Was 1965 the Most Revolutionary Year in Music?

The Rolling StonesEXPAND
The Rolling Stones
AP/Shroer photo, courtesy of St. Martin's Press

Rather than being just another stuffy or vapid rehash of the culture behind '60s music, Andrew Grant Jackson's recently published book 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music features 25 delightfully bite-sized chapters that chronicle the 12 colorful months of 1965. Cleverly divided into four seasons, the chapters each encapsulate a series of verifiable vignettes that make the book come across more like an entertaining and thought-provoking almanac, rather than a dry, academic discourse. While Jackson wittily and eloquently presents his findings, he lets his readers decide for themselves whether 1965 was indeed the most revolutionary year in music. Either way, he makes a good case.

The book has an ambitious title, mostly because many rock historians would argue that 1967 was a bigger year. Not only was '67 the "Summer of Love" and the year of the Monterey Pop Festival, it was also when the Beatles released both Sgt. Pepper's and Magical Mystery Tour. That year, the first two Doors albums and the first two Hendrix albums were released, as well. So how is it that the real revolution occurred two years earlier? We went straight to the source and asked the author with the very presidential-sounding name to give us his thoughts.

L.A. Weekly: Why did you decide to write a book about music in 1965?

Andrew Grant Jackson: I love both "oldies" and rock and, in a way, I feel like 1965 was the zero hour when the older style "rock & roll" started mutating into "rock." There have been a lot of books about the later years in the decade, but I hadn’t seen any music books that focused on '65.

Of all the most important cultural and political historic events to happen in 1965, which were the most important in terms of igniting the revolution in music?

The biggest thing to affect the musicians was the arrival of marijuana and LSD. Keith Richards said in his memoir that the beginning of '65 was when he was introduced to pot. Members of the Beatles, Beach Boys and Stones all took LSD for the first time in '65. For soul musicians, of course, the passion of the Civil Rights Movement fueled a golden age in R&B. When the Vietnam draft kicked in mid-year there started to be a lot of anthems to rebellion.

What made the year so monumental was that you had five major cultural forces exploding at once: civil rights, Vietnam, the pill, psychedelics and the influence of the musician's long hair. People were starting to think differently due to new technology — mass media and the pharmacology of the pill and acid. TV was beaming the realities of the civil rights struggle and the war into people’s living rooms. The Supreme Court ruled in the middle of the year that states could no longer ban the birth control pill and the Sexual Revolution kicked into gear, and a lot of songs began to reflect the changing roles of men and women.

In your opinion, what contributed to the revolution, musically speaking? What new techniques, styles, and/or other musical discoveries helped fuel the fire?

Lyrically, Dylan showed you could write about anything you wanted. Musically, psychedelic rock began to coalesce as the bands developed the jangle and experimented with distortion, feedback and making the guitar sound like a sitar. The Beach Boys led the way in combining classical orchestration with pop.

Who were the most influential musicians to debut that year?

The Byrds had a No. 1 hit with Dylan’s "Mr. Tambourine Man" before Dylan himself had a pop hit, and paved the way for folk rock, both lyrically and with the jangle-pop sound they were developing with The Beatles. It was because of The Byrds that Dylan's producer went back and added session musicians playing rock to an old acoustic song of Simon and Garfunkel's, "The Sound of Silence." Technically, The Who released their first single "I Can’t Explain" in December 1964, but it was '65 when they exploded with songs like "My Generation." The Grateful Dead and The Velvet Underground both started playing publicly and making recordings. Interestingly, they were both originally called The Warlocks, and they both became the house bands of multimedia happenings, with Ken Kesey and Andy Warhol, respectively. The Lovin' Spoonful made their debut, the Mamas and the Papas, Donovan. Love and the Doors started playing in L.A., though they didn’t release records yet.

Which were the most important albums to be released in 1965?

The three that changed the album from being a collection of hit singles and filler into a work of art were Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 and The Beatles' Rubber Soul. Coltrane's A Love Supreme is an undisputed masterpiece. The Beach Boys Today! was in some ways Brian Wilson's practice run for Pet Sounds. The Rolling Stones' Out of Our Heads was their last great album of R&B covers before going all-original. The Who Sing My Generation, Otis Blue, The Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man. A Charlie Brown Christmas also came out that year, which is a perennial classic.

What were the five most popular and/or important songs of 1965?

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Billboard says the top-selling U.S. songs were "Wooly Bully," "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)," "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "You Were on My Mind," and "You’ve Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." In terms of what were the most important: "Satisfaction" was the anthem of the decade. "Like a Rolling Stone" would be another contender for that title. "Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag" is where James Brown started developing funk, paving the way for hip-hop. The Byrds' version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" opened up the pop charts to folk rock. And the Impressions' "People Get Ready" encapsulated the phase of the civil rights struggle that was climaxing with Selma and the Voting Rights Act. In regards to integrating society, Civil Rights Movement leader Andrew Young said, "There’s a sense in which the music has been more successful even than the courts and the church." So in that respect, you’d have to pick some Motown classics.

How do you respond to the folks who argue it was 1967, not 1965, that was the most revolutionary year in music? Can you compare the two years?

Let’s use Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as an example. When it came out in 1967, the high-brow establishment critics began saying that rock could be art, but the innovations of that album can be traced back to elements that first sparked in '65 — the sophisticated lyrics, the orchestral accompaniment, feedback, Indian music.

What about poor little 1966, why does it seem to get lost in the middle, quite literally?

I love '66, it’s my second "favorite year." The counterculture's real Summer of Love before the mass media overkill. Things were cooking but the mainstream hadn’t caught on yet.

Johnny CashEXPAND
Johnny Cash
AP photo, courtesy of St. Martin's Press

In your book, you mention the effect art had on music (and vice-versa), specifically with regards to Andy Warhol. Are there any other disciplines that also had an important symbiotic relationship with music, and how?

Richard Lester continued to develop the techniques that formed the basis of rock videos with his second Beatles movie, Help! You had the beginning of the psychedelic light shows with Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests with The Grateful Dead. The Beats had been major influences on Dylan, and Allen Ginsberg was still right in the thick of things, developing the concept of Flower Power (though it wasn’t named that yet) to save an anti-war rally from the Hell's Angels. Writer Hunter Thompson brought the Hell's Angels to an LSD party at fellow writer Ken Kesey's, and the Angels definitely ended up playing a large symbolic role in the '60s counterculture. The photography on album covers started getting psychedelic, with The Byrds using a fisheye lens for Mr. Tambourine Man and The Beatles' stretching the image for Rubber Soul. The Byrds' audience on the Sunset Strip started developing the free-form "hippie" style of dancing. Fashion wise, Mary Quant introduced the miniskirt.

Finally, why was 1965 the most revolutionary year in music?

Later years like 1967 appear more radical on the surface, but they were building on innovations that exploded in '65. A number of new genres started: folk rock, psychedelic, funk, baroque pop. Bands began exploring Indian instrumentation, feedback and distortion. Dylan began mixing his visionary folk lyrics with rock & roll and inspired a new lyrical sophistication in his contemporaries. Suddenly there were No. 1 songs that were either psychedelic like "Mr. Tambourine Man," or topical like "Eve of Destruction" or introspective like "Help!" When Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" made it to No. 2 despite being over six minutes long and sung by a guy without a traditional pop voice, it showed that anything was possible.

Andrew Jackson discusses and signs 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 352 pages, $27.99) on Thursday, March 12 at 7 p.m. at Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659.3110, booksoup.com.   

Cover of "1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music"EXPAND
Cover of "1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music"
Design by Rob Grom, lettering and illustration by Oscar Wilson, courtesy Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press

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