After nearly 36 months, I have finally reached my favorite year of the '60s. Where '67, '68, and '69 were all top-heavy in great albums, 1966 balanced the long player's arrival as an art form with a cornucopia of all-time great singles. Without belaboring their impact 45 years on, any of the top three albums of my list could've been #1 in any other year, or any other decade for that matter. On the 45 RPM front, everything seemed to be firing on all cylinders: R&B, folk-pop, Motown, bubblegum, British Invasion, primative garage rock and early psychedelic. It was also a curious yet fascinating year in jazz, as the Blue Note post-bop stalwarts of the past decade or so finally conceided to liberal improvisation and the "free" movement. In all, there was a general sense of liberation and daring-do in the sounds of '66 that just couldn't be tamped down.
(Like past lists, my albums are ranked but my favorite songs are not.)
1. Revolver, The Beatles. If Rubber Soul was the appetizer and Sgt. Pepper's the dessert, than the Fab Four's seventh album was the main course. A crucial turning point in the band's philosophy, aesthetic, and sound, Revolver is the wedge between the band's straight-ahead earlier work and the sonic exploration and restless experimenting of their late '60s output. Even though Abbey Road was his true breakout, George Harrison nearly steals the show with his three writing contributions: the cynical "Taxman," the sitar durge "Love You To," and the dissonant "I Want To Tell You." With all the risks taken on this disc, it's almost a miracle that everything holds together, which makes Revolver an absolute must-own album.
2. Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys. Very few people understand the complexities of the human mind. Even fewer understand Brian Wilson's. When it comes to melodic melancholy, nothing compares nor ever will match the lush orchestration, inherent sense of loneliness, and yearning upper-register harmonizing of Pet Sounds. As the troubled songwriter aspired to be the next Phil Spector, Wilson not only cashed in all his chips, he rendered the "Wall of Sound" guru irrelevant overnight.
3. Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan. Its a testament to how deep the genius pool was in '66 that a genre-defining album would finish third on an annual list. The final act of Zimmerman's mid-decade triptych of masterpieces (see my '65 list for more details) draws the line in the sand between rock and pop; the sound is freewheeling and ramshackle, and the lyrics are so dense that you'll find a new meaning or subtext with every listen. The witty wordplay flows like water, whether it's on rockers such as "Stuck Inside of Memphis" or ballads like "Visions of Johanna." Dylan would continue to record great albums well after Blonde, but nothing has rocked as hard since.
4. Unit Structures, Cecil Taylor
5. Aftermath, The Rolling Stones
6. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme, Simon & Garfunkel
7. Freak Out!, The Mothers of Invention
8. Adam's Apple, Wayne Shorter
9. Buffalo Springfield, Buffalo Springfield
10. Black Monk Time, The Monks. One of the most bizarre backstories in rock history also begat the album that inadvertantly invented punk. (Click here for the whole skinny.) Slashing two chords a good decade before The Ramones and voicing their radical beliefs when Dead Kennedys were still in grammar school, these American ex-pats started a revolution they had no idea was even brewing. Plus, Dave Day plays a blistering banjo.
Honorable Mentions: Got a Good Thing Goin', Big John Patton; 5th Dimension, The Byrds; Fresh Cream, Cream; If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, The Mamas and the Papas; The Monkees, The Monkees; Sounds of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel.
Best Album I Haven't Heard Yet: The Psychedelic Sounds of..., The 13th Floor Elevators. I've heard so much about this album, yet I can't find a hard copy for my dear life. Once I score this disc, I'll make the proper adjustment to the list above.
"What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," Jimmy Ruffin
"When a Man Loves a Woman," Percy Sledge
"Devil With a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly," Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels
"This Old Heart of Mine," The Isley Brothers
"Ain't Too Proud to Beg," The Temptations
"You Keep Me Hangin' On," The Supremes
"Reach Out (I'll Be There)," The Four Tops
"River Deep Mountain High," Ike & Tina Turner
"Sweet Talkin' Guy," The Chiffons
"Philly Dog," Herbie Mann
"Paperback Writer," The Beatles
"Five O'Clock World," The Vogues
"Psychotic Reaction," Count Five
"Wild Thing," The Troggs
"Good Lovin'," The Young Rascals
"Sunshine Superman," Donovan
"Black is Black," Los Bravos
"Red Rubber Ball," The Cyrkle
"Walk Away Renee," The Left Banke
"96 Tears," ? and the Mysterians