lyrics are a little less impressive. Even though Wilson and Asher branch out from teen concerns on a few tracks – something few others in popular music were willing to do then – most of the songs are still the whiny teen kind of shit that Zappa parodied ruthlessly on his debut months later.
As a early 60s pop music album it is very impressive. But what is the musical legacy of the 60s? If anything it is the fact that there are no rules in rock music and Pet Sounds sounds to me like there are indeed rules. It is a one genre record made literally months before the world decided they liked music that jumped genres. For all its instrumentation, it sounds remarkably samey. It is certainly a landmark and impressive in its context but it isn’t even the best album of the summer of 1966.
The rating [of 7/10] is for the reissue.
I recognize that this is a landmark recording: Vocals had never been recorded like this (in so many layers) previously. There are some “classical” influences that rarely been employed before, such as the nearly Baroque vocal parts (multiple voices competing at once) on a few songs (one in particular I’m forgetting) and a few changes of tempo. Then there’s the pioneering use of samples on one track, and the usage of non-traditional instruments and weird noises in a few songs.
But I can’t get over the hype. Try as I might, I have no idea how this could be considered The Greatest Album of All Time. It’s really The Most Overrated Album of All Time, despite its innovation and quality. Celebrators of this record go to great lengths to claim its psychedelic (it’s not remotely), that it’s rock music not just pop music (show me some electric guitars folks). And I’m not convinced that the music of Phil Spector (whose band Wilson uses here) and Burt Bacharach was particularly less innovative than what Wilson is doing here.
And I can’t help but feel strongly that, not only is it not The Greatest Album of All Time, it’s not The Greatest Album of 1966.
6. Phillip Glass: “String Quartet No. 1” (9/10)
Glass’ first quartet is a really great piece of music, in part because it doesn’t sound so Glassian as almost all of the rest of his music does. My guess is this was written so early in his development that he had failed to fully establish his style. And normally one might assume that such an early work would be derivative (it may well be, I don’t exactly have an encyclopedic knowledge of 20th century ‘classical’ music) or immature, but I don’t get that. What I hear sounds to me like the work of a great composer in the mid 20th century, bridging the gap between minimalism and other supposedly avant garde ‘high art’ music, even if it is very brief.
7. The Byrds: Fifth Dimension (9/10)
This is very much a transitional album, straddling multiple styles that had and would define the band on different records. But I’m not sure it’s as weak as people make it out to be, and it’s still pretty important in the transition from folk rock to psychedelia.
The covers are usually cited as the big weakness, but I find most of them pretty strong, even if they are (mostly) the most traditional, least interesting music here.
The early country rock song should feel out of place, but it doesn’t to my ears, given its lyrical theme, which fits in with the more psychedelic tracks.
It’s the stabs toward psychedelic which are, of course, the real attraction here. Some of the earliest psychedelic music – adding free and modal jazz and Indian music to folk rock – but unlike the earliest stabs by other bands, they aren’t just “freak outs,” they’re actual songs. And they’re good songs, despite the loss of Gene Clark.
Unlike some other music of the era, I actually think this record has dated rather well, given its transitional nature. It feels very much like the step between folk rock and psychedelia that most bands had yet to take.
8. The Rolling Stones: Aftermath [US Version] (9/10)
Aftermath is the first great (or near great) Rolling Stones record, the first one to show they weren’t just a great British R&B band that couldn’t come up with enough original material. The Stones had showed they could write songs previously, but they had never written a whole set like this before.
Moreover, it’s also musically daring for the Stones of the time. There are multiple genres (folk mixes with their usual blues and blues rock) and of course there’s the exotic instrumentation, still a rarity in early 1966.
For me, the only thing that keeps this record from being one of their very, very best (and their best of the decade, or close to it) is “I’m Going Home.” Sure, it’s long, and that was a big deal at the time (though Dylan had beat them to it), but it’s boring, isn’t it? Otherwise, an absolute classic and the first Stones record to deserve “classic” status.
9. Donovan: Sunshine Superman (9/10)
I grew up listening to oldies radio so I have long been familiar with Donovan’s hit singles. I guess they made no impression on me because I really never thought much about it.
But this record is a real standout. At the dawn of psychedelia – there had been very little psychedelic music when this came out – Donovan releases a record with a sitar player on a bunch of tracks, with a very distinct Indian influence on a few songs, with a chamber music influence on other songs, and even a little bit of a jazz influence at times (sometimes present all in the same song). He touches on all sorts of things and, though he doesn’t break as many boundaries as some of his contemporaries, he still breaks a few of them.
I really had no idea how innovative he was and it’s a rather remarkable thing for a guy I had always dismissed as slight. Clearly I was mistaken.
10. The Blues Project: Projections (9/10)
To some extent, I can see how the Blues Project could be dismissed as second rate Paul Butterfield, especially in their jammiest moments. These guys are not necessarily as good at improvising as Butterfield’s band was when it was getting into Indian music and jazz.
But that criticism misses the vast stylistic variety the band displays (for the time), touching on garage rock and folk rock (and other genres) in addition to the blues jams. (Certainly the PBBB never wrote anything like Katz’s contributions, though that’s both a bad thing and a good thing.)
The band inhabit a really weird place – not quite rock enough to fit in with bands such as Cream, not quite blues enough to fit in with PBBB, but clearly influenced by jazz to the same extent as both. They are kind of without precedent in American music, given the huge jazz influence of what is basically conventional pop rock music.
Regardless of the songwriting – the originals aren’t great – this is an essential part of the puzzle of the evolution of so-called “jazz rock.” (The evolution of jazz rock history is in this chronological order, as far as I can tell:
- The Graham Bond Organisation
- The Blues Project
- Manfred Mann’s brief foray into jazz rock
- The Grateful Dead
- Lots of bands
With the caveat that The Dead were likely doing this before at least two of these bands, but just didn’t have a deal yet.)
And the performances are often unexpectedly raw, despite the presence of Katz – whose contributions are far from raw – and the crappy production – as well as the unwelcome “Screaming white man ‘blues’ voice” as somebody here thinks he’s Roky Erickson, or Roky Erickson spent too much time listening to these guys.
Pretty great stuff, despite the inconsistent songs.
11. The Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton (9/10)
This is probably the definitive British blues album: it sounds like it could have been made by Americans in the US, it features great playing (particularly by Clapton) and I don’t know of any other pre-psychedelic blues album from the UK that is remotely this good.
There is just one minor problem: by the time of its release, it was almost out of date, as both Clapton himself and Hendrix would absolutely transform blues-based guitar playing beginning only a few short months after its release. Had Hendrix not come along, maybe this album would be the gold standard for blues-based rock guitar for years. Instead it was for mere months (if you elevate it over what the Paul Butterfield Blues Band were doing at the same time.)
Still excellent for what it is.
12. Buffalo Springfield (9*/10)
Very solid folk rock debut.
13. The Fugs [Second Album] (9/10)
This insane record is somehow their second – it’s kind of crazy that they had already put one out – and supposedly it’s more competent than the first (which makes you wonder about the first if you haven’t heard it).
For the most part, the record is basically what you might imagine the Mothers would sound like had Frank Zappa brought his humour (and a little more sincerity) with little to none of his musical genius. It’s mostly primitive garage rock with hippy/beat politics and what you might call Zappa-esque humour had Zappa released his debut by this point.
But the last track is this bonkers psychedelic freakout that has to be one of the very first ever put to record. I had no idea it existed and, in context, it’s quite shocking. It has to be one of the more radical pieces of music recording by a rock band up to this point, even though nobody heard it.
14. Monks: Black Monk Time (9/10)
I have a hard time believing that this record could have been released in the United States at this point. (Of course it could have, the Fugs were putting out records, as were the Godz…) But it sure sounds as though these guys were let out of the asylum or something.
This is garage rock, but it is purposely bonkers garage rock that mocks the genre’s conventions (lyrically and musically). The band reminds me of a cruder, looser, funnier and softer MC5.
Though this music has had a reputed influence on the early punk bands – there’s a fairly obviously connection between the MC5 and the Dolls, but not so much the Ramones – I think the influence on Krautrock (especially a band like Faust) is particularly overt. It’s easy for me to see how people in Germany could have watched this band and thought that anything was possible.
A weird, rather radical record.
15. Otis Redding: The Soul Album (8/10)
Possibly my favourite Otis Redding album. Read the review of The Soul Album.
16. Buffy Sainte-Marie: Little Wheel Spin and Spin (8/10)
I’m probably being too nice to the conflicting styles on this record but this is my first experience of Buffy Sainte-Marie. I’m impressed and I’m wondering what took me so long. Read the review of Little Wheel Spin and Spin.
17. The Kinks: Face to Face (8/10)
I have come to the early Kinks records backwards, listening to their late ’60s classics before these earlier records and so my experience of them is coloured by being far more familiar with Davies’ mature songs than his early songs, leading to me listening to his early songs and thinking they are not as good as his later songs (shock of all shocks).
And that’s not fair. Davies’ progress as a songwriter was rather remarkable. It may have not been quite as staggering as the progress of Lennon or McCartney, or even Townshend (though we can argue about that), but it’s still pretty remarkable how a guy could go from writing party songs to writing idylls about a disappearing Britain in a few years, especially given what his contemporaries were writing about.
But this record is a mixed bag for me, featuring both Davies’ more mature work and songs that feel like they belong to an earlier time in his career.
The music is similarly straddling two eras: there are clear experiments with emerging psychedelia and baroque pop and there are more traditional rock songs.
That being said, it’s still a pretty strong set of songs, and it’s clear that Davies is growing well beyond his origins. I don’t think it’s the first concept album – if this is what a concept album is, then Pet Sounds beat The Kinks to the punch by nearly half a year – but it’s a strong record with hints of the greatness the band would ascend to.
18. Simon and Garfunkel: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (8/10)
I don’t know if I can put into words the difference in quality between Sounds of Silence and this record. Sounds of Silence was so tossed together. Though this record features some re-used songs as well, it’s clear that the duo had a lot more time to work out what they were doing, and the arrangements feel purposeful and well thought out and there are fewer weird missteps.
I still don’t love this. For me, this music is still very much the soundtrack of my childhood and very much not what I am into as an adult. I like my folk rustic, lived-in and passionate, not pastoral and genteel (and over-produced). But Simon’s songs are mostly pretty strong and, to my knowledge, nobody else was using contemporary recording technology to create folk music of this type in 1966.
I think the Dylan parody is awful, and “The 59th Street Bridge Song” is a song I don’t think I will ever like, but, on the whole, this is much better than their earlier recordings. It might be their best overall album. But having not listened to all of them recently, I can’t say for sure.
19. The Exciting Wilson Pickett (8/10)
This is a great record. It’s not higher up because they re-used one of his previous hits, but it’s still a fantastic example of ’60s southern soul. Read the review of The Exciting Wilson Pickett.
20. Fresh Cream (8/10)
Though many of the elements found on their best studio tracks are already present on their debut, with hindsight we can see that this record finds them caught between more traditional British blues and the kinds of jazz-influenced, arty stuff they would do over the next two years.
Like all their studio music, this record gives barely a hint of what they were like in concert, which is where their real influence lies.
It’s still extremely well done blues rock (with the exception of some of Clapton’s rhythm parts) and it’s understandable why such high-end musicianship would have been such a big deal at the time.
But this is not their best record.
21. John Coltrane and Don Cherry: The Avant Garde (8/10)
The irony is that by the time this was released (six years after it was recorded) it was no longer avant-garde, as both Trane and Cherry had gone on to make music on a completely different plane than this.
This is Coltrane tentatively covering Coleman (with Coleman’s band, no less). It is interesting as it gives a slight hint (but only a slight one) as to what Trane was listening to.
It really doesn’t give the slightest hint that Ascension was even a possibility (and that’s fascinating given that it was released after) but it does show that Trane was far more interested in free than some might have supposed (while listening to “My Favorite Things” for example) in 1960.
22. Love (8/10)
Love’s debut is distinct from a number of the other folk rock debuts of the era because of Lee’s incredibly dark lyrics – not quite Lou Reed dark but way darker than just about anyone else – which gives the music a grittiness that doesn’t quite fit its mixture of folk and garage rock. (Though I will say this band is significantly more garage than, say, Buffalo Springfield.)
For me, its Lee’s songwriting that elevates this above much of the other folk rock that was just dominating the music landscape a the time. It’s a pretty good record.
The covers are decent too and the Bacharach one is a classic.
23. The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators (8/10)
24. Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul (8/10)
Otis is my favourite soul singer but I find him more restrained in the studio than live and generally prefer his live music. (Or maybe it’s just these mixes…)
His final album is a strong set of covers and originals with an excellent backing band. I prefer Otis Blue in terms of content, but this is still a pretty good idea of what he did, and how well he did it.
“Complete” it is not (the original record isn’t quite 25 minutes long). Nor is it some kind of encyclopedic overview of the genre. But it’s good stuff.
25. Sam and Dave: Hold On, I’m Comin’ (8/10)
What I wrote in 2016:
This is a strong, southern soul debut, with lots of gritty singing and the usual music you would expect from the MGs and the Mar-Keys.
The one thing I can say in criticism is the lyrics are rather awful, but this is soul we’re talking about.
I mean, are the lyrics really that bad?
26. Yardbirds aka Roger The Engineer (7/10)
The Yardbirds’ third album is a definitely a move away from straight-ahead British blues towards psychedelia and even heavy metal – the intro to “Ever Since the World Began” almost sounds like a psychedelic Sabbath. And for that, it should be celebrated. And Beck does some (relatively) interesting things with his guitar, some of which likely don’t have much precedent in rock music (like that sustained note on that one song).
But the songs are pretty weak. There’s a reason you don’t hear these on the radio. There’s quite a lot of filler – well played filler but filler nonetheless. For example “Hot House of Omagarashid,” which is just one of those mindless freakouts so many bands were so fond of back then. And “Rack My Mind” sounds like the direct inspiration Spinal Tap’s “Gimme Some Money,” at least in the vocals.
A number of songs sound like they belong on a previous Yardbirds’ album – they sound like a band not capable of the psychedelic music elsewhere on the record. It’s a weird amalgam. And they don’t quite pull it off
27. The Temptations: Gettin’ Ready (7/10)
Maybe their best album. Read the review of Gettin’ Ready.
28. Randy Weston: Monterey ’66 (7/10)
Note: not released until 1994.
This is an entertaining set that fails to distinguish itself among the more radical jazz of the era.
That being said, the set contains great showcases for Booker Ervin – which shouldn’t come as a surprise – Big Black and Lenny McBrowne – who really surprises on “Afro Black” – as well as the leader. These moments are spread throughout what is otherwise pretty run of the mill post bop with “African” influences.
The closer is the best thing here and the one time the band really sounds out there. Solid, but it won’t change your life.
29. The Incredible String Band (7/10)
The Incredible String Band’s debut record is by far their most conservative. Yes, there are hints of world music here and there but, for the most part, this music is rooted in the folk traditions of the UK and, to a lesser extent, the US.
But that actually makes it probably the best entry point for newbies, as this band’s later records are not exactly traditional folk music. And this is a good collection of folk music that is accessible to fans of folk music in a way that the later stuff is not really.
The originals are pretty good and the playing is excellent. The singing takes a little bit to get used to if you’re not used to the rougher voices of folk singers, but it’s worth it.
30. The Seeds (7/10)
This has the reputation as the Greatest Garage Rock Album of All Time.* (*Of American Garage Rock in the ’60s.) And I guess that’s either excluding Black Monk Time because that record was made in Germany or because the people believe this debut to be the best haven’t heard Black Monk Time.
Not being a Garage Rock connoisseur, I don’t know how this compares to other American Garage Rock records of its era, but I know it’s not Black Monk Time. And I guess that’s the thing that makes me find this so underwhelming – I have heard far more interesting American Garage Rock from the era, and I’d just much rather listen to that.
It doesn’t mean this is bad, it’s just not the classic some people make it out to be.
31. Bernard Herrmann: Torn Curtain [never used] (7/10)
This is the final version of the score that Herrmann wrote for Hitchcock’s 4th last film, the score that ended their relationship because Hitchcock was looking for something more contemporary, more commercial.
32. Tim Hardin 1 (7/10)
Weirdly consists of demos plus orchestrated tracks, which is weird. Read the review of Tim Hardin 1.
33. Gordon Lightfoot: Lightfoot! (7/10)
Recorded in 1964, these is extremely conservative for 1966. Read the review of Lightfoot!
34. Simon and Garfunkel: Sounds of Silence (6/10)
This album absolutely reeks of an attempt by Simon & Garfunkel to capitalize on the hit the bastardized title track had become. Whether they themselves did it, or they were coerced, the result is a mixed bag.
I am not a Paul Simon fan, but both the title track and “I Am a Rock” are great songs. The title track in particular is a classic, with or without the overdubs. I’m tempted to say “Richard Cory” is up there too. And maybe “April She Will Come.” (Though Simon is really, really morbid here.)
But there are some huge missteps, none bigger than “We’ve Got a Groovy Thing,” an abomination which reeks of someone saying to Paul Simon: “write me one of those British rock songs with those catchy choruses.” Not only is the song far and away the weakest (and dumbest) thing on the album (in their catalogue?), but they can’t even sing it properly. It’s awful. It’s really, really awful.
And I can’t say I love Simon as a lyricist in general, so I find that, despite the presence of 2-4 classics, I don’t think this is particularly great album.
35. The Animals: Animalisms (6/10)
I’m pretty sure this music seemed quite rough, ragged and hard to British audiences in 1966. And I guess I should try to keep that in mind, but it’s hard. Because, of course, it wasn’t particularly grittier than its inspirations.
I mean, this is mostly a covers record and there are better versions of these songs, and there were better versions of these songs in existence in 1966 – though they may not have been available in the UK or in many places in the US. So I am having more than my usual trouble imagining what it would have been like to hear this back then. It just seems so so.
And the concept of LP filler was likely invented for “Clapping” which is exactly what it says.
36. The Guess Who: It’s Time (5/10)
Very middle of the road imitation British Invasion rock and roll.
37. The Mama’s and the Papa’s: If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears (5/10)
The beginning of The Soft Sounds of the ’70s. Read the review of If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears.
New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein: Ives: Symphonies Nos 2 and 3; The Unanswered Question (9/10)
Manfred Mann: “Instrumental Asylum” (8/10)
Jazz fusion and jazz rock barely existed, if they existed at all, when this bizarre EP was recorded. Manfred Mann drops their pop music and their lead singer for a horn section and keyboard and vibraphone (!!!) solos on fairly radical covers of rock and pop songs. What did Jack Bruce do to this band?
Despite its brevity, this is a bit of a landmark recording for what it suggested and for beating nearly everyone else to this genre (to the best of my knowledge). The jazz influence is more soul jazz than anything else, but it’s still rather remarkable. And it was made my Manfred Mann. What?
The Jimi Hendrix Experience: “Hey Joe” / “Stone Free” (10/10)
Hendrix’s first single has become the definitive edition of “Hey Joe” but it also introduced Hendrix’s incredible hybrid rhythm-lead playing to an audience outside of the Chitlin Circuit. It’s not quite as brilliant as it would be on other songs recorded for the debut, but it’s incredible how modern this song sounds given that it was released in 1966.
“Stone Free” sounds both old and modern at the same time – the verse feels like a proper rhythm and blues track but the chorus doesn’t fit the tradition at all. Hendrix’s rhythm playing is out of this world, setting a new standard for rock guitar playing.
James Brown: “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World (??/10)
Ray Charles: “Crying Time” (7/10)
I kind of like this one better than “Let’s Go Get Stoned” simply because I find the subject matter more compelling with the style. The backing vocals are far more dated than “Let’s Go Get Stoned” though, so maybe I should reverse the ranking.
Ray Charles: “Let’s Go Get Stoned” (7/10)
An R and B song that was covered by a country artist led Charles to do his signature soul country version of the song. On some level, it’s better than the songs he did in this vein in the early 60s because the backing vocals are soulful. On the other hand, he had been recording songs in this style for like 6 years at this point.
B.B. King: “Eyesight to the Blind” (6/10)
King’s version of “Eyesight to the Blind” is a strong performance, particularly vocally. But that horn section is too much for me.