Our 66 from ‘66, L-R.
The Lovin’ Spoonful
Kama Sutra single, March 1966
Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful
Kama Sutra, November 1966
“I can’t imagine a better time to be writing songs and making music than 1966,” said Lovin’ Spoonful founder John Sebastian. “It was a high-water mark. Part of the excitement was the competition. You just had to look around at Brian Wilson and Lennon And McCartney and John Loudermilk and all these Nashville writers and go: ‘I’m never going to kick this guy’s ass!’”
But that year, Sebastian did just that, with a legacy-making five US Top 10 singles including Summer In The City and Daydream, and two hit albums that rivalled Pet Sounds and Revolver in their dazzling creative scope. Even more significantly, by filtering his literate, witty songcraft through an eclectic prism of rock’n’roll, country, folk, blues, jug band, Tin Pan Alley and whatever else grabbed his fancy, Sebastian showed us the future shape of popular music: a gloriously shaggy mutt.
Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James
Fontana single, November 21, 1966
Manfred Mann might not have been the greatest British pop group ever, but they were one of the smartest. Although Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James wasn’t as successful as their UK No.1 single Pretty Flamingo (released earlier in 1966, and a swansong for their original singer Paul Jones), this tongue-in-cheek tale of being jilted by a dolly bird for a boring yet wealthy suitor was every bit as witty as The Kinks’ social observations and came on like a less pretentious A Day In The Life. Not only was it the first big hit to feature a Mellotron, it also found new vocalist Mike D’Abo coming on like a proto-Bowie as he sang about nappies on the line, morning toast dutifully buttered and boring sex with hubby. Even in an era of groundbreaking production, Shel Talmy’s multi-tracking in mono was spellbinding, prefiguring progressive rock by nearly half a decade.
I’m A Believer/(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone
Colgems single, November 12, 1966
Never mind that none of them actually played instruments on it, Neil Diamond’s I’m A Believer was the single that rubber-stamped The Monkees as international superstars, selling over 10 million copies. The song’s success may have proved that prefab pop could be just as valid as the real thing, given the right presentation and capable session players, but the lyrics of its B-side – a cover of Boyce and Hart’s (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone, later covered by the Sex Pistols – can be taken as an early indicator of the band struggling to free themselves from the corporate machine that had created them.
Night Of Fear
Deram single, December 9, 1966
As Birmingham’s post-war industry and economy flourished, Brumbeat blossomed into decadent psychedelia. With The Who as their template, The Move formed from several prominent local players – Roy Wood, Trevor Burton, Ace Kefford, Bev Bevan and Carl Wayne – with a shared urge to push the R&B scene forward. The Move’s schtick was a violent, flamboyant stage show, their music a multi-textured melodic pop built upon Wood’s love of classical music. Night Of Fear aimed to flip switched-on minds with a strident hook taken from Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
A benchmark for heavy, metallic sounds and classically influenced prog, The Move would also give birth to the globe-conquering Electric Light Orchestra and Wood’s long-running solo career. Still, you have to wonder what would have happened if a certain John Bonham hadn’t turned down the vacant drum stool in 1965.
The Music Machine
Original Sound single, November 1966
The LA combo downtuned their guitars a whole step to create the atonal effect that gave their debut single its sinister appeal. Hitched to snapping drums and growling vocals, it was a garage-punk crossover hit that satisfied singer Sean Bonniwell’s intention to bring “something completely unique” to the US charts. Kudos too to engineer Paul Ruff, whose use of new 10-track technology gave it a depth lacking in most of their peers. The band’s hoodlum sound was mirrored in their stage act, which saw them dressed all in black with matching dyed hair and, in Bonniwell’s case, a single leather glove.
The Pretty Things
Midnight To Six Man
Fontana single, January 15, 1966
By 1965, The Pretty Things were more subversive than their old mates the Rolling Stones; their frontman Phil May made the headlines just for having long hair. But 1966 would be a year of turmoil for the Pretties. Firebrand drummer and Keith Moon’s hero Viv Prince had bowed out after committing arson on a plane. His replacement was the inconveniently underage Skip Alan, who was nearly impounded on a European tour. Back at home, the group were torn between guitarist Dick Taylor’s passion for soul and May’s rock’n’roll attitude. In an effort to, as Taylor said, “construct something different, something weird”, Midnight To Six Man was a compromise, ditching the 12-bar format for some mod-punk buccaneering. Their next song, LSD, would gain more publicity, but Midnight would shape the next phase of garage rock: Flamin’ Groovies, the Medway scene, The Strypes and beyond.
Question Mark & The Mysterians
Pa-Go-Go single, October 1966
It’s the ultimate punk origin story: Hispanic teens whose parents work in Michigan car factories form a garage band, take their name from a Japanese sci-fi flick (singer Question Mark claims he’s a space alien), play local dances, cut a one-take single in the back of a beauty shop, hand-deliver 45s to radio stations, and overcome everything from racism to record business logic to top the national chart. 96 Tears (numerically flipped because the band worried the original title was too dirty) survives not only as the proto-punk anthem, but also a textbook example of what the DIY spirit can accomplish. Unfortunately their story also doubles as a cautionary tale. The Mysterians made the classic mistake of signing away the copyright of their signature tune.
Richard And The Young Lions
Open Up Your Door
Phillips single, July 1966
“The haircut is strictly Anglo-Saxon, late Beowulf or early Prince Valiant,” an observer noted while admiring frontman Richard Tepp’s magnificent mane. Tepp was a one-man Pretty Things who banged his tambourine as if Mick Jagger and Brian Jones had warped into one in his febrile imagination. Musos might tell you the Lions’ debut was notable for its African djembe percussion and fuzz bass, but, more importantly, this New Jersey mob had a throbbing sound that got the go-go dancers squirming. The holy grail of US punk rock singles, Open Up Your Door was a wonderfully filthy demand for physical proximity that scraped into the US Top 100 but topped many regional charts, including Detroit.
Motown offered them a deal to become the label’s first white act, but the Lions couldn’t break their Phillips contract. The Yardbirds tried bringing them to Britain, and that didn’t happen either. Still, in the year of the beast, Richard was rampant.