Today is Day 3 of the continuing series of my 1000 favorite albums of all-time. Today, we will cover the year 1966 and dip our toes briefly into 1967. Once again, according to my tastes in music, we are building up toward 1967 being a truly transcendent year in music. I continue to assert that the pre-1967 represent a time when great albums were released but, primarily, those years were the domain of the seven-inch single, also known as the “45” because those small records were played at 45 rpm. Albums, or the long-playing 12-inch 33-and-1/3 rpm records, started to become the dominant artform for music around 1967, though the sales lagged just a bit.
To me, vinyl albums have always held something of a magical sway over me that cassettes or CDs never could. Everything about an album fed into the larger-than-life image of the rock star, whereas the other two formats, regardless of the portability, never could replace, no matter how many extra songs they could hold. With a larger canvass, album artists could create their art with eye-popping clarity and daring. By reducing the size of the artful impact, the cassette and CD reduced that impact to nil, which set the stage for a total lack of that artfulness with mp3s, which ushered in a total disregard for the marriage of music and art much like with the 45.
That marriage of the visual and the auditory is what separated rock music from all other forms, in my humble opinion. If you have seen the Cameron Crowe film Almost Famous, you get that sense of wonder as the young lead character William discovers that very said sense of wonder. I actually remember staring for hours on end at album covers, reading the lyrics and memorizing the credits. That, my friends, is why you will continue to see books being sold that show the greatest album cover art of all-time.
Enough of the poetic waxing! Let’s get to the albums!
Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde (1966). Not the first double-album to be released during the rock era, but it is the first one on my list. If the truth were to be told, this might be my favorite Dylan album of all, especially since you can find “Rainy Day Women #12 & #35,” “Visions of Johanna,” “I Want You,” “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” and “Just like a Woman.”
Cream – Fresh Cream (1966). The debut album of rock’s very first “supergroup” has a little bit dated sound, but there is no denying the power of this trio of super-talented musicians. Throughout the album you can hear the foundation of hard rock being laid by the blues guitar antics of Eric Clapton and the jazz-blues noodlings of drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce.
Otis Redding – Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul (1966). What an absolutely perfect album title! This album IS the dictionary of soul of the Sixties. This album arguably contains Otis’ most enduring soul song, “Try a Little Tenderness.” But that’s not all, as you can hear “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song),” “I’m Sick Y’all” and “She Put the Hurt on Me” as well.
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966). Pet Sounds is the first perfect album of the rock era. Honestly, no other album has truly stood the test of time as this one has. This is rock as art. Musical historians and musicians alike will hold this album up with the best of Beethoven and Mozart as it was perfectly constructed from the instrumentation to the lyrics to the vocals. Paul McCartney was not speaking in hyperbole when he stated that “God Only Knows” is a perfect song. And, although the album includes “Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” this LP is so good in whole that I hate to only point out these three songs. Brian Wilson was so far ahead of the curve that few have caught up with him in the nearly six decades since the release of Pet Sounds.
The Beatles – Revolver (1966). While many people will say that The Beatles’ actual musical response to The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper, is still a year away from release, I actually believe this album just might be The Fab Four’s greatest musical statement. Revolver actually conveys the very same themes that Pet Sounds tackles lyrically. Both are tackling the stress of becoming an adult, which is why both are so universal in their reach. And, Revolver contains all the types of songs that made The Beatles so compelling in the first place: power pop with “Taxman,” whimsical English points-of-view on “Good Day Sunshine” and baroque Beatles territory on “Here, There and Everywhere.” But, it also has the experimental tracks that display unprecedented growth by the band. First, the use a string quartet as a rhythm section on “Eleanor Rigby” and the loops-and-samples-and-backward-recorded-instruments montage of “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
The Kinks – Face to Face (1966). This album is the forgotten album of the great rock albums of 1966. You see, The Kinks were evolving from the balls-to-the-wall proto-hard rock/metal/punk rock sound to something more English in nature. No longer were they worried about the American market but were committed more to making music that reflected their upbringing in the UK. This is where the beginnings of Paul Weller’s complete career as well as the whole Britpop movement can be heard. Plus, when a song as fantastic as “Sunny Afternoon” can be found on an album, you just gotta hear it all!
The Monkees – The Monkees (1966). I would bet that at least 8 out of every 10 people around my age, if being honest, will say that The Monkees were their entry drug into rock music. We were too young to care that they had been put together by TV people to cynically cash in on us. They had outstanding songs, regardless of who actually played the instruments, and sold a whole generation of kids on rock music. I cannot emphasize how truly important The Prefab Four were on us. If “(Theme From) The Monkees” didn’t hook us, definitely “Last Train to Clarksville” did. The Monkees are immortal, regardless what the Boomers think.
The Mothers of Invention – Freak Out! (1966). Welcome to the strange world of Frank Zappa’s musical mind! The rock world never knew what had hit it when Frank’s debut was dropped in 1966. I honestly did not discover Zappa until high school, but when I did, I was completely in. Is this the audio version of what acid is like?
Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (1967). Few remember that Aretha had been recording gospel and whatever slop Columbia Records was making her release for years. But, when she finally got the sympathetic ears of the producers at Atlantic Records, Aretha was finally unleashed as the Queen of Soul. And, this album was just the beginning for her stellar career. When Otis Redding heard her version of his “Respect,” he reportedly stated that the song was now hers. Throw in the title song, you have the groundwork for a classic album.
Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding (1967). I am certain that Bob Dylan fans were shocked by what this album sounded like at the time. After changing rock music over the course of the past three albums, Dylan detours into a countrified version of rock that would influence disparate acts like The Band, The Grateful Dead, Gram Parsons and the whole Americana music movement today. By the way, you will find the soft, unassuming original version of “All Along the Watchtower” that Jimi Hendrix will immortalize in a searing form later on.
Hopefully, we will continue this trip tomorrow. Peace out!