The title of Andrew Grant Jackson’s new book, 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music, made my eyebrows rise. Really? 1965? Sure, it was the year Dylan went electric and the Stones lamented their lack of satisfaction, but wouldn’t 1968—the year of “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”, “Street Fighting Man”, Electric Ladyland, the formation of Led Zeppelin, the release of the first LP-length rock opera (S.F. Sorrow), and well, “Revolution” — be more apt? Or how about 1967, the year of Sgt. Pepper’s, The Velvet Underground & Nico, the Summer of Love, Monterey Pop, Motown going psychedelic, and Paul McCartney going on TV to say he’s done acid? Or maybe even 1966 with its Revolver and Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde and Aftermath.
The thing is, all of those things are the products of revolution, but not necessarily revolutionary in and of themselves. The major upheavals that made them possible really did happen in 1965. It wasn’t just the year Dylan plugged in and the Stones got topical. It was the year George Harrison picked up the sitar and John Lennon got personal. It was when Brian Wilson expanded The Beach Boys sound after quitting the road a week before the year began. It was the year he and John and George and Ringo and Keith and Brian took their first acid doses. It was when James Brown invented funk, when jazz got free, when Charlie Pride opened up the palette of country, when Pete Townshend took a stand for his g-g-generation, when Ginsberg planted the seeds of flower power, when The Velvet Underground hooked up with Nico and Warhol, when Otis broke out, when The Byrds married folk and rock, and such efforts contributed to such wider revolutionary actions as the Civil Rights Movement, anti-war protests... even the rise of gay rights and women’s liberation.
By covering the year in all its complicated, colorful, violent, genre-hopping, debauched madness, Jackson does a pretty damn good job of making his case that 1965 was, indeed, music’s most revolutionary year. He does so with lyricism and political astuteness while also maintaining an authoritative journalistic voice. Grant didn’t need to get heated up to get me heated up about the injustices rampant in that year: LBJ’s escalation of the Vietnam war, the abject institutional and grass-roots racism that caused black communities to declare war, and the more modest outrages of conservative assholes harassing guys with long hair (the writer recounts the tale of young Mitt Romney and his idiot buddies ganging up on one poor kid to forcibly sheer his hair—an act the guy who could have been president shrugged off as a “prank”). This is a powerful book because a lot of powerful things happened in 1965. A look at any current newspaper reveals how much we’ve progressed beyond that seemingly remote era and how little has really changed.
My only wish is that Jackson’s doesn’t let it be with ’65. He may prove that ’66, ’67, ’68, and beyond weren’t as revolutionary, but I would still love to see him peer into those years too. It would make one revolutionary series.
Get 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music on Amazon.com here: