Sunday, July 25, 2010

January 2, 2010: Psychobabble’s Twenty One Greatest Albums of 1965

The single hadn’t quite passed the medal to the album yet in 1965, but there was a definite sense of that inevitability in the air. It was the year, The Beatles resolved to stop putting covers on their albums, Mick and Keith whipped their songwriting skills into shape even on stuff intended to be buried at the end of a long player, Brian Wilson started seeing the album as a huge canvass to fill with his multi-colored imagination, and Bob Dylan viewed it in almost novelistic terms. It was also the last year unsympathetic record labels overtaxed such artists, and there will not be another Great Albums list with multiple entries by The Beatles, Dylan, Beach Boys, and Kinks. Debut albums by The Who, The Lovin’ Spoonful, and The Byrds indicated that artists who’d cut their teeth on The Beatles, Dylan, Beach Boys, Kinks, and Stones understood the value of the long-form from the very beginning, while even hit-oriented Motown artists got in on the amazing album making. 1965 was not only the year the pop L.P became a legitimate art form, it was also when Bob Dylan plugged in, Jagger got little to no satisfaction, and George Harrison took the training wheels off his sitar. Here’s Psychobabble’s Twenty One Greatest Albums of 1965!

21. Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) by The Beach Boys

Because Capitol put such demands on The Beach Boys to whip up product, their albums tended to be hit-or-miss. Having produced a monumental artistic hit just four months earlier (see the #5 spot on this very list), The Beach Boys were doomed to follow up Today! with an album that simply wasn’t as consistent even though two massive hits—“California Girls” and “Help Me, Rhonda”—anchored Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!). There was a good deal of filler elsewhere, although Brian Wilson produced much of it with his usual beauty (the pointlessly faithful gender-reverse cover of “Then He Kissed Me”; the Mormon-pandering drivel “Salt Lake City”; the seasonal muzak “Summer Means New Love”). He did no such thing when handling “I’m Bugged at My Ol’ Man”, the least listenable yet most interesting filler track on the record because of the oddly childish way he addressed his very serious conflicts with his father. With the dopey “Amusement Parks USA”, a rewrite of the equally superfluous “Drive-In” (or is it “County Fair”?), those filler tracks constitute nearly half of Summer Days. The other half of the album contains what may be the greatest assortment of pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys music. In addition to “Rhonda” and “California Girls”, on which Brian worked the usual sun and bikinis themes into a sort of psychedelicized variation on the Wall of Sound, there’s “The Girl from New York City”, a hard-rocking answer to an Ad Libs hit; “Let Him Run Wild”, a production feat that would have sounded perfectly at home on Pet Sounds; “And Your Dreams Come True”, a sumptuous example of the guys’ unadorned harmonies; “You’re So Good to Me”, another semi-psychedelic pop tune; and “Girl Don’t Tell Me”, a lovely and wistful folk-rock tune on which the band provides all of the instrumentation and Carl Wilson’s heart-rending voice ceases to be the most underused tool in The Beach Boys’ bin.

20. Begin Here by The Zombies

With their rich and cool vocals and emphasis on jazzy electric piano instead of raunchy guitars, The Zombies were the most sophisticated sounding band to come out of The British Invasion. They scored their first hit with “She’s Not There”, a defining piece of atmosphere with a hypnotic bass line and a heightened refrain, and it is the centerpiece of Begin Here. The Zombies are most convincing when travelling similar territory on their debut album, though they hardly embarrass themselves on uncharacteristic rockers such as “Roadrunner”, “Sticks and Stones”, “Woman”, and “I Got My Mojo Working”. Still, The Zombies are best when dimming the lights, letting the joint fill with smoke, and getting moody with a swirling version of “Summertime”, the lurching jangler “I Can’t Make Up My Mind”, the enchanting nearly a cappella piece “The Way I Feel Inside”, the adult blues “Can’t Nobody Loves You”, the cavernous and spooky “I Remember When I Used to Love Her”, and “What More Can I Do”, which strikes the right balance between brooding and passion exuding.

19. Fairytale by Donovan

Donovan got a lot of press and a fair share of guff for being a Dylan-patterned folkie, but he spent a pretty brief portion of his career in his little fisherman’s cap and harmonica harness. The best of Don’s two pure folk discs is certainly Fairytale, a magical showcase for his liquid finger picking and wheezy harmonica blowing. The album also finds him expanding his sound with hues of calypso and jazz. The aromatic “Sunny Goodge Street” points to Donovan’s later work with a marvelous arrangement that draws on baroque music as much as it does jazz. Still, it is the guitar and voice tracks that define Fairytale, and “Colours”, “Oh Deed I Do”, “The Summer Day Reflection Song”, and “Jersey Thursday” are treasures in that vein. Donovan would soon embrace electric instrumentation as enthusiastically as Dylan already had, though with a more fantastical and far less cynical posture, leaving Fairytale as the final word on Donovan’s first phase.

18. Kinda Kinks by The Kinks

Kinks would have been a major album if it had “You Really Got Me” and nothing else, which it practically did in terms of Ray Davies originals. Aside from that concrete-cracking single, the timeless ballad “Stop Your Sobbing”, and the decent pop tune “Just Can’t Get to Sleep” there just wasn’t enough quality original material. On The Kinks’ second album, Ray fights through that problem to supply ten of the dozen tracks on Kinda Kinks, and guess what? Almost all of them are terrific! “Tired of Waiting for You” is another two-chord riff in the “You Really Got Me” tradition, but it brings the temper down from hormonal frenzy to sighing resignation, which would be a key Kinks stance in the years to come. “So Long”, “Don’t Ever Change”, and “Something Better Beginning” continue that tone, while “Come on Now”, “Look for Me Baby”, “You Shouldn’t Be Sad”, and “Got My Feet on the Ground”— notable for being the first Kinks track with a Dave Davies credit— are simple yet fiery Mersey-style rockers. The acoustic blues “Nothin’ in the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ About That Girl” is a great mood piece because of its refusal to follow through on the emotional climax it seems to promise. Kinda Kinks only really stumbles when it fills out its running time with a shambling and skeletal version of “Dancing in the Streets” (a record renowned for its majestic production) and a dreary run through of Jimmy Anderson’s “Naggin’ Woman”. But those missteps are actually good news for The Kinks, who could now be confident that they’d never really need any writers but Ray and Dave Davies again.

17. The Angry Young Them by Them

A few years before striking out on his own with a sound that stirred pop, folk, jazz, and soul into a totally individual blend, Van Morrison was making hard-hitting garage rock no one would ever associate with him after “Brown Eyed Girl”. Yet listen to the animal passion and demented improvisation of solo numbers like “Listen to the Lion” and realize that Morrison hadn’t hung up everything he’d done while fronting Them. The big difference is that he was no longer receiving backing that was as raw as what Peter Bardens, Billy Harrison, Ala Henderson, and John McAuley did on The Angry Young Them. This album is as legit a punk predecessor as My Generation or The Seeds, with Van barking one and two-chord wonders like “Don’t Start Crying Now”, “Baby Please Don’t Go”, the satanic “Mystic Eyes”, and “Gloria”, a garage classic attempted by every future punk group worth its piss-soaked salt. He even sounds like a cranky rottweiler on a lot of the slowed down soul numbers, though there are occasional flashes of Morrison’s future sensitivity on things like “Don’t Look Back”. For the mass of its run time, though, The Angry Young Them is ripped, raw Rock & Roll at its insanity-making best.

16. Out of Our Heads by The Rolling Stones

After making two albums almost totally dependent on seething blues and Chuck Berry covers, The Rolling Stones changed up the formula in late ’65. Oddly, while their peers in The Beatles, Kinks, and Beach Boys had already mixed up their own formulas with LPs dominated by original material, the Stones still seemed stuck in the past by relying on covers. The covers they selected for Out of Our Heads is where the formula differs from that of Rolling Stones and Rolling Stones No. 2. This time sweet soul was the prevailing sound; a daring choice considering how disastrous their cover of “Under the Boardwalk” was on the previous album. Nothing on Out of Our Heads is nearly so bad as that, though Jagger still had trouble navigating some of the new stuff. He sure wasn’t going to make anyone forget Sam, Otis, Marvin, or Solomon with his attempts at “Good Times”, “That’s How Strong My Love Is”, “Hitchhike”, and “Cry to Me”, respectively. Songs with so much heart never really suited Jagger, who sounds much more at home with his own “Heart of Stone”, interpreting a hard-hearted lyric with newfound sensitivity that exposes the vulnerability of the callous heartbreaker. Such original material is what makes Out of Our Heads really worthwhile even if it is in short order. The Stones get satirical on “The Under Assisstant West Coast Promotion Man”, almost psychedelic on “I’m Free”, and confidently archetypal on “Heart of Stone” and “Gotta Get Away”. They also get off a couple of really good covers—Chuck’s “Talkin’ ’Bout You”, which they slow down and sex up, and a lurching, demonically gleeful rendition of Don Covay’s “Mercy Mercy”— and one great one. Their dynamite, noised out, speed-of-light version of Larry Williams’s “She Said Yeah” is the best cover they ever did as far as I’m concerned. Considering that their next album was to be their first of all originals, the Stones really left the cover game on top.

15. Going to a Go-Go by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles

Whoa, slow down, party boy! Don’t be fooled by that title. Going to a Go-Go is not a non-stop soul rave up in the spirit of its manic title track. In fact, it all starts with the most profoundly sad soul hit of 1965, and the tracks of Smokey’s tears will have you weeping so hard you might not be up for hopping on your dance shoes when “Going to a Go-Go” immediately follows it. It is more likely that you will just marvel at our host’s phenomenal range of expression, because whether he’s demanding that you shimmy on “Go-Go” and “From Head to Toe” or smashing your heart with a sledgehammer on “Tracks of My Tears” and “Ooo Baby Baby”—or strutting through less extreme emotions on “Choosey Beggar” and “My Girl Has Gone”—Smokey is masterful all the way through Going to a Go-Go. And I’m not just talking about that maple syrup voice. Robinson writes or co-writes all but one of the outstanding tracks on the first album credited to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Smokey may have stepped into the spotlight once and for all with Going to a Go-Go, but the Miracles do more than provide their usual heavenly harmonies: Bobby Rogers, Ronald White, and Mickey Stevenson also helped write some of the album’s finest songs. So despite that new extension of The Miracles’ name, Going to a Go-Go is very much a group effort. What a group! What an album!

14. Help! by The Beatles

It had to happen eventually. All those gigs, TV appearances, recording dates, press appointments, and movie shoots had to catch up with The Beatles. The group who’d made the greatest pop movie and one of the greatest pop movie soundtracks the year before had now starred in a fairly indifferent James Bond-parody called Help! and recorded an album that mingled the expected classics with some relatively half-hearted new songs. A slight monotony had crept into “The Night Before”, “Another Girl”, and “You Like Me Too Much”, easily the worst thing George Harrison ever slipped onto a Beatles record. Covers of Buck Owens’s “Act Naturally” and Larry Williams’s “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” also implied a lack of inspiration. When The Beatles were inspired—which they clearly were for at least half of their record— they were really refining their strengths. Lennon digs through his own intestines on the title track’s sunny-sounding cry for help and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, on which he starts allowing his word play to take charge without masking the raw emotions beneath. “Ticket to Ride” and “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” are two more major new pieces for the writer. McCartney’s work is less consistent than Lennon’s, though he contributes the most important song of his career. “Yesterday” is significant not just for its obvious quality but also because George Martin’s strings arrangement opened up the new instrumental avenues the band was eager to explore with all albums to come and because it proved pop could be as artful and adult as any form of music. Like it or not, Rock & Roll would never be the same again…

13. Here Are The Sonics!!! by The Sonics

…but don’t tell that to The Sonics. These five maniacs are Rock & Roll traditionalists who surely felt no compunction about filling their debut album with Chuck Berry, Contours, Barrett Strong, Richard Berry, Little Richard, and Rufus Thomas covers. That approach to record making was starting to become old-fashioned in 1965, yet no one who hears Here Are The Sonics will call it old-fashioned because of what the band does with chestnuts like “Do You Love Me” and “Louie Louie”. And what do they do with them, you ask? Well, The Sonics take those songs, kick them to the ground, and beat them into a pulsating pile of gore. Gerry Roslie screams them like he’s about to puke up his own spleen. Bob Bennett beats their beats like The Incredible Hulk unleashed on a set of Ludwigs. Larry and Andy Parypa overdrive them with atomic bass and guitar attacks, and Rob Lind blows the fucking ceiling off them with his monster sax. Imagine if the Stones had cut every cover on Out of Our Heads the way they cut “She Said Yeah” (there’s an album I want to hear!) and you’ll start toget the picture. There are also a few incredible originals on Here Are The Sonics!!! and for “Psycho”, “Strychnine”, and “The Witch” Gerry Roslie supplies lyrics every bit as monstrous as the accompaniment. There are no murderers or monsters in “Boss Hoss”, but the hot rod in this onslaught could only have been piloted by one of Big Daddy Roth’s bug-eyed Ghouls. No hot rodder, monster kid, punk, juvenile delinquent, psycho, or bug-eyed ghoul has a complete education without ingesting Here Are The Sonics!!! Yoooooooooow!!!!!!

12. More Hits by The Supremes by The Supremes 

With that title and a line up that includes “Stop! In the Name of Love”, “Back in My Arms Again”, and “Nothing but Heartaches”, The Supremes’ sixth album seems more like a hits compilation than a proper release. The nine tracks that didn’t command the top twenty support that flavor because Holland, Dozier, and Holland had not exhausted their vault of riches when More Hits by The Supremes appeared in the summer of ’65. Future albums like I Hear a Symphony, A-Go Go, and Reflections rely too much on HDH tunes that had already been hits for other Motown artists and tired covers like “Up, Up and Away”, “Hang on Sloopy”, and “Yesterday”. More Hits is a thoroughly original collection and feels unified even though some tracks date back to the previous year. That barely matters when it all sounds so wonderful together, and the dramatic and beautifully arranged “Ask Any Girl”, the snappy almost-a-single “Mother Day”, the sweet “Honey Boy”, the elegant “Who Could Ever Doubt My Love”, and the slow-burning “I’m in Love Again” are well worthy of sitting side-by-side with the hits. And, man, those hits are some of The Supremes’ very best. “Stop! In the Name of Love” may be the definitive Supremes record, but the propulsive “Nothing But Heartaches” and “Back in Love Again”, with its super cool self-references to Mary and Flo and their humming exclamation marks that vibrate like a struck wine glass, are even better.

11. Get the Picture? by The Pretty Things

Although virtually unknown in the U.S., The Pretty Things were regarded as public enemies in the U.K. In the early sixties, no one had longer hair, no one sang more lasciviously than Phil May, and no one was more outrageous than drummer Viv Prince. There’s an unbelievable story about how Prince once entertained passersby with a dead crawfish on a leash while wearing pee-soaked trousers, but I’m not going to get into that here. Instead, I’m going to hip you to one of the greatest, rawest, nastiest beat records from the early sixties. Get the Picture? is a storm of churning R&B (the title track), proto-psych (the haunting “Can’t Stand the Pain”), garage punk ("Buzz the Jerk"), pleading blues (“Rainin’ in My Heart”), and slash-and-burn pop (“You Don’t Believe Me”). By their next album, 1967’s Emotions, The Pretties went in the freaky folk-psych direction that set the groundwork for their masterpiece, S.F. Sorrow, leaving Get the Picture to stand as the greatest piece of recorded evidence of why The Pretty Things scared the knickers off of proper British society.

10. The Kink Kontroversy by The Kinks

Considering The Kinks seemed bent on sabotaging their career whenever possible, it’s fitting that their first truly cohesive record is nearly torpedoed by murky production. Still the muddy sheen of The Kink Kontroversy can’t mute the sparkling melodies of “I’m On an Island”, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?”, “The World Keeps Going ‘Round”, and “You Can’t Win”. It also can’t muffle the consistently pessimistic, world-weary messages of these songs. That downbeat tone even infuses romantic reveries like “Ring the Bells”, which could have become a wedding standard if Ray Davies didn’t sing it as if he was hovering over an open casket at a funeral. “Till the End of the Day” and a deranged cover of Sleepy John Estes’s “Milk Cow Blues” provide some "You Really Got Me"-era punkiness, but The Kink Kontroversy made clear Ray’s increasing maturity as a songwriter, which would fully manifest in the second half of the sixties on a masterful string of albums from Face to Face though Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire.

9. Rolling Stones No. 2 by The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones was a fine representation of what the Stones were in 1964: enthusiastic and instinctively rhythmic blues and R&R purists who couldn’t really write a song and had a front man who needed some serious seasoning. Those issues started to smooth out on Rolling Stones No. 2. The enthusiasm and rhythm is still strong, and there is also some good original material—particularly “Off the Hook” which finds Jagger taking his first stab at storytelling and Richards working out an original riff. Mick’s voice is the biggest development since the debut album. The idea of him attempting something as formidable as the mighty Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” earlier in his development would have been laughable. The version cut in early ’65 is incredible, an epic for its time, marvelously dynamic, and sporting Jagger’s first great soul vocal. Not to be outdone, Keith also reaches new peaks with his fleet-fingered work on the album’s most skull-fracturingly exciting cut, a hopped-up version of “Down the Road Apiece”. Both Mick and Keith really shine on the definitive version of “Time Is on My Side”, while Brian reminds us why he ruled the band in the first place with his whiplash slide work on “I Can’t Be Satisfied”. The only thing that stops Rolling Stones No. 2 from sitting much higher up on this list is a totally misguided attempt to over-sweeten the Stones’ gritty soul with a soppy version of “Under the Boardwalk” (Mick actually sounds like he’s going to barf while singing it—can you blame him?). The Stones almost make up for that error in judgment (most likely Andrew Oldham’s judgment) with the snarling punk of “Susie Q” and their own vicious mess “Grown Up Wrong”.

8. Do You Believe In Magic by The Lovin’ Spoonful

Unlike a lot of their peers, The Lovin’ Spoonful leaped onto the field sprinting at high speed. Do You Believe in Magic ranks right up there with Mr. Tambourine Man, Love, and Music from Big Pink as one of the sixties’ best American debut albums. The Spoonful’s signature blend of Rock & Roll electricity and homemade washboard country funk is already in full effect here. Their original material is tremendous—the transcendent title track, the sly “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind”, the mildly creepy “Younger Girl”, and the ramshackle rocking “On the Road Again”. Their covers are equally integral to the album’s greatness, which is unusual at a time when original composition were really starting to come into vogue. Compare The Spoonful’s superb readings of “The Other Side of This life”, “Wild About my Lovin’”, “You Baby”, and “Blues in the Bottle” to The Beatles’ versions of “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” and “Act Naturally”, which stuck out like old-fashioned sore thumbs on Help! That’s ironic considering how old-fashioned Do You Believe in Magic is, trafficking in rustic blues, jugband, folk, and girl group sounds. At a time when it was hippest to sneer about how a bunch of squares invade your cloud or some posers limit their acid-tripping to the weekend, The Lovin’ Spoonful revel in positiveness. Mick would have trouble making up his mind between two chicks because they’re both so beneath him; John Sebastian can’t do it because they’re both so groovy. The title track is as pure and elated a celebration of music in all its forms as there is. Even Jagger and Lennon must have felt uplifted after hearing it.

7. Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul by Otis Redding

Perhaps even more so than the other pop genres in the early sixties, soul was singles-driven. From the beginning of his short but phenomenal career, Otis Redding was elevating the soul LP to an artform with his ability to perform “Mary Had a Little Lamb” like his life depended on it (literally...he actually released that nursery rhyme as a B-side in ’63!). With his best lump of material yet, he made an album to shame the great ones he’ already made a lot of the ones his pop peers were putting out in late 1965. Redding takes “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, The Rolling Stones' most ubiquitous hit, and transforms it into something completely his own. Gone is the tightly controlled angst and most of the caustic lyrics of the original. Redding replaces them with unbridled, manic frustration, unable to express himself with anything more than tortured screams and growls by the track’s conclusion. He is often hailed as a great soul singer (in my opinion, the very best) and a brilliant writer, but he was also a genius interpreter. His “Satisfaction” is at the very least as good as the Stones’, and his readings of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and “A Change is Gonna Come”, Solomon Burke’s “Down in the Valley”, B.B. Kings’s “Rock Me Baby”, and William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” are just as good. Redding’s own songs are in short order on Otis Blue, but the three he offers up are magnificent: “Ole Man Trouble”, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, and “Respect”; and again, I much prefer Redding’s version of the latter song to the mega-hit by Aretha Franklin. Albums like Otis Blue are sure proof that, had Redding survived, he would have joined Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye in creating some of the most visionary soul records of the seventies. He certainly made some of the most visionary ones of the sixties.

6. Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds

The Byrds’ debut practically plays like a Greatest Hits album. So many of their best songs are collected here that it’s hard to believe they hadn’t completely shot their load with their first album (they hadn’t—not even close). Like “Turn Turn Turn”, “Mr. Tambourine Man” is way overplayed, but unlike that other song, it still holds up 100%, and it is a Dylan cover every bit as good as Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower”. The Byrds’ cover is sort of an inversion of Hendrix’s: Hendrix took a simple song and converted it into something mind-boggling complex;The Byrd’s took “Mr. Tambourine Man”—an epic poem in Dylan’s hands—and somehow reduced it to a concise, punchy pop song. They pull off similar feats with Dylan’s “Spanish Harlem Incident”, “All I Really Want to Do”, and “Chimes of Freedom”, all culled from Another Side of Bob Dylan and all superior to Dylan’s originals. While mainly a cover act at this point, The Byrds still get off a handful of terrific originals, the best of which is “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better”, which opens with a guitar lick that has been ripped off more times than I can count. Dylan had already glued folk to rock on Bringing It All Back Home, but with Mr. Tambourine Man, The Byrds defined folk rock’s jangling sound.

5. The Beach Boys Today! by The Beach Boys

Everyone loves to make a big deal out of how The Beatles went from the basic Mersey Beat sound of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to the wild experimentation of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the span of a mere three years. The fact that The Beach Boys went from “Fun, Fun, Fun” to The Beach Boys Today! in little over a year receives far less acclaim. The celebrated production innovations of Pet Sounds were just a short leap from what Brian Wilson had already accomplished on this record released in early 1965 when the Beatles’ greatest studio innovation was experimenting with acoustic guitars. Wilson used Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound as a jumping point for his own distinctive style. The major difference is that Wilson’s productions breathe in a way that Spector’s claustrophobic ones rarely do. You can hear each shimmering guitar lick, each pulsing thud of the bass, every click and crack of percussion, every stroke of vibes. The harpsichord hops off of “When I Grow Up (to Be a Man).” There is much less room for distinguishing when it comes to The Beach Boys’ velvety harmonies, which are so meticulously constructed that they might as well be a single voice—that is until they divide at the end of “I’m So Young” and begin ping-ponging off of each other with graceful fluidity. The album is divided between rockers (Side A) and ballads (Side B), but regardless of rhythm and tempo, each song is finely detailed. The songwriting has also progressed immensely from earlier Beach Boys tunes, with Mike Love displaying an unprecedented lyrical sensitivity on tracks like “When I Grow Up”, “Please Let Me Wonder”, and “In the Back of My Mind”, on which Dennis Wilson gives the first indication that he was a singer of great intensity.

4. Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan

Even Dylan couldn’t have predicted the backlash he’d suffered upon going electric and releasing Bringing It All Back Home. History has wiped away his pathetically blinkered critics, so let’s not dwell on all that “Judas” shit here. Bringing It All Back Home is far more than the sum of the controversy it inspired. It is the ultimate transitional album. Dylan could not have drawn a more explicit line between his acoustic and electric periods than by featuring each on a selected side of his latest album. Side A is a storm of electric guitars, bass, and drums with Dylan’s unmistakably wheezy harmonica and mangled voice shouting in a tumultuous new era. Fortunately, he is not drowned out by the swampy funk of his band, because his lyrics had never been more tongue-twistingly clever than on “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, more defiant than on “Maggie’s Farm”, or more outright hilarious than on “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”, quite possibly the funniest song ever written. On Side B, it’s just Dylan and his acoustic guitar for what will be the last time in a decade. These are some of Dylan’s most darkly intense songs: “Gates of Eden”, “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. “Mr. Tambourine Man” is one of his most fanciful and imaginative. Dylan managed to top this achievement with his next record, but Bringing It All Back Home still stands as the most balanced portrait of his brilliance.

3. My Generation by The Who

Sometime in the late eighties I happened across The Kids Are Alright on TV. It was the opening scene in which The Who perform their signature anthem “My Generation” on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”.  I’d heard “My Generation” several times before, but this was the first time I actually saw The Who play it. I was stunned when it came time for the guitar solo, and I discovered that John Entwistle was actually playing the solo on his bass. I’d always assumed it was just Townshend playing with a lot of bottom-end. But a bass solo? I had no idea such a thing existed, and it totally changed my concept of the instrument. I’m just one of many who were profoundly changed by “My Generation”. Along with a score of bass players who suddenly had to relearn their instruments, there was a generation of guitar-smashing punks that would take their inspiration directly from this song, as well as the rest of the devastating tracks on The Who’s debut album. My Generation boasts a host of punishing performances that once and for all established The Who as the real godfathers of punk. The early Who were simply awe-inspiring in their music, their eye-popping fashion, and their iconic stage presence, and My Generation captures this periodcompletely from its confrontational cover to the crushing music inside. Townshend is still learning the songwriting ropes, but “The Kids are Alright”, “It’s Not True”, “Much Too Much”, “A Legal Matter”, and “The Good’s Gone” are all great compositions and unusually complex and varied takes on the love song. Daltrey’s singing takes some critical knocks because it lacked subtlety on the band’s first records , but he sounds perfectly in-synch with the tough-but-sensitive stance of the early Who. Keith Moon and John Entwistle are already rock’s most untamed and deafening rhythm section. Music to smash your television to.

2. Rubber Soul by The Beatles

Rubber Soul is not The Beatles’ first album solely comprising original material. It’s not their first musically cohesive one, either. Yet, somehow it seems like both. Fully exploring the smoky, dusky, acoustic ballads they’d introduced on Beatles for Sale, Rubber Soul feels conceptual even though it still contains hard-rocking moments like “Drive My Car” and Harrison’s sneering “Think For Yourself”, on which McCartney leads the groove with his acidic fuzz-bass. Yet the only song that really feels out of place here is Ringo’s goofy hoedown “What Goes On”, while “Run for Your Life” spoils the mood with its violence and misogyny and ends a pleasingly spicy album with a bitter aftertaste. Otherwise, Rubber Soul is The Beatles’ most consistent album yet in terms of style, sophistication, and quality. Surely Lennon and McCartney had never before composed a batch of songs as thoughtful and evocative as the ones gathered on Rubber Soul. There’s “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”, on which Harrison debuts his raga fetish and Lennon stealthily documents his extramarital activities, Lennon’s poignant “In My Life”, his self-chastising “Nowhere Man”, and McCartney’s refreshingly cynical “I’m Looking Through You”. Meanwhile, Harrison’s compositional talent fully blooms on “Think For Yourself” and the gorgeously jangly “If I Needed Someone”. As was the case with most of The Beatles’ output, Rubber Soul changed the face and mind of pop music: Brian Wilson took the album as a tossed gauntlet and composed Pet Sounds as his riposte, The Rolling Stones were inspired to create their own shadowy versions of the record’s folk-rock on Aftermath and Between the Buttons, and everyone who was anyone rushed to their local antique shops in search of sitars. Little did they realize that The Beatles were still just warming up to blow minds even more profoundly with their next  album.

1. Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan

The thunder-crack drum fill that kicks off Highway 61 Revisited is like a bullet blasted through the acoustic-wielding folkie Bob Dylan once was. His budding fascination with Rock & Roll, which took over a single side of Bringing It All Back Home, has now won for good. Highway 61 Revisited is Dylan’s hardest rocking, most electrifying album. “Like a Rolling Stone” is  a mountain of clashing, thrashing organ, guitars, and drums, and verbose cynicism smashing through the Earth’s crust. From the eye of the hurricane, Dylan continues to comment on contemporary times, but in contrast to straight-talking numbers like “Masters of War” and “Talkin’ World War II Blues”, his new approach finds him straining his reportage through a kaleidoscopic sieve of wacko imagery and weird wordplay, which understandably caused a lot of fans to fear that Dylan had sold his soul and social conscience to the demons of pop stardom. Songs like “Tombstone Blues”, “Ballad of a Thin Man”, and the epic “Desolation Row” certainly require more decoding than Dylan’s previous material. When unveiled, their messages are just as socially and politically oriented as anything on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, yet the crazy lyricism (“The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken!”) suggests that the man has decided to greet the imminent apocalypse with a stoned smirk, a hearty guffaw, and a thunderous beat.

Five More Great Albums from 1965

Introducing The Beau Brummels by The Beau Brummels

The Four Tops Second Album by The Four Tops

Just Like Us by Paul Revere and The Raiders

I Want Candy by The Strangeloves

It Ain’t Me Babe by The Turtles

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