1966 was such a fruitful year that it will take several parts just to deal with the good stuff. To think that the LP was only beginning to be seen as a viable medium worth more than a couple of singles and then covers to fill out the album. Heck, even album filler was often fun.
This list gets a lot of the obvious out of the way and throws in a few oddballs to keep things interesting. These albums aren't being rated. They're being listed. An important distinction, since I don't want anybody getting the idea that I'm some kind of style nazi. I like to let all things coexist. An album with a couple great songs is often better than an album of consistent indifference.
Just think! If I were writing this column in 1966, I'd be remembering the year 1921! And if I was writing about Russian culture, wouldn't that be something?
Wait till you see Part Two!
25) The Fugs - The Fugs: The Fugs' First Album was originally released in 1965 as The Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary Protests, Points of Views and General Dissatisfaction and then reissued in 1966 with a few alterations. It's the sound of cold water flats back when getting mugged was a badge of honor on the Lower East Side. Mayor Bloomberg would be appalled!
24) The Monkees - The Monkees: The Monkees belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not only did their first album include great songs written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, but it also gave a track to future Bread man David Gates, a couple to Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and Mike Nesmith himself. Good pop music is harder than it looks. Apparently, Colgems Records does not have the clout of Seymour Stein.
23) The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band - Volume One: The covers of Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "She Belongs to Me" pay attention to "serious" work, while the covers of "Louie Louie" and "You Really Got Me" apply to rock. The freakouts are what's important. I've seen this stuff called derivative, which is hilarious, since the music it derives from isn't more than a few years old! By this measure, all music is derivative, since every album I own uses the same notes!
22) The Godz - Contact High With the Godz: Another fine crappy band that liked to make a mess. These days, the same damn noise is made and then given an artsy title or a knowing wink, which changes the entire context. It's no longer a contact high, but just annoying second-hand smoke.
21) Mrs. Miller - Mrs. Miller's Greatest Hits, Will Success Spoil Mrs. Miller?: Don't think hipsters have the market cornered on kitsch. Back in the 1960s, when people hovering around 60 looked like they were from several generations past - kind of the way I look since I don't use a cellphone - Mrs. Miller (Elva to her friends) cranked out popular songs in a deliberately crappy style that included her singing out of key and time and then giggling when she forgot the words. Ha Ha! Look at the OLD PEOPLE. They're so funny!
20) The Beau Brummels - Beau Brummels '66: What better idea than sign a band to your label because they've had some hits with their own material and then force the band into doing an album of covers the very same year everyone else is breaking new ground. It's kind of amazing Warner Brothers didn't have them record an album of swing music.
19) The Sonics - Boom, Introducing the Sonics: Long before Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden alerted the world that there was such a thing as the Northwest, Tacoma Washington's Sonics, released a slew of albums that were loud and quite rude. "Psycho" is the compilation favorite but they made plenty of other great noises, too! The band broke up at this point to go to school!
18) Chet Atkins - Picks On the Beatles: Had Chet Atkins been born two decades later and in the U.K., he would've been in the Yardbirds and forever revered by rock audiences. (He had to die to get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.) Instead, he was country music's ultimate weapon and was their Joe Satriani, releasing albums of dexterous fretwork that mere mortals could only dream about. Here he takes on music that had MORE HAIR than he did. Or maybe he noticed that George Harrison played a Gretsch in order to sound something like him.
17) P.F. Sloan - Twelve More Times: I've often maintained that bands should not be embarrassed if they can't write their own songs. Just find somebody who can! Imagine how great life as we know it would be if everywhere you see the name Diane Warren, there was the name P.F. Sloan instead!
16) Bob Lind - The Elusive Bob Lind: Best known for "Elusive Butterfly," Bob Lind falls under a very important category of recording artist: one who recorded with Jack Nitzsche! Also receiving props from Jarvis Cocker helps, but are you seriously going to ignore a man who worked with Jack Nitzsche? Or someone who has written for the Weekly World News? Someone find my copy of Performance!
15) Martin Denny - Martin Denny!, Hawaiian A Go-Go, Exotica Today, Golden Greats, Hawaii: The music industry was a far more awesome place when artists released albums every few months. Some people refer to Denny's music as kitsch, but I think they're just jealous that he figured out a way to live and work in Hawaii. While stoners were working with fuzzboxes, Denny played with gongs, brass, vibes and percussion! Most important question, did he get to "know" the lady on his album covers?
14) Ssgt. Barry Sadler - Ballads of the Green Berets: While so many anti-war troubadours did brisk business in the 1960s, staff sergeant Barry Sadler managed one massive hit that turned out to the number one single of 1966. His audience wasn't likely to buy many records, concept or double-live albums, so his music career faded.
13) Hugh Masekela - The Americanization of Ooga Booga: Long before Paul Simon began singing over the music of South Africans, record companies were hesitant to bring the African experience to white America. They had enough trouble getting people to buy jazz!
12) The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds: Often said to be the greatest album of all-time, usually by Brits who fantasize about surfing and California sunshine the way moody U.S. teenagers romanticize anoraks and clammy Manchester streets, Pet Sounds is a tunefully ambitious collection that intimidated and inspired Paul McCartney to begin his takeover of the Beatles. Also on the plus side, Mike Love hated it.
11) The Monks - Black Monk Time: American GIs stationed in Germany, the Monks are proof that you can be ahead of your time without trying too hard. People are often backwards and stuck and don't even know it. (This also describes my driving.)
10) Otis Redding - The Soul Album, Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul: I guess his label was afraid you wouldn't know Otis sang soul music. Assuming you listen to music - sometimes it seems I just collect it - you have likely noticed that Otis could sing anything and everything and break your heart. Otis makes you realize how lame death really is. But, in fairness, death spares us from watching artists make mediocre records in something called the 1980s.
9) The Kinks - Face to Face: The first truly great Kinks album begins the group's slide down and eventually off the charts, making the Kinks the first "alternative rock band." While the production is still several notches below that of other top-tier groups, the songwriting is miles ahead. Actually, I would dare say these songs would be worse if they were recorded with competence. They're called The Kinks for a reason!
8) John Coltrane - Ascension: Recorded in June of 1965 and released in February of 1966, which in those days was a lifetime, Ascension is fantastic jazz for anyone who found the stuff too structured. That it still makes my neighbors shut their doors and windows remains a plus. These days kids think "Free Jazz" just means you don't have to pay for it.
7) Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde: Truth be told, this album is a mess. Its peaks are friggin' Everest ("Visions of Johanna," "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again") but you could lose a third of it ("Pledging My Time," "Temporary Like Achilles," "4th Time Around," "Obviously 5 Believers") and only be missing the beautiful gatefold sleeve. Consistency has always been overrated. Because you could live off the good stuff here and sell the extras for parts.
6) Buffalo Springfield - Buffalo Springfield: Only in 1966 in a band with Stephen Stills and Richie Furay could Neil Young be considered third in line. They even let Richie sing "Flying On the Ground Is Wrong" so as to not scare the little children. Young did sing on "Burned" and "Out of My Mind." Just look at those titles! How could he not end up recording Tonight's the Night?
5) Donovan - Sunshine Superman: Contractual issues prevented the official version of this album from being released in the U.K., so only the U.S. got the real thing. It messed up people's chronology of the man's work. While Donovan has always seemed a bit naïve and hippy-trippy to modern ears, his records sound even better today. Kinda like Kraftwerk.
4) The Rolling Stones - Aftermath: In either the U.K. or U.S. edition, Aftermath is the album where the Stones are finally ready to do real battle on the album front. Gone are the blues covers and Chuck Berry numbers. Brian Jones is fully employed and Keith has yet to turn himself into the human riff. The band always had an uncanny knack for coming up with what they needed. At this point, the band was likely wondering when their fame would end!
3) The Animals - Animalization, Animalism: The Animals never had the Rolling Stones' corporate structure or the Beatles' sunny disposition and ability to sing about, well, animals like they were children's songs. By 1977, the Animals should've been a leading punk group. But the band were to cash in! Bonus points for taking Donovan's "Hey Gyp" and smashing it into the wall.
2) The Beatles - Yesterday and Today, Revolver: The Beatles had their catalog delightfully chopped up by the folks at Capitol who knew Americans liked to buy more albums whenever possible. They took three Lennon songs off Revolver and gave them to us a few months early and out of context. So, the US version sounds like McCartney's date with piano, strings and brass instead of an evenly matched battle where Lennon keeps things loud.
1) Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention - Freak Out!: Zappa was so far ahead of everyone with this debut double album that he couldn't see much in the rearview. Who got this weird without losing whatever potential audience there might be? While pop groups consistently listen to outside producers to learn how to have a hit, Zappa said to hell with it and did what he wanted. Who's a legend?