1966 was the year I turned 6. The year I broke my leg, moved from infant school to the first grade, was shocked to find out I was supposed to write with my right hand and the year that I was exposed to pop music in a serious way for the first time in my life. Coming from a merchant marine family, my mother went on a long trip with my dad and I stayed with a family that I'd known all my life with two daughters aged 18 and 14, with The Beatles LPs, singles and a transistor radio. I can't remember being overly enthusiastic about music but do remember hearing it and that I only wanted to hear singles not LPs.
So there's no way to claim that I was into the events described in this book, for from even. But I did see that the older brothers of friends and neighbours were growing their hair longer and drove these cool mopeds with a high steer, that their older sisters wore hipper clothes and shorter skirts than their mothers. Things changed a little. Beyond my reach for years to come.
When I look back at the music of 1966 and let's not forget all the horrible songs that were around at the time, is what Savage also mentions: in three years time The Beatles went from ditty little love songs to 'Tomorrow Never Knows' and the Rolling Stones from R&B and blues covers to blasting songs like 'Paint It Black'. The Beatles went from being liked by my then 38 year old aunt, who bought several of the older singles, to a band that she thoroughly disliked. 1966 was the year the generations truly parted. Let's not forget that this change went by most people by far or was simply beyond the reach of most people, whether young or old in 1966. 50 Years down the line that division may still count, as we can ask ourselves who in this age group voted for Donald Trump and who for Hillary Clinton? A small vanguard of the (cultural) elite led society into changes that are still felt to this day, but were sincerely detested by the political and governing elite and perceived as a threat to the nation, like all generation conflicts are. The abyss opened itself. So what?, we can say now. Of course some people derailed totally, but most came out alright and the better for it. They became the pillars of society.
Another interesting parallel is that the older generation more or less accused the babyboomers of just looking out for themselves. There was no solidarity with, especially, the U.S., e.g. in fighting the war the country called upon: Vietnam. In 2016 in NL the 50Plus party draws an ever growing voter potential of babyboomers. Again they are accused of going after choices that are good for their generation and not for younger people. Solidarity is less and less important, while general well-being in society is built on just that.
1966 was the year of the babyboomers who followed artists that were just a few years older in most cases. Born in the very late thirties at most, but most were from 1940-1943. In 1965 they expanded their minds with hallucinogenic substances and by 1966 the music changed. From 'Eight Miles High' to 'Paint It Black' and 'Tomorrow Never Knows' to 'Rainy Day Women #12 to 35' or fill in your favourite song on the line here
On the basis of hit and obscure songs Savage follows the year in 12 essays. One per month on a specific topic, fashion, the bomb, LSD, feminism, black power, etc. By using original publications of the time, whether books, newspaperclippings, magazines, etc. he recreates what came to the fore then and thus is able to look back at it now. In this vein he comes to the core of developments and conflicts. Society trying to seize back control, the vanguard pushing out harder and louder, involving more and more people, students, youths, taking it far beyond a decadent inner circles of young aristocrats in London or the few dopeheads in San Francisco.
What strikes me most, is the violence that raged through cities and university campuses in 1966. It's only one year away from "the summer of love" and there's fighting in the streets. On the one hand fists are raised in the ghettos and on the other students and youths are fighting for their rights. Against a society that tries to put the genie back into the bottle. Ronald Reagan's political career started out on just that ticket. 1966 was as hard as some of its biggest hits.
Jon Savage captures the year in a masterly way. Different sides come forward and the developments in popular music come out very well. This makes the book extremely interesting reading for everyone with an interest in music, history, sociology and political science. What stands out most, from the point of view of this blog, is the fantastic music that was made in 1966. A year of transition, the year that rock, psychedelia and soul became or were about to become mainstream. The year in which in music the doors were opened and executives could not keep up for a few years. That would change all to soon, but not in the years that followed.
And The Beatles? The Fab Four was the band everyone looked (up) to, that led in every way. "They have to sort things out for us" is a quote in the book. The band had quit touring that summer, dead tired and less caring about the band than ever before, went on hiatus and came back with the inspiration to start making just fabulous music. By the time the world got a glimpse of where things were going it was 1967.