Was 1966 the greatest year ever in popular music? The case could certainly be made for its significance – and Jon Savage has done just that in his new book 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded. Savage’s book looks at the events and culture of the year in twelve essays, each one built around one 45 RPM record. Naturally, such a book deserves a soundtrack, and Ace Records has seen to it that it receives one with the companion volume of the same name. Jon Savage’s 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded features 48 tracks on two CDs in customary Ace fashion – bringing together big hits and true rarities in lavishly annotated style.
“Pop was everything in 1966,” Savage explains in his introduction to this release. “It was a way of looking at the world, all funneled into the single: ideas, attitudes, lyrics and experimentation that in the more indulgent years to come would be stretched out into a whole album.” And the diverse selections here all fall under the umbrella of pop despite their varied origins and sounds encompassing rock, R&B, soul, folk, and their various permutations and amalgamations. The tracks are arranged in mostly chronological fashion by the month of release in their country of origin, though there are a few exceptions.
Let’s get out of the way what not’s here; you won’t hear any sides from Revolver, Pet Sounds or Blonde on Blonde, just to name three albums that continue to resonate from that remarkable year. What you will hear is a truly stunning assemblage that proves the depth and variety of radio circa ’66, with Savage having curated what he calls an “enhanced version of those pirate radio playlists” which influenced him as a teenager. All tracks are heard in their original mono single versions.
R&B plays a major role on 1966, and in particular, Motown. The Sound of Young America is represented by five tracks (six if you count The San Remo Golden Strings’ “Festival Time,” originally issued on Ric-Tic but later reissued on Motown). Choice deep cuts by The Monitors (the provocative “Greetings (This is Uncle Sam)”) and Chris Clark (Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Love’s Gone Bad”) take their place here among the label’s beloved hits. These include the chart-topping pair of The Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll Be There” and The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” both of which reflected the Motown Sound’s growing maturity with thrilling urgency; and The Marvelettes’ sublimely cool, Smokey Robinson-penned “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game.”
Outside of Detroit, other soul legends were making waves. Wilson Pickett cut his incendiary “Land of 1,000 Dances” in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The sound of Memphis is represented by Otis Redding’s Stax-cut “I Can’t Turn You Loose.” The Crescent City of New Orleans gets its due here with Lee Dorsey’s “Working in the Coal Mine,” written and produced by the late Allen Toussaint. James Brown has a couple of slots here including his signature “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and his frenetic “Tell Me That You Love Me.” The latter was actually recorded in Florida in concert as a cover of Junior Walker and the All-Stars’ Motown hit “Shotgun” and then transformed in the studio into a new song altogether thanks to the magic of overdubs. The Godfather of Soul, of course, wasn’t the only one to take inspiration from Motown. Dusty Springfield drew on American R&B in creating her own singularly soulful sound, heard on songs like the driving “Little by Little.” Another British songbird with a big, powerful voice, Sandie Shaw, appears here with the dramatic “Nothing Come Easy” from the songbook of her frequent collaborator Chris Andrews.
Rock from both sides of the Atlantic makes a big impression on 1966. On the U.K. side, The Who’s brand of complex, edgy hard rock is exemplified by “Substitute” and “I’m a Boy.” The Yardbirds, featuring both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, were heavily influenced by the blues yet created a psychedelic stew with “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago.” Over in the U.S., there’s an abundance of rock from the Golden State of California including tracks from Sky Saxon and The Seeds (“The Other Place”), Love (“7 and 7 Is”), Count Five (“Psychotic Reaction”) and lesser-known artists like L.A.’s Human Expression (the perfectly-titled “Love at Psychedelic Velocity”) and San Francisco’s The Oxford Circle (“Foolish Woman”). L.A.’s own “Lord of Garbage,” Kim Fowley, produced and wrote Freaks of Nature’s “People! Let’s Freak Out” while in the U.K., for a bit of cross-cultural exchange. David Bowie would much later achieve international superstardom; he’s heard here with “The London Boys,” an early composition that’s as lyrically probing and envelope-pushing as his later classics. From New York, 1966 gives us The Velvet Underground’s very first single, “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s tough, atypical slice of pop-rock, “Summer in the City.”
1966 takes in everything else from The Association (“Along Comes Mary”) to The 13th Floor Elevators (“You’re Gonna Miss Me”) while also introducing listeners to some artists who have fallen through the cracks of time such as Belfast’s The Wheel-a-Ways (featuring guitarist Rod Demick, a top session sideman), The Roosters, Paul and Ritchie and the Crying Shames (produced by Joe Meek) and The Blue Things.
This set is accompanied by a 28-page booklet featuring full credits and Savage’s track-by-track liner notes, as well as copious illustrations. Nick Robbins has superbly remastered. No 2-CD set – or even a 4-CD set, for that matter – could completely capture everything that made 1966 a seminal year for pop, rock, R&B, and culture in general. But 1966 is not only a fine companion to Savage’s book but a great stand-alone listen and an enthralling cross-section of one of the most fertile, creative years in popular music history.
You can order Jon Savage’s 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded at the links below!
Various Artists, Jon Savage’s 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded (Ace CDTOP2 1452, 2015) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon Canada)
- The Quiet Explosion – The Uglys
- Night Time – The Strangeloves
- The Spy – The Guys From U.N.C.L.E.
- Little by Little – Dusty Springfield
- Bad Little Woman – The Wheel-a-Ways
- Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog – Norma Tanega
- Festival Time – The San Remo Golden Strings
- I Got You (I Feel Good) – James Brown and the Famous Flames
- Batman Theme – Link Wray and the Raymen
- Help Me (Get the Feeling) Part I – Ray Sharpe with the King Curtis Orchestra
- Greetings (This is Uncle Sam) – The Monitors
- Barefootin’ – Robert Parker
- Substitute – The Who
- Along Comes Mary – The Association
- The Other Place – The Seeds
- Secret Agents – The Olympics
- Cool Jerk – The Capitols
- Ain’t It Hard – The Electric Prunes
- Nothing Comes Easy – Sandie Shaw
- You’re Gonna Miss Me – The Thirteenth Floor Elevators
- Sock It to ‘Em, J.B. (Part I) – Rex Garvin and the Mighty Cravers
- Sock It to ‘Em, J.B. (Part II) – Rex Garvin and the Mighty Cravers
- One of These Days – The Roosters
- I’ll Be Your Mirror – The Velvet Underground
- Summer in the City – The Lovin’ Spoonful
- Working in the Coalmine – Lee Dorsey
- You Better Believe It Baby – Joe Tex
- 7 and 7 Is – Love
- Love’s Gone Bad – Chris Clark
- Land of 1,000 Dances – Wilson Pickett
- Psychotic Reaction – Count Five
- Do You Come Here Often? – The Tornados
- 96 Tears – ? and the Mysterians
- I Can’t Turn You Loose – Otis Redding
- Reach Out I’ll Be There – Four Tops
- I’m a Boy – The Who
- Come on Back – Paul and Ritchie and the Crying Shames
- Tell Me That You Love Me – James Brown
- Happenings Ten Years Time Ago – The Yardbirds
- You Keep Me Hangin’ On – The Supremes
- Foolish Woman – The Oxford Circle
- Love at Psychedelic Velocity – The Human Expression
- One Hour Cleaners – The Blue Things
- People! Let’s Freak Out – Freaks of Nature
- In the Past – We the People
- The London Boys – David Bowie
- The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game – The Marvelettes
- Hang on to a Dream – Tim Hardin