May 16 – No Dogs In Beach Boys Set

Film-maker Francis Ford Coppola recently suggested you can’t make art without taking risks. We had evidence of that this day in 1966 when one of the truly “classic” albums of the rock era came out – the Beach Boys Pet Sounds. But as good as we now consider the record, it wasn’t without artistic risk. The LP took a turn away from the simple, carefree sound that had dominated the band’s previous 10 albums (released in an astounding four years!) and not everyone was happy with the difference. The band’s own Mike Love, for instance, is said to have called it “S***” and some at their Capitol Records offices didn’t even want to put out the expensive and experimental album.

Pet Sounds was unquestionably Brian Wilson’s pet. He wrote most of the material, produced it and found backing musicians, using the other Boys as little as possible in the eight or so months it took to get the record together (which also cost Capitol some $70 000, a huge amount for the time equivalent to over half a million in this day and age.) Wilson was doing a large amount of drugs, primarily LSD, at the time and having some mental issues which doubtless led to a somewhat sadder and darker sound than the band had produced on previous hits like “I Get Around” and “Surfin’ USA”. Not only was the lyrical content deeper, so too was the quality of the sound and production on now-classics like “Sloop John B”, “God Only Knows” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”. Many credit it as the first concept album, something Wilson agrees with… to a degree. “It wasn’t really a song concept album, or lyrically a concept album, it was really a production concept album.” Wilson had two clear inspirations for the concept- the Beatles and Phil Spector. He borrowed heavily from Spector’s huge “Wall of Sound” studio technique and was unabashedly competitive with the Fab Four. After he heard the critically-acclaimed Rubber Soul he decided to up his band’s game. “It was a challenge to me, “ he recalled, “it didn’t make me want to copy them but to be as good.” He told his wife excitedly, “I’m gonna make the greatest rock album ever made.”

Did he succeed? Some would say he did. Although at the time, response was lukewarm at home (it only hit #10 in the U.S., not as good as most of their prior albums) it took off right away in the UK, where it got to #2 and earned them their first platinum record on that side of the ocean. Spencer Davis echoed many there at the time saying “I haven’t spent much time listening to the Beach Boys before, but I’m a fan now…”

Soon many around the world caught up to Davis. It sold to platinum in the U.S. after a few years and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” and “Sloop John B” both hit the top 10 singles chart. Retrospective critics have been very appreciative of the band that “bid farewell to the innocent world of the Beach Boys fun-in-the-sun hits” in the words of Rolling Stone. That album twice has listed it as the second greatest album of all-time (both times behind The Beatles Sgt. Pepper…) complimenting its “luxurious sounds… deeply personal songs” which “perfected the idea (that) an album could be more than the sum of its parts.” Q and allmusic both have scored it a perfect 5-star rating and London’s the Times put it at #1 on their list of best albums ever- ahead of Sgt. Pepper. Wilson must love that one!

One last bit of evidence about how good the album was- a song Wilson was working on during the recording, with a 43-piece orchestra, didn’t end up on the album. It eventually was finished and released as a single later on. That song was their biggest hit, “Good Vibrations.

May 9 – One Person’s Trash Is Another Pair’s Treasure

You know you’re good when even your trash is red hot. The Beatles, and more specifically Paul McCartney, were hot in 1964. Case in point, the Peter and Gordon song “A World Without Love”, released (in North America) this day that year. It was not quite good enough for the Beatles…but it would soon go to #1 for the duo.

Peter and Gordon were Peter Asher and Gordon Waller, a couple of British lads who fancied themselves perhaps as the next Everly Brothers. Asher’s sister, Jane (an up and coming actress at the time who’d later star in Alfie and show up in TV shows like Brideshead Revisited) was McCartney’s girlfriend at the time, so McC ended up at the Asher’s house on Wimpole St. regularly. One time when he was there, Peter heard Paul playing the foundation to the song. He liked it right away, but Paul wasn’t sure…and later John Lennon thought it was not very good. So the Beatles passed on it. Around that time, Peter and Gordon got signed to EMI, who Asher says “saw us as an English version of the Kingston Trio or Peter, Paul and Mary). They went into the studio with maybe six or seven songs ready…a good start but not enough for a debut LP.

I asked Paul …if that orphaned song was still up for grabs,” Peter recalled. “We still needed three or four songs to record. Paul said we could have it. So I asked him to finish the bridge, and he did!” .

The vocals were stellar, Vic Flick played a brand new Vox 12-string guitar on it and it became their first single. It got to #1 in the U.S. in June, by which time the Beatles had scored four #1s that year! The Fab Four would go on to have a couple more in ’64, giving Paul a hand in writing seven #1 songs that year… a record it would take 14 years to tie (Barry Gibb doing so in 1978.) The song also topped charts at home in the UK, as well as Canada and New Zealand. It would be the only song written by McCartney & Lennon (how it was credited though it was really all Paul’s baby) that hit #1 that wasn’t recorded by the Beatles, though Paul came reasonably close in 1970 with “Come and Get It”, the Badfinger single he wrote.

Peter and Gordon kept at it for another four or five years, but would never match the success of “A World Without Love,” but were not one hit wonders. They’d end up scoring seven more top 20 hits in the States, the biggest of which was “Lady Godiva”, which got to #6 in ’66. After they broke up, Asher went on to success in other ways in music, most notably being the successful manager of James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt.

May 3 – Still A Top Jersey Boy, 60 Years Later

Swearin’ to God,” we wish a happy 88th birthday to one of the great voices of the rock era… and the chief “Jersey Boy”- Frankie Valli!

His musical path was set early when he was taken at age 7 to see another Italian-American icon from New Jersey- Frank Sinatra. By the early-’50s he was in a band which in time would become the Four Seasons, a band he still tours with from time to time. They scored their first chart hit back in 1956, and by the time the ’60s ended, they’d notched 21 top 20 hits in the U.S. With songs like “Rag Doll” and “Sherry”, his falsetto (which the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes as a “once-in-a-lifetime {voice} with a three octave range”) became one of the defining sounds of the decade. If his blue-eyed soul sounded quite Motown-like it should come as no surprise that Berry Gordy played Valli’s records to his writers telling them it was what they “should be aiming for.”

His career enjoyed a resurgence (both with his band and solo) in the mid-’70s with more #1 hits like “My Eyes Adored You”, “December 1963” and “Grease”, the latter written by Barry Gibb. Gibb later noted, “he created a style we all (Bee Gees) strive to emulate.” Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, writing about the Rock Hall in their city commented that the Four Seasons “with the Beach Boys were the only American groups to maintain their level of popularity during the first onslaught of the British invasion.”

And then some. As you probably know, the musical and at times turbulent life and times of the Four Seasons was made into the Tony Award-winning play, and later movie, Jersey Boys. Valli and the Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Remarkably, he’s still active. He toured with the Four Tops as recently as 2019 and last year put out a new album, A Touch of Jazz, which as the name suggests, contains his take on various  standards and several originals.

Among his many fans is another blue-collar singer from that general area- Billy Joel. Although Joel’s inspiration for his smash “Uptown Girl” may have been Elle McPherson, he wrote the music and sang it in a style meant as an “homage” to Valli.

April 29 – Song Garnered Aretha A Little…Well, You Know…

Some would suggest the greatest rock or pop album came out in 1967,with Sgt. Pepper... Remarkably, many would also suggest the greatest single of the pop era came out that year too – in fact on this day 55 years back. So we’d better treat that year in music with “Respect”…which happens to be the single we were referring to, by Aretha Franklin.

The song put Aretha on the musical map, as it had to a lesser degree Otis Redding two years prior. Redding had written the song and released it as a single in 1965, on his Otis Redding Sings Soul album. The song was written from a male perspective, singing to a girl who was “sweet as honey” whom he was going to give “all my money”…if she treated him with respect. As Cashbox colorfully put it back then, it was a “rollickin’, rhythmic, poundin’ romance”. It was a very upbeat R&B song that hit #35 in the U.S., but it sounded little like the “Queen of Soul’s” version we’re all familiar with.

She’d played the song in her live sets for over a year and when she signed to a new label, Atlantic, her new producer, Jerry Wexler, figured it would be a great tune for her to record. As journalist Matthew Osinsky put it, she was raised on gospel and Wexler “wanted her to preach.” She agreed, and changed the lyrics to a female’s perspective. Also huge was the addition of the powerful spelling out of the title – “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me!” which gave it a whole different powerful flavor Redding’s didn’t quite match.

Although they recorded it in New York at corporate studios, Aretha and Wexler brought in “the swampers” – the studio musicians from Alabama’s fine Muscle Shoals studios – to play the music, save for some of the piano which Aretha did herself. A studio engineer, Arif Martin was there that day and says “there was never (another) day like that. It was like a festival. Everything just worked right!” Including Aretha’s sisters, Carolyn and Emma, who sang the backing vocals, improvising phrases like “Ree Ree Ree” (Aretha’s nickname) and “sock it to me, sock it to me”. The latter was perceived by many to be a sexual invitation, but the singer disagreed. “There was nothing sexual about it…it’s just a cliché phrase.” One which became a lot more popular after the record came out, becoming a TV catchphrase even uttered famously by President Nixon.

The song struck a chord with millions. Both feminists and Black civil rights advocates adopted it. As the Detroit Free Press put it later, it was “a ground-breaking feminist and civil rights statement in an era when such declarations weren’t always easy to make.” Otis Redding himself was impressed, saying “it has a better groove on it than any of my records…from now on it belongs to her.”

Her and the public, that was. The song spent two weeks at #1 in the Summer of Love, being sandwiched by the Young Rascals “Groovin’” (which it replaced but then was replaced itself by at the top spot); her second top 10 hit but first #1. She’d make the top 10 seven more times before the decade’s end but wouldn’t top the charts again for twenty years, eventually getting another #1 with her duet with George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting.”

The song won Franklin two Grammys, for Best R&B record and the first Best Female R&B performance, in the words of Osinsky “ a new category of Grammy Awards (was) created just to give (her) its dues.” More recently, it’s won other accolades including Rolling Stone magazine which in 2004 listed it as the fifth greatest-song ever, but last year revised it to make the best ever. No one can say that song didn’t earn a little “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

 

April 28 – When The Windy City Began To Blow Its Own Horn(s)

A big band, in every sense of the phrase, had its “Beginnings” on this day in 1969. Chicago‘s debut album, which was using the band’s original name “Chicago Transit Authority” hit the shelves 53 years ago.

Chicago (or CTA) had formed two years prior in the Windy City and much like Blood, Sweat and Tears, incorporated a liberal use of horns in their jazz-rock music. They signed to Columbia Records, home to BS&T, thanks largely to their producer James Guercio, who had also done the work with the other band. He lobbied hard for Chicago, and eventually Clive Davis agreed saying later it was an obvious fit for the label who enjoyed the “blending elements of jazz, pop and rock (which was) ground-breaking.” Others suggest he hesitated, thinking them too similar to his other horn band. Either way, they went with Columbia and had a rocky relationship with Davis who liked their music but not their demands for things like double-albums and posters included inside the LP.

Chicago Transit Authority (later nicknamed “Chicago I”) was audacious as a debut. It was indeed a double-LP, with nearly 78 minutes of music over 12 songs, only two of which were under 4” in length. The final track, “Liberation” ran over 14 minutes. While the band boasted several singers, several writers and an unusual (for rock) trio of horn players – Walter Parazaider, James Pankow (who also handled the cowbell) and Lee Loughlane – at this point in time, Robert Lamm, the keyboardist, was clearly in charge. He wrote most of the tracks and sang lead on over half of the songs including the appropriate for a debut “Beginnings.” Peter Cetera, later to take a more prominent role, shared vocal duties on “Questions 67 & 68” and did a bit of the writing.

Remarkably the seven-man outfit recorded the entire body of work in five days in New York City, with the final mixing taking another five. The six-minute plus “Free Form Guitar”, guitarist Terry Kath’s homage to his friend Jimi Hendirx, was recorded all in one take. The album however, sounded anything but raw or unplanned.

While it contains a trio of songs now considered not only among the band’s best but among Oldies Radio’s mainstays, it wasn’t an overnight success. The first single, “Questions 67 & 68” barely charted at first, and “Beginnings” didn’t at all. And the album languished in the low parts of the Billboard charts. However, their fanbase grew and the release of their second album made them popular, at which point this record rose up the charts, eventually to #17 in the U.S. and #10 in Canada. It stayed on the charts for 171 weeks, setting a record for longevity in 1974 (although at the time there was another album on there which would eclipse that soon – Dark side of The Moon.) After being sued by the commuter transportation company and having to lose the “transit authority” off their name, and having success with Chicago II, Columbia wisely re-released singles off the debut in 1971… to much better reception. “Beginnings” would rise to #7 and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” did as well, and hit #2 in Canada in 1971. The album eventually earned them a double-platinum award and a nomination for the Best New Group at the Grammys. They lost that one to Crosby, Stills & Nash… as did Led Zeppelin.

Allmusic rate the record as a 4-star effort, saying “few debut albums can boast as consistently solid an effort.” Classic Rock Reviews agrees, saying that they “fused brass, jazz, soul and blues-based rock & roll, and with three lead vocalists and composers, the group’s sound was as diverse as their influences” and thinking that on some of the songs, especially “Does Anybody…”, the entire group brought along their “A-game.”

Apparently we agreed, as the record began a streak of 12-straight albums from them which hit the American top 20.

April 25 – What It Took For Junior To Score A Major Hit

A major hit from Junior made its blew onto the scene this day in 1969. That was Junior Walker & the All Stars sax-happy “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)?”. The single represented quite a comeback for Junior, who’d scored a major hit five years prior with “Shotgun”, a song which has lived on to this day in numerous commercials and movies. It solidified Walker’s reputation as one of the best sax-men in the business and helped usher in the widespread use of horns in pop or rock songs.

Junior” was born Autry Mixon, in rural Arkansas in 1931. He seemed to get to music rather late in life, at least in a professional way, forming a band called the Jumping Jerks around the beginning of the ’60s. At some point, a fan jumped on stage with them and declared “these guys are all stars!” Junior agreed and decided that would be a better name for the group. Apparently Berry Gordy agreed as well; soon after the Motown mogul signed them to Soul Records, a subsidiary of Motown. Walker’s prominent tenor sax differentiated them from most of the other Motown acts of the day, and made them (in the words of Britain’s Independent) “Motown’s answer to Stax’s Booker T & the MGs.” They had good success off the bat with “Shotgun” and were a major presence on R&B radio stations and charts in subsequent years but had only minor mainstream success until this.

The song was written by Motown staffers Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol, who also produced the record. It would have been a mere “hurtin’ unrequited love song” were it not for Junior’s impassioned pleading voice – he was one of the rare sax players who also sang lead – and of course, the sax that could rival the best horns Chicago or Blood, Sweat and Tears could have thrown at you in the day. It’s 35-second sax solo intro was like nothing else on air at the time. Which perhaps was why Gordy balked at releasing it as a single.

However, radio DJs found it buried on the Home Cookin’ LP and began playing it, and eventually Motown relented and put it out as a single. A smart move, as it would revitalize the All Stars career and become a gold seller. It got to #4 in the States, topping R&B charts, and made the top 20 in the UK and Canada as well. It was nominated for the very first Best R&B Performance Grammy Award, losing out to the less-remembered King Curtis.

Clarence Clemons later said this was one of the most influential records to him and his playing, and it also found fans in the guys in Foreigner. They liked his playing so much, they wrote a sax part specifically for him on their song “Urgent.” Meanwhile, also in the the ’80s, easy-listening sensation Kenny G re-recorded it and made it a minor hit.

Walker never had as big a hit again, and passed away in 1995 from cancer.

April 23 – Chart Topper One For Four Tops

The Four Tops were heading to the top on this day in 1965 with the release of one of Motown’s biggest, and best singles – “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.)” It would go on to be their first #1 single and one of the defining ones of the whole Motown sound of the ’60s.

The quartet had “paid their dues” as they say, having been around for over a decade at that point, and having put out their first single way back in 1956 on Chess Records. They signed to Motown in ’63 and had decent success with “Baby I Need Your Loving” on their first album, with it getting to #11 in the U.S. and making their name known among the growing roster of stars on the Detroit-based label.

Like most of that company’s hits in the first half of the decade, “I Can’t Help Myself” was written by the great trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland, with Lamont Dozier seemingly the chief creator of this one. He admitted the melody was similar to the one in the Supremes “Where Did Our Love Go?”, and when someone had pointed it out to him when tooling around with the new song, he answered “I can’t help myself” – from writing the same tune over again basically. He liked the way the phrase sounded and worked it in, as well as the parenthethetical one, “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.” That one dates back to his childhood.

I stayed with my grandmother when I was a kid. She owned a home beauty shop, and when the women would come up the walkway to get their hair done, my grandfather…was a bit of a flirt (and he) would say ‘How you doin’, sugar pie?’ ‘Good morning, honey bunch’…just flirting with a big smile.”

They recorded it with the Funk Brothers – an unfortunately rather anonymous set of Detroit studio musicians including great bassist James Jamerson – playing the music and Levi Stubbs of the group singing lead…against his wishes. He apparently hated the song, thinking it too lightweight and “sugar”y.

He was in the minority though. At the time Billboard called it a “spirited, fast-paced wailer performed in their unique style”; years later allmusic would simply classify it as “magnificent.” The public agreed, with it spending two weeks on top of the charts that summer and nine weeks at #1 on the R&B one. It also became their first top 40 in the UK, where it eventually was certified gold. And like it or not, 20 years later it was a highlight of their set at Live Aid. At that time, Stubbs seemingly couldn’t help himself from enjoying the moment.

April 22 – ‘A’ From A&M Became An A-list Singer

If you happened to be watching TV on this night in 1968, you might have witnessed the almost accidental birth of a smash hit – Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s In Love With You.” Accidental, because it was a last minute add-on to a program and while Herb was one of music’s movers and shakers by then, he wasn’t known for his singing.

Alpert was born and raised in L.A., to a musical family. He learned to play violin and mandolin, but especially loved the trumpet. When he went to university there, he joined their marching band. Out of school in the late-’50s, he put out one or two unsuccessful records (some of which he did sing on) but got a job as a staff songwriter for a company out there. Among his best, and most lucrative works was co-writing Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.” In 1962, he and his friend Jerry Moss started their own record company, A&M. Of course, by the end of the decade, that had become one of the biggest around, featuring acts like the Carpenters, and later the Police, Joe Jackson and more. It was a perfect vehicle for him to put out his own records, and he did that with great regularity in the ’60s…after being inspired by a trip to Mexico. There he saw some mariachi bands and found the sound quite invigorating, so he decided to make some “Mexican” sounding instrumental music featuring his trumpet. He called it the Tijuana Brass, and rather like Dave Grohl with the Foo Fighters, while he started it as a one-man band, he soon decided he needed others around him to be able to fill out the sound and play live shows. So he added in more horns, and pianists, drummers in a mix he called “four lasagnas, two bagels and American cheese.”

The Tijuana Brass were mainstrays of adult contemporary radio through the decade; his first twelve albums all went gold in the U.S., and five topped the album charts. His early instrumental single “The Lonely Bull” was a #6 hit in 1962. So, with that popularity, it wasn’t surprising that TV came a callin’. CBS offered him a primetime special, which he happily agreed to. However, there was a hitch. While he was known for his trumpet work, CBS wanted people to see him more clearly and strongly urged him to find at least one song to sing. Nothing came to mind, so he called up Burt Bacharach, and asked if he had a love song sitting around that might be good for him (Alpert) to sing to his wife on the TV show. Burt suggested this one, and Hal David altered the lyrics just a bit to make it more of a conventional love song – his original words suggested a bit of a love triangle or infidelity. Alpert sang it to his wife on the beach in the show. They’d already planned to release the show’s music, including his instrumental takes on songs like “Monday, Monday” and “Cabaret”, as an album. But there were so many calls to the network raving about the song he sang, that A&M quickly decided to put it out as a single.

A smart move that was. It hit #1 on Billboard within a month, and would also get to #1 in Canada and Australia. In fact it became his biggest hit and his own label’s first-ever #1 single. In a bit of total irony, it was knocked out of the top spot after four weeks by a song called “Grazing in the Grass”…a trumpet-dominated instrumental by Hugh Masekela, a man dubbed “the African Herb Alpert.”

Although the Tijuana Brass called it quits shortly after the TV hit, Alpert kept active both as an artist and producer and would eventually score another #1 song, “Rise”, an instrumental, a decade later.

As for “This Guy’s In Love With You”, you can’t keep a good song down. Dionne Warwick had a top 10 with it the following year, changing “guy” to “girl”, and Dusty Springfield recorded it as well. Later on, more surprisingly, alt rock acts Fastball and Faith No More have both done versions of it as well.

April 19 – Their Band Was Buried, But Zombies Rose Up

Maybe they should have consulted their oracle more. He might have told them to stick at it a bit longer. Because while The Zombies album Odessey & Oracle (yes, that wasn’t a typo, that was the spelling) wasn’t a real posthumous hit, it was in the sense that the band was kaput by the time most heard it. It came out in Britain this day in 1968.

By then the Zombies had been around for almost the entire decade. However, they had put out only one full album prior to this, supplemented with several standalone singles. They scored hits with “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No” off the first album, but their star was falling by the time this one arrived. The quintet, led mainly by lead singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent , had begun work on this one in the summer of ’67 at Abbey Road studios, using the same equipment the Beatles had made Sgt. Pepper... on. Fitting perhaps because not only would this one eventually be judged The Zombies best, it like the Beatles opus, was decidedly psychedic-tinged and varied in influences and sounds. For a couple of weeks they had to relocate to the also impressive Olympic Studios in London, eventually delivering the 12 song package to Columbia Records British office early in ’68. Around the same time, tensions were running high in the band and the realization that they were being booked into smaller clubs to play live than they’d done three or four years prior made them break up before it actually hit the shelves. Which, coupled with the psychedelia made Columbia North America, led by Simon & Garfunkel-boosting Clive Davis, refuse to put it out for over a year, thinking it had no commercial potential at all. In terms of the actual LP and its store sales, Davis was correct. However, it did spawn one hit single worldwide and has grown in critical acclaim through the years to when it is now considered among the best of the decade.

The quintet, while not necessarily a conventional “democracy”, did share duties. While Blunstone was lead singer on most tracks and bassist Chris White wrote more than any of the others, they all had at least a part of the songwriting and all did some vocals with Blunstone, Argent and White all singing lead on at least one track – something sure to confound their record label bosses despite the obvious parallel with the Beatles sharing the mic. And varied too were the song inspirations – while there was a typical “hippie love” song (the hit “Time of the Season”) and a couple more love songs, there were ones about being buddies (“Friends of Mine”), a timely anti-war one set in WWI (“Butcher’s Tale”) and even one about a loved one who’s in jail (“Care of Cell 44”) …probably the only such pop song until Dawn’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” five years later. Curiously enough, although “Time of the Season” did end up being a hit, it was the song that might have driven the final nail into the Zombies coffin at the time. Apparently Blunstone hated the song, written by Rod Argent, but Argent insisted not only on having it on the record but getting the other to sing it.

Butcher’s Tale” and “Care of Cell 44” were put out as singles but flopped. And it would appear few publications at the time really even took note of it when it came out, perhaps because as Pitchfork later suggested, it was “decades ahead of its time.” “Time of the Season” was put out as a single in 1969 upon constant urging from Columbia exec Al Kooper. Although it still never made an impact in their homeland, it took off over here, going to #3 in the U.S. and #1 in Canada.

Since then, the album has grown steadily in praise, but not so much in sales – Rolling Stone still put it under half a million copies ever sold. Nonetheless, it’s had impact. Paul Weller puts it as one of his all-time favorite albums, and as Rolling Stone point out, Beck and Fountains of Wayne both cover several songs off it in concert. Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet covered “Care of Cell 44” and say they are both huge fans of Colin Blunstone’s singing. This century, the BBC has declared it “among the top three albums of the Summer of Love,” and suggested “on ‘A Rose for Emily‘ they proved to be every bit the equal of the Beatles.” Q ranked it as the 26th best British album ever. Allmusic rate it a perfect 5-stars and suggest “aside from the Beatles and perhaps the Beach Boys, no mid-’60s group wrote melodies as gorgeous as the Zombies” and call the record “pleasing, surprising and challenging.” Rolling Stone have ranked it as high as #80 on their list of greatest albums of all-time, pointing out “its baroque-psychedelic arrangements continue to exert a powerful influence.”

One might have thought that with the single’s success, the Zombies might have thought it was “the time of the season” to get back together quickly, but that wasn’t the case. Rod Argent had some success out of the gate with his new band Argent and it took two decades before they re-formed. Currently they’re still performing with Blunstone and Argent in the lineup, but they’ve only put out one album of “new” material since Odessey & Oracle, and that one was merely outtakes and scrapped tracks from 1960s sessions.

April 15 – Stones Album The ‘Aftermath’ Of Competition With Beatles?

One of the side-effects of The Beatles incredible run of records in the ’60s was the effect they had on other bands of the era. The Beach Boys were openly competitive with them, and so were the Rolling Stones. They all listened intently to one another’s releases and then tried to one-up them. A good example of that was this day in 1966, when the Rolling Stones put out the British version of the album Aftermath. The American version came out about three months later.

It represented quite a step forward for the Stones in many ways…and not coincidentally, they started working on it just after the Beatles released Rubber Soul. And the expansion of sounds and instruments the Fab Four were beginning to show rubbed off on this one – Brian Jones in particular got musically experimental, playing a sitar on “Paint it Black” and a koto (a Japanese string instrument) on “Take It Or Leave It.” Sound-wise, they began incorporating elements of country and psychedelia in with their traditional blues rock stylings. It was the first they’d recorded in stereo. And there was perhaps just a wee bit more American influence as well; they recorded the album in L.A., and they’d hooked up with Allen Klein to work as their North American manager. Few people in music would end up saying much good about Klein, but in the here and now, he got the band an advance of over $1 million which added to their confidence.

The confidence showed up in the lyrics, which generally followed a theme of sex, anger and power. Many today label it a “misogynistic” record, but at the time, few cared. They focused on the songs, which were among the Stones best to that point – including “I Am Waiting,” “Lady Jane”, “Under My Thumb,” “Mother’s Little Helper” and “Paint it Black.” Sort of. “Paint it Black” was put out as a standalone single in Britain at the time and wasn’t on their copies; it did make it onto the shorter American release which was however, short three other songs. The Brits got 52 minutes of music in all, the lengthiest LP made to that point. (That sort of differentiation between North American and European releases was common at the time; in fact Aftermath was only the fourth Rolling Stones album at home but their sixth on this side of the Atlantic.) There were limits to how much swagger the Stones could display mind you. Their record companies (London Records here and Decca Records in Europe) nixed their plans to call it Could You Walk On Water? …which given the Beatles problems later that year after John Lennon made his more popular than Jesus comments, seemed to be remarkably astute of them. Decca however, spared no superlatives when putting out the record, comparing it to equivalent in importance of Shakespeare or Dickens “for gramaphone records.”

Reviews at the time were positive. Record Mirror figured “the Rolling Stones have on their hands the smash LP of the year,” the NME figured that they were musical “masterminds” and speculated “Mother’s Little Helper” and “Lady Jane” could be massive hits, Robert Christgau figured it was the “only possible challenge to Rubber Soul …for innovation, tightness and lyrical intelligence.” Years later, Entertainment Weekly would grade it “A-”, allmusic gave it a perfect 5-stars, and Pop Matters noted that it “cemented their reputation as a subversive cultural force.” Many would point to it as a significant step towards the psychedelic sounds that so dominated the following few years, and the aggression that would spur on the punk movement a decade later.

Predictions were right. “Mother’s Little Helper” was put out as a single here and made it to #8, oddly they didn’t release it as a 7” in the UK. “Paint it Black” was a worldwide hit, their sixth #1 in Britain and third #1 hit in the States and Canada. The album went to #1 for eight weeks in the UK and became their first one to go gold there; it also topped German charts and got to #2 in the U.S. where it eventually became their first platinum one.

Of course, as they were reveling in the “aftermath” of the Aftermath success, the Beatles were putting together Revolver… and the competition continued to heat up.