❉ Garage rock, powerpop, bubblegum pop, girl-group angst, gnarly R&B, proto-Americana, and a large serving of soul.
Since the publication of his landmark doorstop tome 1966 – The Year The Decade Exploded in 2015, legendary music writer and album compiler extraordinaire Jon Savage has put together several superb companion volume CDs on Ace Records. The 1966 album was the perfect adjunct to the book, the great compiler giving context to his widescreen analysis of that fateful year in pop culture, picking 2CDs full of select cuts to show his working. This was followed by the sequel volume 1967 – The Year Pop Divided. Now, rather than following up with a third volume focusing on the psychedelic after-party of 1968, Savage has pulled together a canny prequel, 1965 – The Year The Sixties Ignited. Considering the glut of 60s Nuggets-styled compilations that come out in droves each year, this could be seen as a step too far, but Savage has come up with the goods again.
After the kohl-eyed pop art hipster cynicism of 1966, and the mainstream psych explosion of the 1967 album, 1965 draws on Savage’s own adolescent memories of Pirate Radio broadcasts, augmented with hindsight by some lost gems. This transitional year, caught halfway between British Invasion head-shaking and weirder, groovier portents of things to come has a certain optimism all its own, as Savage convincingly argues in his sleevenotes. It’s a noisy, fun catalogue of pop obsessions of the time, opening with the bouncy boom-ba-doom push of Unit Four Plus Two’s Concrete and Clay. It’s just one of many familiar tunes here, but it’s a compelling picture – taking in nascent garage (The slinky, yet snotty Can’t Seem To Make You Mine by The Seeds, the sassy You’ve Just Gotta Know My Mind by Karen Verros), Sunset Strip powerpop (The irresistible happy-sad surge of Gene Clark’s early Byrds belter I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better), the droning menace of Donovan’s Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness), and genuine oddities like The Silkies’ obscure, covertly Beatle-aided cover of You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.
There’s also bubblegum pop, Wagnerian girl-group angst, gnarly R&B, proto-Americana, and an appropriately large serving of soul, taking in anthemic Tamla, funky Stax, and every dance craze of the time to raise the roof at the Twisted Wheel. Savage also smuggles the odd unusual gem in. Buttermilk, Sly Stone’s funky, eccentric cop of the Stones’ 2120 South Michigan Avenue, shows the young producer on an early solo mission. On the other side of the spectrum, The Everly Brothers’ nagging, obsessive The Price Of Love shows the old guard embracing what could be called powerpop, with a tough, reverberating riff that could teach whippersnappers like Pete Townshend and Keith Richards a thing or two. Amid all this sturm und drang, Savage slides in Iko Iko by the Dixie Cups, which is cute, catchy, and, if you listen to the lyrics actually a bit menacing.
1965 is a triumph then. Listened to in order and context, there’s a rare coherence and flow to this splurge of old pop music, where the Hollies, Junior Walker, and Link Wray happily hang out under the same roof. This document of a less-celebrated era is one of Savage’s best compilations yet.
❉ ‘Jon Savage’s 1965: The Year The Sixties Ignited’ is available now from Ace Records (CDTOP2 1513), RRP £17.75.
❉ Martin Ruddock has written for ‘Doctor Who Magazine’, the ‘You And Who’ series, and is a regular contributor to We Are Cult. He lives in Bournemouth with a beautiful, very patient woman and teetering piles of records and nerd stuff. He loves writing, and may write something for you if you ask nicely. Martin was recently a guest on Tim Worthington’s podcast Looks Unfamiliar. You can find the episode here.