Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

Album of the Year, 1966

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Pet Sounds by The Beach BoysTo this day, The Beach Boys remain the most commercially successful American rock band with 36 Top 40 hits. Most of these hits were scored between 1962 and 1965, when the bulk of the band members were still teenagers. In 1966, the band took a radical turn under the leadership of Brian Wilson with the release of the innovative and artistic Pet Sounds. Brian had ceased touring with the band, which left him plenty of time to concentrate on producing what he had declared would be “the greatest album ever made”. He enlisted the help of over 50 session musicians, performing instruments from all across the musical universe. Although a commercial failure as compared to the group’s phenomenal success in recent years, this album would go on through history being critically acclaimed and lauded as one of the greatest albums ever by several rock publications. Although we don’t take a position on “ever” here at Classic Rock Review, we have selected Pet Sounds as our top album for the year 1966.

The eleventh overall album by the Beach Boys, Pet Sounds was truly unique in its approach and production. Much of the album was produced while the band was on tour in Japan using the cream of Los Angeles session musicians known as “The Wrecking Crew” with Brian Wilson in charge of production and musical composition and Tony Asher providing much of the lyrics. When the band returned from the tour, they found a nearly complete album requiring little more than their vocals to finish it off. This caused some friction within the group, especially from lead singer Mike Love who was also the band’s chief lyricist during their early, hit-making years. Love called the project “Brian’s ego music” while other group members worried that they would lose their core audience if they changed their successful musical formula. Founding members Al Jardine and Dennis Wilson also reportedly had problems with the abandonment of “good times and fast cars” in the Beach Boys songs.

The Beach Boys

The true catalyst that set the tone for Pet Sounds was the December 1965 release of The Beatles’ album Rubber Soul. The album was filled with good, all original songs, unlike the standard practice of filling albums with a few commercial hits and much filler. As Brian Wilson recalled of his first impressions of that album;

“I really wasn’t quite ready for the unity. It felt like it all belonged together. Rubber Soul was a collection of songs that somehow went together like no album ever made before…”

Wilson started by contacting Asher, then a young lyricist and copywriter who had been working on advertising jingles, who Wilson had met in a recording studio months earlier. While Wilson articulated the general vibe of each song, Asher interpreted this into actual lyrics. Most of the songs for Pet Sounds were composed over the winter of 1965-1966. Love is co-credited on just a few tracks, notably the opening “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “I Know There’s an Answer”, which was originally composed as the LSD-ridden “Hang Onto Your Ego” but was rewritten and retitled at the insistence of Love.

Developing his production methods over several years, Brian Wilson refined and developed many of the techniques innovated by Phil Spector. With the new, state-of-the-art Ampex 8-track recorder, Wilson would first record all the backing tracks, mixing them down to stereo or even mono versions, leaving 6 or 7 tracks open for the Beach Boys complex vocal leads and harmonies. He has since stated that he named the album using Spector’s initials as a tribute. Unlike Spector however, Wilson was almost completely deaf in his right ear, making his accomplishments all the more remarkable.

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Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys
Released: May 16, 1966 (Capitol)
Produced by: Brian Wilson
Recorded: Los Angeles, July 1965 – April 1966
Side One Side Two
Wouldn’t It Be Nice
You Still Believe In Me
That’s Not Me
Don’t Talk (Put Head On My Shoulder)
I’m Waiting For the Day
Let’s Go Away for Awhile
Sloop John B
God Only Knows
I Know There’s An Answer
Here Today
I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times
Pet Sounds
Caroline, No
Band Musicians
Brian Wilson – Organ, Piano, Keyboards, Orchestration, Vocals
Carl Wilson – Guitars, Lead & Backing Vocals
Mike Love – Lead Vocals
Al Jardine – Lead & Backing Vocals
Dennis Wilson – Drums, Vocals

The group’s 1966 hit “Good Vibrations” was originally intended to be on the album (and, in fact, presented to Capitol Records as an example of the album’s sound), but to everyone’s surprise was cut from the running order by Brian Wilson. Released as a single, the song went on to top the charts worldwide as well as win a Grammy for song of the year.

Pet Sounds starts with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, which sets the pace for the album with the carnival-like intro, broken by the vocals of Brian Wilson which are upbeat yet melancholy all at once. The song was released as a single and peaked at #8 in the summer of 1966 and contains some signature, complex Beach Boys harmonies making it a sort of bridge from their good times surf music to this new frontier of art rock.

Each of the songs on the album’s first side introduces a new technique by Wilson. “You Still Believe In Me” was the first song for which Asher provided lyrics, derived from a working song by Wilson called “In My Childhood”. It has a Baroque style vibe and an almost teenage-like lover’s lament in the lyric and vocals. “That’s Not Me” is quite psychedelic and with very unique and minimalist instrumentation under a standard vocal line and chorus, with lead vocals by Mike Love and the rest of the Beach Boys playing most of the instruments, an oddity on this album. In contrast, “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)” is a beautiful but sad song performed entirely by Brian Wilson and session musicians. These session players included bassist Carol Kaye and drummer Hal Blaine who make a strong impact on the song “I’m Waiting For the Day”, which contains a constant rhythm against the near constant fluctuations in arrangement in this asymmetrical tangent of a song.

The Beach Boys Sloop John B singleThe track “Sloop John B” had been suggested to Wilson by Al Jardine and was recorded during the previous summer of 1965. It was a traditional Caribbean folk song that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. It is a light and fun song to end the first side with an arrangement that constantly builds with instrumentation, intensity, and vocal layering. Brian Wilson, who was not a big fan of traditional folk music, changed many of the lyrics to the song and actually auditioned each group member for lead vocals, as he wanted it to have a distinctively “rock” sound in the end. Ultimately, he chose himself and Mike Love for this task.

Pet Sounds contains a couple of instrumental tracks, another quality that was not typical for albums in 1966. Both “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” and the title song “Pet Sounds” had originally been recorded as backing tracks for existing songs, but were ultimately chosen to be published without vocals. “Let’s Go Away..” is a calm and grown up piece of 1960’s soft jazz with marimba and acoustic guitar holding the piece together under various orchestral instruments, including violins, piano, saxophones, oboe, vibes, a guitar with a coke bottle on the strings. Originally titled “The Old Man And The Baby”, Brian Wilson once stated that the song was “the most satisfying piece of music I’ve ever made”. “Pet Sounds” is more percussion driven, carving out a strong slice of sixties identity for Wilson and the band. It was originally called “Run James Run” and intended to be used as the theme of a James Bond movie.

The second side of the album starts with the two masterpiece songs on Pet Sounds. With the ethereal vocals of the youngest brother Carl Wilson, “God Only Knows” may be the perfect love song with the edge of excellent instrumentation, arrangement and harmonies later in the song. The song was one of the first commercial songs to use the word ‘God’ in its title, a decision that Wilson and Asher agonized over, fearing it would not get airplay as a result. With French horns in the song’s famous introduction and a harpsichord throughout, the song is distinct and unique and a true classic. “I Know There’s An Answer” is another melodic, well-crafted, and entertaining song which is distinctly more upbeat than its predecessor. It contains distinct and entertaining sprinkles of bass harmonica by Tommy Morgan in the verses and later as a lead solo. Influenced by an LSD trip, the song also features a banjo section and intense vocals during the choruses.

Rounding out the album are three more excellent compositions of differing tone and tempo. “Here Today” sounds like it should have been single material. An upbeat love song with more conventional and conservative arrangements, it is song about love always having the potential for heartbreak never too far away. It contains an orchestral instrumental break influenced by composer J.S. Bach. “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” is perhaps the most profound statement made by Brian Wilson on this album. The lyrics are about the loss of innocence in growing up and to a lesser extent, his evolving role in the band and all those who thought he was crazy for doing Pet Sounds. The final track, “Caroline, No” extends this longing for innocence and the static, status quo. The song was apparently dedicated to a high school love interest named Carol and was originally titled “Carol, I Know” but morphed to the other title and was actually released as a Brian Wilson single in early 1966, his first and only “solo” work during the groups Capitol years. The song (and album) ends with the sound of an approaching and passing train and a dog furiously barking at it.

Pet Sounds would be at once the apex of the Beach Boy’s artistic and output and the termination of their hit-making years. Wilson attempted to follow it up in 1967 with a project called Smile but it fell apart due to his mental problems and drug use. In that sense, the other band members may been correct about “not messing with the formula”. But what would the world have missed if they had simply stuck to writing more songs about fast cars, good times, and women?

~

1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 Albums.

 

Buffalo Springfield debut album

Buffalo Springfield

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Buffalo Springfield debut albumBuffalo Springfield was a very unique rock band. On the one hand, they were loaded with young talent who played together for a very short time in the late sixties before ultimately splitting in several directions and forming some of the top folk-rock acts of the seventies, making Buffalo Springfield tremendously influential in this respect. On the other hand, their actual output was good but far from spectacular and yet they’ve been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where many superior artists have not, making Buffalo Springfield tremendously overrated in that respect. Similarly, their 1966 self-titled debut album contains many of the same macro traits of the band itself, a pleasant listen throughout but lacking anything really unique or breakthrough that would make it a top-level “classic”.

The story of how the group came together is quite entertaining and legendary. Steven Stills was a talented session musician who had tried out unsuccessfully for the Monkees in the summer of 1966. While that band was formed to cash in on the success of the Beatles, producer Barry Friedman wanted to assemble a further band in the folk-rock vein of the Byrds, and assured Stills a contract if he could assemble an adequate band. Stills recruited an ex-band mate, guitarist Richie Furay. One day Friedman, Stills, and Furay were stuck in traffic on Sunset Boulevard when Stills recognized Neil Young driving a black hearse in the opposite lanes. Stills had met Young a year earlier in northern Canada and was deeply impressed by his talent. After making an illegal u-turn and chasing Young down, they pleasantly discovered that he had come to L.A. with bassist Bruce Palmer to try and form a band. With the addition of drummer Dewey Martin, Buffalo Springfield was formed and through late 1966, the band wrote and recorded songs for their debut album.

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Buffalo Springfield by Buffalo Springfield
Released: December 5, 1966 (Atco Original)
Produced by: Charles Greene & Brian Stone
Recorded: Los Angeles, July-September, 1966
Side One Side Two
For What It’s Worth
Go And Say Goodbye
Sit Down I Think I Love You
Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing
Hot Dusty Roads
Everybody’s Wrong
Flying On the Ground Is Wrong
Burned
Do I Have to Come Right and Say It
Leave
Out of My Mind
Pay the Price
Band Musicians
Steven Stills – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Rich Furay – Guitars, Vocals
Neil Young – Guitars, Harmonica, Piano, Vocals
Bruce Palmer – Bass
Dewey Martin – Drums, Vocals

Buffalo Springfield was originally released in mono, but when the single “For What It’s Worth” became a hit, the album was re-released in stereo with that song replacing “Baby Don’t Scold Me”, which was never released in a stereo version. All songs were written either by Stills or Young, but record executives insisted that Furay sing the bulk of Young’s compositions because they found Young’s voice “too weird”. Young did sing a few songs on side two, one average song called “Burned” and a better, quasi-psychedelic song, with heavily processed guitars and thick harmonies Called “Out Of My Mind”.

Some of the highlights of the first side include Still’s “Sit Down I Think I Love You”, with a nicely mixed rhythm, moderate beat, and harmonized vocals, and Young’s “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing”, sung by Furay, a softer song which leans towards the sound of the Rascals. “Flying On the Ground Is Wrong”, also sung by Furay, has the approach of a traditional love song with beauty and style, while “Leave” has a rockabilly vibe, with a constant lead guitar and nice chords changes in the verses.

But without a doubt, “For What It’s Worth” is the true highlight of the album. It was written by Stills after he witnessed a protest by young people over a Sunset Strip nightclub being closed down, and the police reaction that the protest sparked. The song itself is excellent in its simplicity, with a two chord, rotating pattern understated by the minimal use of acoustic, rhythm guitar, bass, and kick drum and accented by the sharp, single note lead guitar, which is the signature of the song. Stills vocals are perfect for this song and Young breaks in with some fine echoed lead guitar during the later verses. The song went on to become a top ten hit by March 1967, and would be their most popular song as a group.

Buffalo Springfield would produce two more albums before disbanding in 1968. During that time Palmer was arrested and deported back to Canada and was replaced by Jim Messina who would later go on to be one half of the seventies hit-makers Loggins and Messina. Rich Furay would go on to form the pop band Poco, while Steven Stills formed the classic trio Crosby, Stills and Nash. Neil Young went on to have a tremendous solo career as well as occasionally joining up with that trio making it Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

 

Roger the Engineer by The Yardbirds

“Roger the Engineer”
by The Yardbirds

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Roger the Engineer by The YardbirdsThe Yardbirds put out their strongest album ever in 1966 as well as their only album of all original material. It originally had an eponymous title but has come to be known as Roger the Engineer because of the sketch (drawn by guitarist Chris Dreja) on the album’s cover of Roger Cameron, the album’s engineer at Advision Studios in London. The album was co-produced by bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, who left the band shortly after and was replaced by Jimmy Page, who filled in on bass until Dreja mastered the instrument and Page returned to his primary instrument, the electric guitar. But the central influence that shaped the sound of this album was the innovation and experimentation of lead guitarist Jeff Beck. His heavy blues and guitar distortion is considered by many to be the earliest precursor to heavy metal.

Beck joined the Yardbirds in May 1965 after founding guitarist Eric Clapton decided to leave the band. With Beck, the group began to expand their heavy blues base into different sects of rock and roll including unexplored areas of psychedelia, middle-aged chants, and Indian-influenced music. Primarily a singles-oriented band, each 7-inch release by The Yardbirds added new dimensions to the band’s sound or expanded on the ideas of the previous single. With Beck’s first full album with the group and the band’s first attempt at an album of all-original material, the band brought this experimentation to a new level, while still holding on to the core of blues roots.

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The Yardbirds by The Yardbirs
Released: July 15, 1966 (Atco Original)
Produced by: Paul Samwell-Smith & Simon Napier-Bell
Recorded: Advision Studios, London, Spring-Summer, 1966
Side One Side Two
Lost Woman
Over, Under, Sideways, Down
The Nazz Are Blue
I Can’t Make Your Way
Rack My Mind
Farewell
Hot House of Omagarashid
Jeff’s Boogie
He’s Always There
Turn into Earth
What Do You Want
Ever Since the World Began
Band Musicians
Keith Relf – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Jeff Beck – Lead Guitars, Vocals
Chris Dreja – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Paul Samwell-Smith – Bass, Vocals
Jim McCarty – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album starts strong with “Lost Woman”, with a driving bass line and some fantastic dynamics from the guitar-free verse to guitar-intense chorus. The bridge contains a drum run with harmonica, guitar and bass spread out nicely, leading to a simmering guitar jam by Beck that ever intensifies towards the end.

“Over Under Sideways Down” may be the most popular song on the album due to its catchy, mid-eastern-inspired guitar riff over an upbeat, bluesy bass line, almost like two songs put together. The song was co-written by drummer Jim McCarty, who plays a classic rock beat throughout, holding the song together nicely while the fine lyrics paint a picture of the “upside-down” nature of fame.

Jeff Beck’s sole foray into lead vocals is on his pyschedelic blues song “The Nazz Are Blue”, a fine example of the better results of experimentation on this album. In the heart of the album are several more experimental and avant garde songs, such as “Hot House of Omagarashid” and “Turn Into Earth”, each driven by a steady, percussive beat an odd, sometimes haunting chants along with other sound effects. There are also a fair share of standard, upbeat blues songs like “Rack My Mind”, with a simple guitar riff and harmonica and the instrumentals “Farewell” and “Jeff’s Boogie”, where Beck shows off some fascinating speed technique for the day. “I Can’t Make Your Way” is almost folk, with multiple vocal harmonies and harmonica by Relf, and an edgy guitar interlude which sparks some life in the song. “He’s Always There” combines a Bossa-nova beat with a rock arrangement, something that would be expanded upon later by The Doors as well as directly sampled by The Pussycat Dolls.

The Yardbirds in 1966

Two songs which were not originally included on the album, but have been included on all modern day pressings of the album are “Psycho Daisies” and “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”. Recorded after the departure of Samwell-Smith, both tracks include the dualing lead guitars of Beck and Page, one of the few Yardbirds recordings to do so. “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” also includes Page’s future Led Zeppelin bandmate John Paul Jones as the session bass player and has become a classic song in its own right with its frantic guitars and erratic, psychopathic rhythm.

A bold and innovative album, “Roger the Engineer” has been described as a heavy blues oriented version of a Beatles album. Unfortunately, The Yardbirds would never again make an album like this. By October 1966, Beck was out of the group and Jimmy Page took the forefront as the band’s lead guitarist and producer. The next two years saw the original Yardbirds unravel as each member, save Page left to pursue other interests. Undaunted, Page went on to find replacements for the departed members in singer Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham, and Jones on bass to form “The New Yardbirds”, which eventually became Led Zeppelin.

~

1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

 

Albums

The Album

AlbumsClassic Rock Review is built around the concept of the “album”which we define as a collection of professionally recorded songs by a single artist published together usually through a single source of media. If that description sounds a bit convoluted, you may be right, but there really is no simple and concrete way to describe an atomic album. We don’t review singles or compilation sets, nor will we delve too deeply into different forms like live recordings, remastered works, or bonus tracks. Today we offer our first Special Feature (that is non-album review) on our understanding of this basic element of the site’s existence. We split this in two sections, looking at the evolution of the physical media followed by the practical casting of the music itself, which plays a big role on which specific eras we’ve decided to focus our reviews.

The Physical Media

Many people think “vinyl record” when they hear the term “album”, and this was certainly true for most of the eras that we review at CRR. But the truth is many types of media were used for recorded music before and after vinyl was prominent.

Wax CylindersAs we all learned in school, the first known recording was made by Thomas Edison in 1877 in his lab in New Jersey. The first commercial recordings became available in the next decade and these included various forms of discs and cylinders made of various materials including hard rubber.

By the turn of the century, the first earlier materials were largely replaced by a rather brittle formula of shellac, a cotton compound, powdered slate, and a small amount of a wax lubricant. The shellac record was the prominent form of media for over half a century (reigning even longer than vinyl) until the 1950s. These recordings played at 78 rpm and only contained four to five minutes of music per side on each 12 inch disc. This presented a problem for certain genres where longer pieces were custom, especially classical and free form jazz. To work around this problem, record companies began releasing a set of records together as “albums”. In the 1930s this practice became commonplace for all genres, as record companies began issuing multi-disc collections of 78 rpm records by one performer or of one type of music. Artwork began appearing on the front cover and liner notes on the back, with most albums including three to four two-sided records, or six to eight songs each album.

Old 78 RecordsThe first vinyl records appeared around 1940 and were used for commercial recordings that were mailed to several radio stations because vinyl was less breakable. Vinyl was also used for recordings shipped to U.S. troops overseas during World War II, for much the same reason. Most of these were still played at 78 rpm and so they had the same time restrictions as their shellac counterparts.

On June 21, 1948, the Long Play (LP) 33⅓ rpm microgroove 12-inch record album was introduced by Columbia Records. In response, RCA Victor came up with its own format – a 7-inch, 45 rpm single with a large center hole. The 45s kept many of the same properties of conventional 78s, one song per side and multiple discs per album, but were much more compact in size. However, over time it proved much more efficient to release albums on a single LP rather than multiple 45s (or 78s, which continued to be mass produced alongside the newer formats until about 1960 in the U.S.). The 45 did prove useful for promotional “singles” as the hit parade and rock n roll eras began in the 1950s.

Also in the mid-1950s, the common “record player” began to feature multiple speeds, so that a single unit could play LPs, 45s, and 78s, rather than separate units for each. This feature did much to keep both the new formats viable and artists began making recordings for both LP and single 45 release (or both). Other enhancements in technology began to make recordings sound better than ever, including the introduction of stereo and equalization in the late 1950s and noise reduction later on. However, some problems did persist with vinyl records, especially LPs. The latter tracks on a side had lower fidelity because there was less vinyl per second available closer to the center of the disc. This problem sparked research in other types of media.

Inside an 8-Track CartridgeEight-track cartridges, originally known as Stereo 8, were developed in the early sixties and experienced about a decade and a half of popularity through the 1970s. These cartridges used 3.75 inch magnetic tape that played in an endless loop tape with a track-change sensor that could be switched among four stereo “programs” played side on the tape. However, this format did not last long due to the inability to rewind, a feature available on 1/4″ cassette tapes, and the relatively low quality of sound as compared to higher end 2″ reel to reel tape. Soon the cassette tape took over the one area where the eight-track had reigned, the car stereo. For a while that format rivaled the LP for top format, especially after the development of mobile “boom boxes” in the late 1970s. The eight-track was phased out of production completely by 1982.

That same year Sony Corporation began producing symphonic music in a purely digital format called a Compact Disc (CD). Sampled at 44.1 kHz, the CD seemed to top all other formats in every phase. It had a greater frequency range from approximately 20 Hz to 20 kHz, as compared to LPs which had a bass turnover setting of 250–300 Hz and a treble rolloff at 10 kHz. Also, the digital format was the first to have “true stereo”, where other formats “bled” about 20% of one channel to the opposite channel and vice-versa. Finally, at 74 minutes a single CD held a nearly 50% higher capcity of music, as compared to the typical 40-48 minutes of a vinyl LP. The complete transition from vinyl to CD took over a decade as music consumers witnessed CD sections in record stores grow as the LP sections gradually shrunk and companies slowly made all mainstream material available on compact disc. But just when it seemed like the CD would be the dominant media for the foreseeable future, yet another innovation changed things.

Ever since the invention of the CD, several research groups and companies had been working on developing the next level standard. One such group was the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG), which sought to develop digital compression to make motion pictures available. The group progressively developed formats starting in 1993 with MPEG-1, 1995 with MPEG-2, and 1996 with MPEG-3. This latest format was idea for file-sharing of music and became commonly know as mp3 due to its online extension format (.mp3). Nearly overnight music was being shared on the Internet through various services like Napster and CD sales began to plummet. After some desperate lawsuits and other tactics, the major labels eventually submitted to the new trend and today most albums are available in digital format and most songs can be purchased separately.

The Logical Album

As we mentioned eariler, music albums first physically consisted of multiple 78 rpm discs before later being released on vinyl LPs. However, there was also an evolution of the “logical” album.

At the dawn of the rock era, albums were simply a collection of songs, mainly a sales item and barely a cohesive, artistic statement. Songs were often developed with strict formulas and included as “fillers”, with a handful of popular songs being the main sales draw. The most popular songs were often featured on many albums, making a definite lineage of sequential works hard to trace for many early artists. Most songs were written by company employed songwriters or teams and creative control was placed firmly with record company producers.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan by Bob DylanThis all started to change in the 1960s. Led by artists like Bob Dylan and the Beatles, original compositions by top artists went from a tiny minority at the beginning of the decade to a vast majority by the end of the 1960s. Released in 1963, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan contained 12 originals out of 13 tracks and may well be one of the first “albums” as we at Classic Rock Review have come to define that term. The Beatles were also releasing albums as early as 1963, but they had different sets of albums for the UK and the US through 1966. In fact, the Beatles music was delayed from being released on CD until 1988 because there was a long debate on which path to follow for the first seven or eight releases, until the UK releases were deemed “official”.

Rubber Soul by The Beatles Also, during the height of the Beatles phenom, hit songs were intentionally kept off albums so that the most dedicated fans would buy both the LP and 45. For this reason, two new albums were created in 1988 (Past Masters I & II) to include the vast amount of A and B sides which were never included on any official Beatles album. Even though the album Rubber Soul had significant differences between the two versions, it may be the first work that was recorded as a cohesive “album” and not just a collection of songs. American musician Brian Wilson was so inspired by this album that he set out to produce his own masterpiece for The Beach Boys called Pet Sounds in 1966, which itself inspired the Beatles next album Revolver.

Classic Rock Review chose the year 1966 to begin our regular reviews, because it is when we believe the classic rock album first proliferated on all fronts – with most songs composed by the artist, the album a cohesive unit, and enough quality works available to review. There were certainly several classic works available before this time but those were fewer and further between. Similarly, we chose 1995 as our endpoint because that was just before the mp3 revolution, when the whole concept of “the album” began to break down and single, individual songs were treated (once again) as autonomous units. While this is beneficial to the music listener in many ways, what is lost is the artwork, the sides, the sequence, and a lot of the conversation that many of us knew and loved in earlier days.

~
Ric Albano

A Quick One by The Who

A Quick One by The Who

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A Quick One by The WhoThe Who‘s second album is widely regarded as the pivotal album for the group due to their rapid departure from the R&B/pop formula featured on the band’s debut, My Generation, as well as a migration towards more original songwriting. The album was released under the title A Quick One on Reaction Records in the U.K., but American record company executives at Decca Records released the album under the title Happy Jack, rather than the sexually suggestive title of the original release. Due to the song “Happy Jack” being a top 40 hit in the US this track replaced a cover of the hit “Heat Wave” which was included on the original UK version of the album.

The band began to grapple with more complex themes, both melodic and lyrical, especially on their first mini-opera “A Quick One While He’s Away”, the album’s title track. This nine-minute suite contains song snippets telling a story of infidelity and reconciliation. The album was recorded in London with the band’s co-manager Kit Lambert as producer. While a select few of the songs on A Quick One became staples of classic rock radio, it is the hidden gems that really bring out the charm of this album. Further this album is the most diverse as far as songwriting, with each band member penning some of the tracks. Although this fact makes the album interesting, it also makes the album uneven as it is definitely superior on the second side. It is clear that not all members are in the songwriting class of guitarist Pete Townshend, who would go on to write most of the band’s future material by himself.

This future was bright for The Who, as they rapidly evolved subsequent to A Quick One. Their sound became more focused and the songs themselves became at once more artistic and more melodic. In this sense, the band’s evolution in 1966 went on to serve them better than any other mid-sixties British pop group.

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A Quick One by The Who
Released: December 9, 1966 (Reaction)
Produced by: Kit Lambert
Recorded: London, September-November, 1966
Side One Side Two
Run Run Run
Boris the Spider
I Need You
Whiskey Man
Heat Wave
Cobwebs and Strange
Don’t Look Away
See My Why
So Sad About Us
A Quick One While He’s Away
Song Included On Alternate “Happy Jack” Version
Happy Jack
Band Musicians
Roger Daltry – Lead Vocals, Trombone, Percussion
Pete Townshend – Guitars, Keyboards, Penny Whistle, Vocals
John Entwistle – Bass, Keyboards, Horns, Vocals
Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Being that each band member wrote and sang lead vocals on at least one song from this album, there are a variety of combinations throughout A Quick One. Singer Roger Daltry wrote “See My Way”, an average song which is assisted greatly by the addition of French horn and trumpet by bassist John Entwistle.

Each side of the album opens with songs written by Townshend but with Daltry on lead vocals, a combo which would become commonplace in future years. “Run Run Run” is a remnant from their mod pop days with an amplified, slightly distorted, driving guitar accented by bass with not too much fluctuation until the song breaks down after the lead and then picks back up in a higher key. “Don’t Look Away” opens the second side on a high note with an excellent composition which fluctuates from folk to rock to blue grass. “So Sad About Us” moves the sound closer towards the classic-era Who, especially with the bass and drums sound.

Entwistle added a couple of fine songs to the album’s first side. “Boris the Spider” is memorable and catchy, albeit almost “monster mash-ish” in its construction, especially when he uses his deep “evil” voice during the choruses. His other effort, “Whiskey Man” is closest to the Beatles circa Rubber Soul with a bit of “doominess” to it and a definite edge with French horn, also performed by Entwistle. This is perhaps the best song on the first side.

Drummer Keith Moon shows his strong surfer music influence with “I Need You” on which he also performs lead vocals. The drums are placed right up front in the mix with touches of bouncy organ above the guitar and bass. Moon’s other contribution is one of the more bizarre songs the band would ever record called “Cobwebs and Stange”. This instrumental alternates from jug-band to drum solo several times and contains some odd instrumentation including a trombone and bass drum performed by Daltry.

The Who Happy Jack singleThe only song written and sung by Townsend is “Happy Jack”, the only true “hit” on the album, peaking at #3 on the U.K. charts and the band’s first top 40 hit in the U.S. This odd song was apparently about an old man that Townshend and his friends would tease when they were children, but who would never get angry, only smiling in response. It is a pleasant-sounding number that focuses on the rhythm section of Townshend and Entwistle, as well as some nice vocal harmonies. The song did not appear on the original U.K. release of A Quick One, which instead included the cover of Martha & the Vandells hit “Heat Wave”. This was one of many covers recorded around the same time, including “Batman”, “Bucket T”, and “Barbara Ann”, all of which were kept off the original albums but later added as bonus tracks on CD versions.

No matter which version of the album, all songs were short and direct, clocking in under 3:05 until we reach the final, 9-minute-plus “A Quick One While He’s Away”. There are six distinct parts to the song, starting with an a cappella section, harmonized by all four members. Daltry then uses his best “Dylan” voice for the “Crying Town” section, with Entwistle playing the part of “Ivor the Engine Driver” and Townshend taking lead in the concluding “You Are Forgiven”. This song tells the story of an unnamed girl whose lover has been gone for over a year and she commits infidelity, to which she ultimately confesses and is “forgiven”. Despite the fact that certain music sections closely mimic some country and western standards and there is some harsh editing when fusing parts together, the song as a whole is a true original and future live performances were cohesive and excellent as is evident in this 1968 performance below.

They would go on to create the pop-art influenced The Who Sell Out in 1967, the world’s first rock opera Tommy in 1969, their most popular album (and our 1971 Album of the Year) Who’s Next in 1971 and their masterpiece double album Quadrophenia in 1973. All would be more popular and more highly regarded than A Quick One, but this 1966 effort was the catalyst which made those possible.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

 

Love debut album

Love

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Love debut albumThe Los Angeles based band Love had a rather short but important ride on the sixties rock scene. Although they never quite reached national or international fame, the band was extremely influential in California on artists such as Jimi Hendrix and the Doors. Starting with their eponymous debut album in 1966, Love released three distinct and original albums through 1967 with their first being the most rock-oriented. The strongly stereo-ized sound of this album features strummed, Byrds-like guitar chords in one channel with crisp, riff-fueled bass and drums rhythm in the other. It is all topped off with the muddy, emotional vocals of lead singer and chief songwriter Arthur Lee.

Although there is little doubt that much of what makes up the Love album is heavily borrowed from contemporary acts, there is definitely something distinct and original about how it is performed and produced. These excellent folk-pop anthems would certainly not be out of place on any sixties fan’s stereo, yet there is an unmistakable edge here. Beyond the heavily Byrds influenced style, there are some songs that veer off in the “garage rock” direction, providing a solid template for future bands such as Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, and Rush.

Following the album’s release in April 1966, Love went back into the studio to work on a follow-up, starting with the recording and release of the song “7 and 7 Is”, which became a Top 40 hit and their highest charting single. These late ’66 recordings would form their second album De Capo, which delved deeply into psychedelia in early 1967. A third album, Forever Changes in late in ’67, would be the band’s highest regarded album, when they were right on the brink of disintegrating due to heavy drug use and creative differences.

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Love by Love
Released: April, 1966 (Elecktra)
Produced by: Jac Holzman & Arthur Lee
Recorded: Sunset Sound, Hollywood, December 1965 – January 1966
Side One Side Two
My Little Red Book
Can’t Explain
A Message to Pretty
My Flash on You
Softly to Me
No Matter What You Do
Emotions
You I’ll Be Following
Gazing
Hey Joe
Signed D.C.
Colored Balls Falling
Mushroom Clouds
And More
Band Musicians
Arthur Lee – Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Percussion
Bryan Maclean – Guitars, Vocals
Johnny Echols – Lead Guitars
Ken Forssi – Bass
Alban Pfisterer – Drums

The album begins with a driving, thumping rock rendition of a song written by Burt Bacharach, called “Little Red Book”, a title which seems to merge the “little black book” of past dates concept with Mao’s mandatory communist “little red book” in China. The song sets the pace for an interesting and exciting first side of the album, which commences with the short instrumental “Emotions”, which has flavorings of surf music with its echoed guitars along with a marching drum tempo.

“Can’t Explain” is another rocker fueled by the bass of Ken Forssi, which stands out as a very advanced sound for the day. This standout bass is revisited several times throughout the album, including on the frenzied song “My Flash On You” and the cover of Billy Roberts’ “Hey Joe”, which seemed to be mandatory in those days. Aside from Love, this latter song was covered by The Surfaris, The Leaves, The Byrds, Tim Rose, Wilson Pickett, Cher, Deep Purple, The Mothers of Invention, Band of Joy, and of course, The Jimi Hendrix Experience – and these were just the covers in the late sixties. Scores more cover versions came in the subsequent decades.

The two guitarists of the band, Bryan Maclain and Johnny Echols are hard to distinguish, except in the hard rocking “Gazing” where Lee calls them out by name during their individual solos.

The album does add some diversity with softer songs. Although it gets a bit melodramatic with the vocal inflections, “A Message to Pretty” is otherwise a nice calm, strumming love song, topped with harmonica, and a testament to the great production of this album by Jac Holzman. “Softly To Me” takes a very different musical approach and a change of pace with Maclean taking on songwriting and lead vocals duties. “Signed D.C.” has a very western feel, with much darker lyrics referring to the sufferings of a junkie, apparently verbatim from a letter by Love’s ex-drummer Don Conka (D.C.), who was ousted from the band due to drug problems. The calm “Mushroom Clouds” seems to be a perfect road map for the slow and deliberate songs of post-Barret era Pink Floyd.

Although the album does seem to lose momentum towards the end, there is little doubt that Love is an important album from 1966, when the evolution of rock music was on hyper speed.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

 

Fresh Cream by Cream

Fresh Cream by Cream

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Fresh Cream by CreamThe British blues-rock trio Cream was, perhaps, the first to be deemed a “super group”. Their 1966 debut, Fresh Cream was produced by Robert Stigwood and includes a true fusion of genres brought together by the already vast experience of three young musicians. These genres ranged from a hybrid of blues to hard rock with just a tad of psychedelic rock, and were often combined with lyrics drawn from a variety of contemporary and historic subjects and figures. Although the group would not have a long career together, the music they produced in the late 1960s would cast a net of influence which would reverberate for decades.

Drummer Ginger Baker employed a strong jazz style and improvisation he honed when he frequently performed lengthy drum solos in various groups during the early 1960s. He is also noted for using a variety of other percussion instruments and for his application of African rhythms. Bassist and lead vocalist Jack Bruce got his start in London with Blues Incorporated, in which he played the double bass. The band, (which later also included Baker) played an eclectic mix of bebop and blues. Bruce eventually switched from double bass to electric bass as the band morphed into The Graham Bond Organization, a more dedicated rhythm and blues group, which released two studio albums and a few singles in the early sixties. Guitarist Eric Clapton got his major start with the Yardbirds, where his reputation as a blues-influenced guitar legend grew quickly. In fact, after the band took a more commercial turn in 1964 and began to get a measure of international success, Clapton left the Yardbirds to join the far less commercial John Mayell and the Bluesbreakers.

In July 1966 Baker, Bruce, and Clapton founded Cream and began playing a live set which would provide the material for Fresh Cream later that year. While grounded heavily in blues, the album touches on all of the member’s collective experiences along with a dab of the newly formed genre of psychedelia. In the process, the album opened the door to all kinds of serious and experimental rock music that was to come.

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Fresh Cream by Cream
Released: December 9, 1966 (Reaction)
Produced by: Robert Stigwood
Recorded: London, July-October 1966
Side One Side Two
I Feel Free
N.S.U.
Sleepy Time Time
Dreaming
Sweet Wine
Spoonful
Cat’s Squirrel
Four Until Late
Rollin’ and Tumblin’
I’m So Glad
Toad
Band Musicians
Jack Bruce – Lead Vocals, Bass, Harmonica, Piano
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

“I Feel Free” was Cream’s breakthrough single as a band. It marked a multi-genre confluence, led by a capella vocals in the verse before breaking into a full-out rock tune with melodic lead vocals by Bruce. The song was only included on the American version of the LP, replacing “Spoonful” from the British version. This cover of Willie Dixon’s classic “Spoonful” is a gem of a blues jam on Fresh Cream with dueling guitar and harmonica leads on top of an ever-intensive rhythm in the song’s mid-section. Bruce’s vocals are at their height here as are Clapton’s guitar licks.

The odd and intense “N.S.U.” (which allegedly stands for the venereal disease “non-specific urethritis”) is complete with driving guitar and drums and a whining, wailing vocal line. “Dreaming” is a ballad with a psychedelic twist, featuring a vocal duet by Bruce and Clapton. The calm, strummed guitar chords are right out of the late fifties, giving the song a nice nostalgic mood.

“Sleepy Time Time” is the album’s first hint at the updated, traditional blues which they return to time and again. The song was co-written by Bruce and his wife Janet Godfrey who also co-wrote “Sweet Wine” with Ginger Baker. This latter song has a much more pop-rock feel, almost bubblegum pop with its nonsensical vocal signature line.

CreamThe second side begins with a signature rendition of the traditional instrumental “Cat’s Squirrel”, with Bruce again pulling double duty of bass and harmonica (along with some ad-libbed scat vocals in the middle). “Four Until Late” is lighter arrangement of a Robert Johnson song, with Clapton taking lead vocals, while the much more intense blues of McKinley Morganfield’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” is surely more satisfying to the connoisseurs of that great genre.

The remake Skip James’ early 1930s spiritual “I’m So Glad” is perhaps the band at their best on this debut album, combining complex rhythm guitar riffs along with a funky bass line, intense, jazzy drums and a fast-based bluesy guitar lead, all topped by an excellent hook and well delivered, melodic vocals and harmonies. The album completes with “Toad”, an instrumental featuring a long drum solo by Ginger Baker. This was well ahead of its time, replicated years later by John Bonham and countless other drum “Superstars” of the 1970s.

By the end of Fresh Cream, the critical listener is left wanting more, a true testament to the album’s quality. Further, although less than half the tracks on the album were totally original, the album as a whole was tremendously original. It set a strong template for the legendary “classic rock” genre which was to come in subsequent years.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators

The Psychedelic Sounds of
The 13th Floor Elevators

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Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor ElevatorsEmerging from Austin, Texas in the mid-sixties was the band which many consider to be the pioneers of psychedelic rock, The 13th Floor Elevators. The band was led by guitarist and vocalist Roky Erickson and lyricist Tommy Hall who added a very special and unique element to the band’s sound with the “electric jug”. This was a crock-jug with a microphone held up to it while it was being blown into. However, in contrast to traditional musical jug technique, Hall vocalized musical runs into the mouth of the jug, using the jug to create echo and distortion of his voice.

The band’s debut album, The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators was recorded in Texas and released in late 1966. The band found some commercial and artistic success in 1966-67, before dissolving amid legal troubles due to heavy drug use and unabashed vocal advocacy for the practice. In fact, in the album’s liner notes Hall wrote a manifesto detailing the history of mind-altering substances and advocating for societal acceptance of LSD, mescaline, and marijuana as a gateway to a higher, ‘non-Aristotelian’ state of consciousness”. At Hall’s urging, the band played most of their live shows and recorded their albums while under the influence of LSD, which was not yet illegal in 1966. At the peak of their success, the band appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, where the host innocently asked, “who’s the head of the band?” To which Hall replied, “we’re all heads”.

Despite their very short time in the limelight, The 13th Floor Elevators are credited with being major influences for many future artists including Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Allman Brothers, and fellow Texans ZZ Top, whose guitarist Billy Gibbons credits Elevators’ axe man Stacy Sutherland with shaping his band’s earliest sound. Further, Erickson’s wild, banshee-like screams and high-pitched notes have been credited by some as a major influence on Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. The band was also credited by many as being a major influence on the punk rock genre, which wouldn’t fully emerge until a decade later.

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The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators
Released: November, 1966 (International Artists)
Produced by: Lelan Rogers & Gordon Bynum
Recorded: Sumet Sound, Dallas TX, January-October 1966
Side One Side Two
You’re Gonna Miss Me
Roller Coaster
Splash 1 (Now I’m Home)
Reverberation (Doubt)
Don’t Fall Down
Fire Engine
Thru the Rhythm
You Don’t Know (How Young You Are)
Kingdom of Heaven
Monkey Island
Tried to Hide
Band Musicians
Roky Erikson – Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitars
Stacy Sutherland – Lead Guitars
Benny Turman – Bass, Violin
John Ike Walton – Drums, Percussion
Tommy Hall – Amplified Jug

The 13th Floor Elevators were formed in late 1965, when Erickson left his band the Spades to complete the lineup. In January 1966, the band went to Houston to record two songs for producer Gordon Bynum to be released as a 45 single. The songs were Erickson’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, which he had previously recorded with the Spades, and Hall-Sutherland’s “Tried to Hide”. These songs would eventually bookmark the Psychedelic Sounds… album. “You’re Gonna Miss Me” eventually became popular outside Texas, and by October it peaked at #55 on the Billboard charts, the band’s one and only “hit” single. The song sounds like it was influenced by a mixture of Van Morrison and Them and California surf music. It is quite edgy for the time, with the electric jug going wild and powered by Erickson’s feral vocals and Sutherland’s concise but agile guitar work. “Tried to Hide” finishes the album ends on a “high” note (no pun intended) with some high-pitched percussion up front and all the intensity of Hall’s electric jug and Erickson’s voice.

The album’s body contains a mixture of adequate, sixties-style rock and ballads cut with this new “acid rock” sound the band was forging. “Roller Coaster” is a song with sharp, echoed, electric notes that was likely a heavy influence on Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam” on their own psychedelic debut a year later. “Splash 1 (Now I’m Home)” is a pleasant little ballad with a dreamy, nicely picked guitar and the noted absence of the electric jug (which appears on just about every other song). “Reverberation (Doubt)” is a song which was clearly years ahead of its time, a true hippie creed in 1966, while “Fire Engine”, with its wild, freaky siren effects (which may be laughable using today’s technology), may be one of the earliest examples of punk. Although there are some throw-away, forgettable songs on the album, most of it is interesting, innovative, and unique, probably due to the very mind-altering substance that would lead to the band’s quick demise.

The 13th Floor Elevators

By 1968, four of the five members of the 13th Floor Elevators were facing pending drug possession charges and Erickson was eventually sentenced to 10 years for marijuana possession (but pleaded insanity and spent much of the coming decades in and out of mental institutions). To this day, there is much debate over whether the band members were the single originators of “psychedelic rock” or just part of a select movement spearheaded by lesser known artists. In either case, there is no doubt that the 13th Floor Elevators were rock pioneers.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

 

Freak Out! by The Mothers of Invention

Freak Out! by
The Mothers of Invention

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Freak Out! by The Mothers of InventionIn one of his last interviews, Frank Zappa said, “sounds are for people to listen to,” while summing up all the different types of instruments and objects he used to make sounds over the years. This is certainly a true motto for the musician who spent three decades creating the most avant garde art rock. His body of work was incredibly vast with 62 albums of original work released during his lifetime and about 30 more since his death in 1993. The first of these was an ambitious effort done by his band, The Mothers of Invention, in 1966. It was a debut double LP called Freak Out!.

Perhaps one of the most ambitious debut efforts ever, Freak Out!‘s two original LPs each contained a different approach. The first two sides consist of short, pop-oriented songs with edgy lyrics and musical flourishes while the final two sides are dedicated to longer art pieces, more in line with later psychedelia. This was all masterminded by Zappa who possessed incredible musical composition and arrangement talents and was able to replicate the pop music that he actually despised in order to make the highly satirical first half of the album. He then employed many innovative techniques such as shifting time signatures and disparate arrangement for the second part of the album.

The Mothers of Invention were formed in the early 1960s, when Zappa met vocalist Ray Collins. By 1965 the band was playing clubs along the Sunset Strip and were offered a recording contract basedupon the strength of one song, which happened to be the sole pop song to be recorded for the album. The entire album was recorded in four days in a Hollywood studio in March 1966 and produced by Tom Wilson, who had previously produced several albums by Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel. Wilson was unaware of the band’s unique musical approach, thinking the Mothers were a blues band when they entered the studio.

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Freak Out! by The Mothers of Invention
Released: June 27, 1966 (Verve)
Produced by: Tom Wilson
Recorded: Sunset Highland Studios, Hollywood, CA, March 1966
Side One Side Two
Hungry Freaks, Daddy
I Ain’t Got No Heart
Who Are the Brain Police?
Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder
Motherly Love
How Could I Be Such a Fool?
Wowie Zowie
You Didn’t Try to Call Me
Any Way the Wind Blows
I’m Not Satisfied
Probably Wondering Why I’m Here
Side Three Side Four
Trouble Every Day
Help, I’m a Rock
The Return of the Son
of Monster Magnet
Primary Musicians
Frank Zappa – Guitars, Vocals
Ray Collins – Vocals, Harmonica, Effects
Elliot Ingber – Guitars
Roy Estrada – Bass, Vocals
Jimmy Carl Black – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album begins with the fuzz-guitar driven “Hungry Freaks, Daddy”, a song with a 1966 beat and music along with 1977 lyrics and tone and contains the first hints of odd instrumentation including vibraphone and kazoo. The first side then proceeds through the bluesy rock of “I Ain’t Got No Heart”, the totally psychedelic “Who Are the Brain Police?”, and the doo-wop parody “Go Cry on Somebody Else’s Shoulder”, with a three-part harmony among Zappa, Collins, and bassist Roy Estrada.

“Motherly Love” is the best song on the first side, almost with pop sensibility although definitely dirty-minded. It became the sort of anthem for the band in the early years and probably one of the first to directly take on the world of groupies and sex on the road. “How Could I Be Such a Fool?” finishes off the first side as another good song with some nice Mexican horns in the mix.

The Mothers of InventionThe album’s second side is probably the most entertaining and interesting. Starting with the almost-bubble-gum kid’s tune “Wowie Zowie” with its frivolous play on words, the side then moves through two legitimate pop songs. The excellent “You Didn’t Try to Call Me” contains some additional horns, woodwinds, vibes, and extra layers of guitar by Elliot Ingber. “Any Way the Wind Blows” is a 50s-style love song, composed by Zappa in 1963, and was the song that ultimately got the Mothers their record deal. “I’m Not Satisfied” is an upbeat, sixties rock popper with more great background brass while “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here” is a bit more freaky, striking a balance between a totally off-the-rail piece and quasi-pop song.

Side three begins with “Trouble Every Day”, a groovy, bluesy number with poetic lyrics. It is perhaps the most memorable song from the album and has a rocked-out, Dylan-esque quality. The eight and a half minute “Help, I’m a Rock” is in three pieces, all very experimental, repetitive, and a bit lazy. Much of the track sounds like someone chanting along to a skipping record. “The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet” takes up the entirty of the fourth and final side. It is a studio jam over a simple rock motif with many street percussionists and other “freaks” brought in from the Sunset Strip to improvise thid final track.

While Freak Out! was far from a commercial or critical success upon its release, the album did develop a cult following among fans and fellow musicians. It was a major influence on The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and would eventually make many “all time ” lists.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

Parsley Sage Rosemary Thyme by Simon and Garfunkel

Parsley Sage Rosemary Thyme
by Simon & Garfunkel

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Parsley Sage Rosemary Thyme by Simon and GarfunkelAlthough Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is officially the third album by Simon & Garfunkel, they certainly did not take the traditional path to get to this point. Nevertheless, this album would be their commercial and artistic breakthrough which would launch them into international stardom through the rest of the 1960s (and far beyond that for Paul Simon). This album, like many albums from 1966, fused different styles and genres while it experimented with non-traditional instrumentation which helped push out the outer walls of the rock n roll universe.

Starting out a decade earlier as the teen duet Tom & Jerry, these natives from Queens in New York City struggled for years to find an audience and an identity. While attending college in 1963, Simon & Garfunkel began to catch on in the burgeoning folk scene in New York’s Greenwich Village and this ultimately led to a record deal with Columbia Records. Their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3am, was recorded and released in 1964 and contained a few originals penned by Simon among mostly cover songs. However, it did not fare very well in popularity leading to a breakup of Simon & Garfunkel shortly afterward, with Paul Simon moving to England to pursue a solo career. There in 1965 Simon recorded his solo album, The Paul Simon Songbook and began his own rise through the English folk scene. But back in the states a song from the Simon & Garfunkel debut album called “The Sound of Silence” was slowly climbing the charts, due mainly to its vast popularity on college radio stations. Seeing an opportunity, the duo’s producer, Tom Wilson dubbed in some electric guitars, bass and drums onto the original, pure acoustic track of “The Sound of Silence” and released it as a single nationwide. The song climbed the charts an ultimately hit #1 on January 1, 1966. With this development, Simon & Garfunkel reunited and quickly recorded a bunch of songs, including five from Simon’s recent solo album, which were released on the duo’s second album, Sounds of Silence in early 1966. This album fared much better than their debut effort and gave them some creative freedom to work on a new, all-original album of independent songs.

Released in October 1966, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, & Thyme got its name from a traditional English ballad that originated in the 16th century, which Simon learned while in the United Kingdom. The album would go an to receive popular as well as critical acclaim and serve as a lynchpin to Simon & Garfunkel’s career.

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Parsley Sage Rosemary Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
Released: October 10, 1966 (Decca, UK Version)
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Recorded: December 1965-August 1966
Side One Side Two
Scarborough Fair/Canticle
Patterns
Cloudy
Homeward Bound
The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine
The 59th Street Bridge Song
The Dangling Conversation
Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall
A Simple Desultory Philippic
For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her
A Poem on the Underground Wall
7 O’Clock News/Silent Night
Primary Musicians
Paul Simon – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Art Garfunkel – Lead Vocals, Piano
Joe South – Guitars
Carol Kaye – Bass

“Scarborough Fair / Canticle” is a song unique in the Simon & Garfunkel library, with an almost psychedelic, Pink Floyd-ish vibe (although that band did not appear on the scene until 1967). This song would also set a template for future bands drawing on traditional folk such as Traffic’s “John Barleycorn Must Die”. But beyond just recanting the traditional song, which contains lyrics where a young man asks his female lover to perform impossible tasks, the song fuses with a counterpoint, “Canticle”. Here, Art Garfunkel sings a reworked version of Simon’s 1963 “The Side of a Hill” with new, anti-war lyrics. In stark contrast, the next song “Patterns” bursts through with sparks of musical notes by acoustic guitar, organ, bass, and various percussion, combined with lyrics about how life is a labyrinthine maze, following patterns that are difficult to unravel. Here the listener is already made aware of the diversity of this album.

Although most of its songs were written during 1966, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, & Thyme does include a few songs from the previous year, including a remake of “Cloudy” from Simon’s solo album and the single “Homeward Bound”, which Simon wrote while at a railway station near Liverpool during a long, overnight wait for the next train. The song itself is, perhaps mid-sixties folk at its best and became a huge, top-five hit for the duo.

Interspersed between a variety of simple folk songs are some radical departures, most of which work brilliantly. “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” is an upbeat, almost rock song. As is “A Simple Desultory Phillippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission)”, with its heavy fuzz guitar and high organ chops along with a Dylan-esque accent on Simon’s vocals. The later of these two is one of the more entertaining on the album, almost comical. “The Dangling Conversation” doesn’t quite work as well in its experimentation with strings and orchestral arrangements.

Simon and Garfunkel 59th Street Bridge Song singleAnother catchy pop song which greatly improved Simon & Garfunkel’s radio appeal is The “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”, although this ong was not officially released as a single until a few years later. Using the colloquial name of the Queensboro Bridge in New York City as a backdrop, the song’s message is immediate – in deep contrast to the rushed pace of city life, the protagonist is simply taking his time and enjoying the day, feelin’ groovy. It features Dave Brubeck Quartet members Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on bass.

The album concludes with a couple of unique and interesting numbers. “A Poem On the Underground Wall” is almost psychedelic in its approach, containing an upbeat acoustic guitar up front and a contrasting deep, doomy organ in background. “7 O’clock News / Silent Night” is a haunting, artistic statement on the state of affairs in late 1966. On one side it contains a simulated news broadcast by Charlie O’Donnell, which amazingly forecasts subjects that will be front and center in years to come – Nixon, mass murderers, Martin Luther King, and war protests. On the other side is a simply arranged version of the Christmas carol “Silent Night”, backed by Garfunkel’s piano. The closing track with its dual themes and titles, mimics the opening tracks and bring the album full circle.

After Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, & Thyme, Simon & Garfunkel’s popularity continued to rise with the soundtrack to the film The Graduate and two more highly successful albums. They split up again for good in 1970, although they would reunite for several special shows and tours over the years.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.