Thursday, 18 September 2008

1966 is not a year that I remember in the least – not politically, not culturally, not musically – I was born late in the year. My only thoughts were napping, eating, and pooping.

Still, this was an interesting year for music. And since I was born in 1966, it serves as a place to start. Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Johnny Cash and a host of others released albums that year.

What surprised me most, however, was Booker T and the MG’s had an album that year. I always thought they started recently but, as it turns out, the band was formed in 1962. The were largely a group of studio musicians from Stax Records.

I shouldn’t be so surprised that they’re still playing; after all, Dylan and the Rolling Stones are still around. But for some reason they strike me as big names, where Booker T. and the MG’s comes off as a much smaller group that, for some untold reason, wouldn’t still be around.

The Beatles released two albums in 1966: Revolver, and Yesterday and Today. Both albums spawned spawned several remarkable, classic tunes: “Eleanor Rigby,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “Taxman,” and of course “Yellow Submarine” from Revolver and “Drive My Car,” “Nowhere Man,” “Yesterday,” and “Day Tripper” from Yesterday and Today. All great songs, but still neither is my favorite album from that year.

The Monkees put out their first album in 1966. Despite having its roots in a television show, it went #1 in the US and topped the UK charts. “Last Train to Clarksville” was a #1 single that I remember having as a scratchy 45 at one point. I played the heck out of that song and never missed the show when it was out in syndication.

Frank Sinatra and his daughter Nancy each had albums in 1966. Nancy, most notably Boots, which brought us the unmistakable, spectacular “These Boots are Made for Walkin’.” I bought a Nancy Sinatra best-of CD a couple years ago just so I could have that song.

Still, with all that great music, and more from the likes of Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, Buffalo Springfield, Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding, The Animals – too many to mention, there’s one more that clearly tops them all.

Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys.

Pet Sounds was their ninth studio album and it changed the face of pop music. It’s even credited with influencing The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!

The album has several seminal Beach Boys songs. Tunes that are instantly recognizable, that snap you back to a simpler time (if you’re of a certain age) or just make you feel good.

Right off the top Pet Sounds starts with one of my favorite Beach Boys songs: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” With its many layers of harmonies and upbeat sound, it expresses some of the impatience of youth and how you have to wait for what you truly want.

Even though it’s a cover of a traditional West Indies folk song, “Sloop John B.” will always be a Beach Boys tune to me. It is unmistakably summer. I play it during the winter as a sort of talisman to ward off the doldrums and hopefully bring the sunny days back more quickly. Also, I always wonder how many people have named their boats after this one song.

“Let’s Go Away for Awhile” is a brilliant instrumental song, almost orchestral in its nature. You can hear the strings, saxophone, piano, vibes, and I think an oboe in there.

Sophisticated for its time, “God Only Knows” is, in my mind, the best song off Pet Sounds. The depth of the harmonies and easy complexity of the melody make it stand out. It’s a gorgeous love song that basically says “You make me what I am.”

Although just a smattering, Pet Sounds is truly a classic. I come back to it often and it really did define pop music for many years. It’s truly a must for any music collection.