On December 31st 1965, my sister and I were allowed to see in the New Year by watching the “Ready Steady Go” New Years Eve show while my parents went to a party next door. Careful research tells me that the following acts appeared on the show: The Animals, Chris Andrews, Dave Berry, The Dave Clark Five, Tom Jones, Lulu, Kenny Lynch, The Searchers, Dusty Springfield and The Rolling Stones. 1966 was going to be a good year if it started as well as that.
1966 was the year that the decade exploded for me. I was in the First Year (Year 7) of a mixed grammar school in Southgate, North London. My sister was in her last year at the same school and would go on to get a job in Central London when she left. I was mainly involved with a) playing football b) avoiding the Second Years’ bullying c) listening to “Rubber Soul” d) keeping out of trouble at school. I was okay at the last two but found the first two quite difficult. I was in a group of boys who all mucked along together. Only Peter and Gooj were true friends and life was pretty simple. There were girls in my class and we obviously avoided them all but Shirley Andrews clearly had designs on me as she was always very rude and insulting towards me.
In the Summer, there was cricket. My Dad and I decided not to go to the Saturday of the Lord’s Test for the first time since 1962 because when we had been to see the West Indies in 1963, all their fans were too rowdy for us. Instead of politely clapping, they were loud and excitable. Oh well. We missed Fred Titmus scoring a late order half century (“Fucking Hell!”) and we missed some blistering pace from Fred Trueman as he dismissed Gary Sobers for 8 with only Basil Butcher standing firm. My own bowling speed was increasing and in one game in the summer I took 5 wickets for 9 runs. I remember coming home and proudly telling my Dad who was with some neighbours outside our house. I was quickly cut down to size when one of the blokes remarked to another that at my age, all I had to do was bowl straight. And there I was thinking that my mixture of raw pace and guile had seen the downfall of the opposition batsmen. Oh well. Again.
I don’t remember when my parents dropped the bombshell that we were going to move from London to Tunbridge Wells. My world exploded and I wasn’t happy. A few years ago, I met Peter’s Mum, having not seen her for about forty years and she remembered my Mum telling her that I made a point of not liking any house we went to view. I didn’t want to leave my school, my friends, my life. I didn’t want to have my entire life disrupted. I didn’t know it then but I didn’t want the last time I would speak to a girl for six years to be when Shirley Andrews wrote a rude comment in my autograph book. On the day that I left, Peter gave me a copy of “Ted Dexter Declares” which every boy in the class had signed. I was very pleased to get this (although when I looked for it just now, it seems to have disappeared) but I was very unhappy at leaving. Moving to Kent wasn’t without its good aspects. I kept in touch with Peter over the next six years and we visited each other during the holidays. This had its benefits insofar as we would both experience our friendship in a more unusual way.
I remember being asked whether or not I wanted to go to Judd in Tonbridge or Skinner’s in Tunbridge Wells. Both were state boys grammar schools. Skinner’s was about half a mile from where my parents had bought a house but had lessons on a Saturday morning. Judd was five miles away in another town and would necessitate a bus journey. My parents gave me a choice. I’m sure they thought they were being kind, letting me choose, but my decision to go to a school in another town was mad. It meant that I never made any friends in the town where we lived. It meant that I never hung out with anyone from my school in the evenings or at weekends. There was one boy who lived fairly close to me who also went to Judd. He later went on to be Head Boy and probably read Economics at Cambridge and almost certainly made millions ripping off the Third World in the City. He was very Christian and he asked me to go to Crusaders meetings with him. I did this a couple of times and prayed that I would never have to go again which, miraculously, came true. The only good thing about going to Judd is that I formed a lifelong friendship with Andy, even though he didn’t live in Tunbridge Wells.
Football was banned at Judd. I don’t just mean that it wasn’t on the Games curriculum but if any teacher (sorry, I mean “master”) saw any boys playing with a round ball at lunchtime, we were in trouble. Over the Summer holidays in August 1966 I bought a book called “Know The Game – Rugby” and I devoured this book. I was put in the bottom set for Games because I was overweight and I was told to play at prop forward which meant that my shoulders took a battering every Wednesday afternoon and ached for six days. It was almost a relief when we had cross country running instead of rugby. Not only had I lost all my friends, I had my love of sport taken away from me. Luckily, in the Summer, we had cricket and I was able to force my way into the school team. My ability to catch meant promotion to the top Games set and for the following ten years I played rugby at full back. I never really enjoyed the sport but I enjoyed being in a team.
We moved in the Summer of 1966. I have resented that move for fifty four years. The reason for the move was that my Dad had the offer of a job in Tunbridge Wells so he left the company he had started working for in 1936 and fulfilled his dream of moving out of London to Kent. It wasn’t a good move. My Mum felt isolated, having left her friends behind. My Dad’s new boss wasn’t great and in 1971 he moved back to his former job in London and we moved to Sevenoaks. I don’t blame my Dad for wanting to take a risk and live a different life. He had always loved Kent and he and I formed our affiliation to Kent cricket from that point on, spending many happy hours at the grounds in Canterbury, Maidstone, Gravesend, Dover, Folkestone, Gillingham and Tunbridge Wells. It wasn’t all bad – the house was a lovely detached house in a quiet road and was only ten minutes walk from the centre of town. So I don’t blame him at all and I know that he thought it was a good move for all the family. It wasn’t a selfish or self-centred move at all. But I didn’t want to go then and it still bugs me now which must be obvious from the fact that the idea of this post was to write a short introductory sentence about 1966 and now I’ve written nearly 1400 words before mentioning the music.
1966 was the year that the decade exploded for me. If we hadn’t moved, I imagine my life being completely different. I’m not saying it would have been better but it would have been different. I think that being removed from my friends at the onset of puberty helped to change my personality. I became withdrawn and shy. Here is how I know this. I watched series three of “The Crown” a month or so ago. There was a very moving episode about the Aberfan disaster which took place on October 21st 1966 in which 116 children and 28 adults died. My sister told me the other day that she and her friend at work sent toys to support the families. I remember hearing about the disaster but I have no recollection whatsoever of any feelings about it. I wasn’t sad, horrified or upset; I must have been completely indifferent. I became quite emotional watching “The Crown” recently but at the time, I felt nothing. I was too concerned with adjusting to my new environment which I found overwhelmingly difficult.
Jon Savage has been writing about music since 1977. He has written several books including a history of The Sex Pistols and punk music called “England’s Dreaming”. In 2015 he wrote a book called “1966 The Year The Decade Exploded” which is an excellent read. It is split into twelve chapters, one for each month of the year. The title of each chapter is a song which he explores in the context of the musical and political developments of the time. In the introduction to the book, he writes “Condensed within the two to three minute format of a pop single, the possibilities of 1966 are expressed with an extraordinary electricity and intensity. They still sound explosive today, fifty years later.” This double CD is a companion to the book. He’s absolutely right. Listening to the forty eight songs, while writing these ramblings, has been an unremitting joy.
Of the forty eight songs on this CD, some are very familiar to anyone who listened to music in the Sixties. “Little By Little” by Dusty Springfield, “Substitute” and “I’m A Boy” by The Who, “Summer In The City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful, “Land Of 1000 Dances” by Wilson Pickett and “Reach Out I’ll Be There” by The Four Tops are all classics. There are also some less well known gems included.
My favourite song on Disc One is “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog” by Norma Tanega. The song came about because she lived in an apartment in New York which did not allow dogs. This was the Sixties and rebellion was in the air so she got a cat, named it “dog” and told everyone she was taking her “dog” for a walk. The song “mixes folk and Motown and sets philosophy to a go-go beat” according to Jon Savage’s sleevenotes.
“Seven And Seven Is” by Love is a ferocious rocker which lasts just over two minutes. Arthur Lee had written some “sappy” lyrics about his former girlfriend but when the recording started he abandoned these and started singing such lines as “Now if I don’t stop crying, it ain’t cos that I have got no eyes. My clock lies in the fireplace, my dog lies hypnotised” The pace is frantic, the drumming just about keeps up, the vocals are crazy and, to top it all, the B side was called “Number Fourteen”. (7 + 7 = 14). Only in the Sixties could such a slice of unusual extreme garage rock have charted. It’s brilliant and I never tire of hearing it.
The Tornados had had a Number One hit with “Telstar” in 1962 and subsequently released a number of further less successful records. Their last single was called “Is That A Ship I Hear” and was clearly aimed at getting played on the pirate radio stations. The B side is called “Do You Come Here Often” and is really funny. Two minutes of cheesy organ playing precede “an authentic slice of gay life at a time when homosexuality was still illegal”.
Rolling Stone once placed Link Wray as the 45th best guitarist of all time. Although he never had any major hits, he released a plethora of good singles in the late Fifties and the early/mid Sixties. On 12th January 1966, the TV series “Batman” premiered. It was brilliant and the ridiculous nature of the villains, the comic book captions (“Pow”, “Biff” etc) and the ludicrous escape routines made it compulsive viewing. The theme tune was a hit in the playground along with the joke about how Batman’s Mum calls in him for his evening meal (“Dinner Dinner Dinner”). Link Wray’s version wasn’t the one used on TV but it should have been.
My favourite song on Disc 2 is “Psychotic Reaction” by Count Five who were a band from San Jose, heavily influenced by The Yardbirds and The Who. The music is in the classic exciting garage-band speed-influenced up-at-you 1966 style. The lyrics tell a typical teen story about how a boy can’t get a girl but there’s a slightly disturbing element when he claims to have a psychotic reaction to being rejected.
Another garage band single is “Foolish Woman” by The Oxford Circle who were influenced by the British R’n’B sound made popular by Them. Although they were from San Francisco, they were not generally regarded as being in the top echelon of bands from the centre of the American scene of 1966-1968. “Foolish Woman” is in two sections with a mixture of “Gloria” and “Like A Rolling Stone” in the first half and a jam featuring a backwards saxophone treated with a fuzz tone in the second half.
Equally good and in the same vein is “You’re Gonna Miss me” by The Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Throughout the song, Tommy Hall who was the bands LSD supplier, plays an electrified jug. Jon Savage reckons that means that this is, literally, the sound of LSD. Watch Tommy Hall give it his best on this video.
“Hang On To A Dream” is one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded. How can we hang on to a dream? Regrets. Sadness. Disappointment. It could all have been so different.