For reference, here are the last five entries I’ve covered in my Billboard Hot 100 challenge:
– I Like It Like That: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1961
– Twistin’ the Night Away: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1962
– It’s My Party: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1963
– Glad All Over: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1964
– Like A Rolling Stone: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1965
In comparison to past years I have covered, the Hot 100 of 1966 demonstrates the fiercest, most radical shifts and changes in popular music seen thus far. While’64 and ’65 introduced a number of new styles and trends into the fold of rock ‘n’ roll, 1966 is the year where these trends start to blossom into something truly unique and exciting. By far, this has been my favorite year to dig into, as the shifts and changes that begin to solidify here signal a much more vibrant range of rock and pop music, the likes of which have yet to come into fruition thus far. A good starting point to exemplify these changes could be found in The Yardbirds’ return to the list, their single, “Shapes of Things” (#93). While the band have always been a step above the rest, this song shows the drastic changes that rock music have made since its mainstream debut only a decade ago. In direct opposition to the clean, straight-laced recordings with which Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley have charted, it implicates a great amount of feedback and fuzz to its sound, set in place by guitarist Jeff Beck.
In direct parallel with the counterculture movement that is now beginning to develop in the states, many songs on this year’s Hot 100 have begun to approach its lyrical content with more of a drive toward existentialism and a socio-political consciousness overall. While songs about young romance and tragedy certainly do exist, older hit singles such as Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue” and The Skyliners’ “Since I Don’t Have You” are now seen as idealistic, old-fashioned, and unrealistic. Songs that focus more about the harsh, genuine realities that occur in the real world are much more preferred. Such is the case with The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville” (#4), which is about a soldier leaving to war and more than likely a nod to the Vietnam War draft. Moreover, #1 song of this year is The Mamas and The Papas’ “California Dreamin'”; while the words literally depict a yearning for California sunshine during a cold winter, this is frequently translated as a metaphor for the counterculture movement’s longing for an end to cold injustice that occurs everyday. Although less socially involved, The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black” (#34) takes an inward approach to depression and cynicism, heightened by its haunting usage of the sitar as a primary instrument.
Due to its sound and lyrical qualities of much music put out at this time, the term “psychedelic rock” had now become fully realized and reached its peak in ’66. Psychedelia is also present in some other songs on this list through various different outlets. One example of such is The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” (#90), originally intended by John Lennon and Paul McCartney to be a children’s song. However, its kooky tone, unusual layered instruments, and nonsensical lyrics make it quite a strange, euphoric, otherworldly tune (helped by the odd decision of placing drummer Ringo Starr at lead vocals). This song comes from the band’s Revolver album – widely renown as a groundbreaking work in music – and its success led to an equally psychedelic animated film also titled Yellow Submarine. Although the other three Beatles songs on this list – “Nowhere Man” (#84), “Paperback Writer” (#57), “We Can Work It Out” (#49) – are developed and poetic in their own way, it is “Yellow Submarine” that probably most explicitly represents the psychedelic turn that music of this year is beginning to take.
It comes as no surprise to note that the influx of the psychedelic 60s sound of this time goes hand-in-hand with the development of drug culture. It’s true that drug use is nothing new to the music industry (the speculation over the lyrics to Peter, Paul, & Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon” from ’63 is proof enough), but 1966 is where the ties between the two cultures become very explicit. Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (#74) contain constant references to getting “stoned” – as in, the physical act of stoning – but its chorus of “Everybody must get stoned” doesn’t leave as much to the imagination. Moreover, the lyrics to The Association’s “Along Comes Mary” (#94) details its speaker feeling down-and-out until Mary comes along and cheers them up – “Mary”, in this case, being a subtle nod to marijuana. This year also introduced one of the earliest examples of an anti-drug song, as seen in Paul Revere & The Raiders’ “Kicks” (#9). Although regarded as outdated during its time, its self-awareness is undeniably refreshing amidst a culture that undeniably has its dangers.
One of the more distinct trends to pop up in the music scene of 1966 is that which has been dubbed “baroque pop”. As a rule, baroque pop is meant to portray a fusion of pop and/or rock music with classical, orchestral-style instrumentation or arrangement overall. The songs that come from this subgenre tend to also have rich, layered vocal harmonies, traditional sounding melodies, and sophisticated production overall. This new style has its roots in Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” mantra of production, in which lush layers of instrumentation were added to vocal melodies for rich, complex results overall. Spector’s approach is exemplified in The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, and is continued in this year’s “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” (#81) from The Chiffons. Baroque pop takes this classical throwback one step further, as evident in The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renée” (#27) and its clever use of the harpsichord and flute to its beautiful, baroque sound. A similar approach could be found in The Association’s “Cherish” (#7), particularly notable for its lovely arrangement combined with intensely romantic lyrics and lovely melodies reminiscent of The Brother Four (of 1960’s “Greenfields”).
Probably the most revolutionary example of baroque pop can be found in The Beach Boys’ innovative album Pet Sounds, largely produced by Brian Wilson. Pet Sounds was groundbreaking in its usage of instruments that extend beyond what most rock bands were going for at the time. Highly experimental in its symphonic nature, its classic and psychedelic influences create a dream-like atmosphere that extends through the duration of this entire album, making it a fine work of art in the truest sense of the phrase. Two Beach Boys songs from Pet Sounds made it onto this year’s Hot 100: “Sloop John B” (#53) and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” (#97). While the harmonies featured in the former are some of the finest ever demonstrated in The Beach Boys’ career, Wilson’s exquisite, heartbreaking songwriting is at its absolute peak in the latter. Both singles have some magnificent production work that are fine examples of how well-produced the record is as a whole; however, I would elect to also mention “God Only Knows”, “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”, and “I Know There’s An Answer” as containing some of the finest instrumentation work and some of the most painfully personal lyrics from any music-maker of this era.
In near direct opposition to baroque pop is the highly influential trend of garage rock. With the popularity of The Beatles, other British rock bands, and rock bands in general came the desire among young people to form their own bands and become musicians themselves. These bands (usually formed by suburban kids) often held rehearsals and gigs in their garages, hence the name. Moreover, the non-professional settings for these performances often resulted in a somewhat sloppier, sometimes aggressive sound with much feedback and fuzzy-sounding guitars. One of the prime examples of the genre can be found in The Trogg’s “Wild Thing” (#40), noted for its rough, simple, staccato guitar riff, simple lyrics (hardly more complex than, “Wild thing / you make my heart sing”), and unsophisticated sound overall. Another good example of this form of rock can also be found in the popular “96 Tears” (#2) from ? (Question Mark) and The Mysterians. As one of the first Tejano-based rock bands to have a major hit in the US, this one-hit wonder band makes up for its lack of a crystal-clear sound and simple lyrics with a very distinct, groovy keyboard riff that sets them apart from the rest.
While I mentioned that some of the primary influences for garage rock stem from British Invasion bands, some aspects of the garage rock sound could also be found in early surf-rock groups such as The Ventures, The Shadows, and The Chantays. Garage rock, in turn, is widely thought to be a strong influence for punk rock, set to fully flourish about a decade later in the US and UK. This could be inferred from The Standells’ “Dirty Water” (#43), which projects its gritty, compressed sound amidst sarcastic, socially-critical lyrics about the city of Boston. Moreover, Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought The Law” (#89), though slightly tamer than most garage rock, was soon to be rerecorded as a cover from prolific punk band The Clash. Even more explicit in its contribution to the punk rock sound is The Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” (#56), starting off with a catchy guitar riff and rhythm that soon speeds up to a much faster tempo than any other song on the Hot 100 thus far. Punk rock would eventually take this uptempo tendencies to new heights – early 80s hardcore punk especially calling it its own – yet for now, early garage rock bands provide the seeds necessary for this soon-to-be-erected musical revolution.
With another year comes yet another lamentation over the systematic sexism of the music industry. The gender imbalance in the music landscape of 1966 continues to be pitiful with only twenty-one women represented across fourteen entries. Although changes are happening across both the cultural climate and music stylings as a whole, what hasn’t changed is the general reluctance toward giving women as much credit for their work in the music industry as men are given. There is some good news, however: for the very first time this year, women are present in the top spot of the year-end Hot 100. This spot, of course, is given to The Mamas and The Papas (featuring Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliot) with “California Dreamin'”; their spectacular single “Monday, Monday” (#24) can also be found on this year’s chart. Also for the first time, we have a song that explicitly addresses feminist concerns that plague women in consideration for pretty much every sector of society. This song is Sandy Posey’s “Born a Woman” (#23), which begins with the resounding verse, “It makes no difference if you’re rich or poor / Or if you’re smart or dumb / A woman’s place in this whole world / Is under some man’s thumb”. In our sad state of affairs that never seems to improve, it’s hard to disagree.
However, great music from ladies seldom stop from there. Both The Marvelettes’ and The Supremes make the case that the magic of girl group pop is still alive and well, the former with “Don’t Mess With Bill” (#67) and the latter with their hits “My World is Empty Without You” (#72) and “You Can’t Hurry Love” (#13). Cher also makes a welcome comeback this year – separate from Sonny this time – with the invigorating “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” (#52) – although most people are more familiar with Nancy Sinatra’s cover. Sinatra herself makes waves on this list with the sexy, badass, totally legendary tune, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” (#6), making her the only solo female performer to crack the top twenty. Finally, one more spectacular comeback can be found with Dusty Springfield and her lovely, absolutely sumptuous, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” (#21).
In the previous post, I shed a little light on the Holland-Dozier-Holland team of songwriters and producers that were responsible for a slew of hits from Motown that have become very well-known to this day. Here, I’d also like to give some praise to a group of folks that also worked in the background of some of these popular tunes – that being The Funk Brothers, a group of session musicians that provided background instrumentation to the vast majority of songs during Motown’s peak popularity. In total, thirteen different men are identified as the “original” Funk Brothers, although the term is very loose and pretty much applies to any musician who played on a Motown record. The role of bandleader, however, are universally recognized to belong to both Earl Van Dyke and Joe Hunter, with numerous combinations of studio musicians on guitar, bass, drums, percussion, keyboard, brass/wind, and strings, among other instruments. They were seldom compensated for their work (most of the credit going toward the main vocalist/performer on the record) and weren’t even widely recognized up until the last decade or so. Nonetheless, their contributions to the Motown sound are absolutely priceless and so valuable to the overarching influence of the label as a whole.
As stated, if a song is a major or minor hit from Motown, chances are very likely that The Funk Brothers played on it. During some of the earlier years of the label, they provided backing instrumentals on singles from Mary Wells (“My Guy”, “You Beat Me to the Punch”), Martha and the Vandellas (“Dancing in the Streets”, “Heat Wave”, “Nowhere to Run”), Marvin Gaye (“How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, “I’ll Be Doggone”, “Pride and Joy”), and The Miracles (“Mickey’s Monkey”, “Ooo Baby Baby”, “You Really Got a Hold on Me”, “Tracks of My Tears”). While they played on The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” in the past, they make a reappearance this year for “Don’t Mess With Bill”. Moreover, these musicians also provided backing music for essentially every major hit from The Supremes, as well as songs from The Temptations and Four Tops, from previous singles – “My Girl”, “The Way You Do the Things You Do”, “It’s the Same Old Song” – to songs from ’66 – “Reach Out I’ll Be There” (#5), “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (#39). They can be heard in the background of Stevie Wonder’s early live recording of “Fingertips”, as well as his comeback from this year, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” (#51). Finally, their lush, steady music can be heard within Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” (#3), as well as the danceable, non-Motown “Cool Jerk” (#28) from The Capitols. It’s easy to see that the efforts placed in making this music as fun and soul-fused as it is cannot be underestimated, as these oft overlooked musicians are just as talented as the performers they are backing.
- There have been lots of keyboard back-up in rock bands of this year, in comparison to previous years. Paul Revere and the Raiders are probably the most prominently shown of these bands, with three songs on this list: “Kicks, “Hungry” (#91), and “Just Like Me” (#61). An electric organ is used for “Black is Back” (#83), performed by Los Bravos who are also the first Spanish rock band with an international hit single. The Lovin’ Spoonful perform their own driving keyboard riff in “Summer in the City” (#35), as does ? and the Mysterians with “96 Tears”. The Beatles make use with unique keyboard syncopation with their single “We Can Work It Out”. To a more subtle effect, the electric organ contributes to the baroque pop sound of The Cyrkle’s “Red Rubber Ball” (#25). The usage of keyboard and electric organ softens down the rowdy guitar sound that rock music is known for, helping it take on some interesting new approaches.
- While the British Invasion is still technically a recurring force at this point, it has begun to tone down a bit. While the past couple of years have had British bands take up a full quarter of this list, 1966’s Hot 100 only contains fourteen entries from UK performers. While The Beatles are certainly hanging on with three perfectly decent songs – the most of any of the others – The Rolling Stones offer some fierce competition, with two great ones: “Paint It, Black” and “19th Nervous Breakdown” (#54). Newcomer Donovan is also rather promising, with his baroque pop-influenced “Sunshine Superman” (#22). Herman’s Hermits’ “Dandy” (#85) is a fun little tune, though not quite up to par with some of their stronger singles; on the other hand, The Hollies’ “Bus Stop” (#33), written by Graham Gouldman, is absolutely sweet in all its warm, nostalgic glory.
- One reason I really enjoy this Billboard challenge (out of the many) is that I’m able to rediscover songs that I am familiar with, yet never knew enough about the artist or lyrics to find it myself. I was really excited when I heard Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1000 Dances” (#77), because I’ve always loved how fun and exciting it is, yet never knew enough of the lyrics to find out what the song is called. Pickett’s other single on this list, “634-5789 (Soulsville, USA)” (#95) is also fantastic.
- Although most bands at this point have moved onto some form of psychedelic, complex rock music, the desire of the more minimalist sound of folk music is still present – yet, this time, in the form of a more folk-rock sound. Bob Dylan himself had moved onto to a layered, electric sound for his Blonde on Blonde album. Debuting this year, however, is the duo of Simon & Garfunkel, whose Sounds of Silence certainly demonstrated how the desire for the folk sound is still evident. To me, their vocal harmonies contain hints and shades of The Everly Brothers, although with a more more weathered, darker, more poetic edge to the sound and lyrics. “Homeward Bound” (#50) depicts the woes of homesickness and longing, while “I Am A Rock” (#42) deals with emotional numbness, apathy, and loneliness – certainly much bleaker than “Wake Up Little Susie”. What I’m surprised to see, however, is a complete absence of “The Sound of Silence”, which I think demonstrates their poetic desolation the best from this album.
- Other songs I was surprised to see not on this list: James Brown’s monster hit “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” (the A-side to “Yellow Submarine”), Herman Hermit’s catchy “No Milk Today”, and Otis Redding’s fierce, legendary tune, “Try a Little Tenderness”.
- The selection of instrumental tracks on this year’s list has whittled down by a lot, and these tracks are particularly unusual. For one thing, The Surfaris’ super-cool “Wipe Out” (#55) has made a comeback, three years after its initial appearance on the Hot 100. I’m curious as to what events were set into place that would occur for this single to attain a sudden burst of recurrent popularity. Even though it’s only three years old, its sound already differs from every other song on this list by a substantial amount, which exemplifies the fleetingness of trends in culture more than anything else. On the other side of things, The T-Bones’ “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In)” (#59) didn’t leave much of an impression on me, as I continue to find it just as bland as I did upon the first listen. However, Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass’ rendition of “Zorba the Greek” (#92) is simply all kinds of frantic, wild, chaotic fun, it being one of my very favorite numbers from the group.
- Although I praised The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album earlier in this post, I shouldn’t avoid to mention that there’s a third Beach Boys single on this list: “Barbara Ann” (#73). It’s vastly different from the richness in sound to be found in Pet Sounds, and is in fact much closer to the earlier beach-themed songs from their early career. Nonetheless, it’s a great pop melody and an awesome demonstration of the boys’ chemistry and music-making abilities across numerous spheres of influence.
And now for my top six of this year.
Honorable mentions: “Zorba the Greek” (#92),“Yellow Submarine” (#90), “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” (#81), “Land of 1000 Dances” (#77),“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (#74),“Psychotic Reaction” (#56), “Wipe Out” (#55), “Sloop John B” (#53), “I Am A Rock” (#42), “Daydream” (#38),“Monday, Monday” (#24), “Working in the Coal Mine” (#19), “You Can’t Hurry Love” (#13), “Last Train to Clarksville” (#4)
6) “Summer in the City” (#35)
The Lovin’ Spoonful come off to me as one of cool, eccentric hippie bands that never really got the worldwide prestige they probably deserved. While baroque pop tended to lie on the softer, romantic side of things, “Summer in the City” openly remarks on the corrupt, dirty underbelly of the glamorous city, where the daytime has “people lookin’ half-dead” and folks rely on the evening for good times. Even if one’s not paying attention to the lyrics, it’s hard not to feel at least a little mesmerized by the song’s atmosphere, with car horns playing over its haunting keyboard riff. It’s hard not to be won over be this one.
5) “Strangers in the Night” (#8)
You know how I said earlier that music-lovers of this era were no longer attracted to the old-timey love songs from a decade ago? Well, generally, this is the truth; however, just as Dean Martin had appealed to this crowd a couple of years ago, Sinatra had achieved his first #1 song in ten years. “Strangers in the Night” is a beautiful song, no question about it, but the story changes once the lyrics note that these are “two lonely people”, tapping into the themes of existentialism and loneliness that songwriters of this era were exploring. Then again, Sinatra’s unmistakably powerful voice alone notes that this can’t just be any other throwaway love song. The one shame being that it ends far too soon.
Being only in my 20s, I can’t imagine how the world would’ve reacted once this song dropped – in my high hopes, I’d expect that everyone just completely lose their minds. It’s a cute little song, Sinatra’s voice being accompanied by little more than a jangling tambourine, seductive horns, and that famous sliding guitar riff. But Lee Hazlewood’s lyrics transform it into probably the greatest diss song of all time; I would really hate to be the person on the receiving end of lines such as, “I’ve just found me a brand new box of matches / And what he knows you ain’t had time to learn”. While 1966 marks the first time that a parent and child within the same family appear on separate entries, it’s clear that Nancy is on a completely different platform of her own, set to build her own bridges.
3) “Reach Out I’ll Be There” (#5)
This Four Tops classic is probably one of the only Motown songs – at least up until this point – that isn’t meant to be danced to, mainly because its lyrics (by Holland-Dozier-Holland) are unusually dark. The beginning verse alone signals this: “If you feel like you can’t go on / Because all of your hope is gone / And your life is filled with much confusion / Happiness is just an illusion / And the world around is crumbling down…”. Yikes. Nevertheless, this is one of the strongest songs that the label has ever put up, ranking up with The Miracles’ best work. This is primarily due to Levi Stubbs’ booming vocals, with an invigorating quality that makes one feel like they’re going to church. The song also partially inspired the beautiful “I’ll Be There” from The Jackson 5, including the “just look over your shoulder” line. Everything about it is just so phenomenal.
2) “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” (#97)
I already talked a bit about Pet Sounds as a whole, but “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” is the kind of album-opener that deserves a bit of praise for itself alone. The song is often interpreted as a love song for young people who want to grow up, get married, and spend their lives together; the opening lines signify this clearly: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older / Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long”. Yet I, personally, like to interpret the song in a much broader sense; perhaps the “happy times” they’d like to spend together is restricted by race or class boundaries, mental illness, personal unsteadiness, societal pressures… you name it. Its layered symphonic backing – played by a number of studio musicians collectively known as The Wrecking Crew – really concretizes the ethereal, heartbreakingly idealistic fantasy that this song so perfectly conceptualizes. Brian Wilson has got to be one of the greatest composers of the modern age, and this song captures only a mere fraction of his vision.
Once I saw that this song was ranked as #1 of the year, I couldn’t be in any more agreement with how the numbers evened out. Every aspect of this song meshes together so perfectly, from the legendary introductory guitar, to the harrowing production by Lou Adler, to the breathtakingly ingenious vocal harmonies by The Mamas and The Papas. As I noted before, the longing to be in Los Angeles works as a metaphor for the sense of longing for a life with more spiritual, cultural fulfillment overall. Yet, something about this song comes off to be as inexplicably sad, as if the California in the speaker’s mind – where it’s always “safe and warm” – is far beyond their reach, as if the reality of the cold, gray skies and brown leaves are just a part of the natural, melancholy way of life. Or at least this is what has been deemed the most accessible up to this point – signaling that the time for a genuine, revolutionary change is nigh. As virtually uplifting as it is gloomy, “California Dreamin'” encapsulates probably the purest definition of poignancy that any song could ever hope to achieve. Its timeless appeal is no wonder.