It is easy to forget how quickly the sixties whizzed by in retrospect. Pop culture as we know it was pretty much fresh out of the box, in fact, one of the biggest news stories of the day was the BBC’s decision to start broadcasting in colour. It was a switch that was overseen by one of the worlds true heroes, Sir David Attenborough. Elsewhere in Britain, there was cause for celebration as several other true heroes etched their names in the glorious annals of history as Bobby Moore held the World Cup aloft for England.
Change seemed to be hurtling by leaving an almost tangible breeze in its wake. The Beatles were causing uproar by saying they were “bigger than Jesus,” and Pet Sounds was somehow flopping amid the masses of phenomenal Promethean feats that the music world was offering while Ennio Morricone was also a lending fabulous score to one of the most revered movies of all time in the shape of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The whole world seemed to be bathed in the sanguine hue of purple progress in a rare period of relative calm for the tumultuous decade.
In this furious grasp of inspiration certain tracks escaped the clutch, others were too ahead of their time to be recognised for what they were, and some were just failed by fate. In this latest edition of Unlucky For Some, we’re looking at thirteen of the most underrated gems and tracks that should be held in a museum of excellence.
The 13 most underrated songs from 1966:
13. ‘Walk Away Renee’ by The Left Banke
Although the track might be far better known for the Four Tops cover version that followed, the original has a sort of lo-fi unpolished charm to it. What the singalong chorus lacks in Four Tops prowess it makes up for with baroque brashness.
The song reached number five in the US Singles charts and although the group have faded into obscurity somewhat thereafter, their debut feat was big enough to sustain them in the industry to this day.
12. ‘It’s All Over Now’ by Them
Bob Dylan is an artist who has been covered more times than the nether regions in a Japanese blue movie, some of them have been brilliant, others have brought to mind the phrase ‘why bother?’, Them’s version of ‘It’s All Over Now’ is a classic.
The spaced-out atmosphere completely reimagines Dylan’s acoustic original, while a young Van Morrison captures the caustic edge of the Bob’s howling vocals, all rolling along on a bassline as paradoxically tranquil and heavy as tumbleweed made of lead.
11. ‘Maroon’ by Ken Nordine
How many songs politely ask you, “please say prune?” I haven’t done the due diligence, but I’m pretty confident that it is only one regardless. Whether this falls into the category of ‘Outsider Music’ is debatable, but it’s certainly not your atypical use of lyrical rhyme pattern.
For all of the song’s inherent madness, there is an endearing charm that prises a chuckle, but enough evident skill in the jazz backing to stop it from being laughed out of town. David Bowie was such a fan that he put Nordine on the bill when he curated The High Line Festival in New York, and Alex Turner and Josh Homme played the track on Homme’s Apple Music radio show The Alligator Hour. Nordine, who passed away aged 98 in 2019, is dubbed the creator of ‘word jazz’ and perhaps it this unfettered originality that draws the greats towards him.
10. ‘If It’s All The Same To You Babe’ by Luther Ingram
Luther Ingram might sound like a solicitors name but strip that away and you’ve got a quintessential soul performer. His liquid bravura pours off the dancefloor hit like rain off a pagoda. But sadly, no dancefloors ever heard it.
After touring with the bandleader Ike Turner throughout the late fifties and early sixties, Luther Ingram went solo in 1965 but failed to have charting single until 1969. ‘If It’s All The Same To You Babe’ sound every bit the classic hit, so much so that you think you’ve surely heard it before, but evidently not that many people outside of ardent Northern Soul circles ever have.
9. ‘Reverberation (Doubt)’ by 13th Floor Elevators
13th Floor Elevators are the unheralded pioneers of psychedelic rock. In fact, the first known use of the term actually appeared on a business card they had printed in January 1966 and the group’s electric jug player Tommy Hall is credited with coining the phrase. While business cards might not be in keeping with the oeuvre of psychedelia, every other kaleidoscopic, slightly maddening acid-soaked trope is already present in their Promethean work.
Unlike other coined terms whereby the genre passes through various permutations before the coinage finds the style that it becomes eponymous with, when it comes to psychedelia it was born sprinting and didn’t have time to undergo transmutation. ‘Reverberations (Doubt)’ might sound a tad unpolished but listening to it is certainly a trip.
8. ‘Et moi, et moi, et moi’ by Jacques Dutronc
This is the perfect cooking song. By which I mean to say it’s the perfect song to incinerate everything you apply height to while prancing in the kitchen and not frankly giving a damn that the food has been utterly chernobyled thanks to the dose of sixties sunshine that Dutronc has just delivered.
Certain songs seem to capture the zeitgeist and when hearing ‘Et moi, et moi, et moi’ it’s hard not to be transported back to the sixties or at least feel the draft of its devil-may-care attitude. Aside from that, it’s the sort of toe-tapper that not even the flat below could begrudge.
7. ‘I Won’t Hurt You’ by The West Coast Pop Art Experiment Band
In an album that mainly comprised of covers, this track stood out like a sore thumb. And weirdly like Jacques Dutronc’s piece, it seems to capture the zeitgeist of America’s west coast and yet the record didn’t seem to graze a hair on the chart’s surface.
The pulsing heart rhythm of this track and softer than silk sonic overlay has since had a rebirth thanks to the whimsical king of Hollywood, Wes Anderson. In truth, it is very much his sort of vibe, there is not a hair out of place when it comes to this track’s artistic intent.
6. ‘Wild is the Wind’ by Nina Simone
The Nina Simone album ‘Wild is the Wind’ reached number 110 in the US Album Charts, which makes it difficult to explain how it is underrated with a level head. An interpretation of Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington’s 1957 standard as good as this taking the titular place on a record that evaded the top 100 is an oversight akin to Hamsters cracking perpetual motion in it being shrugged off as nothing more than a spinning wheel.
Nina Simone’s voice is at its spirit summoning best and the spooky bravura of the interpretation lends it an unheard-of edge. It’s a gladiatorial song performance and fortunately, David Bowie was able to recognise it as such to save it from the ash heap.
5. ‘Cloudy’ by Simon & Garfunkel
Within every big act’s back catalogue there are always a few songs that stand up to the hits but are diminished under their might. Cloudy is one of the great folk songs. It’s as smooth as cutting butter and Paul Simon’s poetry is at its finest.
Sadly, it’s one that many casual fans might not know. Whilst the duo was experiencing so much success that its overshadowing was probably water off a duck’s back for them, for those who have subsequently missed out, however, it’s a huge loss not to have basked in the boon of its silver lining.
4. ‘Katie Cruel’ by Karen Dalton
Karen Dalton has a voice that could haunt an empty house. And this stripped-back recording from 1966 that was lassoed from the ether in 2012, is like opening some sort of ancient sarcophagus and catching its mystic sonic draft. There are a great deal of folk songs that follow a narrative, but few of them seem to be the sort of travel tales that they were once intended as. ‘Katie Cruel’ is an exception.
Not a great deal is known about these 1966 recordings. You can piece from the singing that and the strumming that there’s a smouldering cigarette involved somewhere, but perhaps it’s best that everything else is left up to the conjecture of your imagination.
3. ‘Dolphins’ by Fred Neil
When you got to Greenwich Village in the early 1960s, which pretty much every future megastar disguised as a wayfaring beatnik did, then Fred Neil was the guy you looked up to. Bob Dylan heralds his name in his memoir and a slew of other notable memoirs out there do just the same.
His best-known song is in many people’s eyes a Harry Nilsson original, ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’, but Neil penned it first and it’s a measure of his mark as a songwriter. ‘Dolphins’ does just the same, it’s a song that seems like it could have been written by a 400-year-old man as it seems to capture a level of lived-in experience beyond the call of a simple folk song.
2. ‘I’m Glad’ by Captain Beefheart
In 1968 George Harrison would write ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, will in the 1966 Beefheart demo the guitar is sobbing its eyes out. It’s a level of soulful playing equalled by the vocal take, and for some reason, it sounds sweeter than strawberries and cream.
Away from the utter madness of Trout Mask Replica and Captain Beefheart’s more obviously mad stuff, there was simply gorgeous R&B songwriting. This demo is as raw as they come, except maybe the aforementioned ‘Katie Cruel’ but that’s by the by.
1. ‘Somebody to Love’ by Jefferson Airplane
You might claim that ‘Somebody to Love’ isn’t underrated, but you’d be wrong on two counts. You might even claim it’s actually from 1967 but once again you’d be wrong because this track stands as a fine example of the universal importance of time and place. The song was originally written by The Great Society guitarist Darby Slick, with his sister-in-law Grace Slick on vocals in 1966, and nobody cared could care less about it. It was re-recorded in only a few months after it failed in November by Jefferson Airplane after Grace Slick jumped ship and became an instant classic upon release the following April.
Still, it remains underrated. In short, it is one of the greatest songs of all time (and I’ll leave that purposefully broad, thank you), as it captures at least a whiff of the meaning of life, and the meaning of rock ‘n’ roll in a sub-three-minute maelstrom of adrenalised sonic oblivion. (And it also produced one of the greatest isolated vocal tracks of all time from Grace Slick).