The Summer of 1966 is a very strong contender for an inter-equinox/solstice type of deal Hall of Fame. At loosehandlebars we are often caught looking back but none of us have turned into pillars of salt because we are down with Marcel Proust, “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” No room for nostalgia here. With an unlikely cultural leap we summon “Dragnet”s Joe Friday, “All we want are the facts, ma’am”. In that summer I was 13 years old. On the 30th of July England’s football team beat Germany’s 4 goals to 2 to become the Champions of the World. For 2 weeks in July the #1 record in the UK was “Sunny Afternoon” by the Kinks.
The charts belonged to the Beatles in the Summer of 66. When “Paperback Writer” was released in June the next double sided smash, “Eleanor Rigby”/”Yellow Submarine”, had already been recorded. For the 6 weeks of non-Fab Four omniscience the chart-toppers were Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe, the Troggs & the Kinks. Britpop carried the swing but acts were having to raise their game because the competition was unforgiving. You were only as good as your last single & who wants yesterday’s papers…you get me ? The Kinks had got the hit single thing absolutely down. After “You Really Got Me” 11 of the next 12 45s made the Top 10 (the other reached #11). There are some great songs in that run, “Set Me Free” & “See My Friends” did not match the sales of the big guns but maybe should have. Ray Davies was developing an acerbic, more expansive (did I hear anyone say smug ?) style. “Well Respected Man” was a tentative start, “Dedicated Follower” was just original, funny & brilliant. “Sunny Afternoon” is a multi-layered satire on either the old Imperial aristocracy or the nouveau rock rich & the reaction to Government tax policy. It is a Lovin’ Spoonful song with added cynicism. It is 4 pints in a British beer garden, the dolly birds in their mini dresses. It is languid, lovely & it was everywhere.
There was no cricket season in 1966. Well not until the football was done with. This was the first & the only World Cup to be staged in Britain in my lifetime. It was the first one when TV technology & space hardware meant that the whole world (except the USA) really was watching. My friends & I kicked a ball about all day, new international heroes to admire & to emulate, before watching 2 games in the evening. The first week saw a great victory for Hungary over the champions Brazil. My Uncle Erno, a refugee from the 1956 uprising, was able to show his pride & his enthusiasm for his country for the first time since he fled…splendid. England became the World Champions at the first tournament I had watched so carefully. It seemed to be the natural order of things, Swinging London would surely always be the cultural centre of the world. I wish someone had told my 13 year old self that I should appreciate & relish England’s victory because it would NEVER bloody happen again in my life !
The Who, like the Kinks, were on an inspired run of singles & were reliant on the creativity of a single member of the group. Ray Davies & Pete Townshend were intelligent but fragile talents who did not react well to the demands of their musical partners, business associates & audience. Their respective autobiographies are a litany of complaint, dissatisfaction, even damage when they were living the dream of so many. It may have been tough, it may have been hell but man, it produced a shed load of fantastic, original, world class pop songs. “I’m A Boy” was released in August 1966, the first of a twisted, thrilling trilogy of hit singles. Pete was already beyond his smashed/blocked Mod anthem phase & this clip shows the confidence & talent of the whole band. Not yet the best rock & roll band in the world but maybe on their way. Most of Pete’s work seems to have been part of a more ambitious song cycle. It took some time before he was able to balance the rock operas & the hit singles. “Happy Jack” & “Pictures Of Lily” kept the Who in the Top 10, these strange & wonderful songs of adolescence. I was never dressed as a girl by my mother but…”I wanna play cricket on the green. Ride my bike across the stream.Cut myself and see my blood.I wanna come home all covered in mud”. I was 13 years old & so did I.
Our family holiday was 2 weeks long in 1966. We usually had a week in a caravan (I loved it) but this year we went further for longer & stayed in a B&B. Did we have more money ? I have not the slightest idea ! As the eldest of 5 I had 3 younger brothers to play with/look after. No problem, I loved them then & still do now. My parents arranged for my best friend to join us for the 2nd week as company for me. Y’know I thought that was great then but now…how cool & kind were my folks. Wink & I had a great time. On a rainy day my Dad took us to a snooker hall, a wonderful fuggy place of dim light, green baize, stale smoke. A man’s place. He paid for our game & left us alone to our Fast Eddie Felson fantasies…we loved it. In 1966 there were still illegal pirate radio stations in the UK. Our Yorkshire resort had one moored nearby so reception was loud & clear. In the evenings we took a radio to the cliffs & we listened to a lot of music. Released on the same day as “Eleanor Rigby” & its successor at # 1 was this classic.
Mod was provincial by 1966. Those sharp dressed young men of 1963 inspired by an R&B existentialism were moving from purple hearts to Gold Lebanese, to a new dandyism supplied by Carnaby St boutiques. Out here on the perimeter an army surplus parka, a scooter & a liking for Tamla Motown got you into the club. Hey, it was OK, working class kids still wanted to look sharp, there was still plenty of business for the local tailor, but the first steps from Hard Mod to Skinhead were being taken. In 1966 the Small Faces were absolutely the top Mod band in the UK. They took up permanent residence in the Top 10 with 4 singles & every day of the year they looked as great as this. Steve Marriott & Ronnie Lane learned how to write the pop/R&B belters & “All Or Nothing” was their biggest hit. They were becoming a great band but things were changing by the end of the year.
In May 1966 the Beatles played their last UK concert. There was anyway, a new generation of young girls looking for their own idols. The Small Faces were all good looking boys, they attracted screaming teenyboppers to their gigs when being heart throbs was no longer quite the thing. There was not a lot of money around, they helped themselves to the best clothes in London, living the life while the bills were sent to the manager. When the band’s parents called on Don Arden he grassed them up about the marijuana habit…oh oh. Keyboard player Ian McLagan got busted which hampered US visas at an important time. The band did get away from Arden. He sent his heavies to dangle one potential suitor from a window but they went with Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham & his new label Immediate. Still no money but still the talent & interesting times ahead.
We were back at school when the Small Faces were at #1. In that same chart was “Land Of 1,000 Dances”, “I Can’t Turn You Loose” & “Working In A Coal Mine”. Soul Heaven…sitting on those cliffs, with my best friend, listening to Wilson Pickett shriek “1-2-3 !” that was great. There have been better summers, great places, great times & people but I doubt that there has been a better soundtrack. The day after my Dad took us to the snooker hall it rained again. He asked us what we wanted to do. We said that we wanted to go back there again. He was not too keen but we said, hey, you pay & leave us to it. It’s said that an ability to play a decent game of snooker is the sign of a misspent youth. Well we were doing the best we could back then.