Kind of been a while, but I want to reach out with two pieces of information. First, a note on the 50th anniversary of the greatest new music release day in history: May 16, 1966. Second, the publishing of The 1965 Project as a book (available now in paperback and Kindle). The book version differs a bit from the blog version, as more text has been added and the themes realized later in the year are foreshadowed more explicitly in the early chapters. Hopefully, you’ll support the effort and even if you have read all of the posts, you’ll revisit the text in its new form (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=the+1965+project). Thanks very much.
On May 16, 1966, The Beach Boys released Pet Sounds and Bob Dylan released Blonde on Blonde. Same day. Arguably, both albums could be Top 5 all-time.
I have not been able to find many, if any, connections between The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan, let alone Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde. The Beach Boys were clearly influenced by The Beatles, and The Beatles were clearly influenced by Bob Dylan. The Beach Boys covered Dylan on the Party! session in late-1965, but nothing from that session can be taken seriously.
As discussed in The 1965 Project, Dylan was increasingly regressing in complexity, moving towards traditional Rock and Country, whereas The Beatles and The Beach Boys (and most others) were progressing, towards a complicated, chaotic, psychedelic and modern sound. A quick exploration to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of these two legendary records.
Pet Sounds is the eleventh studio album released by The Beach Boys. An immediate hit in the UK, the record was initially disappointing in terms of acclaim in the US. The US market – critics and fans alike – expected and yearned for sunny melodies, a surfing motif and Pop – especially heading into the Summer season. However, once the visceral reaction passed, the US market embraced the album – and embraced it tightly.
NME named the album #1 on its 1993 list of Greatest Albums. The New York Times also ranked the album #1 on its list (1993), as well as Mojo listing the record as #1 in 1995. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Pet Sounds at #2 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time (Blonde on Blonde was ranked #9). In reviewing a dozen other lists, Pet Sounds is routinely in the Top 5 and almost without question in the Top 10 (same for Blonde on Blonde).
Pet Sounds includes great songs and even a couple hits – “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “God Only Knows” and “Sloop John B” – but, the beauty and critical regard for the album resides in its production. Recall that Brian Wilson, due to psychological issues, was no longer a touring member of The Beach Boys. So, while The Beach Boys were touring the world, Brian Wilson was home in his studio – consuming massive amounts of LSD and marijuana – and pretty much messing around with sounds and mixing/recording techniques.
The product of Wilson’s creativity is the legacy of Pet Sounds. The creativity, however, came at a cost. Pet Sounds cost $70,000 to record in 1965/1966 (inflation adjusted to $510,000) (Wikipedia). Even at the height of production costs, this amount is high (note that production costs today have gone down considerably due to digitization and software).
The advent of multi-track recording was about two years old in 1965/1966 (multi-track recording allowed musicians to record backing instruments, then sing over the backing track and also include other sounds in the background to embellish certain harmonies or aspects). Most musicians recorded the drums and bass on one track, the guitars and pianos on another track and then the vocals and backing vocals on separate tracks.
But, Wilson didn’t stop there – he recorded dozens of tracks for each song, fusing them together, looping and mixing in strings, percussion, scratches, bells – you name it, it’s in there. Wilson also mixed an acoustic, upright bass with an electric bass. Yet, the beauty of Pet Sounds: it sounds so simple and warm. As many have stated, it was the first record that “you really had to sit and listen to, not dance, not move, just sit and listen.” That’s Pet Sounds.
Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan
Recorded over three sessions in late-1965 and January 1966, Blonde on Blonde is the seventh studio record released by Bob Dylan. Importantly, Blonde on Blonde was the first “Double Album.” In the age of streaming music, that might not mean so much – just a longer list of tracks to scroll through, right? But, in 1966 – it was a huge deal.
Instead of buying an album that consisted of one vinyl record with two sides of music, Blonde on Blonde was two vinyl records with four sides of music (“Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, at 11 minutes and 23 seconds, occupied the entire fourth side). Even in the CD age, Blonde on Blonde arrived in that thick, bulky plastic box with that middle black separator thing (resulting in the CD falling out half the time when you opened the case).
An entire chapter should be written about the recording journey that resulted in Blonde on Blonde, but the short version is that Dylan went into a New York City studio with his normal crew (Kooper, Bloomfield, members of The Band), but the music just wasn’t flowing. Dylan didn’t care for anything – he wasn’t comfortable for some reason.
After setting aside Folk in favor of Rock and Blues in mid-1965 with Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, Dylan desired a new direction – yet that direction didn’t seem apparent to him in late-1965. Dylan’s producer, Bob Johnston, suggested that Dylan head to Nashville and try recording with a bunch of Nashville session musicians. Dylan did so and the result is Blonde on Blonde. Dylan did incorporate Kooper, Robbie Robertson and other members of The Band on a couple tracks.
Blonde on Blonde is not a Country record (at all), but it’s hard not to think that the move to Nashville and the experience in recording Blonde on Blonde with Nashville musicians didn’t highly influence Dylan’s move towards Country on 1967’s John Wesley Harding and then fully embracing Country on 1969’s Nashville Skyline.
Despite the lack of hits (only “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” was a Top 10 single), Blonde on Blonde includes some of the most classic and beautiful songs in the Dylan canon: “Visions of Johanna”, “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat”, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”, “I Want You”, “Just Like A Woman”, “Most Likely You Go Your Way”, “Absolutely Sweet Marie” and the aforementioned “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” (a song written at the Chelsea Hotel about Dylan’s first wife, Sara).
As he so often does, Dylan rearranges his songs for live performance. The rearrangement is a consequence of Dylan moving in a new direction, moving towards a style, away from a style – but, always moving. As an example of how quickly Dylan was moving in 1966, “Visions of Johanna” was recorded on Blonde on Blonde after 19 takes, with Dylan eventually settling on a mid-tempo, shuffle beat arrangement. Then, only a month after the record’s release, Dylan rearranged the tune to be a slow, delicate (and downright jaw-dropping beautiful) ballad. The ballad version appears on Live 66 (Volume 5 of the Bootleg Series). A must listen.
Robert Shelton describes the record really well: “Blonde on Blonde begins with a joke (“Rainy Day Women”) and ends with a hymn (“Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”); in between wit alternates with a dominant theme of entrapment by circumstances, love, society and unrealized hope…there’s a remarkable marriage of funky, bluesy rock expressionism and Rimbaud-like visions of discontinuity, chaos, emptiness, loss and being “stuck’.”
Blonde on Blonde is essential and the crowning achievement of Dylan’s career because it marks the point in time when Dylan’s peak brand of Rock intersected with Dylan’s peak brand of poetry. The consequence of such a formidable and dynamic intersection is Blonde on Blonde.
In Dylan’s own words: “The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album. It’s that thin, that wild mercury sound. It’s metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up.”
Publishing of The 1965 Project
The 1965 Project is essentially a concept. Fusing history and music. Or, acknowledging the effect of history on music. The year 1965 is of particular interest because the year commenced under sunny skies and closed under dark clouds. That change is the core.
Later years, 1968 for example, started under black clouds and ended under black clouds – however, interestingly – 1968 included epic thunderstorms and devastating tornados that forever damaged and stained the fabric of our country (stay tuned).
Ultimately, though, The 1965 Project is a book about music. There’s enough information about the historical events to inform the evolution of the music. With the rewrites that I noted above, I encourage each of you to read through the published version of The 1965 Project – I think you’ll enjoy the flow and it may provide an opportunity to skip to the artists and records you enjoy most and reengage a bit.
Thanks for the support and please share with those that you think may enjoy the topic. And, give each of Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde a spin.