Feb 06

Popular ’66

Popular159 comments • 4,085 views

I give marks out of 10 to every single on Popular. Here’s where you can say which entries you’d have given 6 or above to, and discuss the year in general in the comments. Here we have 1966, a year of many high marks including the project’s first two 10/10 records – Nancy Sinatra and “Yellow Submarine”/”Eleanor Rigby”. At the other end of the scale, I had little good to say about Jim Reeves. Over to you!

Which Of The Number One Hits Of 1966 Would You Have Given 6 Or More To?

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  1. 121
    Cumbrian on 28 Feb 2014 #

    116: If you are to believe The Wachowskis, The Matrix was conceived as a trilogy but, crucially, the first film was not that well supported. It had a medium budget, was created by two film-makers with only one film as directors and writers under their belt at that point and was not thought of as being that promising. Look at the cast – at the time, Keanu is the only big name actor in the film. Then you’ve got Laurence Fishbourne, who could be got cheap at this point in his career. Everyone else had their careers made by The Matrix. Its subsequent success was a bit of a surprise as a result. (it was due to be going up against The Phantom Menace, so it was released in March – well outside blockbuster season). As such, they wrote the first film as a self contained piece, in case it didn’t work out and they wouldn’t get the opportunity to “finish”. This, in my view, unsurprisingly, makes that first film one hell of a lot better than the others. It also means that I approached that film – as did many others – as a film, not the start of a trilogy. It was only once it blew up that it became the start of something. That’s part of the reason both why I view it as a stand-alone film (difficult to do with the other 2, as the story sprawls over both) and something to be evaluated as such – because it is intended to be such. In this sense, I don’t think it is like Lost. If anything, the first Matrix is, I think, much more like The Godfather (in that, if that hadn’t been a success, it could have happily stood alone and wouldn’t have inspired more films).

    Oh look. Gary Barlow.

  2. 122
    Cumbrian on 28 Feb 2014 #

    119: OK. Point taken. But why does this make The Matrix somehow worse as a film in and of itself? After all, many of the innovations of, say, Citizen Kane have been treated similarly, so does that mean that CK is worse as a film because of this treatment? And if not, but it does make The Matrix worse – why?

    One could, of course, argue the reverse, that this simply proves its greatness and somehow makes the film better. I don’t believe that either, to be honest.

    I’m coming off as a major fan of this film here. Let me make a further point clear – The Matrix is, in my view, an entirely enjoyable film but it is not anywhere near my list of personal favourites.

  3. 123
    flahr on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Blimey, over a hundred comments on the subject of ‘will people look back with nostalgia on their youth’ (spoilers: the answer is yes).

  4. 124
    Tommy Mack on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Cumbrian @ 122, you’re absolutely right that it doesn’t make the Matrix less of a film in it’s own right. I’m just suggesting reasons why people might think so: just look at The Sixth Sense and how that’s been critically downgraded as M Night Shamalayn flounders from flop to flop (and the twist ending becomes the punchline to a joke)

    Flahr @ 123 – i think it’s more a question of ‘when people look back with nostalgia on their youth, what will be the reference points they reach for?’

  5. 125
    Andrew Farrell on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Actually Be Here Now is a pretty good analogy, particularly with respect to the effect that the expectation of narrative / development can have on how something is received. You can imagine a reviewer of What’s the Story saying “Okay, it’s clear that Oasis isn’t going to be producing a revolution with every album, but there’s definitely a path of evolution here, a lot of paths that they might take themselves down in future” – and then after BHN “Ah. No, they’re not going to do any of that, are they?”

    I actually rate the second Matrix film quite highly, but it’s taken me some time to get back to there: Along with a lot of excellent action, there was a lot of interesting stuff that I was convinced was going to pay off in the third – and then the third made a liar of me.

    #122: There were I think a lot of people who were willing to like the film despite the story, because it was a well-made and exciting action film (before this there was Blade and then nothing for an awful lot of the 90s*). There were a few more of those by the time that the sequels came out – Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was six months or so after, to pick an obvious comparison.

    #121 I actually think the “always a trilogy” is most likely bollocks.

    *In Hollywood – Hong Kong for example was happy to pick up the slack.

  6. 126
    Tom on 28 Feb 2014 #

    #125 Of course – as we might well be discussing – this is very much what the real actual reviewers of Be Here Now didn’t say. :)

  7. 127
    Tom on 28 Feb 2014 #

    (Or, more subtly, they DID say this but felt forced to present it as a good thing.)

  8. 128
    Tommy Mack on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Not least because they felt red-faced over the lukewarm reception they gave Morning Glory which went on to become quite popular, I believe. Quite justifiably in my opinion: for a 10 track (plus two brief instrumental snippet segments) album, there’s too much (i.e. ANY!) filler. It speaks volumes of their arrogant superiority (or lack of commmerlcial savvy) that they threw away on B-sides songs that would launch careers of lesser indie bands and then put throwaway songs on their albums (and in the case of Shakermaker, on the A-side of their breakthrough single).

  9. 129
    flahr on 1 Mar 2014 #

    Can we not make me launch into my defence of BHN until the time comes please ;-)

  10. 130
    Ed on 1 Mar 2014 #

    @129 Stepping in to change the subject swiftly….

    Going back to Paulito’s original comment @71 that set this whole debate off, one point that I do have some sympathy with is that the culture of the 00s – and pop especially – seemed less aware of and connected to changes in the wider world than it had done at any time since the 1950s. In the 90s, for example, it’s impossible to listen to European techno without hearing the euphoria generated by the end of the Cold War. In hip-hop, to take another one, documentary realism about the lives of urban African-Americans was prized as the ultimate value, even if the actual lyrics often took that experience and mythologised it.

    In the 00s, though, I can’t really think of any music that captured the mood of the times. It’s as if 9/11 and what came after it was such a massive shock that musicians – like the rest of us – were left struggling to make sense of it. As far as I can remember, it was really not until Umbrella – far enough away to escape the bunny, I hope – that a song really spoke to the times we were living through. As the great Jay-Z line about “going down, like the Dow Jones” makes clear, it is the defining anthem of the Great Recession.

    And it was not just pop, either. Film seems to have have had a real problem with 9/11 and its aftermath. For a long time the two best films about the War on Terror were comedies – Team America World Police and Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay – although as I was saying earlier, I do think Zero Dark 30 is a masterpiece.

    As for another historic trend of the 00s: the rise of the 1%, and of our awareness of the inequality that that figure represents, hip-hop has more often simply manifested it than commented on it. Thank goodness for Lorde.

  11. 131
    weej on 1 Mar 2014 #

    Films about 9/11, from best to worst:

    25th Hour (only tangentially about 9/11, but easily at the top of this list)

    (big gap here)

    United 93

    (HUGE gap here)

    Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
    Loose Change (for entertainment value only)
    World Trade Center (come on, Oliver Stone, how can you make 9/11 so boring?)
    Dear John (used as a plot device in a crap romantic drama, it doesn’t get worse than that)

    There seem to be quite a few more but based on that sample I’ve no desire to see them.

  12. 132
    Tom on 1 Mar 2014 #

    #130 The Lorde entry is going to be interesting (All of 2013’s entries are, actually, I can’t remember a year when so many politically/culturally divisive tracks got to #1). (Very briefly: I think “Royals” is better art than it is cultural criticism.) (And I like it a lot as a pair with another 2013 number one – much less well-regarded – which I think enhances “Royals” and vice versa)

    In terms of 9/11, is it fair to say television responded faster and better?

    The problem with “Umbrella” as the song of the great recession is that it slightly predates it (certainly it’s well in advance of the actual ‘recession’ phase and the post-Lehman crash, but the Dow itself didn’t peak until late 2007.) That’s not to say it might not have found renewed resonance afterwards but I have to admit I’ve never heard it as “speaking to its times” politically. There’s a #1 in early 2009 which spoke to post-crash confusion a lot better IMO.

  13. 133
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 1 Mar 2014 #

    Weirdly, there were a *lot* of Hollywood pulp films a little prior to 9/11 about something colossally transformatively bad hitting America from above or below: Independence Day (and its goblin twin Mars Attacks!) in 1996; Volcano and Dante’s Peak in 1997; Armageddon and Deep Impact in 1998… As if there was a kind of prescient dread in the air.

  14. 134
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 1 Mar 2014 #

    They’re all pretty bad, but not as bad as The Matrix (1999) :D

  15. 135
    swanstep on 1 Mar 2014 #

    @133. Not to mention Donnie Darko being released just a week or so afterwards and involving jet engines crashing through houses.

    In general too there’s been a lot of indirect post-9/11 stuff in films; Spielberg alone has made a whole bunch with Munich, War of The Worlds, Minority Report and even The Terminal. And the LOTR films seemed to speak to ‘clash of civilizations’ ideas that the Bush admin was eager to promote. And The Dark Knight was all about terrorism, torture, and surveillance societies. And, of course, TV has been all over these topics very explicitly with 24, Battlestar Galactica, Homeland, Spooks, and so on.

  16. 136
    enitharmon on 1 Mar 2014 #

    Clearly I was on a different planet in the 1990s. The films I remember are Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe, Carla’s Song, The Commitments, Thelma and Louise, The Crying Game, Julia Ormonde being in everthing in sight and then vanishing without trace, LA Confidential, Boys Don’t Cry, Brassed Off.

  17. 137
    Ed on 1 Mar 2014 #

    @132 The crisis started in the US a lot earlier than you might think. Here’s HSBC in February 2007 already reporting losses because of a sharp rise in defaults on their subprime lending: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/hsbcs-warning-highlights-gloom-for-sub-prime-lenders

    In other words, that’s a lot of people on low incomes not being able to pay their mortgages, often going bankrupt and losing their homes, becoming a really noticeable problem in 2006. A lot of them would have listened to Umbrella, I am sure.

    Maybe Jay-Z and The Dream were keen readers of the financial pages – which is certainly possible – or maybe they just knew people in the communities that were starting to suffer. But I would be very surprised if it’s entirely accidental.

    In fact, Umbrella, like the very best pop, seems to understand and reflect social change before most conventional commentators have begun to get their heads round it. If you had followed Jay-Z’s financial advice, you could have made – or saved – a lot of money.

    But I am starting to be nervous about the bunny….

  18. 138
    Andrew Farrell on 1 Mar 2014 #

    War of the Worlds and Minority Report are about fears of different eras though! That’s one thing (admittedly minor by comparison with everything else) that annoys me about the reaction to 9/11, the impression that it was the invention of terrorism, that no-one ever had fears about uncontrollable shit before (and as a side effect, hey if this sea is starting to worry us, why don’t we try and turn it back with a fork? It’s never been tried before!)

  19. 139
    Ed on 1 Mar 2014 #

    @133 Yes, Adam Curtis had an extended riff on that in his show with Massive Attack: stringing together a lot of the movie clips that look eerily like the news footage from 9/11, then pointing out they were all filmed before 2001.

    What we are meant to conclude from that I don’t really know, unless you go down the road of the obviously nutso 9/11 truthers.

    I guess maybe the causation goes the other way: as Stockhausen pointed out, 9/11 was conceived on the grandest possible dramatic scale, to maximize its impact. Shock and awe, to borrow the campaign slogan from the US response. The attacks were designed to be as staggering as the most spectacular Hollywood movie.

    Stockhausen’s comments were misunderstood – mostly deliberately, I suspect – and he was condemned for them. But the other day I came across some Hollywood director who had said something very similar in 2002, and apparently got away with it. Irritatingly I can’t now find who it was. But anyway, there was a clear sense that, apart from all the normal human responses to the horror, he felt a grudging professional respect.

    @132, @135 Agreed: TV’s response has been much sharper. I am just – at last – catching up with Battlestar Galactica, which is an extraordinary work of art.

    (IIRC the War on Terror is a shadowy presence in The Wire and The Sopranos, too.)

    Part of the general phenomenon that in the 21st century American TV has on the whole been much better than American movies, I guess.

  20. 140
    Tom on 1 Mar 2014 #

    #137 – that’s an interesting and persuasive point, though I still think… nah, actually, I’ll wait. But if in 3 years or so someone reminds me of this thread before I get to “Umbrella” I’ll be very grateful.

    Re. disaster flicks as 9/11 prediction – as well as Ed’s points, isn’t all that stuff born out of/a comment on Fukuyama-style ‘end of history’ hubris? In a world with only one superpower, human threats just don’t seem exciting enough – existential menace has to come from space or nature itself. It’s definitely interesting that they chose devastation of global cities as the trope to express it – but some of that will simply be that they had the CGI to convincingly do big disasters, and oh boy, were they keen to use it.

    (And also in the 90s they could do existential-menace-as-entertainment in the first place: the films are an expression of a collective post-1989 sigh of release that, no, we apparently weren’t going to blow mankind up, so we can now enjoy the spectacle of an equivalent threat without the shadow of the bomb over the entire story.)

    The most interesting 90s action movie re. the post-9/11 world is Starship Troopers.

  21. 141
    Ed on 1 Mar 2014 #

    @133 again: Not what I was looking for, but this piece reports Robert Altman making a similar argument in 2002: http://www.lariat.org/AtTheMovies/essays/moviesand911.html
    “Nobody would have thought to commit an atrocity like that unless they’d seen it in a movie.”

    Now obviously there’s a bit of classic Hollywood narcissism in there – “It’s all about us!” – but I find it hard to dismiss that idea altogether.

    @140 That’s a very good point about the 90s: those spectacular disaster movies are a hallmark of the years between 1989 and 2001 when we could think: “Hey, blowing up cities is cool and fun!”

  22. 142
    Andrew Farrell on 1 Mar 2014 #

    The War on Terror is mostly used for irony in the Wire – a lot of the name of street drug packages, and one great joke about Stringer Bell’s first name. I think it’s generally seen as one more hustle.

  23. 143
    Mark M on 2 Mar 2014 #

    Re 140: Spot on – Starship Troopers does feel like it captured in advance the mentality of Bush the younger.

  24. 144
    swanstep on 2 Mar 2014 #

    At least in the US, Starship Troopers used Blur’s ‘Song 2’ in a bunch of trailers, the trashiest of which I uploaded to youtube a while back: Woo Hoo!

  25. 145
    Weej on 2 Mar 2014 #

    I always wondered how everyone managed to miss the satire in Starship Troopers, but that trailer makes the issue a little clearer.

  26. 146
    swanstep on 2 Mar 2014 #

    @146, weej. Doesn’t it?! Of course, the fact that ST was coming from the director of Robocop and Total Recall should have made the point completely obvious (it was obvious to me and everyone I knew, and it played uproariously at Doc Films in Chicago before Xmas ’97 IIRC).

    I think that part of the explanation is that there were just too many interesting films even for many critics to see and process and champion in 1997:

    LA Confidential, Boogie Nights, The Sweet Hereafter, A Taste of Cherry, Funny Games, Affliction, Starship Troopers, Good Will Hunting, Fireworks, Career Girls, The Butcher Boy, Happy Together, Fast Cheap & Out Of Control, Firelight, Princess Mononoke, The Ice Storm, Jackie Brown, Nil By Mouth, Open Your Eyes, In The Company of Men, The Apostle, Face/Off, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Gattaca, Insomnia, Lost Highway, Winter Sleepers, and, er, Titanic.

    1997 was the best film year of the ’90s and one of the best ever in my view.

  27. 147
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 2 Mar 2014 #


  28. 148
    Mark M on 2 Mar 2014 #

    Re 146: Or 1998, if you were a British filmgoer, seeing as that’s when at a fair chunk of those actually got to us. Here’s my two-part look back at the best of ’98 at the cinema.

  29. 149
    swanstep on 3 Mar 2014 #

    @Mark M, 148. Interesting thanks. Obviously assigning films to years is a bit tricky given eccentric release patterns (it was much worse in the ’60s when, e.g., a key film from France or Japan might get its first release in the english-speaking world several years later). Actually, I’m pretty sure that happened w.r.t. Winter Sleepers in 1997, getting a release only after Tykwer’s subsequent film, Run Lola Run blew up in 1999.

  30. 150
    Mark M on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Re 149: Yes, and we still get that a bit even with American films (eg, Richard Linklater’s Bernie was shown at the 2011 London Film Festival, and finally got a proper UK cinema release last April). Obviously, I just happened to be aware of what came out here in 1998. (I’ve always been in favour of end-of-year movie lists that reflect what the punters could have actually seen – lots of critics like to include awards contenders and festival favourites that haven’t been out yet in whatever country they are – ie, any British this year with 12 Years A Slave on it).

  31. 151
    Rory on 3 Mar 2014 #

    #146: It’s a good list. But I’m a bigger fan of 1999, for Being John Malkovich, Fight Club, Three Kings, Election, South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, The Matrix (before the sequels), American Beauty, Office Space, Toy Story 2, The Straight Story, The Sixth Sense (before we’d cottoned on to Shyamalan’s shtick), Go, The Insider, Galaxy Quest, Eyes Wide Shut, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Bowfinger, Man on the Moon, The Virgin Suicides, The Green Mile, and Run Lola Run for its international release; and people also liked Magnolia, Ghost Dog, Boys Don’t Cry, The Iron Giant, 10 Things I Hate About You, and The Blair Witch Project, none of which I’ve seen yet; and there was also, um, The Phantom Menace.

    Re sequels destroying the integrity of originals, directors’ cuts of the actual originals are sometimes appalling – cough, Donnie Darko – and yet I’ll happily keep the memory of the original alive if it was worthwhile in the first place, so why not sequels? Even Star Wars survived its sequel.

  32. 152
    swanstep on 3 Mar 2014 #

    @rory, 151. Yes, 1999 is the other great year in the ’90s. I do think 1997 has the edge but I agree that it’s close. 1999 especially stands out for me as that rarest of things, an amazing year for comedies, especially since both Rushmore and Shakespeare in Love didn’t go into wide release in the US (let alone open overseas) until January 1999. 1999 also had a bunch of great movie songs for a change – the songs from the South Park film are great, Jesse the cowgirl’s song from Toy Story 2 makes grown men blubber, and Aimee Mann’s stuff for Magnolia was fab. And who gets the Best Song Oscar? Phil Collins for something in Tarzan. Brutal.

  33. 153
    Rory on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Swanstep @152, you’re not wrong about the songs. And they’ve just done it again! On the one hand, an international number one. On the other, a decent U2 song. On the third… foot… a charming if slight song from Her. And on the fourth appendage, a big ol’ show tune I can hardly remember five minutes after listening to it, which wins the thing.

    You could make a great compilation of Best Song also-rans. Or a not-so-great one of winners.

  34. 154
    Rory on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Actually, I’d have to qualify that: you could make a great compilation of post-1980s Best Song also-rans. Or a great one of 1960s through 1980s winners. It all seemed to go to pot once Disney started its big animation revival with The Little Mermaid. Or, if you’re a fan of show tunes, it was the start of a golden age, I suppose.

    Still, “The Theme from Shaft” won a best song Oscar, so there is hope.

  35. 155
    James BC on 3 Mar 2014 #

    I’m not sure I’ve heard the Idina Menzel song myself, but it’s been hanging around the UK top 40 for a couple of months without any promotion except for being in the film, so it must have some appeal and memorability.

    There have been some excellent past winners: Lose Yourself, A Whole New World, Take My Breath Away, Under The Sea.

  36. 156
    Rory on 3 Mar 2014 #

    True, there have been some good ones. On the other hand, “Rainbow Connection” was defeated by this. And it’s hard to believe the list of songs that lost in the early years of the Oscars: “Cheek to Cheek”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, “Pennies from Heaven”, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”, “Jeepers Creepers”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, “That Old Black Magic”, “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive”, “That’s Amore”, “(Love Is) The Tender Trap”…

  37. 157
    Tom on 3 Mar 2014 #

    It sounds like there’s a poll in here somewhere…

  38. 158
    Tom on 6 Mar 2014 #

    This had a terrific run of comments for a year poll, but I’m dropping it back to its proper chronological place now.

  39. 159
    IJGrieve on 15 Feb 2015 #

    My capsule reviews and rates of the 1966 #1s…

    SPENCER DAVIS GROUP – “Keep On Running”
    Like a lot of the emerging British bands around this time, the Spencer Davis Group are categorised as a ‘beat group’. Seldom is that description so apt as it is when considering “Keep On Running”. The beat makes this song, providing the sense of an ongoing chase that the lyrics demand. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the song is perhaps most best known nowadays from its film soundtrack appearances 7

    THE OVERLANDERS – “Michelle”
    A cover that was put out after the Beatles declined to release “Michelle” as a single, this version of the Anglo-French love ballad has nothing to recommend it over the cut from ‘Rubber Soul’ 3

    NANCY SINATRA – “These Boots Were Made For Walking”
    Tom, whose Popular project starts with the first NME #1 in 1952, saw fit to give this song his first 10/10 maximum score. What’s undeniable is its significance as a pop landmark. While we’ve seen hits from female vocalists, this is surely the first ‘girl power’ #1. “Boots” is pop as theatrical entertainment, a showpiece of a record. As if the clever musical touches and flourishes, from the step-down intro onwards, weren’t enough to make that impression, the finale (“Are you ready, boots?”) wipes out any last vestige of subtlety 9

    THE WALKER BROTHERS – “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”
    Not for the last time, a tale of what could have been. Songwriting doesn’t get much stronger than this, and the vocal talents of Scott Walker are up to the formidable task of imparting an authentic sense of heartbreak. If only it wasn’t a strain to hear him! With better production, this could have been up there with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”; unfortunately, radio play doesn’t do this one any favours 7

    SPENCER DAVIS GROUP – “Somebody Help Me”
    At two minutes long, this certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. There isn’t a whole lot of substance here, though, and particularly in a year so packed with classic hits as this it’s inevitable that this gets lost in the shuffle. Feels like what it is – a record that reached #1 as a follow-up to a far superior hit 4

    DUSTY SPRINGFIELD – “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”
    Some musical styles never go out of style: no matter what the decade, we’ll inevitably encounter the diva. “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”, schmaltzy as it is, is a diva song if there ever was one. Dusty Springfield carries it off with aplomb, the power of her voice covering up the song’s cracks 5

    MANFRED MANN – “Pretty Flamingo”
    For their second #1, Manfred Mann return to the theme that gave them their first – the admiration of a beautiful woman. There’s an inevitable risk in that of sounding like a retread, and “Pretty Flamingo” doesn’t benefit from the comparison. It’s certainly a more mature-sounding record, but for me it fails to engage 4

    THE ROLLING STONES – “Paint It, Black”
    We’ve encountered songs dealing with death previously, but generally these take the form of melodrama set to music (“Johnny Remember Me”, “Leader Of The Pack”). To convey emotional depth within a three 3–4 minute piece of popular music, without the resulting song sounding trite or superficial, is enormously challenging. Everything that has come before from the Rolling Stones would suggest that they are unsuited to the task. Not so. Vivid imagery used to powerful effect such as is seldom seen, no accompanying movie is needed to convey meaning. It’s perhaps because of its difficult subject matter that “Paint It, Black” is not regarded as highly as it deserves to be 10

    FRANK SINATRA – “Strangers In The Night”
    The sound of motions being run through. Ol’ Blue Eyes’ first chart-topper was back in 1954, and from the sound of this time may as well have stood still. The closing minutes of this record, in which Sinatra croons “dooby dooby doo” to the song’s monotonous tune tell you all you need to know about how meaningful this song is; such an unfortunate contrast with the previous #1 2

    THE BEATLES – “Paperback Writer”
    Ironic as it may seem, given how many variations on the theme have appeared over the years, but the one-note guitar line that backs this character tale was an early instance of musical experimentation, as well as representing a notable lyrical shift in lyrical theme from earlier material. The lyrics seem to reflect that: “It’s a steady job but he wants to be a paperback writer”, i.e. the subject of the song would like to move in a more creative direction 8

    THE KINKS – “Sunny Afternoon”
    Reading online discussions about this song make one thing clear – no matter how overtly satirical a pop record may be, a high proportion of its audience will inevitably misunderstand its meaning. The Kinks’ characterisation of a wealthy man lamenting the burden of taxation while continuing to live a luxurious lifestyle is superb songwriting. Not just that, but the sense that the arrangement gives of being there with him, lazing the summer days away with his ice cold beer, takes “Sunny Afternoon” into the annals of all-time great pop songs 10

    “Get Away” sounds oddly commercial for its time; unsurprisingly, as it was originally written as a jingle for a TV petrol ad before being adapted by Georgie Fame into a hit single. The holiday record was a relatively new phenomenon, and “Get Away”‘s hustling sense of urgency gives it a very different feel to that of “Summer Holiday” but no less appealing for it. While Cliff’s holiday sounds like the culmination of months of planning, Georgie’s is definitely a last-minute deal 6

    CHRIS FARLOWE – “Out Of Time”
    The Stones #1 that wasn’t. Jagger and Richards gave their song to label-mate Chris Farlowe to record and release as a single. This version of this song far outshines any of the Stones’ recordings of it. The string arrangement’s assertion of finality combines with Farlowe’s unyielding vocals and the resulting track packs a heck of a punch 9

    THE TROGGS – “With A Girl Like You”
    The Troggs’ far more durable debut single, “Wild Thing”, just missed out on the top spot. This follow-up lacks the thrill of that record, but Reg Presley’s distinctive vocals lend the otherwise pedestrian tune a certain period appeal 5

    THE BEATLES – “Eleanor Rigby”/”Yellow Submarine”
    Up to now I’ve considered just one track from a double A-side: the contrast between and remarkableness of both “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine” makes that seem misguided in this instance. The Beatles’ experimentation with imaginative themes that we saw earlier is taken that much further, in diverging directions, in these two songs. In “Eleanor Rigby”, rock instrumentation is replaced by string quartets, whereas “Yellow Submarine” is notable for its novel use of effects; chains in a bath were used to create the tidal sounds that can be heard on the record, as well as for being one of the few Beatles records to feature Ringo Starr as lead vocalist. Neither record has aged particularly well, though. The way many sitcoms have ‘message episodes’, “Eleanor Rigby” comes across to me as the Beatles’ ‘message song’, hitting its listeners over the head with repetition – I’m almost anticipating a voiceover at the end: “if you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this song…”. “Yellow Submarine”, on the other hand, cannot escape the sense it gives of a primary school sing-along. I give both songs the same score 7

    THE SMALL FACES – “All Or Nothing”
    The Small Faces would go on to become one of the most acclaimed British rock groups of the mid-1960s. Unfortunately this, their only #1, doesn’t showcase them at their best. Instead it seems a particularly run-of-the-mill genre piece that I’m sure went down a storm in front of an adoring audience, but falls rather flat on record 4

    JIM REEVES – “Distant Drums”
    This is one of those records that I’d heard of, but never really listened to before. Reeves wrings every last drop of pathos from this tear-jerker whose subject is a soldier about to be sent off to war. Its resonance as the Vietnam War continued, perhaps along with the untimely death of its singer two years before, meant the song caught the mood of the public sufficiently to propel it to the top of the charts 3

    THE FOUR TOPS – “Reach Out I’ll Be There”
    Some records demand that you stop what you’re doing and take notice. The instantly-recognisable flute intro, immediately followed by some of the most powerful soul vocals you’ll ever hear, causes “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” to be one of those records. A song on such a theme as this can so easily slip into a corny complacency, but there’s no danger out of here. Levi Stubbs throws everything he has into the song, there are personal touches everywhere. The resulting recording is utterly compelling, the listener left in no doubt as to his sincerity 10

    THE BEACH BOYS – “Good Vibrations”
    The enduring popularity and regard given to “Good Vibrations” goes a long way to putting in place a pop aphorism: an attention-grabbing intro and a captivating chorus, and you’re 90% of the way to success. “I’m picking up good vibrations, she’s giving me excitations… good, good, good, good vibrations” – in the time that we’re in, the Beach Boys could scarcely go wrong with such a lyrical hook. What’s virtually inevitably forgotten unless you’re actually listening to the record is what a musical mish-mash it is outside of that. Perhaps there’s some appeal there: it skips from idea to idea, but the vibe is so chilled that it doesn’t matter? 8

    TOM JONES – “Green Green Grass Of Home”
    More country pathos. In a year so packed with great, forward-looking pop and rock, it’s unfortunate that we end with such a throwback. Unlike “Distant Drums”, its position here doesn’t have the mitigating factor of topical relevance 2

    Other hits worth a mention

    Ike & Tina Turner – “River Deep, Mountain High” – On the whole, the Great British public did a good job in 1966 of sending the right records to the top of the charts when they had the opportunity. This is the exception – Tina Turner gives one of (perhaps the) all-time great vocal performances on this Spector-produced single, but it only reached #3 (that said, “Sunny Afternoon” – “Paperback Writer” – “River Deep Mountain High” has to be one of the all-time great top 3s). Notably, though the record is officially credited to Ike & Tina Turner, Ike had no involvement in the actual recording.

    The Who – “Substitute” and “I’m A Boy” – The Who must be among the greatest and most successful singles bands ever not to have a UK #1 hit. “I’m A Boy” was their second to stall at #2 (the enduring ‘My Generation’ did so in the previous year. While the Stones took on weighty material, the Who retained a lightness of touch and put entertainment first. “Substitute”, in particular, is a boisterous sing-along with lasting appeal.

    Crispian St. Peters – “You Were On My Mind” – Here’s an artist who I was completely unaware of prior to setting out on this retro mission. Perhaps his ill-advised choice of stage name didn’t help matters – it’s hard to conceive of a less rock’n’roll-sounding moniker! Feather-light as it is, this is one infectious, foot-tapping pop song.

    The Easybeats – “Friday On My Mind” – An Australian band’s take on the beat group sound, this is surprisingly one of the few hits this year that sounds as though it would have had a contemporary dancefloor jumping.

    Napoleon XIV – “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” – A novelty song in the truest sense of the word. The artist who recorded under the name of Napoleon XIV was a New York sound engineer whose experimentation with a pitch shifting device led to the recording of this single. Carrying on the experimental theme, the B-side was the same song but recorded backwards. Understandably, the song is seldom heard today – even back in ’66, its mental illness theme resulted in some radio stations refusing to play it.

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