Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Psychobabble's 20 Greatest One and No-Hit Wonders of 1966!

1966 was the final year in which the 45 rpm single was the unchallenged dominating force in Rock & Roll. Although that year included such major statements as Revolver, Blonde on Blonde, and Pet Sounds, the L.P. didn’t become the ultimate Rock delivery system until the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in mid-1967. 1966 was a year flooded with amazing singles from Rock’s most popular artists—“Paperback Writer”, “Good Vibrations”, “Paint It Black”, “Substitute”, “Eight Miles High”, to name just a few—but groups that never achieved the celebrity of The Beatles or The Stones contributed just as integrally to the rainbow quilt of ’66 pop. Some of these groups went on to develop mighty cult reputations. Some sank into obscurity. But they all made at least one monumental statement, whether it climbed into the top forty or not. Here are twenty of the most incredible one-off hits and flops of 1966.

Note: I had to amend my original list when I learned that Question Mark and the Mysterians had a #22 hit in the U.S. with “I Need Somebody” and Los Bravos hit #16 in the U.K. with “I Don’t Care”. That’s why “96 Tears” and “Black Is Black” didn’t make the final cut even though they’re often remembered as the work of one hit wonders.

20. “Why Don’t You Smile Now” by The Downliners Sect

While Lou Reed and John Cale were infecting the New York underground with their new band, Twickenham’s The Downliner’s Sect were attempting to climb the charts on the other side of the pond. They’d heard “Why Don’t You Smile Now” in demo form, perhaps unaware it had already flopped for R&B group The All Night Workers. The Downliners’ reimagining of the song as a hard-driving, echo-laden variation on “Louie Louie” didn’t win them a hit either, but its status as an early co-composition by Reed and Cale, who’d been grinding out made-to-order ditties for the Pickwick label, guaranteed its place in history. Its relentless fuzzy funk guaranteed its status as one of the great misses of 1966.

19. “Fight Fire” by The Golliwogs

With its nagging riff, hip-shaking percussion, pulsing rhythm, and mid-song freak-out, “Fight Fire” is the quintessential 1966 rocker. Yet San Francisco’s Golliwogs failed to turn it into a hit. No matter. A 1968 change in name and musical approach resulted in one of the biggest and best bands of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s: Creedence Clearwater Revival. “Fight Fire” isn’t as monumental as “Green River”, “Fortunate Son” or “Up Around the Bend”, but it is early and convincing evidence of John Fogerty’s songwriting talents… especially when played alongside The Golliwogs’ otherwise weak output.

18. “Eventually” by The Peanut Butter Conspiracy

With their universal love philosophy and ultra-dated psychedelic moniker, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy seem like prime candidates for irrelevance. But
their elliptical flop single “Eventually” tells a different story. Effervescently poppy with a bluesy lilt and Byrdsy guitar nattering, “Eventually” still sounds fresh 45 years after the fact. By the time The Conspiracy cut it, drummer Spencer Dryden had skipped off to replace Skip Spence in Jefferson Airplane, but Jim Voigt does a perfectly fine job behind the kit on this track.

17. “When the Night Falls” by The Eyes

With their matching polo shirts and wiggy mop tops, The Eyes almost seemed like a parody of a British beat band. Despite all this, and the vaguely continental lilt in Terry Nolder’s voice, The Eyes were a true U.K. pop-art group in the Who-mode. Their debut single may even trump The Who in terms of pure menace. Appropriating the scraping and pickup flicking of “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”, “When the Night Falls” is less chaotic, more moody and spooky. The Eyes would resort to out-and-out thievery by copping the “I Can’t Explain” riff on their next record, “I’m Rowed Out”. “When the Night Falls” is a tastier and subtler nod to The Eyes’ most obvious influence.

16. “Take a Giant Step” by The Rising Sons

Before branching out on his own as one of the best blues singers of his generation, Taj Mahal led an L.A. combo called The Rising Sons. The group never cut a proper album, but they managed a few singles. “Take a Giant Step” was producer Terry Melcher’s big bid for a Rising Sons hit. The disc was a flop and The Sons were not long for the world, but their gritty take on Gerry Goffin and Carol King’s pop number remains a fine showcase for Mahal’s hoarse pipes and Ry Cooder’s virtuoso slide guitar. Several months later, The Monkees cut a far more popular and psychedelic version of “Take a Giant Step” for the B-side of their debut single, but The Rising Sons’ rendition is just as good.

15. “Stop—Get a Ticket” by The Clefs of Lavender Hill

Miami Florida’s Clefs of Lavender Hill were one of many bands to attempt to cash in on the Mersey Beat sound with a vaguely British-sounding name. “Stop—Get a Ticket” certainly does little to dispel the con. A jolly beat and vocal harmonies with more than touch of Scouse propel this pop nugget from sibling singer-songwriters Travis and Coventry Fairchild. Though the record managed to scrape into Billboard’s Pop 100, the group’s failure to best its meager chart showing caused Columbia to shelf their one and only L.P. It finally sneaked out on Wounded Bird records last year.

14. “Singing the Blues” by Jason Eddy & The Centremen

Jason Eddy & The Centremen were quite taken aback when they heard what eccentric producer Joe Meek had in mind for their cover of Guy Mitchell’s “Singing the Blues”. Meek convinced guitarist Barry Tomlinson to record an ultra-tremeloed track over the duration of the entire song. It sounds like there’s been some sort of dire computer malfunction. In other words: brilliant. Meek’s proto-psychedelic brainwave was one of his final recordings, and his bizarro creativity was always the savings grace of The Centremen’s otherwise indistinct talents, whether they realized it or not.

13. “In the Twilight Zone” by The Astors

The Astors weren’t one of the more successful Stax groups, only managing to slip into the R&B top-twenty with 1965’s “Candy” (the record climbed to a mere #63 on the pop charts). The Memphis combo had no greater triumph with their follow-up, yet it’s one of the more original and infectious R&B records of the era. Co-written by Isaac Hayes and siphoning much inspiration from Rod Serling, “In the Twilight Zone” is a moody, roiling soul stirrer featuring a slightly less discordant variation on Marius Constant’s “Twilight Zone” theme. Perhaps it would have been a bigger hit if “The Twilight Zone” was still on T.V. in 1966, but it’s a great record regardless of its failure to claw its way out of that land of both shadow and substance.

12. “You’re Gonna Miss Me” by The 13th Floor Elevators

Even though they never scored a hit, 13th Floor Elevators earned a tremendous cult following because of their toughness, the uniqueness of Tommy Hall’s fluttering “electric jug,” and Roky Erikson’s reputation for prodigious drug consumption and communing with U.F.O.s. Without question the pinnacle of The Elevator’s output is “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, which combines a Who-like guitar lick, Stones-like rhythms and drones, and Erikson’s thoroughly individual shrieks. Too anarchic for the pop charts, “You’re Gonna Miss Me” was just right for listeners looking for something a bit more alien.

11. “Diddy Wah Diddy” By Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band

Captain Beefheart made his biggest impact with the totally avant garde and borderline unlistenable Trout Mask Replica in 1970. But before completely diving off the deep end, Don Van Vliet was making more accessible, but no less powerful, blues rock. His ultimate statement in this mode is the Bo Diddley cover “Diddy Wah Diddy”. Throbbing along with Jerry Handley’s monumentally fuzzed out bass riff and Van Vliet’s gut-busting growl, “Diddy Wah Diddy” may be the heaviest Rock as of its release date. Hard to believe David “Daydream Believer” Gates produced this monster.

10. “Say Those Magic Words” by The Birds

The Birds were easily in the same league as their Mod peers in The Who and Small Faces, but their talent and power never translated into much chart success. Having to compete for attention with a more popular U.S. band with (essentially) the same name probably didn’t do them any favors, nor did their manager’s well-publicized attempt to sue The Byrds. Alas, the British Birds split up before they could even release an L.P., although they recorded a number of singles and outtakes that testify to their greatness. “Say Those Magic Words” is one of their mightiest, vocalist Ali McKenzie turning up the attitude to 11. He didn’t have any great success post-Birds; he’s currently fronting a Small Faces cover band called Small Fakers. Bassist Kim Gardner and guitarist Ronnie Wood soon moved on to The Creation (more about them further down this list), but even bigger things laid ahead for Ronnie.

9. “Follow Me” by Lyme and Cybelle

There was neither a Lyme nor a Cybelle in Lyme & Cybelle; ironic considering “Stephen Lyme’s” real name is now far more famous than either of the phony ones attached to his first project. When the mysterious duo’s first record was released in early 1966, Warren Zevon had yet to become a star in his own right. “Follow Me” didn’t change that, even though it is one of the finest folk rock records of the year. The stumbling beat and vaguely raga-rock melody and guitar riff are full of personality. Zevon and Violet Santiago’s (“Cybelle”) contrapuntal vocalizing is exhilarating. Lyme & Cybelle only managed two more singles, and Zevon’s early attempts at hit writing didn’t exactly pay off like the slots even though he was able to place a couple of songs with hit-makers The Turtles. Zevon’s “Outside Chance” was one of that group’s best tracks, but it slumped on the charts. Greater success was soon to come for Zevon, though the incredible quality of “Follow Me” is evidence it should have happened a lot earlier.

8. “Psychotic Reaction” by The Count Five

What The Knickerbockers’ “Lies” was to The Beatles, The Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” was to The Yardbirds: a brilliant, one-off feet of mimicry as fine as anything it mimicked. Like Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Young Rascals, the group also indulged in goofy gimmickry, donning Dracula capes for publicity photos. It was silly and dated, but “Psychotic Reaction” remains a monolith of American garage-psych. I’ve never quite understood the insistence that this track specifically apes The Yardbirds’ version of “I’m a Man”. It’s more of a freeform homage, collecting a flock of Yardbirds trademarks from various sources: the harp blasts of “I’m a Man”, the paranoid lyric of “Evil Hearted You”, the deranged guitar shocks of “Shapes of Things”, and the double-time breakdowns of all these tracks.

7. “Pushin’ Too Hard” by The Seeds

Two chords, a handful of amphetamines, and an itching dose of teen angst. Sky Saxon’s otherworldly sneer rips through Jan Savage’s tortured guitar riffs and Daryl Hooper’s sparkling electric piano flourishes. “Pushin’ Too Hard” is constant momentum; just plain mean. The Seeds repeated this formula over and over, and it somehow never got tiresome, but they only managed to push “Pushin’ Too Hard” into the top forty (the previous year’s “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine”, a perverse union of Buddy Holly balladry and primal screams, just missed it, stalling at #41). A multitude of hits The Seeds never had, but the fire of the one they achieved arguably earned them the distinction of the definitive ‘60s garage rockers.

6. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” by The Velvet Underground

Regardless of being one of the most influential Rock bands of all time, The Velvet Underground never had a hit single. That shouldn’t be too big a shock considering their attempts to pass off stuff like “All Tomorrow’s Parties” on the top forty. Even the presentation was all wrong: this epic, hypnotic, Nico-sung ode to a party girl’s debauched and empty lifestyle is butchered down to three minutes on the single version. The Velvets made another bid for chart success with the more accessible “Sunday Morning”, but that record flopped too. When the long-delayed Velvet Underground & Nico finally came out in 1967, the band found a more appropriate medium in the L.P. and dreams of becoming hit makers quickly fell by the wayside. The Velvet Underground would have to settle for being legends instead.

5. “My Little Red Book” by Love

With the possible exception of The Velvet Underground, Love was the greatest American band of the ‘60s to never score a national hit. Yet their eponymous debut was jam-packed with potential chart-toppers. Arthur Lee and Bryan Maclean busted out of the gates writing amazing songs: “Softly to Me”, “No Matter What You Do”, “You I’ll Be Following”. However, the track Elektra pulled for single release was a cover of Bacharach and David’s “My Little Red Book”. Love reinterprets it so drastically it may as well be a band original. They do away with the hippity-hoppity rhythm of Manfred Mann’s original, streamlining it to an incessant throb. Whoever is beating the tambourine sounds like he’s going to put his fist through the goddamn thing. Arthur Lee starts barking; hell breaks loose.

4. “Talk Talk” by The Music Machine

The Music Machine packs a lot into the compact two minutes of “Talk Talk”: a tricky stop/start beat, pithy fuzz guitar bursts, Gothic organ swirls, the hardest tambourine punching this side of “My Little Red Book”, and a message of ruined reps and abject loser-dom: “My social life’s a dud, my name is really mud, I’m up to here in lies, I guess I’m down to size.” Angry and dejected, “Talk Talk” is a key garage rock anthem. No one would buy this kind of lyric from, say, The Beatles (despite Lennon’s cry of “I’m a Loser”), but coming from a great little band that created quite a bit of excellent music but only managed to conquer the top forty machine once, it’s nothing but legit.

3. “Dirty Water” by The Standells

So what if Boston wasn’t really The Standells’ home? Not The Remains nor Aerosmith nor… errr… Boston could have made a better tribute to that town of “lovers, buggers, and thieves” (but, of course, they’re cool people). Tony Valentino’s greasy guitar riff is the current that keeps “Dirty Water” churning like the river Charles. There’s no trace of the jolly, pseudo-Mersey Beat group The Standells were when they appeared on “The Munsters” in 1964 to perform a lame version of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. “Dirty Water” is pure grit, a slab of civic pride that never loses its cool. The Standells came close to the top forty again with the equally attitudinal “Some Times the Good Guys Don’t Wear White”, but they were never again able to recapture that “Dirty Water” level of success.

2. “Little Girl” by Syndicate of Sound

Despite making one of the all-time greatest garage rock singles—and having one of the all-time coolest band names—Syndicate of Sound don’t have the enduring reputation of a lot of the wonders on this list. That doesn’t change the fact that “Little Girl” is an incredible record: jangly, driving, jilted. An almost polite, Byrdsy guitar intro quickly detonates into a jiving, propulsive beat. Don Baskin’s chuckled vocal oozes vengeance. And what is his comeuppance against the little girl who stepped out on him? The revelation that she wasn’t the first to break his heart! Take that!

1. “Making Time” by The Creation

There are plenty of great records on this list, but none are as jaw dropping as The Creation’s “Making Time”. From Eddie Phillips’s ferociously huge power chords that open it to his method of scraping a violin bow on the strings that rockets it into the stratosphere, this record may have been too scary, too bizarre to achieve hit status in either the U.S. or The Creation’s U.K. home. Kenny Pickett’s lyric embodies pilled-up, mod self-importance. Producer Shel Talmy cuts it with all the density and power he bestowed on The Who and The Kinks’ early discs. Long forgotten beyond cultists (one of whom was Alan McGee, who founded the Creation Records indie label in 1983), filmmaker Wes Anderson almost single-handedly resurrected interest in The Creation when he used “Making Time” as the opening theme in his 1998 film Rushmore. Since then, all of the band’s ‘60s sides have been widely reissued. They’re all wonderful and well-worth hearing, but “Making Time” remains the greatest statement by one of the greatest no-hit wonders of 1966.

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