1966 was very much a turning point for pop music. Many acts that were considered beat groups had started to branch out and to think beyond live performance. With orchestral tracks like ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘For No One’ Paul McCartney pushed forth the idea of baroque pop. John Lennon, meanwhile, was experimenting with tape loops and early forms of electronica. His ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, closing The Beatles’ 1966 masterpiece ‘Revolver’, is often considered to be at least partially responsible for the birth of true psychedelia. While it’s obvious Lennon’s sound collage took a massive leap towards the mind expanding sounds of ’67, many other bands were sowing the seeds for change a little earlier. As early as 1965, The Kinks pushed boundaries with their single ‘See My Friends’ – a mix of jangling sixties pop and raga music – while even the Dave Clarke Five had occasionally sounded a bit…out there for the era with an increased use of reverb. While the roots of psychedelia could be argued over almost indefinitely, The Yardbirds’ ‘Shapes of Things’ – a fuzzy mish-mash of beat-pop and soft druggy haze – pre-dates the release of ‘Revolver’ by several months and is very much in the mould that would come to be known as freakbeat. An important branch of the psychedelia family tree, freakbeat took the bones of the sixties sound, loaded it with fuzz and wasn’t shy in exploiting the left/right split for stereo head trips. In 1966, this was very much at the forefront of emerging alternative sounds.
Grapefruit Records’ ‘A Slight Disturbance In My Mind’ looks into the dustier corners of 1966, at freakbeat and more specifically tracks that laid the foundations for the brightly swirling sounds of 1967 and beyond, using the February 1966 release of that Yardbirds single as a springboard. From that and The Creation’s equally fabulous ‘Making Time’ – a tune heavily indebted to The Who with its overdriven guitars, Keith Moon-ish drum parts and sound that never feels that far removed from ‘Happy Jack’ – the listener is taken on a journey that takes in a massive 86 heavy mod, freakbeat and proto-psych tracks. It’s a set loaded with memories, should’ve-been hits and a few genuine obscurities.
Scattered throughout this journey are various covers of songs known by almost everyone. Whilst none of these match the originals for their timeless appeal, they give an interesting alternate viewpoint of things now within music’s collective consciousness. Garage rockers The Tomcats take ‘Paint It Black’ and recycle it as a lo-fi affair, its harsh guitar sounds and muffled vocals only serving to make the sneering lyric nastier than ever. Loose Ends – while nowhere near as brave – add extra fuzz guitar and grit to the Beatles’ then still new ‘Taxman’ taking it from the realms of perfect pop-rock and into the freakbeat zone and Southend’s The Fingers add extra harmonies, strings and an oboe to The Kinks’ ‘I Go To Sleep’, not only making it sound more lavish than Ray Davies possibly imagined, but really tapping into the new sounds of baroque pop in the process. A number that should have been a hit, it’s a near perfect piece of 60s pop awaiting rediscovery.
Reason enough on its own to buy this box set, The Majority’s ‘Simplified’ is a genuine gem. A multi-layered slice of pop, its three minutes are loaded with harmony vocals, slightly more complex counter harmonies and an upfront bassline that could even pass for the work of Carol Kaye. Add enough tinkling bells to suggest someone in the studio had designs on being Brian Wilson and this becomes a perfect piece of 60s ephemera. It deserved to be a massive hit upon release in the summer of ’66, but almost sank without trace. [In 2017, a near mint copy of the 7” single sold for £237 on ebay.]
Also adding to the quality pop is the enigmatic Beverley, whose ‘Happy New Year’ was the debut single for the Deram label – a key fixture in the world of psych. Heavy on the piano (supplied by the legendary Nicky Hopkins), the track quickly aims to set up a feel good vibe in a vaguely Zombies-like way. The young Beverley, meanwhile, attacks her performance with a real gusto; a crossover between bubblegum naivety and girl group sass. Written by Randy Newman, It almost sounds like something that inspired Lynn Redgrave’s awful satirical number ‘I’m Young’ in the film Smashing Time…except that it’s actually brilliant. As with a lot of the best material within this set, the poppier elements are counterbalanced by a hefty fuzz guitar. In this case, that’s supplied by the one and only Jimmy Page – another reason this is a must-hear.
More treasure can be found in a pair of brilliant tracks from beat combo The Misunderstood. With much less of a shyness for throwing forth howling lead guitars than most, this band can be heard really pushing musical boundaries of ’66. ‘I Unseen’, howls and swirls in a way that isn’t always obviously melodic; the gruff lead vocal is more of the Arthur Brown variety than The Hollies and yet it works. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to hear it through modern ears and place it in context that makes it special. In the framework of 1966 – and even in the context of this box set – it sounds more “anti-establishment” than most. ‘My Mind’, meanwhile, is no more sedate. Its clattering intro fuses beat and raga sounds, before a verse loaded with heavy drums and dive-bombing guitar lines cares more for force than melody. It’s only with a couple of brief instrumental bridges that a more accessible melody shines through. Eventually, a really raucous lead guitar pierces the noisy beat group sounds and The Misunderstood become psychedelic in a much truer sense. In some ways this is a bit of a clattering dirge…and yet, its kitchen sink arrangement and almost chaotic stance lends everything a real appeal, making it obvious why it’s a flagship track within this expansive set.
Another great garage rocker with occasional beatfreak fuzziness comes from The Renegades – a guitar-heavy band closer to Paul Revere & The Raiders than The Yardbirds. With amps cranked, their hard edged sound leans further towards psych than a lot of this set’s material, but still retains a beat group heart that pumps furiously throughout. For fans of the mod style, ‘Walkin’ Walkin’ Walkin’ by The Favourite Sons is a fantastic archival piece as shows off some very loud Dave Davies-esque guitar lines, which sound even louder when contrasted with a more whimsical vocal. On the basis of this fantastically played and brilliantly arranged track, The Favourite Sons should’ve been huge. Unfortunately, their champion at the record label allegedly lost interest in their mod sounds almost immediately after discovering Cat Stevens… There was good fortune for at least one of the band, though, as bass player John Glascock soon joined The Gods (a forerunner to Uriah Heep) and later became a key member of Jethro Tull, playing on five album releases between 1976 and 1979. Since John played on ‘Songs From The Wood’ – arguably the Tull’s finest album – he’ll never be forgotten.
Birmingham’s N’Betweens – the band that became Ambrose Slade and latterly Slade – offer some enjoyable mod inspired rock with their ‘Evil Witchman’, a raucous tune with a hefty bassline. It’s easy enough from this one snapshot to hear the roots of the band that recorded 1969’s ‘Beginnings’ album – another interesting listen for those looking to dig deeper. For the big Slade fan, ‘A Slight Disturbance…’ will be an essential collection filler, since a second much rarer track also features. Originally miscredited to The In Between, a cover of Otis Redding’s ‘Security’ made it as far as the promo 7” stage in ’66, soon to be forgotten. Its inclusion here, then, is important, but becomes especially so since an unedited version has been used. Presenting the band’s raw take on a soul sound in its full uncut glory, it’s really solid stuff. As with ‘Evil Witchman’, it’s often clear that bassist Jim Lea is the most gifted of the young musicians, but it’s also nice to hear Noddy Holder singing with a little more restraint than on many of his more famous recordings.
For the keener collector, two unreleased tracks by Outrage give an interesting insight into a forgotten band. ‘A Different Kind of Love Song’ lollops along with glee; a twee tune that pre-dates Dave Mason’s more whimsical affairs with Traffic, it screams mid-late 60s like very little else. It reinforces its proto-psych oddness thanks to a world of castanets and silly voices. and – in a more serious mood – ‘Man With Money’ shows a band that were capable of recycling a lot of the then in vogue love for frivolity. There’s nothing out of the ordinary here, but if you love the early works of The Who and, to a lesser extent, The Hollies, this is well worth hearing, even though Outrage were clearly never the best singers. The Byrds-ish ‘I Will Have You’ from Ireland’s Just Five is another interesting proposition, in that its music quickly sets up a jangle that’s so familiar you might even expect the close harmonies of McGuinn, Crosby and Clarke to appear soon after. When the vocal appears and Sam Mahood’s thin and reedy voice is left alone to carry the bulk of the melody, it’s a big disappointment. It takes about a verse and a half to tune in…and although the vocal never improves – a folky whine isn’t great when a pop-laden confidence is surely required – it isn’t such a bad track.
Elsewhere among the huge array of material, The Artwoods’ ‘Molly Anderson’s is a fine blues that completely wrong-foots the listener by fading out early and then drops into odd spoken word material (hence its being worthy of inclusion); The Kingpins’ ‘You’re My Girl’ echoes the mood of the times by applying a huge amount of reverb to an otherwise fairly ordinary garage rock workout and The Brood’s ‘Wrong Way’ sounds like a badly played Kinks rip-off recorded onto a water damaged tape reel. It possibly sounded more relevant at the time, but it’s kind of obvious why it isn’t too well known.
Although not remotely psychedelic, The Action’s ‘I’ll Keep Holding On’ is another brilliant mod track, blending pop and rock with a soulful edge and energy and, likewise, The Attraction’s hefty beat group sounds are particularly fond of pushing forth a Pete Townsend-ish guitar in the instrumental breaks. Despite hailing from Romford, this particular group’s fascination for singing with broad Liverpudlian accents seems odd, but this single is still a brilliant piece of beat-pop that’s actually much bigger on hooks than the better known Action track. As a side note, Steve Marriott was a big fan of the musicians who eventually became The Attraction, so it’s probably no coincidence that this track packs a similar punch to a couple of early Small Faces bangers.
From a sixties pop viewpoint, these three CDs are great listen – and well sequenced, too. In a heartbeat, you’re taken from something half familiar and down a rabbit hole where various mod, freakbeat and Who soundalikes lie in wait. So much might have fallen by the wayside in ’66 – for every Beatles and Stones, there were a thousand single-makers who barely had their five minutes of fame – but this set really allows the listener to fill in the gaps. If there’s any drawback, it’s perhaps that most of those half forgotten bands either represent too small a small step from Merseybeat sounds or are shamelessly keen to tread on The ‘Oo’s coat-tails. For the to the more casual observer who’s keen on beat groups, however, its deeper treasures can still seem particularly bountiful.
Further reading: Come Join My Orchestra – The British Baroque Pop Sound 1967-73
December 2019/January 2020