Tuesday, March 23, 2010

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1965

As everyone knows by now, the House of Representatives passed Obamacare the other night. Problem is, I'd been working on this particular blog for well over a week and I didn't have the time to write something else. If the health care debate is still raging next week, I'll probably post my thoughts on the topic then. Thank you for your patience.

If 1964 was the year that audiophiles first took notice of the LP as an all-encompassing artistic statement, as compared to a collection of recent songs, than 1965 was the first great year for long-players. It was also a year of double vision, as nearly every major act of the time --most of them now recognized as all-time greats-- released at least two new albums that year. 1965 was more than just the halfway point of the decade; it drew a wedge between the straight-laced sounds of the Camelot era and the psychedelic free-for-alls that closed the '60s. The British Invasion, Motown, and the folk sounddominated the American music charts outright, while surf-rock and the Brill Building slowly faded from sight. Jazz had both feet planted in its modal period, and suddenly it was cool for white guys to play the blues. These are my favorite albums from '65:

1. Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan. And just like that, the unwilling leader of the folk movement went full-blown electric. After dipping his toe into that rock n' roll sound on side A of Bringing It All Back Home, the second phase of Dylan's long and unparalled career was initiated. The playful folkie from Greenwich Village had transitioned into an angry young man with a knack for wordplay. The snare shot that kicks off "Like a Rolling Stone" is like a call to arms, and the six-plus minutes that follow could be described with an infinite number of adjectives; arguably, it's the nastiest, visceral, metaphor-laden, powerful, difficult, unexpected, and unrelenting song ever recorded.
2. Rubber Soul, The Beatles. Speaking of second acts, The Beatles' 6th long-player was also a portent of things to come. Bridging the simplicity and innocence of their early work and the lyrical and instrumental experimentation of future efforts like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's, Rubber Soul is a transitional album in the most complimentary sense. The sitar that carries "Norwegian Wood" is discerning and lulling at the same time, while the piano solo on "In My Life," warped in post-production to mimic a harpsichord, is dainty and pretty without ever sounding effete or trite.
3. Maiden Voyage, Herbie Hancock. Building upon the themes of his 1964 breakthrough Empyrean Isles, the aquatically obsessed Hancock devised a concept album aimed at creating an oceanic atmosphere. Borrowing (so to speak) bassist Ron Carter and drummer Anthony Williams from Miles Davis' legendary second quintet, Maiden Voyage showcases a promising young jazz pianist at the high point of his creative powers. Sure, Voyage may not be as adventurous as Isles, though it certainly does a better job of balancing accessible, lyrical jazz with risk-taking hard bop.
4. Bringing It All Back Home, Bob Dylan
5. Help!, The Beatles
6. E.S.P., Miles Davis
7. Speak No Evil, Wayne Shorter
8. Mr. Tambourine Man, The Byrds
9. Ascension, John Coltrane
10. Out of Our Heads, The Rolling Stones. If the Stones' third LP (fourth in the States) was remembered solely for "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction)," it'd still be a great album. A rumination on sex and commercialism, "Satisfaction" was unlike anything on the radio at the time, much less on an album of mostly blues and R&B covers. The track listings for the US and UK versions vary wildly, but both versions are equally... satisfactory.

Honorable Mentions: The Cape Verdean Blues, Horace Silver; Soothsayer, Wayne Shorter; December's Children (And Everybody's), The Rolling Stones; Begin Here, The Zombies; Today!, The Beach Boys.

1965 was also an excellent year for singles. If you know any or all of these 20 songs, I'm sure you'd agree:

"A Well Respected Man," The Kinks
"We Gotta Get Out of This Place," The Animals
"You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," The Silkie
"Yesterday," The Beatles
"I Know a Place," Petula Clark
"Catch Us If You Can," Dave Clark Five
"For Your Love," The Yardbirds
"I Want Candy," The Strangeloves
"Concrete & Clay," Unit 4+2
"Go Now," The Moody Blues

"I Hear A Symphony," The Supremes
"Since I Lost My Baby," The Temptations
"It's The Same Old Song," The Four Tops
"In The Midnight Hour," Wilson Pickett
"The 'In' Crowd," Ramsey Lewis Trio
"Do You Believe in Magic," The Lovin' Spoonful
"Eve Of Destruction," Barry McGuire
"Treat Her Right," Roy Head and The Traits
"She's About a Mover," Sir Douglas Quintet
"Unchained Melody," The Righteous Brothers

NOTE: I confused the release date of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme (February 1965) with the recording date (December 1964), so it appears my 1964 list from several months ago. I humbly regret the error.
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