1966 was an incredible year for music, there’s no doubt about it: “Eight Miles High,” “Paint It Black,” “Summer in the City,” “Good Vibrations,” “You Can’t Hurry Love”… But in the period before 1967 or 1968, I notice it’s harder to find full albums that I love from start to finish. Plenty of great songs, sure. It just seems that until late 60s, most bands/artists weren’t developed enough as songwriters and as record-makers to produce a solid 35+ minutes of music that a) was of a consistently high quality and b) cohered into a proper album as opposed to a mere compilation of individual tracks. That said, there were still some pretty stellar albums being produced in ’66, including a couple of the all-time greats. So without further ado, my Top 5 Rock/Pop Albums of 1966…
5. FRESH CREAM (Cream)
I plump for Clapton in the Great Hendrix-Clapton Debate, and the reasons are all over this first Cream album. Clapton’s instincts as a soloist are unparalleled. He knows how to let loose, and can burn it up with the best of them, but he never overindulges, never crosses the line into wanking. (Not that Hendrix did, but he was great in different ways that don’t necessarily appeal to me as much as Clapton does.) Add in Ginger Baker’s pummeling drums and Jack Bruce’s powerful drums and vocals, even at this early stage, and you get the best heavy rock band pre-Zeppelin for my money.
4. SOUNDS OF SILENCE (Simon & Garfunkel)
An album very much of its time, Sounds of Silence could not have been made at any historical moment other than in the midst of the folk-rock explosion of the mid-60s. But Paul Simon was a songwriting talent not to be trifled with, even if his early work is sometimes a little stilted, and he and Art Garfunkel still sang some of the sweetest harmonies ever put to record.
3. BLONDE ON BLONDE (Bob Dylan)
Highway 61 Revisited was more of a revelation; but when you use the word “Dylanesque” to describe a piece of music, you’re probably thinking of the organ-drenched, swirling, surrealistic Blonde on Blonde. It’s fuller-sounding than its predecessor, denser, more sprawling, one of the few filler-less double albums in rock history.
2. REVOLVER (The Beatles)
The title says it all: if Rubber Soul was the Beatles’ first masterwork, Revolver is their first truly revolutionary album. This is where the lads go bonkers, throwing genre limitations and love song conventions to the wind and trying their hand at anything and everything that strikes their fancy. And they master it all, naturally, spooling off heart-rending ballads, bluesy rockers, perfect pop, and psychedelic freak-outs with equal ease.
1. PET SOUNDS (The Beach Boys)
It was tough not to rank Revolver #1 on this list. But there’s no shame in losing to Pet Sounds, an album whose beauty is of the sort that breaks your heart even as it exhilarates you. When Brian Wilson set out to produce the legendary Smile, he said he wanted to write a “teenage symphony to God.” But Brian, you already had. You already had.
- Brian Wilson Pulls Off a Surprise “Pet Sounds” in New York (rollingstone.com)
- Hate the Beatles? Blame your mother. And mine. And his. And theirs. (lonesomenoise.com)
- Blonde on Blonde Revisited (nolongertheonlyone.wordpress.com)
- Beatles release brand new box set which doesn’t include Abbey Road (allbeatlesnews.blogspot.com)
- Shut Your Dumb, Stupid Mouth about the Beatles Being Overrated (noisey.vice.com)