The Hits of 1966: Out With the Old...
In with the Monkees
In 1966 it became evident that the cost of the war in Vietnam was not only being measured in lives, but in dollars - inflation became a problem in the nation's economy. By this time there were almost a half million American troops in Vietnam, and support for the war by the general public decreased to 37% as the anti-war movement expanded. The Soviet Union once again bested the US in the space race by landing an unmanned spacecraft on the moon, although the US was not far behind in matching their achievement. The black power movement also made headlines, and race riots were common during the year. The premiere episode of Star Trek on television launched the historic series, and LSD was criminalized on October 6, 1966.
What happened in 1966's Music?
Bob Dylan released Blonde on Blonde and the Beach Boys released Pet Sounds, on May 16. Both albums became legendary and continue to be massively influential to this day. Dylan toured England, was booed and derided for his electric music, and went into seclusion later in the year after a mysterious motorcycle accident. The Beach Boys started recording their controversial album called Smile, which didn't see official release until 2011. Elvis was slowly fading from the charts, unable to keep up with the innovations that were happening. The Beatles were changing before our eyes from the lovable mop-tops of a couple of years ago to the studio-bound (their last live appearance ever was in 1966), sunglasses-wearing eccentrics on the back of Revolver, the album that many feel is their overall best work. And Frank Sinatra and his daughter Nancy had 2 of the 5 top worldwide hits, while the Beatles had the other 3. It was a strange year, but even stranger times were just around the corner.
Psychedelic Sounds Everywhere
The major trend of the year in pure innovation was the San Francisco sound, but it was also a West Coast thing, but really it was in England too - it was the advent of what would later be called acid-rock, hippie music, or psychedelia. The Mamas and the Papas were an actual anomaly in this trend, but reflected the sunny Californian aspect while sounding very melodic and harmonic. Jefferson Airplane recruited Grace Slick and released their first album, but the Byrds' Fifth Dimension was the model for things to come with its raga rock, spacey vibe and cryptic lyrics. Even the Beach Boys got on the bus with their massive hit Good Vibrations. From England, Donovan's Sunshine Superman was a huge hit as a song and a pioneering album, and was way ahead of its time with references to trips and the psychedelic scene. The Beatles' Revolver was also a sonic trend-setter with the use of sitars, backwards guitar solos, and vocal treatments. And the two gentle souls who were the Incredible String Band started creating some of the most influential but little-known music in rock history.
Trash Rock Changes Name to Garage Rock
The progenitor and source of much of what would be called punk-rock in the distant future was trash rock or garage rock - so-called because so much of it was born in a garage. Wild Thing by the Troggs was the perfect example of 3-chord raunch rock guaranteed to upset your parents - and naturally it became a mega-hit. But there were others in the genre - Psychotic Reaction by the Count Five, Black is Black by Los Bravos, Pushin' Too Hard by the Seeds, Question Mark and the Mysterians' 96 Tears, Gloria by the Shadows of Knight (a Van Morrison tune), and Hanky Panky by Tommy James and the Shondells are all fine examples of this emerging trend. The ethos of this music was DIY - anyone can play these instruments and write a song, and they did - and lo-fi, because it sounded better when it was recorded quick and dirty. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels were a soul-R&B type of trash rock group that had big hits, and even the Rolling Stones live album (Got Live If You Want It) was widely seen as a poorly-recorded example of a new trend in the pop landscape.
Here They Come...
Inspired by the success of the Beatles' two movies and a new youth audience for television, Hollywood moguls created a rock and roll band and a TV situation comedy about the band, and called them the Monkees. With great songs from professional songwriters and a cheeky pop-rock sound produced by professional studio players, the Monkees had their first hit in August with Last Train to Clarksville. When the TV show premiered in the fall, the theme song was a hit as well, and their first album became a smash along with the Monkees TV series.