Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1966

by Benjamin Ray

This was the year that rock and pop music rose to greater heights, accomplishing more than anyone had thought possible and pretty much establishing rock criticism as an actual thing (for which we at the Vault are grateful). It was the year that artists really began seeing albums as statements, not collections of singles and filler tunes, a notion that would dramatically change the face of rock music within the next three years.

It was the year the Beatles forever changed with Revolver, which altered everybody's notion of what pop music could do. The album was free of the short love songs and covers of previous Beatle albums and instead veered from chamber pop to string ballads to psychedelic freakouts to snarling rockers. It has topped several Best Album Ever lists; here at the Vault, all four reviewers gave it an A. The Fab Four also released the great "Paperback Writer/Rain" and "Day Tripper/We Can Work it Out" singles.


The Beach Boys forever shed their image as surf-rock party boys (after releasing "Barbara Ann" in January) with the sublime Pet Sounds, which was not a hot seller but is now considered a classic, and with the absolutely brilliant "Good Vibrations" single in November. Bob Dylan continued his streak with the brilliant, ambitious double album Blonde On Blonde, which would be his last major statement and great album for several years. The Rolling Stones also continued moving away from the blues with Aftermath, which included the dark "Paint It Black."

The British Invasion continued, but instead of Beatles clones, bands were coming into their own. Chief among them was the debut of Cream, which established Eric Clapton as a star outside of Britain, the concept of the "power trio" and the concept of "overkill," which many rock bands would soon adopt as a way of life. The Animals offered the strong "See See Rider," the Hollies had "Bus Stop," the Spencer Davis Group (with a young Steve Winwood) had "Gimme Some Lovin'" and the Moody Blues debuted with "Go Now." The Moodies, at this point, were a pretty good R&B band, but shortly after this Denny Laine would leave and the band would reform as a psychedelic rock band. The Who also offered "Substitute" and the Monkees had "Stepping Stone" and "Last Train To Clarksville."

Buffalo Springfield debuted this year with "For What It's Worth," Donovan had "Sunshine Superman," Love had the low-key Da Capo and the Mamas & the Papas debuted with "California Dreamin'" and "Monday Monday." The Byrds offered Fifth Dimension and "Eight Miles High," which, along with Revolver, were early entries into the use of drugs and mysticism as a basis for songwriting (1966 also was the year LSD gained in popularity, which I'm sure was just a coincidence). Simon & Garfunkel also put out the solid The Sounds Of Silence and Al Kooper's Blues Project offered "Wake Me, Shake Me," a great (and long) garage rock tune that didn't get the exposure it deserved.


Other great singles included "Wild Thing," "Mustang Sally," "Secret Agent Man," "Black Is Black," "96 Tears," "River Deep, Mountain High," "When a Man Loves A Woman," "Try A Little Tenderness," "Summer In The City," "Solitary Man," "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" and "Dirty Water." Frank Sinatra also had a hit with "Strangers In The Night." It should be noted that a few of those songs, plus the Beach Boys tunes mentioned above, featured work from the L.A.-based Wrecking Crew, a group of seasoned professional studio musicians (there was a great book about them released in 2012). This approach was not only cheaper for record labels but allowed artists and producers – most notably Phil Spector – to spend more time achieving the sonic results they wanted.

Motown offerings from the year included three great Supremes songs ("My World is Empty Without You," "You Can't Hurry Love" and "You Keep Me Hanging On"), the Four Tops' "Reach Out I'll Be There," the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" and Stevie Wonder's "Uptight (Everything's Alright)."

And that, friends, is the Year That Was in music.

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