Final blog instalment of the Festive Fifty of 1965.
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10. THE NOVAS “The Crusher”
Minnesota-based (where else?!) garage band The Novas, wrote this song dedicated to wrestler Crusher Lisowski.
The song has been covered by the Cramps and the Ramones.
The Novas were more usually known as an instrumental band and the B-side of the record “Take Seven” is a decent beefed-up slab of psyche-surf.
9. THE EMERALDS “King Lonely The Blue”
Formed in Farnborough in Hampshire in 1963, the Emeralds got to make three singles, none of which got anywhere chart-wise.
After such a great track as “King Lonely The Blue” had flopped in late 1965 the band changed their name to “Wishful Thinking” and gained a fair amount of success in Denmark, but not in their home country. Check the Beatley end to this.
8. THE BEATLES “Think For Yourself”
George Harrison’s “Think For Yourself”, lyrically cynical and wielding an odd sequence of chords, which, written down, look like somebody’s programmed a computer to write a song and “be a bit experimental”, somehow works wonderfully well. Paul McCartney’s double-tracked bass guitar makes it sound like something nasty lurking in the vaults, perfectly matching George’s bitter lyric.
I suppose you could definitely say it doesn’t rip anybody off though.
7. MARTHA REEVES & THE VANDELLAS “Nowhere To Run”
When the matter of Martha Reeves & The Vandellas’ finest single comes up, the debate is usually between “Dancing In The Street” and “Heatwave” but the correct answer is of course “Nowhere To Run”.
Incidentally I’d put “Jimmy Mack” at number two, an underrated track – not least by Motown who shelved it for two and a half years after it was recorded in 1964, finally becoming a hit in 1967.
6. THE FOUR TOPS “The Same Old Song”
The highest-placed Motown tune in the Festive Fifty of 1965. The Four Tops released two stone cold classics that year and to be honest if it wasn’t for the “one song per artist” rule “I Can’t Help Myself” would also have got in.
5. SIR DOUGLAS QUINTET “She’s About A Mover”
First release and the only hit for Texas band Sir Douglas Quintet whose combination of a British name and – initially – look attempted to cash in on the just-about-current British Beat Boom that still had currency for another year or so. Sonologically though, the band their Tex-Mexc origins with a garage-based 12-bar blues sound.
This was their first single and their only hit – perhaps they were seen, unfairly from the evidence of their 1969 song “Mendacino” and others, as a novelty band. Founder and mainman Doug Sahm knows how to squeeze every last drop out of two chords – TWO! – and a Farfisa organ hook.
4. THEM “Mystic Eyes”
And while we’re on the subject of two-chord songs, this has rarely been bettered.
The track drops straight in with a full head of steam.
In a song lasting two minutes and 47 seconds, the vocals don’t come in until 1:14. The first minute is played on one chord – one note in the case of the organist – under a crazed, rocking harmonica solo and only then do we drop down to the second chord. We then get a minute’s worth of vocal imagery – a signpost towards Van Morrison’s more stream-of-consciousness lyrics later in the decade – and a long fade on the same chord, leaving you feeling like someone’s kicked you up the arse then run away.
3. GEORGIE FAME & THE BLUE FLAMES “Yeh Yeh”
Possibly the last ever jazz record to get to Number 1 in the UK, unless you count “Deeply Dippy” by Right Said Fred, which I am inclined not to.
Georgie Fame was so cool he could sing a ska/bluebeat version of a nursery rhyme in a cod-West Indian accent and it would STILL sound great.
Don’t believe me? Check this out.
2. BOB DYLAN “Like A Rolling Stone”
There’s been so much written about this song that I don’t really know where to begin.
Greatest Dylan song? Best Number One song ever? Perfectly defines the moment when pop became rock? Marks Dylan’s transition lyrically from clear protest anthems to more opaque, more personal yet more widely applicable songs? All of the above?
I still can’t think of any other songs regarded as important enough to have a whole book written about them – and Griel Marcus’s impassioned 200-page tome is pretty readable.
1. THE SONICS “Psycho”
From the New Yorker on the occasion of The Sonics’ 2015 comeback album “This Is The Sonics”:
Garage rock doesn’t exactly demand innovation. Songs should be crunchy and upbeat, and if they focus on girls, or cars, or girls in cars, they’ll pretty much do the trick.
Early on, the Sonics intuitively understood this—but they also played harder, faster, and with more grim aggression than anyone in Tacoma, Washington, had ever thought to play.
Morbid hits—now cult favorites—like “Psycho” and “The Witch” sounded angrier and more abrasive than any form of rock and roll that had come before.
Check out “Strychnine,”
At the time, Tacoma was the working-class Liverpool to Seattle’s swingin’ London. “My dad ran a crane on the waterfront,” the saxophonist Rob Lind said recently. “There were great musicians in Seattle, but the music was jazzy and swingy. We were blue-collar guys—we wanted to rock.”
Their formula—straight, pounding beats, bellowing or screeched vocals, pre-stomp-box distortion achieved by maxing out their amps’ volume—presaged the volatile energy of punk rock. It also built them a fan base in the Northwest “teen club” scene, where bored youth drank in the parking lots of halls with names like the Red Carpet and the Lake Hills roller rink.
But a lack of national distribution prevented them from reaching a wider audience. The Sonics never toured extensively, and hit their peak opening for groups like the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and the Kinks in Seattle.
But they made a lasting impression. “Strychnine” was covered magnificently by both The Fall and The Cramps. In 1994, Kurt Cobain said that Bob Bennett’s machine-gun drumming was “the most amazing drum sound I’ve ever heard.” Their songs have also been recorded by Bruce Springsteen, the Flaming Lips, and the Ramones; and the White Stripes have cited them as an influence.
During the garage-rock revival of the early noughties, the Sonics were rediscovered by a new group of listeners, and they reunited in 2007.
This week, the band releases “This Is the Sonics,” its first album of new material in nearly half a century, one of the longest intervals between recordings in rock history. The new work has the same primal intensity of its previous records, thanks in no small part to the producer Jim Diamond, who has worked with the White Stripes, the Mooney Suzuki, and a slew of other contemporary acts who owe a debt to the Sonics. Diamond recorded the band in mono, to capture the spirit of the sixties output.
Lind quit his day job, and he and the Sonics have embarked on a tour of the U.S., with a stop at Irving Plaza on April 8. With the band members in their seventies, will the live show still pack a punch? Lind chuckled. “It’s the most fun I can have without getting in trouble with the cops.”
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading these notes.
During 2016 we’ll be releasing a Retro Beat Sixty-Six podcast every week on podomatic (see the links at the top of this blog piece) together with notes similar to this, covering the sounds of fifty years ago this week – and not the standard hits you can hear elsewhere, either.
Stay tuned, hep cats!