1966 – Best Albums – Beatles, Bob, Beach Boys

1966 – Beatles on first base with Revolver – who’s on second!

There is a remarkable consistency between music opinion makers about the top rock and pop albums of 1966.  The Best Ever Album.com website, canvassing thousands of voters across the world, the 1001 Albums you must hear before you die and the 101 Essential Rock Albums are mostly unanimous in regard to the Top 10.  There are significant differences when it comes to looking at the best sellers.  Let’s have a quick look at the top-grossing sellers in 1966 according to our mini reference by Gene Sculatti – 100 Best Selling Albums of the 60s.

Rank Sales Title Artist
89 500,000 Ballads of the Green Berets Ssgt Barry Sadler
88 500,000 If you could believe your eyes and ears The Mamas & the Papas
71 1,000,000 Aftermath Rolling Stones
70 1,000,000 Wonderfulness Bill Cosby
69 1,000,000 Pet Sounds Beach Boys
68 1,000,000 Strangers in the night Frank Sinatra
42 2,000,000 Yesterday & Today (US  Release) Beatles
41 2,000,000 Blonde on Blonde Bob Dylan
22 3,000,000 Sounds of Silence Simon & Garfunkel
21 3,000,000 Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme Simon & Garfunkel
10 5,000,000 Revolver Beatles

This table does not tell the complete story.  When we look at the Billboard Top 200 Album charts throughout 1966, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass were at #1 with three different albums selling over 13.5 million albums.   And in 1966 many albums were selling in the millions but were being purchased by mums and dads and grandparents – James Last (bless him), Al Martino, Frank and Dino – and movie themes from South Pacific to the Sound of Music.  No-one had a monopoly on music.

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Let’s again start with the selections at BestEverAlbum.com and look at the Top 20.  These albums have been voted on and debated by the team at BestEverAlbum.com and are subject to change as time passes and opinions change.  This is the state of play in October 2016.

Rank Title Artist
1 Revolver The Beatles
2 Pet Sounds The Beach Boys
3 Blonde On Blonde Bob Dylan
4 Aftermath The Rolling Stones
5 Freak Out! The Mothers of Invention
6 Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme Simon And Garfunkel
7 Sounds Of Silence Simon And Garfunkel
8 Face To Face The Kinks
9 The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators 13th Floor Elevators
10 Black Monk Time Monks
11 Ascension John Coltrane
12 If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears The Mamas And The Papas
13 Fresh Cream Cream
14 Da Capo Love
15 Fifth Dimension The Byrds
16 Speak No Evil Wayne Shorter
17 A Quick One The Who
18 Blues Breakers John Mayall With Eric Clapton
19 Unit Structures Cecil Taylor
20 Las Ultimas Composiciones Violeta Parra

The top three – Beatles, Beach Boys and Bob Dylan are undebatable – supremely excellent and inventive albums of rock music.  Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention have created a mythical presence in rock music but in 1966 had not made their weirdness part of the scene at that time.  San Francisco was in LA was out.  Fresh Cream is also an odd inclusion.  It is the first and probably worst album produced by those manic marvels.  Far better was to come.

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Monks – Elevators – Louie Louie

At #10 are the Monks!  Who are the Monks and had anyone heard of them in 1966 – probably only their mothers.  But the Monks also appear in the 1001 Albums “you gotta hear”.  Well it appears that they were a group of ex-US servicemen in Germany playing garage punk well before we needed that injection.  We had Louie Louie then who needed the Monks, and the basic black album cover could serve as an advertisement for a bleak rock mortuary, with little encouragement for album sales.  This is 1966 we needed the Kinks and 13th Floor Elevators and bright album covers.  The inclusion of the Monks is a daft exercise and an exaggeration of the group’s worth.  Enough said.

John Coltrane sits at #11 with a new offering of jazz said to start the free form jazz movement, a swing away from the more traditional jazz forms Coltrane had released earlier in the 1960s.  Sitting at #20 is Violetta Parra, recognised as the mother of Chilean folk music.  Her album Las Ultimas Composiciones was her last release in 1966 before she committed suicide in 1967 following a separation from her partner of many years.

Further down the bestEverAlbum.com listing of top albums in 1966, The Monkees sit at #36 with their debut self-titled album , and the Lovin’ Spoonful have two places – #50 – Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful and #55 – Daydream.  Frank Sinatra has dropped to 63 with Strangers in the Night.  The hard working Hollies are at #69 with their second album release of 1966 – For certain because (released in the US as Stop1 Stop! Stop! – a much much better title).  The Seekers are at #74 with Come the day.  Nancy Sinatra’s classic debut album – Boots is at #96.  The Easybeats are at #136 with It’s 2 easy, one place ahead of the excellent Midnight Ride by Paul Revere and the raiders.  Some low placed contenders are surprising.  The Young Rascals are at #182 with their self-titled debut and Manfred Mann is at #227 with Pretty Flamingo (US release).  Dusty Springfield, the darling of the 60s singers, also occupies a low count at #218 with her album Dusty Springfield’s Golden Hits, already looking like her record company was putting her out to pasture with a big hits compilation.

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1001 Albums “you gotta hear”

The 1001 albums selection for 1966 is quite concise.  The main differences from BestEverAlbum.com are the inclusion of Fred Neil’s self-titled album much higher on the scale of great, along with Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride, John Mayall with Eric Clapton –Blues Breakers, the Yardbirds – Roger the Engineer and Nina Simone’s Wild is the WindRoger the Engineer is possibly a much underrated blues-rock album and featured the new energy of guitarist Jeff Beck.

101 Essential Albums

jefferson_airplane_takes_offJeff Gold’s excellent concise collection of 101 Essential Rock Albums is almost the ultimate recommendation of album values.  And his selection for 1966 is significantly more expansive than for 1965 where he listed only five albums.  By comparison 1966 is a blissful flood of twelve albums.  Again there is consistency of choice with BestEverAlbums.com and 1001 with two additions – the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and East-West, and the Jefferson Airplane and their debut stunner – Jefferson Airplane Takes Off.  These albums appear at # 31 and #100 on the BestEverAlbum.com listing.  At this stage both Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop comprise the cool twin guitar line-up with the Paul Butterfield Band.  Grace Slick had yet to join Jefferson Airplane and the singing on Takes Off was shared with Signe Anderson, a former folk singer, but with a high strong voice.

In our selections so far there has been a convergence of musical opinion about what was hot in 1966.  It is good to see the Kinks with their fabulous album Face to Face right up there, the Rolling Stones, with a complete album of self-penned songs – Aftermath, the Byrds with Fifth Dimension, and renegade psychedelic avengers the 13th Floor Elevators with a real gem, and a fantastic album cover.  These albums and their enduring popularity is a tribute to their creators and the fans that loved and bought the albums and reflects the ‘freeness” of the 60s spirit.

Billboard – big bucks – Beatles, Herb Alpert, Monkees

Let us have a look at the hard commercial world of Billboard.  What sells wins!  This list of albums reflects the biggest sellers and/or those albums that spent longest on the Billboard charts at elevated spots, mostly making it to #1 during the year.  Rubber Soul was released in late 1965 so technically it is not up for consideration here but is listed for completeness.

Rank No weeks at #1 Title Artist
1 6 Rubber Soul Beatles
2 6 Going Places Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
3 5 Ballads of the Green Berets Ssgt Barry Sadler
4 1 If you can believe your eyes and ears Mamas & the Papas
5 9 What now my love Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
6 1 Strangers in the night Frank Sinatra
7 5 Yesterday and today (US release) Beatles
8 6 Revolver Beatles
9 2 The Supremes A Go-Go The Supremes
10 1 Doctor Zhivago Soundtrack by Michael Jarre
11 13 The Monkees The Monkees

The Beatles, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and newcomers the Monkees dominate the Billboard T200 Album Charts in 1966 holding the #1 position for a total of 45 weeks.  Who else was in the mix?  Who else got close?  It is worth checking out the top 10 albums in each month of the year to see who climbed the charts but could not crack the top spots.  There are not that many modern ‘rock’ contenders.

billboard_top10_jun1996Herb Alpert topped and tailed the album charts with The Lonely Bull, originally released in 1962, re-entering the charts in January and making #10.  Sitting at #3 was the curiosity Welcome to the LB J Ranch – a comedy album by Earle Doud and Alen Robin – funny in its day but long past its use-by-date.  Nancy Sinatra’s Boots made it to #5 in the April 9 Charts.  The Rolling Stones were one of many groups celebrating with a ‘best of’ album and Big Hits – High Tide and Green Grass squeezed into #3 on May 14.  Color Me Barbra hit its peak at #4 on May 28 as Barbra Streisand continues to ride high in the popularity stakes.

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And the Sound of Music refused to go away, rising again, in the T200 Charts to #3 on June 11 enjoying 65 weeks overall in the charts.  Long live Julie Andrews.  Herb Alpert, truly shows his popularity by having three albums in the Top 10 in this week.  Andy Williams also sneeks into the Top 10 on July 25 with – The Shadow of your smile.

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Of the new groups, Paul Revere with the cracking Midnight Ride album sits at #9 on July 16 and the Rolling Stones at #2 on August 13 with Aftermath.  The Supremes, consistent performers for Motown, are at #1 on October 29 with Supremes A Go-Go.  The following week Michael Jarre’s soundtrack Dr Zhivago takes the top spot.  For the remainder of the year there is limited chart movement and the Monkees stay on top with their debut album until the new year, noting that the unstoppable Herb Alpert has his fourth album of 1966 sitting at #2 with SRO (for the uninitiated this code stands for Standing room Only!)

As usual there are many MOR albums at the top in the Billboard T200 and this reflects the broad market in the USA, and the popularity of older mainstream singers and the musical films of the period.

Rollingstone Magazine 500 Greatest Albums

The 2005 book The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time lists 10 albums only from 1966 all of which have been nominated by other music opinionaters with a single addition – The Who and A Quick One.  The ranking of the albums in the Top 500 is shown in the following table and varies from the online Top 500 as people change their votes.

Rank Title Artist
2 Pet Sounds Beach Boys
3 Revolver Beatles
9 Blonde on Blonde Bob Dylan
102 Fresh Cream Cream
112 If you can believe your eyes and ears Mamas & the Papas
193 Blues Breakers John Mayall with Eric Clapton
199 Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme Simon & Garfunkel
240 Freak Out The Mothers of Invention
345 The Yardbirds (aka Roger the Engineer) Yardb irds
379 A Quick One The Who

As a general comment on the Rollingstone rankings, in comparison with other listings, specifically the 101 Essential Albums and 1001 Albums “you gotta hear”, the relative positions of Pet Sounds, Fresh Cream, Roger the Engineer and A Quick One appear over rated, and the latter three do not rate such high mentions in other listings.

Watch Out – Grammys Ahead

Before we get too critical of Rollingstone’s selections we should take a wander into the parallel universe that is the Grammys.  This is indeed another world and a world that operates a little behind the times, so that we have to look at the Grammy Awards for 1967 to see how musicmakers in 1966 fared.

barbra-streisand-color-me-barbra frank-sinatra-a-man-and-his-music doctor-zhivago-soundtrack

And the nominees are…..

There are numerous awards for excellence at the Grammys and we will only cover a few.  For Album of the Year there were five nominees:

Frank Sinatra – Frank Sinatra: A Man and his Music

Barbra Streisand – Color me Barbra

Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass – What now my love

Michael Jarre – Dr Zhivago

Beatles – Revolver

Other than the Beatles, the nominees are well entrenched MOR artists.  Frank Sinatra was the winner, although the Beatles cleaned up with the Best Album Cover award.  And Frank was a busy man in 1966 releasing another two albums, Strangers in the Night and also Sinatra at the Sands, the latter album perhaps more worthy of an award than the retrospective A Man & his Music.

Best Rock and Roller!!

Moving on the nominees for Best Rock & Roll Group performance were:

Mamas & the Papas – Monday, Monday

The Association – Cherish

Beach Boys – Good Vibrations

The Monkees – Last train to Clarksville

The Sandpipers – Guantenamera

Whilst there is not much rock & roll oomph in this “rock” gang the Mamas & the Papas are worthy winners in a weak field.  It gets worse when you look at the “Best Rock & Roll Recording”.  We will not even look at the nominees because it obviously did not matter who was nominated as the winner was The New Vaudeville Band with the choleric Winchester Cathedral.  It possibly should have won best comedy record but that might have upset Bill Cosby who was a sure-fire winner in those days.

It was taking a while for the Grammys to catch up with the new generation of musicians and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences of the USA, a revered institution, although coyly recognizing the talent and artistry of the Beatles, as worthy nominees, were not ready to go the whole hog in 1967.  1968 would see a big change.

Gambaccini picks certain winners

Back in the real world Paul Gambaccini, from his coffee table album sized book – The Top 100 Albums lists only four albums for 1966, which puts matters into perspective and with some certitude.

Rank Title Artist
3 Blonde on Blonde Bob Dylan
8 Pet Sounds Beach Boys
17 Revolver Beatles
68 Aftermath Rolling Stones

Virgin All-Time Top 1000

And it is always worth looking at Colin Larkin’s take on greatness from his 1998 gem The Virgin All-Time Top 1000 Albums.  Here there must be plenty of scope to nail that last wonder of the music world in 1966.  There are 15 albums listed from 1966 and surprisingly, over half have not been included in previous selections.

Rank Title Artist
1 Revolver Beatles
6 Pet Sounds Beach Boys
17 Blonde on Blonde Bob Dylan
249 Face to Face Kinks
295 Aftermath Rolling Stones
351 Freak Out The Mothers of Invention
364 Blues Breakers John Mayall with Eric Clapton
514 Big Hits (High tide green grass) Rolling Stones
642 Sinatra at the Sands Frank Sinatra
677 Daydream Lovin’ Spoonful
818 The Soul Album Otis Redding
824 Tim Harden 1 Tim Harden
829 Jack Orion Bert Jansch
933 The Monkees The Monkees
1000 Got my Mojo workin’ Jimmie Smith

Of those not previously listed the Otis Redding, Frank Sinatra and Bert Jansch albums is each worth a second or third listen.

lovin-spoonful-daydream otis-redding-the-soul-album tim-hardin1 jimmy-smith-got-my-mojo-working

So for 1966 there appears to be an overall consistency by critics in selection of the best albums of the year and generally these have remained constant over the past 50 years, with the possible exception of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, which seems to have appreciated over the years, although it is not everyone’s cup of tea.

An alternative final Count Down

Everyone has their own favourites and sometimes pretty much without regard to genuine quality.  It might just be the vibe but the preference stays with you over the years.  Here is a personal Top 12 list.

Rank Title Artist
1 Revolver Beatles
1 Blonde on Blonde Bob Dylan
2 Aftermath Rolling Stones
3 East-West Paul Butterfield Blues Band
4 Them Again Them
5 The Bluesbreakers John Mayall with Eric Clapton
6 Face to Face Kinks
7 Sinatra at the Sands Frank Sinatra
8 Wild is the wind Nina Simone
9 Sounds of Silence Simon & Garfunkel
10 Fred Neil Fred Neil
11 If you can believe your eyes & your ears Mamas & the Papas

The #1 position is shared by the Beatles and His Bobness for genuinely different and remarkable albums.  The Rolling Stones’ album Aftermath is a stirling group effort, and the blues of Paul Butterfield, Them and John Mayall fit naturally into the picture.  The Kinks, in a niche spot of their own, are true purveyors of fun, rock and pop.  Frank Sinatra takes Count Basie and his orchestra to the Copa room of the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1966 and produces a great live album – his first.  The album has been reissued in 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of the recording.  It is a great double album.

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Nina Simone, wonderful and tragic, deserves her place with Wild  is the wind.  Simon & Garfunkel were all over the charts in 1966 and Sounds of Silence is a revered hymm of the times.  Fred Neil, a real one-off, had produced an excellent album in 1965 with Bleecker & Macdougall and his self-titled follow-up in 1966 also rates highly.  Lastly, the Mamas & the Papas with their perfect Californian pop colours complete the scene.  Vale Mama Cass.

Classic Trax Circa 1966

And to close the yearbook, check out some of these classic tracks from 1966 classic albums.


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