The November 1965 post is back to the basics of The 1965 Project: (1) The Vietnam War, (2) classic albums and (3) the birth of future Rock legends. The quantity of essential music released at the end of 1965 is staggering. A couple records require a complete analysis due to their elevated status in music history, but for others, only the most critical aspects will be tied to the exigent purpose of The 1965 Project. But, first – we position ourselves within the context of History – and in late-1965, the most significant historical event was The Vietnam War and in November 1965, the Battle of Ia Drang.
The Vietnam War did not exist in January 1965. Literally – there were zero United States soldiers in Vietnam in January 1965 and forces were not mobilizing. Then, as discussed previously, in February and March, a modest number of troops were dispatched to Vietnam. A full-scale (yet secret) bombing campaign (Operation Rolling Thunder) led to more troops in Vietnam (due to the ineffectiveness of the air-only strategy). By June, there were over 100,000 United States soldiers in Vietnam. Public opposition festered throughout August and September, leading to draconian and misguided Federal legislative and judicial action in October to prohibit the burning of draft cards.
Hand-to-hand, ground combat was purposefully avoided – until November 1965. Strategic mistakes and an epic underestimation of the capability of the North Vietnamese opposition led to the first critical battle in the Vietnam War, resulting in massive casualties and signaling an inexplicably gruesome and bloody path ahead.
November 1965 Playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/126995527/playlist/1C9aF9p38MFdYrUC9r4AmU
November 1965 Playlist – Sampler: https://open.spotify.com/user/126995527/playlist/5ez47lPf5dmZ0OPL3uowql
The Battle of Ia Drang
The Battle of Ia Drang is widely regarded as the first of four key battles in the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1971, resulting in a stunning loss of life and establishing the tactical strategy employed by the North Vietnamese throughout the course of the conflict to successfully defeat the United States.
The terrain of Vietnam was (and is) rugged. Hills, jungles, thick brush and marsh. Visibility both on the ground and in the air was complicated. The initial strategy of the United States was to support the South Vietnamese forces with weapons and intellectual strategic resources. Meaning, although troops from the United States were dispatched to Vietnam, their role was to train and teach the South Vietnamese (sound familiar…Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Mogadishu). History instructs that such a strategy is implemented by a President of the United States to avoid securing a Proclamation of War in Congress, allowing the President to operate autonomously and secretly.
State Department documents reviewed many years later indicated that LBJ definitively and absolutely preffered to not fight a ground war in Vietnam. Not because he expected the North Vietnamese to be a strong opponent, but rather because he expected the citizens of the United States to be a strong opponent. At least one of his expectations was accurate.
General Westmoreland, commander of the United States operations in Vietnam, never subscribed to the “initial” strategy. Westmoreland desired a ground war in early-1965. Not thrilled with the success and talent of the South Vietnamese forces, General Westmoreland believed that his technologically superior Army could quickly eliminate the primitive, inexperienced and lesser-armed North Vietnamese army.
Notwithstanding his war-mongering disposition, General Westmoreland followed orders from LBJ. The United States was strictly defending existing South Vietnamese territory and US military installations. In late-October, though, the North Vietnamese crossed the line. North Vietnamese forces attacked a United States Special Forces camp at Plei Mei, resulting in 326 dead American soldiers. General Westmoreland was furious and encouraged LBJ to authorize an offensive with the dual goal of driving the North Vietnamese back from their advance on Plei Mei, but also to kill enemy troops in the spirit of retribution.
In November 1965, LBJ ordered General Westmoreland to initiate the offensive, including the debut of the 1st Cavalry Division of the Army, a new air mobile unit that utilized helicopters to transport troops, which Westmoreland believed would eliminate the problem of soldiers traversing rugged terrain strictly on foot, risking ambush.
Traditionally, in conjunction with a ground offensive, the United States military utilized B-52 bombers to unload thousands of tons of bombs (napalm) on North Vietnamese territories. The bombers not only were used to destroy enemy territories, but the bombing campaigns were critical in supporting the ground troops, as both forms of warfare were used in tandem – however, there were two key prerequisites: accuracy and distance from the enemy target. In Vietnam, low visibility due to heavy cloud cover from moisture, hills and dense forests complicated accuracy, and a clever military strategy by the North Vietnamese eliminated the distance.
On November 11, the first American offensive began, with two battallions boarding 16 helicopters and just three days later – over 400 American soldiers were dead, and The Vietnam War had officially begun. The mission had a “search and destroy” objective, which required the helicopters to locate a safe landing zone away from the enemy, then the soldiers were to strategically split into units, or companies, to search for the enemy and kill the enemy.
The first fleet of helicopters chose a landing zone titled “X-Ray”, near a dry river in the Ia Drang valley. Given the heavy tree cover and incredibly dense jungle and brush, the helicopters were unable to see a large battalion of North Vietnamese troops in close proximity to X-Ray. Upon landing, the first fleet de-boarded and set up a makeshift camp, awaiting the arrival of the second fleet. The North Vietnamese were well trained (by the Chinese and Soviet Union). They did not immediately attack the unknowing American soldiers, waiting for the American troops to choose a direction, exposing their motive. After the second fleet arrived and the American troops began to mobilize in companies, a classic search and destroy formation, the North Vietnamese moved into position and attacked.
The American soldiers were stunned, but also highly skilled, possessing superior weaponry. The fighting was bloody, close combat, even hand-to-hand in some instances. The American soldiers were “winning” the battle, meaning killing more enemy soldiers than losing American soldiers – however, any loss of American life was considered a loss. The American strategy to stay distant, send a limited amount of highly skilled and specialized ground forces to execute directives, then rely on air support – was officially compromised.
The American troops under seige at Ia Drang radioed for air support, but General Westmoreland quickly realized a problem. He couldn’t utilize the B-52 bombers as the American troops were too close to the North Vietnamese troops. The air support would kill American troops. He also couldn’t risk sending additional helicopters to the area, as it was now evident that the helicopter pilots could not accurately identify safe landing zones. Westmoreland instructed the American troops to engage and drive the enemy back as far as they could, then create space by pulling back quickly so that the bombers could fly over and destroy the area.
The American troops did just as ordered, however the loss of life was dramatic. Entire companies were killed. Finally, three days later, the American air attack drove the North Vietnamese back, almost to the Cambodian border, instantly killing hundreds (an estimated 1,800 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed at the Battle of Ia Drang).
News of the battle filtered back to the American headquarters in Saigon and Washington, D.C. The officials in Saigon immediately declared a triumphant victory and utilized the casualty disparity to predict a swift resolution to the Vietnam conflict. The officials in Washington, including LBJ, knew better. Distraught over the massive loss of life, and not possessing a complete and vetted strategy, LBJ opted to conceal the casualty numbers and report only limited information.
The overwhelming significance of the Battle of Ia Drang is that it provided the North Vietnamese with a strategic road map on how to compete with a supremely dominant opponent. The key was to stay close. Very close. Such a strategy would require tremendous numbers of North Vietnamese soldiers and result in massive North Vietnamese casualties. Unfortunately for the United States, the North Vietnamese had millions of soldiers and no regard for the loss of life (See the War on Terror). The strategy of close engagement by the North Vietnamese neutralized the American air attack/support and frustrated the use of helicopters to mobilize and deploy units.
The Vietnam War became a war of attrition, and the United States was losing. Over the next eight years, 2,709,918 Americans were sent to Vietnam to fight, with approximately 1,600,000 engaging in combat – 58,202 never returning home (and 303,704 wounded, with over 75,000 soldiers severely disabled).
What did we obtain in exchange for the tragic loss of life and sacrifice? We didn’t defeat North Vietnam. We lost. After the United States withdrew its troops in 1975, North Vietnam defeated South Vietnam and the Social Republic of Vietnam assumed power of Saigon and instituted a Communist regime. As outlined in the May 1965 post, the United States was never really fighting North Vietnam, we were fighting the Soviet Union and China in a country named Vietnam. Democracy versus Communism. This philosophical battle of political ideology would continue for decades, and arguably remains today. The United States accomplished nothing in Vietnam. If anything, a message was sent to the world that the United States could be defeated and that when engaged in war, the righteous Democratic country – The United States of America – is as ruthless and violent as any militaristic nation in the world.
The overwhelming depressing and dark overtones stemming from the Vietnam War and the atrocities of racial discrimination affected and was expressed by musicians in two primary ways: (1) expression through lyrics and message (most often seen in R&B, Folk and Blues) and (2) expression through a new, louder, darker, grungier, experimental and ultimately, psychedelic instrumentation (seen both in Rock and Jazz).
The music of November 1965 illustrates both forms of expression. Classic tracks from The Kinks and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles unequivocally and directly illustrate expression through message and lyrics, while the second release from The Yardbirds, an early studio track by The Grateful Dead and an absolutely masterful live record by Ornette Coleman represent artists that gravitated towards psychedelic influences and instrumental creativity to express the tumult and unrest inherent in daily existence.
We will also (briefly) cover historically relevant releases by The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley and The Ventures, the latter two being worth your time. The November 1965 commentary will delve into certain details from each release to illustrate the motive of The 1965 Project, but I implore you to please spend some time with The Kink Kontroversy (The Kinks) and Having a Rave Up (The Yardbirds), as both albums are straight-through essential.
The Kink Kontroversy – The Kinks
The Kink Kontroversy is the first album featured this month for two reasons. First, I love it. And, second – because of these lyrics:
Wondering if I’d done wrong
Will this depression last for long?
Won’t you tell me
Where have all the good times gone?
Where have all the good times gone?
Well, once we had an easy ride
and always felt the same
Time was on our side
and I had everything to gain.
Let it be like yesterday
Please let me have happy days
Won’t you tell me
Where have all the good times gone?
Where have all the good times gone?
These lyrics, to the track “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” viscerally expressed the mindset of millions of young people in the UK and the US. After JFK was assassinated in November 1963, the US spiraled into a deep, dark depression. The post-JFK assassination reaction was not simply a depression of the mind, though – as the economy was sluggish, racial discrimination was worsening and politically, the US was embroiled in a conflict with the Soviet Union/Cuba. However, as mentioned in the January 1965 post, while the country may still have been reeling emotionally from the JFK assassination, starting in 1964, the economy had become very strong, tensions with the Soviet Union had lessened and no US troops were at war or even engaged in military conflict. And, while racial discrimination still existed, the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act in 1964 signaled significant progress. The country had stabilized.
But, by November 1965, after 10 months of countless images and instances of horrific racial discrimination, riots and senseless death, along with constant and graphic video coverage of bombs exploding in Vietnam, villages burning and news of US and UK troop casualties – the kids were asking, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.” In addition to the message, The Kinks paired the lyrics with distortion-laden power chords, a catchy sing-along chorus and an early-Punk spirit. The result is a classic track.
The Kink Kontroversy is the third album released by The Kinks and is a lesson in evolution. While British Invasion bands like The Pretty Things, The Zombies and The Sonics (and The Rolling Stones for a while, too) stuck to the Rock/Blues forumula – others, primarily The Kinks and The Beatles – changed, or evolved. On The Kink Kontroversy, The Kinks introduced certain acoustic (almost Folk) elements, such as acoustic guitars and slower-paced tracks. However, the most significant addition was a new band member/session player: Nicky Hopkins. Hopkins played the piano and sparkles within Rock/Blues and R&B arrangments. Hopkins dominates on “It’s Too Late” and “You Can’t Win” and provides a layer that seems to balance the rhythm. Hopkins would go on to play with each of The Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck and The Jerry Garcia Band.
Examples of the acoustic evolution are the aforementioned “It’s Too Late” and “You Can’t Win”, along with “I Am Free” (the latter foreshadows the legendary Kinks records of the early-70’s). The intro and melody to “I Am Free” sounds like a total rip-off of “Presence of the Lord” by Eric Clapton – but, not so – as “I Am Free” predates “Presence of the Lord” by four years. There’s a certain late-60’s Beatles-vibe about “I Am Free” as well, despite the rather lo-fi production value.
What’s cool about The Kink Kontroversy, though is that the album contains a mix of the new (more acoustic) direction of The Kinks, while retaining the spirit of former classic early-Punk tracks such as “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night.” Case in point – “Till the End of the Day.” While the chords are reminiscent of the aforementioned tracks, it really doesn’t matter as “Till the End of the Day” was and is a hit. The track reached #8 in the UK and #50 in the US on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Kinks successfully emerged from the British Invasion designation and established themselves as one of the greatest (and most underrated) bands in Rock and Pop. The evolution first heard in 1965 on The Kink Kontroversy would dominate the conversation prospectively. Following the Summer of Love, The Kinks released a string of instant classics: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968), then Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969), Lola Versus the Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (1970), Muswell Hillbillies (1971) and Everybody’s In Show-Biz (1972). The Kinks toed the line between Punk/Rock and Folk/Rock – a line that very, very few bands have been able to manage (maybe the only other example is The Pixies). The Kinks were simultaneously commercially successful and respected by the most hip and influential critics.
Going To A-Go-Go – Smokey Robinson and The Miracles
The Miracles formed in 1961 on the Motown label, with Smokey Robinson doubling as the lead songwriter and lead vocalist. As The Miracles gained recognition, Smokey’s star began to rise precipitously. Smokey also wrote songs for other artists on the Motown label, including the Temptations and Marvin Gaye, establishing himself as the premier songwriter at Motown and one of the premier songwriters in music.
Going To A-Go-Go is the first record by The Miracles under the name – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. This new moniker would remain until The Miracles stopped making music together (in 1972). Going To A-Go-Go was immediately a hit record, peaking at #8 on the Billboard Top Albums chart and remaining in the Top 200 for 40 consecutive weeks. Four of the tracks charted in the Billboard Top 20: “The Tracks of My Tears”, “Going To A-Go-Go”, “Ooo Baby Baby” and “My Girl Has Gone.” These tracks happen to be the first four tracks on the album, making Side 1 of Going To A-Go-Go perhaps the best Side 1 of any record released in 1965.
The opening track, “Tracks of My Tears” features an addictive chorus and a casual (not driving) rhythm. A subtle instrumental intro is reminiscent of the technique used by Brian Wilson on “California Girls.” The real attraction, though – is just the sweetest damn vocals you’ll hear on any release in any era.
However, the track is also significant in terms of its message and tone. As discussed previously in The 1965 Project, Berry Gordy demanded that the artists on his label (Motown) not engage in social commentary and for the most part, stay upbeat, positive and presentable (in order to placate the parents of white kids desiring to purchase Motown records featuring African American artists). If there was one person that could get aggressive on this front, it was Smokey Robinson. “Tracks of My Tears” announced that despite the smiling faces and upbeat attitude, inside – Smokey Robinson – and the community that he speaks for – is reeling…and sad.
People say I’m the life of the party
‘Cause I tell a joke or two
Although I might be laughing loud and hearty
Deep inside I’m blue
So take a good look at my face
You know my smile looks out of place
If you look closer it’s easy to trace
The tracks of my tears
Not expressly political or incendiary, the track certainly communicates a somber mood – which, the band decided to highlight as the opening track on the album, positioning the title track (“Going To A-Go-Go”) second, a rare move – and one that suggests a motive to convey a specific feeling.
“Going To A-Go-Go” begins with a percussive, almost marching band bass drum. There is no attempt to affect the listener in an intellectual manner – this song is a dance/groove cut. The melody is infectious and there are stop/start guitar changes/pauses followed by piano flourishes and then a horn solo. It’s quintessential, super high quality mid-60’s R&B.
The third track, “Ooo Baby Baby” is a ballad, pretty much setting the standard for every ballad released thereafter. There’s certainly a lame, dated adult-contemporary aspect to the production due to a lackluster string arrangement, made worse by backing vocals that I swear are too high in the mix, but the track was (and remains) a hit. “My Girl Has Gone” is a song about – well, a girl that has gone. Yeah, not that deep – but, it’s not surprising this song was a Top 20 hit. It’s catchy – great chorus, brilliant melody and a sweet bridge that echoes “Midnight Hour” and “I Second That Emotion.”
Going To A-Go-Go is top heavy (Side 1), but is universally accepted as a Top 300 album of all time – any era, any type of music (Rolling Stone, 2003). While I connected Smokey’s lyrics and mood in “Tracks of My Tears” to the theme of The 1965 Project, the overwhelming significance of this record is the insulation and isolation of R&B in late-1965. Rock, Jazz, Folk and Blues artists were regularly commenting, changing, expressing and adapting – while R&B (and Country) just kind of stayed the course, resisting the urge to infect their genre with the diseased world.
Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds – The Yardbirds
Having a Rave Up is the second release by The Yardbirds. For Your Love was released in June 1965. Other than the title track that featured Eric Clapton on lead guitar, the remainder of For Your Love featured Clapton’s successor, Jeff Beck (after Jimmy Page turned down the job). Somewhat confusingly, though – Having a Rave Up again features both Clapton and Beck, with four tunes featuring Clapton and seven with Beck. Having a Rave Up consists of recordings from two separate recording sessions, one from late-1964/early-1965 with Clapton and then subsequent sessions with Beck in late-1965. The direction that Beck takes the music is highly significant as Having a Rave Up (in my opinion) introduced Rock to a delicious flavor that would be tasted by musicians and fans for the remainder of the decade and onward: Psychedelia.
Before highlighting Jeff Beck’s introduction of psychedelic elements, a quick note on the significance of the album’s title. The term “rave” has adopted a certain meaning in today’s music culture, but in 1965, a “rave up” was used to describe the section in a song’s arrangement (usually in the middle) where the beat shifts to double-time (speeds up), the lead instruments gradually build to an instrumental peak and the rhythm players inject distortion and chaos – all of which winds to a dramatic climax, before breaking down and returning to the original song structure. In today’s parlance, we call this “tension and release.” In 1965, the “rave up” arrangement was novel, as many believe The Yardbirds invented the style/technique (most often attributed to their bassist, Paul Stamwell-Smith). A classic example of a “rave up” is “Train Kept A-Rollin’” (featuring Jeff Beck).
The difference between the Clapton tracks and the Beck tracks is apparent. For your convenience, the four songs featuring Clapton are “Smokestack Lightning”, “Respectable”, “I’m a Man” and “Here ‘Tis” (all covers). The Clapton tracks depict a traditional Blues-style and, frankly, pale in comparison to the edgier/harder tracks featuring Jeff Beck (all originals). Despite leaving The Yardbirds in search of traditional Blues, ironically, Clapton went on to adopt a harder, more psychedelic Blues/Rock-style with Cream in the late-60’s, then settled down a bit during his time with Blind Faith, and finally landing squarely in his sweet spot with Derek & The Dominos in the early-70’s, favoring a highly emotive, sweet, yet strung-out version of the Blues (undoubtedly, Clapton’s prime). Do check out “Respectable”, though – for two reasons: it’s cool to hear Clapton on a pure upbeat, R&B cut and also, the track seems to be the opposite of a “rave up”, as it slows down in the middle, almost to a reggae/ska beat that foreshadows bands like The Clash and The Pixies (two Pixies references in one post, huh).
The hit single, “For Your Love” had been labeled a Pop song and The Yardbirds were generally thought to be moving in a Pop direction (thus, Clapton’s departure). In hindsight, the public (and Clapton) may have mistakenly pegged “For Your Love” as heading towards Pop, when in fact – it was headed towards psychedelic Rock. On Having a Rave Up, tracks such as “You’re a Better Man Than I”, “Evil Hearted You”, “Heart Full of Soul” and “Still I’m Sad” illustrate Beck’s shift to a more cerebral, chaotic and improvised, yet predetermined and produced approach to the lead guitar. Beck’s short, choppy guitar riffs would essentially form the basis for Jimmy Page’s approach in Led Zeppelin. The Beck tracks feature haunting melodies and changes in tempo, while drenched in hard, edgy Blues. “Evil Hearted You” has a similar song trajectory as “For Your Love”, as it starts with one melody and then shifts to an upbeat middle section (the “rave up”), then to a perfect guitar solo (Beck) and then returns to the intro.
Several outtakes of “Heart Full of Soul” were attempted with Beck playing a sitar, however, the band ended up preferring Beck’s bending of the higher notes played through a distortion pedal, approximating the sound of a sitar (recall that The Kinks used a sitar on the March 1965 track, “See My Friends”, but this experimentation by The Yardbirds still predates the sitar’s coming out party on “Norwegian Wood” by The Beatles in December 1965). “Heart Full of Soul” opens with a dirty guitar riff and contains psychedelic backing vocals. Similarly, “Still I’m Sad” opens with scary, almost Gregorian chant backing vocals, along with a spooky little bell ringing, before meandering into a minor key acoustic guitar ballad. Nobody was making tracks like this – slow, trippy, dark – a template for psychedelic balladry
Beck’s playing is tough to describe. He exudes a nasty, hard, poignant tone, but his phrasing is wonderfully contained and precise. Notably, Beck uses a different form of distortion than his contemporaries (Davies and Richards), as he favors a “fuzz” pedal (which Hendrix would steal in 1966). “Heart Full of Soul” is a great illustration of Beck’s playing – both the intro riff with the fuzz pedal featured and then the cleaner-toned guitar solo that grows out of the fuzz riff at exactly 1:00 into the song.
Now, whether or not Having a Rave Up gave birth to psychedelic music is a question I pondered – and took steps to examine, but despite some interesting results – for this November post, I decided to stick to the core of The 1965 Project and society’s affect on music. Even the Rock-oriented Yardbirds expressed their awareness of social and political issues expressly in their music. The following are lyrics from “You’re a Better Man Than I”:
Could you tell a wise man
By the way he speaks or spells?
Is this more important
Than the stories that he tells?
And call a man a fool
If for wealth he doesn’t strive.
Could you condemn a man
If your faith he doesn’t hold?
Say the color of his skin
Is the color of his soul?
Or could you say if men
For king and country all must die?
Then Mister you’re a better man than I
Yeah, you’re a better man than I
There’s a lot there. The first couple lines describe the shifting aspirations of young adults – not following the prescribed route of academics, employment and wealth – foreshadowing the mantra of psychedelic San Francisco in 1967 (“dropping out” of society). The lyrics then deal with race and war. No abstract poetry or misdirection here – the message is crystal clear and supports the tone, tenor and anger set forth in the instrumentation.
The influence of Having a Rave Up is exponential, but the album was also quite popular in 1965. Having a Rave Up reached #53 on the Billboard Top Albums chart, spending 33 weeks on the chart (surpassing contemporaneous releases by each of The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Animals and The Who). The album is a must listen. Allmusic suggested that the record is “on par with the greatest mid-60’s work of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.” Rolling Stone states that the album is “the bridge between beat groups and psychedelia.”
Speaking of psychedelia…….
First Recorded Studio Tracks – The Grateful Dead
On November 3, 1965, The Grateful Dead entered the studio for the first time, recording six tracks. The result is somewhat underwhelming, but the seeds that would spawn the greatest improvisational band in Rock are evident.
As many of you may know, I could write a whole heck of a lot about The Grateful Dead, as my normal annual “Project” consists of choosing a specific year of Grateful Dead music and listening to every live show, in order – taking notes, discussing, writing – it’s real nerdy stuff (hey, Slim).
However, I’m going to refrain from going (completely) overboard, limiting the commentary to important background information on the beginnings of The Grateful Dead and, through the lens of one of the first studio tracks from November 1965, illustrate where The Grateful Dead’s sound may have come from and how, even as early as 1965, it was evident that The Grateful Dead were – just a little bit different.
The Grateful Dead entered Golden State Studios in San Francisco in November 1965 not as The Grateful Dead, but as “The Emergency Crew.” The original band name was “Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions”, until the band changed to “The Warlocks.” However, after realizing that another band was using the name “The Warlocks”, the band again changed their name, this time to “The Grateful Dead” (the recording session featured here took place in between the names The Warlocks and The Grateful Dead, thus the moniker of “The Emergency Crew”).
The Grateful Dead would end up inventing and mastering a wonderfully diverse and distinct sound – but, where did the sound come from? Jerry Garcia’s primary instrument in 1964/1965 was a banjo. Jerry was an alum of several Bluegrass and Jug bands. Like every other kid in mid-1965, Jerry became enthralled with Electric Dylan, however – he was equally infatuated with Muddy Waters and importantly, the Jazz saxophonist, Charlie Parker (Jerry stated that his early guitar solos were copies of Parker’s saxophone runs).
Jerry was also a noted (and somewhat locally famous) guitar teacher in San Francisco. Bob Weir actually joined the band after searching out Garcia in hopes of receiving guitar lessons (some of us wish Bobby had obtained those lessons before joining the band). As for Weir, in the first couple years, he was simply a teenage kid holding on for dear life.
Phil Lesh was actually not the original bassist (Dana Morgan, Jr. was the original bassist, playing a couple of shows with The Warlocks). All stories about The Grateful Dead are similar in that they revolve around Garcia’s unbelievable vision, intellect and taste. Garcia didn’t want a regular Rock bassist, as usual – he wanted something “different.” Lesh was a classically trained musician and a former trumpet player. He wasn’t into Rock music, favoring Jazz. And, he had never (ever) played electric bass. Just what Jerry was looking for. Lesh would redefine the bass, essentially soloing throughout the song and jam, hitting just enough root notes to keep time, but providing a fluidity that had not before been utilized in Rock. Phil played a six string bass, which allowed for more notes to be played (almost all Rock bassists play a four string bass).
The genesis of the rhythm section of The Grateful Dead is fascinating. Originally, Bill Kreutzmann was the only drummer. Billy was trained as a Jazz drummer. While this training facilitated an organic interaction with Lesh, the Dead’s original manager, Rock Scully, flagged a problem: The Grateful Dead had no “low end.” Paraphrasing, he said that the lead guitarist was soloing constantly, the bassist was soloing constantly, the rhythm guitarist was barely audible and the drummer was backing the group with Jazz fills and brushes. Scully urged the band to add a second drummer to hold down the low end and balance the sound.
Mickey Hart joined the band in 1967 and teamed with Kreutzmann until 1971 and then again from 1974 until 1995. Hart infused percussive aspects into the instrumentation, as well as distinct African and Latin rhythms. Billy and Mickey would end up complimenting each other to such an extent that they operated as (and sounded like) one drummer.
All that said, the heart of The Grateful Dead between 1965 and 1971 was undoubtedly Ron “PigpenMcKernan. Pigpen was an organist, but his lead vocals are his lasting contribution. As we’ve seen throughout The 1965 Project, the hip and popular underground music scene started shifting towards a grungy, distorted, hard-Rock version of the Blues. Not surprisingly, The Grateful Dead wanted to play this new form of the Blues. But, to play the Blues, you need to be able to sing the Blues. Pigpen could sing the Blues.
The foremost early example of The Grateful Dead sound is “Caution (Do Not Stop on The Tracks).” At just over three minutes, this studio version is the clearest glimpse of the past foreshadowing the future. The track opens with a Garcia guitar lick on the low E string, then Billy comes in with cymbals only (Jazz-like). Just when you think you might be listening to a television show theme song, Pigpen comes in with his harmonica to announce the Blues. Whereas most bands would then begin the lyrics, The Grateful Dead proceed to just jam out the intro for the first two minutes of a three minute song. Nobody did that in 1965. These guys were just different. Pigpen’s vocals finally come in at 2:09, swapping places with Garcia’s lead guitar. It’s raunchy for sure, and becomes propulsive rhythmically – yet the song is somewhat unremarkable in terms of it being a song. But, that’s not the point, the point is – it’s a sound, not a song. In my view, this track is the earliest incarnation of The Grateful Dead.
The Grateful Dead would become the psychedelic Rock band of the late-60’s. While these early tracks certainly indicate that The Grateful Dead were borrowing from their peers, there was always something unique about these musicians, due in large part to their musical backgrounds, but also due to the manner in which they expressed themselves through their music. Everything that was brewing in 1965 – rebellion, independence, war, creativity, freedom and experimentation – would metaphysically align with the characteristics, personality and talents of The Grateful Dead, facilitating a revolution…that started in 1965.
Elvis for Everyone – Elvis Presley
It is undisputed that Elvis Presley was the biggest star in Rock & Roll in the 1950’s, combining Blues and Honky-Tonk/Country with Pop and an element of sex appeal that physically grabbed millions of teenagers. If The 1956 Project were to exist, it would be dominated by Elvis.
Elvis’ popularity diminished in the early-60’s upon his voluntarily enlistment in the Army in 1958 (through 1960). Upon his discharge, Elvis moved away from Rock & Roll, focusing on ballads. Elvis also became enamored with a career in the movies, releasing multiple commercially successful films. Elvis’ diminished popularity coincided with (or was caused by) the invasion of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. In 1965, at only age 30, Elvis was all of a sudden…..old?
Elvis for Everyone is Elvis’ first proper studio album since 1962’s Pot Luck. Despite many of the tracks on Elvis for Everyone being recorded at sessions prior to 1965, Elvis was actively engaged in tracking and mixing Elvis for Everyone. The record is a mix of everything Elvis does (really) well – twang-dominated Honky-Tonk/Country (“Memphis, Tennessee”), throwback mid-50’s Rock & Roll (“Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers”), acoustic ballads (“In My Way”) and Latin/Spanish (“Santa Lucia”, from the major motion picture, Viva Las Vegas). My favorite tracks are the opener and closer – “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “When It Rains, It Really Pours”, respectively. Both tracks are mid-tempo blends of Rock & Roll and Country, but lean more towards Blues and demonstrate Elvis’ unique delivery.
Similar to Going To A-Go-Go, Elvis for Everyone is largely devoid of evidence that the world was unraveling politically and crumbling socially. Elvis handled the social unrest the exact same way Country (and R&B) musicians handled the issues – basically, ignoring the downfall of America and singing about trains, gambling, women and booze. The purpose of commenting on this album is to note that Elvis existed in 1965, as Elvis would make a triumphant “comeback” in 1968 – featuring dramatic showmanship and Las Vegas-style extravagance (think: “Suspicious Minds”).
Elvis for Everyone is just what the title suggests – it’s accessible and if you’re in the mood for Elvis Presley, or want to know what it’s like to be in the mood for Elvis Presley, take a listen to this record….it’s for Everyone.
Knock Me Out – The Ventures
The Ventures are not just an instrumental Rock band – they are the best-selling instrumental Rock band of all time (Wikipedia). The Ventures were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 and are regarded highly by critics and musicians. An unattributed, but often referenced quote states that “The Ventures are the band that launched a thousand bands.”
The Ventures were formed in 1958 in Tacoma, WA. Focusing on short, instrumental guitar driven compositions, The Ventures were one of the first bands to experiment with guitar effects, adopting a sound that would soon be described as “Surf Rock” (a mix of heavy vibrato, reverb and distortion). Neil Young’s first band, The Squires (May 1965), emulated (outright copied) the Surf Rock elements invented by The Ventures. After a string of highly successful releases of original music between 1958 and 1963, by 1965 The Ventures were struggling to compete with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
The answer for The Ventures? If you can’t beat ‘em….cover ‘em. The Ventures released a string of successful records that included cover renditions of popular songs, including the featured release Knock Me Out. This may sound lame, but I actually found it enjoyable and good. The tracks are short and The Ventures inject an original element – usually the tone of the lead guitar. For example, “Love Potion No. 9” kicks off with a searing, fuzz/distortion heavy lead guitar riff and the band is ridiculously tight on the changes. There are two lead guitarists and at times, as the guitarists trade licks, you can see how a band like Television was heavily influenced by The Ventures. Another tight, raunchy yet somehow clean cover is “She’s Not There”, the 1965 hit by The Zombies (January 1965).
“Oh, Pretty Woman” is a more straight-forward cover, but I included it in the Sampler to highlight the “Surf Rock” element of The Ventures. In the lead-up to the main guitar riff, the band drops in a Surf Rock riff/segment. Likewise, “Mariner No. 4” and “Lonely Girl” show off the Surf Rock vibe (lots of guitar vibrato). Some of my favorite covers are of lesser known songs such as “Tomorrow’s Love” and “Gone, Gone, Gone.” Give this record a shot – just throw it on when you might not be able to pay full attention – I think you’ll find it comfortable.
The Beach Boys Party! – The Beach Boys
Party! is the tenth studio album released by The Beach Boys and their third studio release in 1965 (all three albums include an “!” in the title of the album, which is really annoying). The more important part of that first sentence is that Party! is a studio album. Consisting mostly of cover songs played on acoustic instruments, Party! sounds like it was recorded live at a small gathering of friends….a party. Yet, the crowd chatter, laughing and backing vocals from “friends” were all overdubbed and artificially added in the studio mixing process. Why would The Beach Boys do this?
A combination of two things. First, the band was convinced/manipulated by Capitol Records to release an album in advance of the upcoming Holiday Season to maximize profits. So, why not just release a regular/lame Christmas album? They couldn’t do that because they did that the prior year (The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album, 1964). Second, the band was in complete disarray – politically, musically and emotionally. Brian Wilson had given up touring with The Beach Boys due to emotional distress, focusing solely on songwriting and composing new music. At the time Party! was recorded (August 1965), Wilson was already deep into the initial recording of Pet Sounds (January 1966). With no songs from Pet Sounds finished, there was no new music to be released. It’s not clear whose bright idea Party! was, but someone apparently said, “let’s sit around with a couple acoustic guitars and cover some popular songs, then mix in laughing and chatter to make it sound like a party – and we’ll sell a million records” (which it most certainly did).
Because the record lacked original new material, Capitol Records did not release a single. DJs attempted to play a couple of the cover songs, but the chatter and laughing didn’t play well over the radio and the breaks (or “dead air”) within the tracks was awkward. So, without a single, Party! didn’t initially chart well, until DJs latched on to the last track on the record: “Barbara Ann.” A cover of The Regents, “Barbara Ann” became a hit and reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
To cut to the point, truth is – upon first listen – the party-vibe is novel and the chance to hear The Beach Boys sit around with their friends and cover some awesome songs – that seemed pretty cool. And, I actually found a couple of the covers to be decent: “Hully Gully” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” However, once I read that the “party” is not really a “party” but rather a creature of the studio, I lost every ounce of interest. It’s basically a hoax. On subsequent listens, the chatter, laughing and other faux spontaneity comes off as insulting and unendingly annoying. The album is included in The 1965 Project because it was incredibly popular with a #2 hit – but, don’t waste your time. There is so much incredible, original music in The 1965 Project – and in November 1965 in particular – focus on that (please).
At The Golden Circle – Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman is often cited as the forefather of avant-garde Jazz and most certainly is the inventor of the Free Jazz movement (an unstructured approach to Jazz composition). Coleman is widely (now) regarded as a genius, both technically and compositionally. However, such a ubiquitous view did not always exist, as Coleman’s style, approach and sound fueled one of the great debates in Jazz.
Ornette Coleman was born in Fort Worth, TX in 1930 (he recently passed away on June 11, 2015). Coleman began playing the saxophone and violin in High School, but was dismissed from his High School band for “improvising” (Wikipedia). Coleman pressed on and after graduating High School, played in R&B and Jazz bands in and around Forth Worth, TX and then Los Angeles, CA. Lacking formal training, Coleman played the notes he heard and felt, rather than the notes in a particular progression, key or harmony. Coleman’s unorthodox “style” resulted in criticism from traditional Jazz musicians – labeling Coleman’s playing as not only “unorthodox” but “out of tune.” Even the most positive reviews of Coleman’s playing noted that he tended to play “in the cracks” – a bit of a degrading term in Jazz in the mid-50’s.
Coleman’s sound appealed to a certain type of musician, or person. A person that was progressive, creative, open-minded, rebellious, malcontent and generally dissatisfied with the rigidity of Jazz, music in general and society. In the mid-50’s, these persons were very hard to find. However, by the early-60’s and most certainly in 1965, the world had caught up and such persons existed in massive numbers. Societal changes and tendencies, along with the liberalization of American culture, aligned with the characteristics and expression in Coleman’s music, a liberalization of Jazz.
A small, progressive record label, Contemporary Music, agreed to produce and release Coleman’s first two studio records: Something Else: The Music of Ornette Coleman (1958) and Tomorrow Is the Question (1959). While the mainstream Jazz public didn’t accept (or buy) Ornette Coleman’s music, several record executives, engineers and producers, along with music critics, writers, poets and, most importantly, other musicians, took notice. The Beat writers such as Kerouac, Ginsburg and Burroughs (see picture below) wrote about and advocated for Coleman and his experimentation – as did Salinger and Mailer.
Atlantic Records signed Coleman and released Coleman’s third record, the legendary and landmark The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959). Some critics in 1959 reacted positively – such as Steve Huey, calling the record “a watershed event in the genesis of avant-garde Jazz, profoundly steering its future course and throwing down a gauntlet” (also, the composer Leonard Bernstein instantly labeled Coleman a genius). Other critics reacted violently, calling Coleman an “iconoclast”, a “hack” and a musician devoid of skill (Miles Davis was an initial critic, stating that Coleman was “all screwed up inside”, but Miles actually recanted the comment and in the early-70’s became a proponent and purveyor of the Free Jazz movement).
The seminal moment occurred in 1960 with Coleman’s release of the album, Free Jazz. The first track, and the only track, was titled “Free Jazz” and was one continuous “song” lasting over 37 minutes. Obviously, this shattered all sorts of music track length records and further divided the Jazz community. Was it Jazz? Was it even music? Downbeat Magazine, the foremost reviewer of Jazz albums in 1960, had one expert critic (Pete Welding) give the record the highest rating – five stars, while another critic (John A. Tynan) gave the record the lowest rating – zero stars.
While the music certainly sounds unstructured and uncontained, as experts began examining the style, many discerned that the playing was incredibly technical and often complicated. For example, there are passages on Free Jazz where the drummer plays “straight” (meaning, single-time), while the soloists play in double-time. Such a concept is odd and at times, disjointed – but, the musicians are coordinated. There are cohesive modal segments and traditional Jazz patterns. There are also moments of utter chaos. This may offend Jazz purists, but there is a method – or, a structure – even if the structure is to be unstructured.
The concept of Free Jazz is essentially that the soloist – usually the horns, piano or guitar – literally play whatever they want, or as Coleman would say, “controlled only by your muse.” The rhythm players – bass and drums – also play whatever they want. Sometimes, the bass and drums get together and create a pocket – other times, the bassist solos and the drummer drifts away, or pounds away. Miraculously, the sessions swing and the musicians listen to each other intently and are influenced by each other’s indulgence. As with all improvisational music, some nights are beautiful, others are dreadful.
On At the Golden Circle, an album recorded live in Stockholm, Sweden, the former is the case – absolutely beautiful. Astonishingly, the arrangement on this session is a trio – saxophone, bass and drums. The stripped-down band allows the listener to focus on each instrument, hearing disconnections turn into connections and fluidity and Blues turn into something rather unintelligible. The level of passion, emotion and expression is exponential. Without the restriction of composition, the boundaries are whatever the musician sets – should his or her mind be open, the consequences are limitless.
Whatever you may think of the record, it is sure to affect you. The tone of Coleman’s horn is incredibly unique. Part of the reason for the poignant, almost piercing and unusual sound is because Coleman plays a cheap plastic saxophone. Yes, you read that correctly. His saxophone is made of plastic, not brass. Critics initially thought it was a joke, but the plastic horn released the sound Coleman sought. Somehow the horn could weep when Coleman blew intensely, but retained an organic, warm earth tone when Coleman relaxed.
The nexus to psychedelia? The music of The Yardbirds and The Grateful Dead doesn’t sound remotely like Ornette Coleman’s brand of Jazz, but the mindset is extremely similar. Freedom of mind, freedom of expression, freedom of structure, freedom of composition and freedom of societal dictated norms. The effect of racial discrimination and war are much harder to discern in the context of Jazz, a discipline that lacks words – but, consider the force at which Coleman wails – he is speaking. Actually, he’s yelling – screaming about race and war – creating chaos in an attempt to thwart chaos, concocting mayhem with the purpose of spinning the mayhem into a meditative space of Equality and Peace.
For eleven months, we have been exploring how we got from 1964 to 1966, from black and white to color. While previous months introduced critical themes and ideas integral to the late-60’s, November 1965 introduced the leading attributes of the decade – open-mindedness, experimentation, freedom and psychedelics – all products of politics, culture, entitlement, technology and confidence. After November 1965, we can no longer say that The Times They Are A Changin’, as it is now clear – Things Have Changed. I hope you can feel the change in the music and the change in the times. Enjoy.