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From Bob Dylan to The Beach Boys: A definitive list of the 6 best albums released in 1962

In the year 1962, rock n’ roll, as we know it today, was very much an infant, following its mother around and learning from the best: the blues giants that gave birth to the bands we love and endear the most today. During this year, Ray Charles had three top singles on the charts; Howlin’ Wolf released a record, and Elvis Presley was sat upon his throne. 1962, in terms of musical identity, still resembled the ’50s, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (one of the best doo-wop bands) had released ‘Sherry’ and spent around five weeks in the top of the Billboard charts. 

Rock n’ Roll and its fundamental roots (R&B, blues, jazz) were beginning to morph and shape itself into something even more accessible; cultural traditions began to loosen up as it had experienced some serious shaking in the ’50s and into the turn of the new century, sexuality and bohemian lifestyles began to take more root within the mainstream; hordes of screaming fans began asking for more. Brian Epstein had signed on as The Beatles’ manager; they released ‘Love Me Do’ and it charted well within the UK, pleasing EMI and reassuring them that, despite some doubt within the ranks of the major label, that signing the Liverpool lads may prove to be lucrative after all.

Meanwhile in London, a shaggy-haired Keith Richards, alongside Mick Jagger, formed the Rolling Stones with Brian Jones, who was in many regards, an underestimated revolutionary for his time. The Beach Boys got signed to Colombia Records and found some key inspiration in Dick Dale and Del-Tones. Dale was the man who essentially created surf rock; he was known for using an unorthodox amount of reverb and for turning up his amplifiers loudly, in an attempt to imitate the sounds of crashing waves. This prompted The Beach Boys to write ‘Surfin’ Safari’, released in October of 1962.

1962 was also the year of ‘the twist’: Chubby Checkers was on top of the Billboard charts with ‘Let’s Twist Again’; The Isley Brothers had recorded their take on ‘Twist and Shout’ – the version The Beatles would later record. Chuck Berry’s Chuck Berry Twist was released in February of this year after he got arrested for allegedly transporting a 14-year-old girl over state lines. This is a testament that while the music industry has changed significantly in its relation to technology and the internet, the fundamentals of trend crazes and jumping on bandwagons has, for the most part, remained the same.

A slew of blues players released records during this year, including, Bo Diddley, Booker T. and the MG’s, Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry; including R&B giants, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Stevie Wonder. A young rambling folk singer would release his debut, namely Bob Dylan. His self-titled album featured mostly traditional folk songs, with a couple of his own numbers. The Supremes also made their debut as well and would maintain their presence as serious rivals to The Beatles throughout the ’60s. 

We delved into the top albums of 1962 and took a look into some of the greatest early rock n’ roll, pop, jazz, and R&B records.

Best albums released in 1962

Roy Orbison – Crying

Roy Orbison, known for his dark look, complete with black shades, black suit and silky croon, Orbison has touched the hearts and souls with his incredibly tragic-soaked voice. His voice has proven to be influential to generations of listeners, including fellow musicians in Travelling Wilburys, an all-star band, with whom he recorded an album.

In 1962, Roy Orbison accomplished something that artists hadn’t really done as of this point. In his titular album track, ‘Crying’, which he penned, he broached the subject of sensitivity and the emotional side of rock n’ roll in a very obvious way. This would prove to be fundamental in paving the way later for artists like The Beatles. Only someone with his powerful and emotive voice could pull this off. 

He began writing the song for a country artist at the time, Don Gibson, and the working title was ‘Once Again’. Eventually, his songwriting partner, Joe Melson would write the lyrics, “once again, I’m crying, I’m crying,” which would then find its final form based around this line. In an interview with the NME, Orbison stated, “Immediately I thought of a past experience and just retold that, was the way that came about. It was the retelling of a thing with a girlfriend that I had had. I couldn’t tell you right now what notes I hit at the end of the song, or anything.”

The Beach Boys – Surfin’ Safari

The Beach Boys released this album after being signed to the major label, Colombia Records. Being greatly inspired by Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, they decided that surfing as a concept was their ‘thing’ and they were going to write and sing about, despite them not exactly being the greatest surfers, if at all, themselves. The album reached number 32, and the songs were mostly either written by Brian Wilson or co-written by him, with frequent collaborator and bandmate, Mike Love.

‘Surfin’ was written by Brian Wilson after his brother Dennis Wilson, commented, “surfing’s getting really big. You guys ought to write a song about it.” The songs in retrospect, are kind of subpar, especially to a lot of the other groups who were performing and releasing material at the time. What sets The Beach Boys apart, however, is their originality in sound and are mostly accredited for bringing the ‘California Surf’ sound to a larger audience. Even their early work gives us a glimpse into the genius of Brian Wilson and gave us a teaser of what was to come.

The songs from this album are definitely a little cheesy and cliche, but that’s only in retrospect; if we listen with more sincerity, we’ll begin to appreciate their musicality, harmonies and quirkiness.

The Shirelles – Baby It’s You 

A brilliant R&B album of simplicity yet filled with beautiful orchestrations and as far as doo-wop is concerned, it doesn’t get much better. Even to this day, despite maybe some of the campy lyrics, it still stands as a powerhouse of pop and rhythm and blues music.

The title track, a major hit that The Beatles included on their Please Please Me album, was written by Burt Bacharach, Mack David, and Barney Williams, a.k.a Luther Dixon who also produced the track. While the album came out in 1962, the single was released in ‘61 and became a top ten hit. The Shirelles would prove to be a vital influence, specifically on British mod bands, who would often incorporate R&B and Motown sounds along with loud rock n’ roll, giving their sound a softer side and more heartfelt intention. 

Ray Charles – Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music

One of Ray Charles’ most successful records, this album marked a significant shift in his career, as he began incorporating more country elements, and reworked traditional songs into western music standards, from the typical standards of said songs; jazz, R&B, and soul. It was a surprise to many when he began this shift, but it just proved that Ray was, and still remains, one of the legends of music, as is evident in his versatility. 

Co-produced with Sid Feller, the record was an instant success; the album was certified gold, and he received recognition in different markets; by this point, Ray Charles’ music could be heard on, not only R&B and soul stations but also now country and western-geared stations. It is now considered one of the greatest albums of all time. 

It wasn’t completely farfetched for Ray Charles to have made that jump into country and western. As it appears on the liner notes of the record, “I used to play piano in a hillbilly band,” and he knew he “could do a good job with the right hillbilly song today.”

Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan

Dylan’s debut came about somewhat controversially; John Hammond had produced the album after signing him, despite the high probability that the record probably was not going to chart well. Hammond clearly saw the potential in Dylan at the time. The album contained all but two original recordings, ‘Talkin’ New York’, and ‘Song to Woody’.

The latter of the two was an ode to Dylan’s hero, Woody Guthrie, who he travelled to the east coast from the mid-west to see on his death bed. While in New York City, Dylan found some work playing the harmonica as a session player after which Hammon decided to audition him for his own record. Later on, Dylan held a two-week-long residence at Gerde’s Folk City.

According to John Hammond, despite the minimal overhead costs of recording the album, a lot of trouble arose during the sessions. Hammond recalled, “Bobby popped every p, hissed every s, and habitually wandered off mike,” recalls Hammond. “Even more frustrating, he refused to learn from his mistakes. It occurred to me at the time that I’d never worked with anyone so undisciplined before.” Bob Dylan would find more success and sales later on in Dylan’s career when his name became what it is today.

John Lee Hooker – Burnin’

While based in the blues, John Lee Hooker’s album sounds timeless, as it could have been recorded in the 50s, or even later on, closer to present day. The album features ‘Boom Boom’ which became a chart-topping hit. John Lee Hooker rose to prominence adapting classic Delta-style blues with an electric guitar. 

It is arguable that John Lee Hooker is the greatest blues player of them all – he has the quintessential voice and his style of electric guitar picking which incorporated boogie style playing, continues to solidify the foundation for blues players yet to still come. While Ray Charles was a much better singer, John Lee Hooker’s honest songwriting and connection to his heritage of Missippi blues cannot be overlooked or even overstated; this kind of music rarely comes about anymore. Best listened to after hours.

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