It was 50 years ago today…
Well, almost anyway. 1966 was a transitory time for music, the end of the innocence as furthered by the so-called British Invasion and the beginning of a sound that was more sophisticated, more weighted with purpose, more indicative of the creativity and invention that was still to come. The spark was ignited by The Beatles with Revolver, The Beach Boys with Pet Sounds, and Bob Dylan with his behemoth Blonde on Blonde.
Other bands and unexpected changes were waiting in the wings, but being the divide between innocence and uncertainty, 1966 wasn’t the time to define. Rather it was about wait and see, a time to bask in unexpected awe and await whatever would come next. Although we just assessed the 100 best songs of the entire decade of the 1960s, here are the eight most important moments from 1966 that turn 50 this year.
1. Beatlemania Evolves To Phase Two
The Beatles end the first phase of Beatlemania by turning their backs on the loveable Mop Top image of the previous two years. The initial cover pressings of their American album Yesterday and Today found them dressed in butcher smocks with dismembered dolls and butchered meat draped all around them. Originally written off as satire, it’s quickly withdrawn and a photo of sullen-looking Beatles substituted in its place. The original became a much-coveted collector’s item. Then comes John Lennon’s ill-timed comments to reporter Maureen Cleave of the teen fanzine Datebook in which he claims The Beatles are more popular than Jesus. A wave of Beatles boycotts and record burnings sweeps the U.S. on the eve of what would be their final tour. Oh, and in the middle of this, the band releases the universally beloved Revolver.
2. The Beach Boys Drop Pet Sounds
The Beach Boys offer up their own opus, a concept album of sorts called Pet Sounds. Written and largely recorded by Brian Wilson on his own during his self-imposed hiatus from the road, it boasts such songs as “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” God Only Knows” and “Sloop John B,” and “Caroline, No,” which still remain among the most revered songs in the band’s sprawling catalog. Paul McCartney calls “God Only Knows” his favorite song of all time; he would later admit its beauty made him weep. He also claimed the album gave him the impetus to conceive Sgt. Pepper.
3. Bob Dylan Offers Blonde On Blonde
Not to be outdone, Bob Dylan offers up Blonde On Blonde, two discs of cryptic musings and surreal rumination. However, his triumph would be short lived. Later that year he would take a tumble in a motorcycle accident, sparking rumors he had died or was permanently disfigured. He went into seclusion, hiding out in Woodstock and refusing to emerge for more than a year.
4. Elvis Presley Proves He’s Still The King
After largely substituting the stage for the screen, Elvis Presley signs a contract to act in six more movies. The success of the previous year’s musical rom-com Girl Happy helped propel this move.
5. S.F. Comes of Age
In San Francisco, a revolution of another sort is about to begin. The soon-to-be staples of next year’s so-called Summer Of Love make initial moves. Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring a seductive young singer named Janis Joplin, make their first entries on the local scene.
6. Jimi Lands in the U.K.
Jimi Hendrix arrives in England, a virtual unknown. Discovered by Linda Keith, the then girlfriend of Keith Richards, he is subsequently rejected by The Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham and producer Seymour Stein, both of whom fail to grasp his extraordinary potential. Fortunately, former Animals bassist Chas Chandler secures him a recording contract. Hendrix makes his debut at London’s Scotch Club, reportedly blowing away all in attendance.
7. Folk Rock Becomes A Thing
Bands bubbling under included The Mamas and The Papas and Simon & Garfunkel, both of whom help make the term “folk rock” a household word. Other acts on their way up included the (then) Young Rascals, the Velvet Underground and Nico, Peter & Gordon, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and Laura Nyro. Additionally, a Nascent folk rock influence comes to full fruition with the Buffalo Springfield, a would be supergroup of sorts featuring Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, Dewey Martin and Bruce Palmer.
8. Power Trios Make Their Entrance
The Cream rises to the top when Eric Clapton becomes the latest in a parade of ace guitarists to quit the Yardbirds and venture out on his own. He quickly connected with drummer Ginger Baker, then at the helm of The Graham Bond Organisation, and bassist Jack Bruce, who he had met the year before when Bruce briefly joined him in John Mayall’s Bluesbusters. With their grand entrance, the era of the power trio officially begins.