Sinatra in the Sands to Dylan in Memphis: The top 6 records of 1966, ranked
In 1966, there was a remarkable smell of change in the air. Over in England, they (finally) won the World Cup and a nineteen-year-old going by the name of ‘David Bowie’ released his first single. Whilst in America, troops were being sent out to fight the Vietnam War (fuelling anti-war music) and John Lennon claimed The Beatles were more popular than Jesus. In fairness, at the time of Revolver, maybe they were.
Many artists hit their watershed in ’66, allowing them to experiment with different genres and push boundaries—but which album takes the crown?
6. Frank Sinatra – Sinatra at the Sands
Accompanied by Quincy Jones and Count Basie, Frank Sinatra bought his quick wit and lounge music to The Copa Room in Las Vegas. This live album showed Sinatra at his best, and today, how we still remember him.
With effortless grace, Sinatra plus his 20-man orchestra belt out classic after classic. Between these songs, he laughs and jokes with the audience, returning back to his cheeky, Rat-pack ways after a previous slump within his music. With time-honoured songs such as ‘Fly to the Moon’, ‘It Was A Very Good Year’ and ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’, it’s a quintessential live album that stands the test of time.
5. The Rolling Stones – Aftermath
Aftermath showed the Stones going in a different direction with their music and transcending from just being a great rock band, to becoming something of cultural history.
This marked the first time Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote every song on the album, infusing pop-rock songs with attitude and swagger that ring reminiscent when thinking of the band today. Like other albums released in ’66, Brian Jones experimented with a variety of different instruments unknown in the rock world, such as a marimba and a sitar.
4. Simon and Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
Produced by Bob Johnston (Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash), Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme saw Simon and Garfunkel finally take their time on a project, spending over three months in the studio together. A significant portion of this time was spent perfecting both the songwriting and producing featured on the album, with Paul Simon playing a big part throughout both.
Songs such as ‘Scarborough Fair/Canticle’ present Simon’s ability of songwriting by weaving his own song, ‘Canticle’, which criticises the Vietnam War, between the traditional English ballad ‘Scarborough Fair’, both these songs completely different, but Simon manages to bring them together in a way that makes perfect sense. The album also includes cuts such as the nostalgic ‘Homeward Bound’ and harmonious ‘The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)’. Most important of all, it paved the way for their 1968 release and arguably their finest work, Bookends.
3. The Beatles – Revolver
Revolver showed The Beatles all working equally to create something truly experimental and what could be their creative peak. It’s hard for any band to not have filler songs on an album, but Revolver sails through this with ease with every song coming under or around the three-minute mark. From hard rock cuts such as ‘Taxman’, to the ethereal ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, all exploring different influences —from classical Indian music to children’s songs, elevating these with orchestral arrangements and backwards recordings. None of these songs proved to be more innovative than Lennon’s ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, with six tape loops being played throughout the song, from seagulls (which is actually distorted instruments cut on tape) to McCartney laughing.
Revolver is a soundscape of poetic imagery featuring working-class Liverpool and is the Fab Four’s most consistent record.
2. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
When work on the radical Pet Sounds started, the brains behind the band, Brian Wilson, set out to create “the greatest rock album ever made.” Over fifty years after the initial release and it’s still a strong contender. Before the album came to fruition, The Beach Boys were merely a surf-rock band, but Wilson was eager to step away from this formula and create something that would stand the test of time. Pet Sounds was exactly this, proving to be the band’s magnum opus.
The record features songs such as ‘God Only Knows’—which contained 15 different instruments as well as additional percussion, creating something reminiscent of Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound. Pet Sounds, which was inspired by The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, is often cited as the first original concept album in music, with themes of social isolation, loneliness and love, as well as a cohesive musical theme throughout the record. Everyone from David Bowie to the Talking Heads found inspiration through The Beach Boys’ ambitious and ground-breaking record.
1. Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde
Coined the first major double album of all time, Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde is easily a contender for the best record ever made. Continuing what he had started on Highway 61 Revisited and the A-side of Bringing It All Back Home, Dylan began experimenting further with rock, soul and country music whilst taking a step away from his folk roots to create something no one has ever come close to, including Dylan himself.
Twelve years after the album came out, he described it as “the closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album. It’s that thin, that wild mercury sound.” With the perfect blend of sarcasm, wit and mystery, songs such as ‘Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35’ – riddled with double meanings and reinstate his role as ‘the voice of the generation’, whilst ‘Visions of Johanna’ holds genius one-liners right from the opening, with “ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ be so quiet?”
Two months after its release, Dylan dropped out of the public eye completely after his motorcycle crash and moved away to Woodstock with his family, leaving his fans with nothing left but the memory of Dylan, and obviously, this allusive LP.