Tuesday, October 27, 2009

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1964

For this month's musical best-of list, I'm taking a big leap in the wayback machine. 1964 may seem like ancient history for some of you, yet it was a tipping point in American pop culture whose impact can still be felt 45 years later. Right at the center of everything was The Beatles, who churned out not one but three great albums in '64, heretofore launching the British Invasion and proving that foreign acts can be viable, profitable, and have a long-term impact in the US. That's not to say that it was a bad year for domestic hitmakers, though; Motown was a force to be reckoned with, and out on the west coast the surf sounds of The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean et al. were still pretty happenin'. Plus, it was the first full year of the post-Kennedy era; the nation's priorities were changing, and the desire to try something different was baubling in nearly every direction, especially in regard to music.

Most importantly, 1964 was the year that the rock n' roll LP came to form. Granted, the average consumer more inclined to buy 45s and most full-players were compilations of previously released music (with some filler), but the albums mentioned below slowly altered that perception. Jazz music was best absorbed at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute --another big reason why '64 was a boon year-- though a lot of top 40 acts were slowly realizing the potential of recording in that format. Without further ado...


1. A Love Supreme, John Coltrane. To declare a piece of art --or anything you've created, for that matter-- as your gift to God is a bold statement, one that suggests ambition but also arrogance and delusion. Then again, there were very few jazz musicians quite like Trane. Seven years after kicking a near-deadly heroin habit, Coltrane became a born-again Christian and a well-to-do family man, and this thought-provoking suite emcompasses his rebirth and embrace in a higher being. Nearly half a century on, Supreme is probably far more transcendant (and important) than Coltrane ever intended.
2. A Hard Day's Night, The Beatles. Easily the Fab Four's best early-period album. Not only is Night the de facto soundtrack to an equally great movie, it shows the band coming into their own. The album is a testament to the collaborative powers of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who co-wrote all 14 songs. It's peppy and propulsive, yet to this day it remains oddly fresh.
3. Getz/Gilberto, Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto. One drawback in writing these monthly montages is coming up with something favorable to say without bordering into hyperbole. Luckily, my #3 pick is another artistic milestone in the annals of music; it may not be the purest Bossa Nova album ever recorded, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a better one. Simply put, Getz/Gilberto is a thing of beauty.
4. Out To Lunch!, Eric Dolphy
5. Meet The Beatles, The Beatles
6. Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan
7. Song For My Father, Horace Silver
8. Beatles For Sale, The Beatles
9. The Times They Are A-Changin', Bob Dylan
10. 12x5, The Rolling Stones. This is not your father's Stones, though it could be your grandpa's. This sophomore effort from Mick, Keith et al. is a continuation of the dilligent blues covers that dominated their debut, though you begin to see flashes of the juggernaut they would eventually become.

Honorable Mentions: Juju, Wayne Shorter; Spiritual Unity, The Albert Ayler Trio.

As I alluded to before, the individual song carried more weight than a full record around this time, which made whitting my usual favorite singles list down to ten songs an impossible feat. The list that you're about to read is so disparate in genre, form, and style compared to my album picks --and in itself-- it's almost laughable. Here's my top 20 (in no particular order) from '64:

"I Feel Fine," The Beatles
"Bits and Pieces," The Dave Clark Five
"I'm Crying," The Animals
"You Really Got Me," The Kinks
"Oh, Pretty Woman," Roy Orbison
"Money (That's What I Want)," The Kingsmen
"Rag Doll," The Four Seasons
"Where Did Our Love Go," The Supremes
"The Way You Do The Things You Do," The Temptations
"Baby I Need Your Loving," The Four Tops

"Under The Broadwalk," The Drifters
"Remember (Walking In The Sand)," The Shangri-Las
"Be My Baby," The Ronettes
"A Summer Song," Chad & Jeremy
"Surfin' Bird," The Trashmen
"GTO," Ronny and the Daytonas
"Penetration," The Pyramids
"Boss," The Rumblers
"Hey Little Cobra," The Ripchords
"Philly Dog," Herbie Mann

Your thoughts?


  1. You know technically in the U.S., Capitol debuted 5 Beatles mixed albums in 1964 to maximize profit, and one could argue that the Beatles UK "For Sale" was weak and contained too many covers and has what could be considered one of their worst songs in "Mr. Moonlight", which to me sounds as un-Beatle like as could be. And while the Beach Boys are redundant, they did hit #1 with "I Get Around" during the peak of Beatlemania to break the Beatles' string of #1's.

    "Surfin' Bird" came out in 1963.

  2. "Surfin' Bird" was released in '63, though it made its greatest impact on the charts in early '64.

    Our TV.com pals pointed out that I overlooked "Gloria" by Them and "Ferry Cross the Mercy" by Gerry & The Pacemakers. Oops. :(

  3. Music lists are so subjective it's almost ridiculously futile to argue it.

    As for this week's Pick 'Ems, I'm so damn confused I keep changing my picks every single day. These so-called football "experts" have basically the same exact record I do.