Another birthday, another playlist!

A few years ago there was some game I was playing here on the FB where I had to post a song from the year I was born. So in my typical fashion, I made a playlist of some of my favorite songs of 1966, aka THE GREATEST YEAR IN POPULAR MUSIC… I even kept it to 66 songs, which is really difficult because, you know, 1966 was THE GREATEST YEAR IN POPULAR MUSIC! Being that my birthday was coming up, and because to celebrate my birthday I prefer to give/share rather than receive, and also out of boredom, I returned to the playlist last month and decided to update it. Of course I’m obsessed with the music of the 1960s, so it’s a labor of love, and really for my own amusement. I tried to be very strict about songs that were released in ‘66, and that was really tough. Did I succeed? Let’s review 1966 and see why it’s THE GREATEST YEAR IN POPULAR MUSIC!

Now I realize not everyone will agree with me, but 1966 really was the best year ever in music. Go ahead, check out the year you were born. Go ahead, I’ll wait… See, the year you were born has a lot of great music too, but let’s be honest, 1966 has got it beat. It is pretty hard to deny that ‘66 had some kind of cosmic, “planets all aligned” element to it. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan were hitting creative peaks. Motown and Stax were continuing to define Soul music and reshaped Pop in the process. And there was this new vibe in Rock music. The aftershocks of the British Invasion, where thousands of new bands emerged, later classified as Garage Rock and later influencing Punk, many of them were creating their own style on the edge of the coming psychedelic era. Some will say 1965 was where it all really started taking shape. “Help!”, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “Respect” and a lot of other incredible songs from ‘65 were lighting the fuse. Most music weirdos like me are in agreement that ‘66 is where it all fell into place. “Wild Thing”, “Knock On Wood”, “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, “You Can’t Hurry Love”, “96 Tears”, “Psychotic Reaction”, “Femme Fatale”, “Hold On, I’m Comin’”, “Talk Talk”, “River Deep Mountain High”, “Eight Miles High”, “What a Way To Die”, “Baby, Scratch My Back”, “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)”… Yeah, and that’s just a few of the amazing songs of 1966. I could have easily filled my playlist with obscure or lesser known songs to the non-music nerds, and there’s certainly plenty of those, including deep cuts, B-sides and cover versions I love, but I tried to find some balance with some big hits. Eventually I had to go beyond 66 songs and could have gone much further. Now I could ramble on about every song I selected but I gotta discuss a few.

I know, you’re probably thinking “Didn’t The Velvet Underground’s first album come out in 1967?” Yes, both VU and The Jimi Hendrix Experience are generally associated with ‘67, but the truth is both of these highly influential, groundbreaking acts released their debut singles in ‘66, with “Hey Joe” landing in December and VU’s “Femme Fatale” was actually the B-side of their 2nd single. I didn’t include Hendrix on the playlist because of the unreliability of Hendrix on YouTube, and although I considered The Leaves version of “Hey Joe” (which came out before Jimi’s version) I went with their punk nugget “Too Many People”.

For me personally, 1966 is synonymous with Garage Rock, although no such genre of music existed in 1966. The term “garage” was used in retrospect for the countless bands that formed in the wake of the British Invasion, many made up of teenagers—amateur musicians bashing away in garages, living rooms and basements across the USA, and the world. Lenny Kaye described these groups as “unprofessional”, yet nearly every band on his classic Nuggets compilation worked on some kind a professional level, many with management and record deals on fairly established record labels. While labels like Atlantic were technically “independent”, just look at their history pre-Warners and tell me they were not a “major” label. Other labels that were associated with ‘60s Garage Rock like Tower Records (The Standells, Chocolate Watchband) were distributed by majors, but I digress. Nowadays it seems almost all ‘60s Rock gets labeled “garage”. Seriously, I actually once heard someone refer to the early Rolling Stones as their “garage period”. I guess every band starts out like a garage band of sorts. The Stones actually first rehearsed in a “cheap room” above a pub, which I guess makes them Pub Rock. Just like “Punk”, “Grunge”, or any other label, it doesn’t matter in the end. Growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I heard the Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” every day on the radio. I don’t think I ever heard the term “garage”, but most certainly “one-hit wonder” was used. More times than most, this type of music was just called “classic rock”, long before there was an actual radio format of that name. I do find it’s a very cool thing that I became such a big Garage fan later in life and that the #1 song on the day I was born was Question Mark & The Mysterians’ “96 Tears”.

The “real” ‘60s Garage Rock is the stuff you find on comp series like Back From The Grave. BFTG bands were mostly amateur, “unprofessional” teen combos that didn’t last long, and in most cases only released one 45 on a local label. These bands didn’t quite have the talent of The Sonics, Love, The Music Machine, or record for Frank Sinatra’s label, like The Electric Prunes did. Nevertheless, I’ve included the Prunes and a lot of Nuggets on the playlist, including a few of the international groups found on the Nuggets II box set. There’s groups from The Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, as well as plenty of Redcoats (but no Paul Revere & The Raiders). I didn’t forget The Motor City and of course I had to represent Texas!

I tried really hard to stick to my rules, going back and forth on The Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard”, as it is a quintessential ‘66 song, but it was originally released in November of ‘65. The single was dead in the water until their debut album arrived the following April and “Pushin’” was re-released and became a hit, so it really does belong. Plus, during a recent rewatch of LOST (my favorite TV show), I was reminded of the scene where John Locke is listening to “Pushin’ Too Hard” in The Hatch. He has to push a button every 108 tracks…or is it 113?… um, never mind. I also made an exception for The Spencer Davis Group’s “Keep On Running”, another Nov. ‘65 release and originally by Jamaican singer Jackie Edwards, it hit #1 in the UK in January of ‘66. Sue me. Jimmy Hughes first recorded “Neighbor Neighbor” in 1964, but a funkier, re-recorded version from ‘66 was a hit, and was subsequently covered by many bands including Spencer Davis and ZZ Top, whom I first heard it from.

If the Hughes song seems like a stretch, then I just broke all the rules with J.B. Lenoir’s “Down In Mississippi”. Recorded in August of ‘66, it wasn’t released until 1970. Lenoir had often spoke out on subjects like racism, and the Korean and Vietnam wars in his music. In ‘65, he recorded the album Alabama Blues, a mostly acoustic, country blues styled record with a growing influence of African rhythms. It was produced by Willie Dixon and featured Chess legend Fred Below on drums. Down In Mississippi was to be the follow-up, again with Below and Dixon (who can be heard singing backups on the title track), but Lenoir’s label withheld the album’s release out of fear of backlash against the lyrical content during the height of the Civil Rights era. Tragically, Lenoir died in a car crash in April of ‘67, but through the help of J.B. super fan John Mayall, the album was released three years later. I just had to include the song as I think it is important. Other than Koko Taylor’s “Wang Dang Doodle” (another Dixon joint), there wasn’t all that much Blues music of significance that wasn’t made by white artists in 1966. One more personal anecdote, I didn’t really discover Lenoir till the mid-‘90s but I first heard “Down In Mississippi” a decade earlier. It was Ry Cooder’s version from the “Crossroads” movie (aka “The Karate Kid Plays The Blues”), which was a pivotal moment in my evolution as a Blues fan. Discovering Lenoir’s original is one of those full circle things.

“”I’m a Believer” by The Monkees, “Sunny Afternoon” by The Kinks, “Secret Agent Man” by Johnny Rivers, “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet” by Blues Magoos—all fantastic ‘66 singles, but I chose the B-sides of each of those for my playlist. Another great B-side was The Shrangri-Las’ “Dressed In Black”. By ‘66, they and many other girl-groups had started to fade. As “96 Tears” topped the charts the week I was born, The Ronettes’ “I Can Hear Music” entered at #100 and disappeared a week later. They never had another charting record. Martha & The Vandellas recorded “Jimmy Mack” in 1964, but Motown shelved it, claiming it sounded too much like The Supremes. Eventually it was used as filler for the groups’ ‘66 album Watchout!, and finally released as a single in ‘67. It would be their last Top 10 hit. There’s also quite a few albums released in ‘66 that included spectacular singles, like aforementioned “Pushin’ Too Hard” or “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’”, that were first released in ‘65, so instead of choosing an obvious hit like Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, I went for a killer deep cut like his “Music Talk”, or Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “More, More, More Of Your Love”, songs that should have been singles, IMO.

The playlist features a ton of cover songs, which shouldn’t be any surprise since almost every artist of the ‘60s era did covers at some point. Some nerds seem to think that artists that did a lot of covers were somehow inferior to ones that did more originals. Originality is often an illusion and not necessarily a mark of excellence. The musical education that I got from the Stones, Beatles, and every other ‘60s band that did covers, was priceless. Often artists would cover songs that were recent hits, like Loretta Lynn brilliantly extracting the country roots out of Nancy Sinatra’s breakout hit “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’”. Loretta recorded her version almost immediately after Nancy’s version topped the charts, yet Lynn didn’t release it as a single, but she could have and I believe it could have been a country hit. Likewise, Sinatra covered Cher’s big hit “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” but didn’t release it as a single either. It would take on greater reverence decades later in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” films, and I personally think it’s the definitive version (sorry Cher), especially with that haunting Billy Strange guitar work.

Rarely did someone take someone else’s song, like a Otis Redding song, and make it their signature tune like Aretha Franklin did with “Respect”. “Wang Dang Doodle” was first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, but Koko Taylor’s more R&B-styled (with that killer sax solo) version was the hit that was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Sometimes a song like “Gloria”, originally a B-side by the Irish band that wrote it, is a hit but has a line that says “She comes to my room” and many radio stations were too square to play it. So the cover by a “garage” band from Chicago becomes a Top 10 hit. I never heard Shadows of Knight’s version of “Gloria” till the late ‘90s. Thankfully by the time I first heard the song in the mid-‘70s, FM radio was less uptight and I only knew Them’s original (and Patti Smith’s cover) growing up. Decades later, I discovered that my dad owned, and had packed away, a copy of SOK’s 45 “Gloria ‘69”, their 2nd version of the song released in ‘68.

Covers of old Blues numbers or early Rock ‘N’ Roll songs were done by many groups because the band just dug them and they provided material to fill up albums and B-sides. I included another Howlin’ Wolf/Willie Dixon classic, “Spoonful”, by Q65. The Dutch band had many great original songs but their version of “Spoonful” stands heads above any of the countless cover versions, IMO. Some other notable covers on the playlist: Folk-rocker Tom Rush also does a great update of a Chess Records standard with Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love”; The Everly Brothers completely own The Hollies’ “I’ve Been Wrong Before” (backed by The Hollies and from their underrated Two Yanks In England album); Elvis does Dylan with “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” (see my other blog entry about this); Billy Stewart’s take on Gershwin’s “Summertime” is out-of-his world. I always forget that Love’s breakout hit “My Little Red Book” is a Burt Bacharach and Hal David song written for and first done by Manfred Mann. A recent discovery for me is obscure UK rocker Thane Russal who had a minor hit (only in Australia) with his version of Otis Redding’s “Security”. Russal’s version has a killer arrangement completely different from Otis. What was a shock to me is that one of my favorite “modern” bands, The King Khan & BBQ Show totally stole Russal’s arrangement for their song “Fishfight”.

Some friends might ask why I didn’t pick a Yardbirds song from their brilliant Roger The Engineer album (aka Over Under Sideways Down), instead of the “Train Kept A Rollin’” rewrite “Stroll On”… 1. It kicks ass 2. It has both Beck and Page on guitar 3. It’s from one of my favorite films of 1966. My other most favorite ‘66 movie is “The Good, Bad & The Ugly” and both it and “Blow Up” can be found near the top of most “Best Films of 1966” lists. No need to discuss Ennio Morricone. Others favorite ‘66 films: Seijun Suzuki’s “Tokyo Drifter”, “What’s Up Tiger Lilly?”, “The Professionals” (#1 at the box office the week of my birth), and the bone-sucking fun of the Terence Fisher/Peter Cushing romp “Island of Terror”. And of course there’s my crush Nancy Sinatra teaming up with Elvis in “Spinout” and Peter Fonda in “The Wild Angels”. And on a side note: just like Nancy’s version of “Bang Bang” found new significance in a film, Norma Tanega’s “You’re Dead” has become a cult hit with its use as the theme song for both the film and TV show “What We Do In The Shadows”.

Many people will say the best album of 1966 was The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. I never been much of a fan of it or the group (not a Sgt. Peppers fan either), and I just couldn’t justify including something that does nothing for me, although I did consider “Good Vibrations”. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones released some of their most significant work in 1966. While Rubber Soul was released in December of ‘65, and many of the hits from that album were a part of the soundscape of the following year, they surprisingly only produced two releases in ‘66. They toured all over the world that year and were about to retire from live performances, wanting to focus more on their studio work. After the fantastic “Paperback Writer” b/w “Rain” single, they released their first masterpiece, Revolver. I don’t need to say anything else about that. The Rolling Stones on the other hand, just ran up the score with four brilliant singles: “19th Nervous Breakdown”, “Paint It Black”, “Mother’s Little Helper”, and “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?”, not to mention they knocked out “Let’s Spend The Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday” in December for a double A-side January ‘67 release. And of course there is the sprawling 52 minute (UK version) Aftermath, their first album of all original songs. I ended the playlist with my #2 favorite Stones song, “Out Of Time”. I’m really not into the the whole “Beatles Vs. Stones” thing. It’s amusing but I love both bands. We all know who my favorite is though…The Ventures! The Ventures not only jumped on a cover of The Troggs’s “Wild Thing” but put out a whole album inspired by it with the word “wild” in several titles. Non more groovy than “Fuzzy And Wild”.

Also in my typical compulsive disorder, I’ve made two playlists, one on YouTube and one on Spotify, for your personal preference. They’re both different as one platform doesn’t carry some songs. There’s three Nuggets songs that are not on Spotify, so add that to the list of marks against them. Seriously Spotify, you should have ALL NUGGETS! And that brings us to the title track of this playlist. I first heard “That’s The Bag I’m In” by The Fabs on the first Back From The Grave. It’s one of my favorite ‘60s Garage tunes, and a cover of the great Fred Neil song. The Fabs, like most BFTG, are not on Spotify so we have another playlist with a split personality.

“You know they’ll probably drop the atom bomb the day my ship comes in…”

Did I mention that today’s my birthday?