Welcome back to Turntable Talk! As by now, regular readers know, that’s when I have several interesting guest writers sound off on one topic related to the music that we look at here daily. This is our seventh round of it, and if you’re new here, I recommend taking a look back at some of the earlier topics we’ve covered like why the Beatles are still relevant, or “did video kill the radio star?” or the one dealing with one hit wonders we ran at the start of last month.
This month, a simple category…but one which is challenging and should bring up some interesting memories : Those Were The Days My Friend. Simply put, we’re asking the contributors to write about “music’s best year.”
Obviously, that’s a pretty subjective choice. A few executives might try to look at sales charts and give a statistical answer based on album sales or concert grosses, but to most it comes down to the year that seemed to be when the best music was played, or when the most really good records came out. We’ve not limited it but I would expect that most are going to pick a year from the ‘rock era’ in the second half of the 20th Century. But if someone opines it was 1804 because that was when Beethoven started working on his 5th Symphony, that’ll be interesting to read about. Today we have Randy from Mostly Music Covers up in Canada. Will his interest in cover songs and how they mark a great song influence his pick? :
When Dave sent out a challenge for the guest writers to choose what we believe is the best year in music, you may as well have asked me to choose my favorite child! I like lots of genre from lots of decades, and I’m old so that’s many years to sift through, let alone remember. For some reason this analogy came to mind, just 5 minutes from where I live is the Sugar Shanty operated by Rolling Ridge Maple Products. They tap about 15,000 trees; each one will produce 15 gallons or more per season. So, every Spring they take this roughly 225,000 gallons of sap and boil it down to about 5,500 gallons of Maple Syrup. For me to find my sweet spot for music will take distilling a forest of songs and yet unfortunately, it will not yield anything so delicious. I have put my researchers cap on and tried to weight the artists and songs I love with my knowledge of the historical merits of the music.
When I first read the proposed topic the years 1969, 1970 and 1971 came to mind and I am not alone on those choices. I’m a cover song person so I tend to lean heavily on this metric to gage the significance of years, songs, and artists. According to Secondhandsongs.com there are 31,131 covers of songs that originated in 1967. In second place is 1965 with 27,876 covers. The previously mentioned years; 1969 has 20,201, 1970 has 21,912 and 1971 has 19,830. In 1972 we see a similar total at 19,269. All lofty numbers with the peak years running from about 1956 to 1977.
I then started to think about the songs from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rolling Stone magazine and bunch of other sources that list the best years, songs, and artists. As Dave had suggested we take a scroll through our record collections and the old iPod. I did just that, my LP collection, sad as it is and un-played for many a year is almost all from the ’70’s and ’80’s with artists that I liked enough to invest in. However, the largest collection I have is in my iTunes library. The oldest songs are by Jimmie Rodgers from 1929 and the last time I downloaded an album was in 2019 so we’ve narrowed things down to a 90 year window. The most songs that I own originated in 1965. That seems as good a year as I will be able to produce, I guess I should have started there! So, be it resolved that the year 1965 is my choice for the best year in music.
Why is it that 1965 should be the best year in music? As mentioned, I am a cover song guy so it’s no coincidence I suppose that the most covered pop song of all time “Yesterday” by the Beatles/aka just Paul McCartney solo came out that year. As I mentioned above, 1965 comes in second to 1967 for the most songs covered.
Here are the some of the critical points that I believe prove that 1965 was the best year in music.
The Beatles and the British Invasion
The British invasion began in February of 1964, during that year for the first time nine songs from the UK hit #1 on Billboard and six of those belonged to The Beatles. In 1965 the trend continues as UK groups held the #1 spot for 28 weeks with new appearances by The Rolling Stones and six other bands. A record that still stands today.
To say that The Beatles were hot in 1965 is an understatement they followed their six #1’s in 1965 with another five. Apart from “Yesterday” (which currently has 1110 documented versions and there are estimates of thousands more) hitting #1 on Billboard for four weeks, in total they held the #1 spot for 12 weeks that year. Their highest charting songs were “Help” 3wks at #1, “I Feel Fine” 2wks at #1, “Ticket to Ride” one week at #1 and “Eight Days a Week”, 2wks at #1. At least twice that year British acts held the top nine songs of the week. Ok that’s not Drake or Taylor Swift stats but unprecedented for the times. From the weekly Top 40’s that year there was a total of 33 different artists from the UK.
The major point is that in 1965 the best-selling and most covered artists of all time, The Beatles or rather Beatlemania was at it’s peak. Their second U.S. tour included shows at Shea Stadium and The Hollywood Bowl with fans exhibiting a kind of mass hysteria previously reserved for Elvis Presley. The Beatles met Elvis only once, on August 27, at his home in Bel Air. The meeting was more significant to The Beatles who not only idolized Elvis but in some ways tried to emulate him, while it seems Elvis was initially somewhat non-plussed about the whole thing. John Lennon was nervous to meet the man he had worshipped since he was a teenager. The result was a friendly meeting and a jam session with John and Paul playing guitars and Elvis on bass. The Beatles would also meet with Dylan (first in 1964) and The Byrds during the tour. All these artists would take something away from the meetings that would influence their music.
Conversely in the UK the singles chart showed a reverse invasion. Something you don’t read as much about, but American acts charted very well. “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” by The Righteous Brothers followed by Roger Miller with “King of the Road”, “Crying in the Chapel” by Elvis Presley, “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds and “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher all hit #1 for two weeks each. The last American group to hold the #1 spot were The Walker Brothers with “Make it Easy on Yourself” for the week ending September 19. There was a total of 46 American acts in the Top 40 compared to the 33 UK acts in the US, and they called this period “The British Invasion”? The difference between the two was the dominance and high chart placement of the Invasion groups with 28 weeks at #1 versus the six American Acts hitting #1 in the UK for a total of 11 weeks. Nevertheless, there was no other year other than 1965 with so many American Artists in the UK Top 40.
What happened in this exchange was a new face to Popular Music. The borders were down, and artists of all stripes and genre toured foreign destinations like never before.
Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel and Folk Rock
In March of 1965 Dylan released his first electric Rock music on one half of his fifth Album Bringing it All Back Home. This album among it’s may now legendary songs had a track tilted “Mr. Tambourine Man” on the acoustic side of the album.
“Mr. Tambourine Man” was covered by The Byrds and recorded April 12, 1965. Dylan had began playing the acoustic original in concert in 1964, then recorded it in studio January of 1965 but it was not released as a single by Dylan, but it was by (I have to say) the then very loosely organized band now calling themselves The Byrds. They were inspired by The Beatles and in particular George Harrisons 12 string Rickenbacker. Along with the admiration for Dylan, it turned out to be a recipe for success. They followed Dylan’s original by just three weeks as they had started to cover an amplified version in their live performances and had received an advance copy of the recording to work from in studio. They invited Dylan to listen, and he really liked it and got the blessing to release their version and Folk Rock was born.
In July of 1965, Bob Dylan released what is now considered by many, including Rolling Stone, as one the greatest songs of all time, “Like a Rolling Stone“. It was recorded on June 15 and 16 and produced by Tom Wilson. This song is significant in so many ways beyond the merits of Dylan’s artistry as a singer songwriter. First, he was disillusioned with the music business at the time and considered quitting. The recording was more than tumultuous and a bit disorganized. The record company did not think it would sell, because it (for a Dylan song) was too ‘rock-like’ and at 6:13 minutes they were certain no radio station would play it. Not to mention the lyrics were aggressive and hard on whomever “Miss Lonely” was in her “fall from grace”. According to Shaun Considine the release coordinator at the time for Columbia Records, he said he took a demo copy and got the DJ at Club Arthur in New York to play it one night. The crowd full of celebs and music industry types requested the song be played over and over. The next day radio DJs were calling Colombia Records to demand copies. The song was Dylan’s biggest hit (not that he really cared about that stuff) and reached #2 on Billboard, held back by the pesky Beatles with “Help”.
As named above, Producer Tom Wilson was convinced Folk Rock was going to take off and he had a hunch he could overdub a song he had produced by Simon and Garfunkel from their failed attempt on the now well know album Wednesday Morning 3 a.m., recorded in March of 1964 and released that October. After the sessions with Dylan on June 15 he got some musicians together and they laid down an electronic version of the music to “The Sound of Silence” and another Folk Rock classic was born, and it reunited Simon and Garfunkel to produce more legendary music starting with the final recordings of the Sounds of Silence album completed in December of 1965.
As we move along and still in July, Bob Dylan, the face of the Folk Revival in the U.S. performed his first set of electric music. This performance at the Newport Folk Festival would change much in popular music not only for Dylan but he helped blur the lines that turned out better for Rock than it did for Folk Music. The following tour that year and the next with his backup band The Hawks (from Ronnie Hawkins) would not only lead to the formation of The Band, but would impart a renaissance in American Music, with Southern Rock and Americana being just two of the beneficiaries.
If that’s not enough, “Eve of Destruction” was recorded in July of 1965 and first released that August by Barry McGuire on Dunhill Records. Likely the greatest anti War song of all time. Folk Rock was now in full swing and The Mamas and The Papas with the help of Barry McGuire would release the soon to be hit song “California Dreamin’” in December of 1965.
R&B, Soul, and Motown
By 1965 Berry Gordy had already seen remarkable success with artists like Mary Wells, Barrett Strong, The Supremes and The Miracles. In January “Come See About Me” would reach #1 for the second time and knock The Beatles down a notch and set off Motown’s best year since the beginnings in 1959. The Supremes would follow with “Stop in the Name of Love”, “Back in My Arms Again” and “I Hear a Symphony” and all hit #1 on Billboards Hot 100 as did The Temptations with “My Girl” and The Four Tops with “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)”. Although the song “Tracks of My Tears” by The Miracles did not reach #1 it was #2 on the R&B Chart and #16 on the Hot 100 and it is widely regarded as one of the best songs to come out of Motown. On a Top 10 Songs of All Time list compiled by Mojo Magazine from the top 20 writers and producers it is ranked at #5. The soon to be legendary Marvin Gaye would have two #1 songs on the R&B charts.
In Memphis Stax Records was a successful and going concern but something changed in 1965. It was the establishment of Isaac Hayes and David Porter as the Labels creative force which would later pay big dividends. With the backing of the now legendary Booker T. & the M.G.’s, here is just a sampling of the songs and artists that year; Otis Redding with “Mr. Pitiful”, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “Respect” which as we all know was taken by Aretha Franklin in 1967 and that version is ranked #1 on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs list. Sam and Dave would record “Hold on I’m Coming” in 1965, written by Porter and Hayes, to be released in 1966. There was also Wilson Pickett with “In the Midnight Hour” which has become a Soul Music staple with over 170 versions.
The under appreciated Nina Simone released the most influential versions of “Feeling Good” and “I Put a Spell on You” and a stirring version of Billie Holidays “Strange Fruit”. Stevie Wonder hits #3 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B chart with “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, Ray Charles releases a cover of “Crying Time” originally by Buck Owens, the song would hit top ten and garner a Grammy Award for Charles in 1967. “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (Pt. 1) by James Brown and The Famous Flames was Brown’s first top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 hitting #8 and it was #1 on the R&B Chart.
Last notes on 1965
I know I am running long here but just a couple more notable facts from 1965, The Beach Boys Hit #1 with “Help Me Rhonda” #2 with “Barbara Ann” and #3 with “California Girls”. The much lauded “My Generation” by The Who and one of the greatest covers ever, “Hang on Sloopy” by The McCoys.
There are 32 songs from 1965 on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame List of the 500 (+) Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, second only to 1967 with 33 songs. On the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs list, 2021 edition 1965 is second again at 20 songs, one behind 1971.
I didn’t even get to Country Music or Jazz! Ok, that’s it!