The Icons

The Music of Summer 1966

This is a chapter from the book ‘Tiddle-Ee-Aye-Go!’ by 60s Today contributor Ian Mole.

There were so many classic singles that summer and it’s encapsulated for me by the memory of being upstairs on a bus returning to school one sunny lunchtime when somebody was singing The Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’. The transistor radio was a fairly new item in 1966 so older kids who had the money to get one would walk around accompanied by their favourite music. An incident I vividly recall was when a couple of teenage girls with Mod haircuts were walking through our local Woolies and one of them was holding a radio blasting out Lee Dorsey’s ‘Working in a Coal-Mine’. That seemed like a defiant declaration of intent to me and I was very impressed by it.

Everyone talks about 1967 and the Summer of Love but for me summer 1966 was an even greater period for new music. I didn’t have my own record-player at that time and shared a little old one that was located in my sister’s bedroom. I also didn’t really know much at all about LP’s but singles were what my friends and I usually spoke about as these were what we heard on the radio and TV. I started a Sunday paper-round that July which brought me in two shillings and sixpence (c12p) while I got a shilling (5p) pocket-money a week so I finally had a little bit of spending power. I was able to buy my first ever single that August and it was a song that I still love – ‘Summer in the City’ by The Lovin’ Spoonful. It cost 6s 8d (34p).

I was twelve at this time and like most teenagers with an interest in music I was very opinionated and had my favourites while putting down other groups and singers I didn’t rate. With songs like ‘With a Girl Like You’ and ‘Wild Thing’ I thought The Troggs were okay but I didn’t take them seriously like I did The Beatles, The Stones, The Who and The Small Faces. There were several groups that I didn’t think were in the top league but who were a cut above what I considered lightweights like the Troggs, and The Hollies were one such group. Their song ‘Bus Stop’ was a big hit that summer and a mate of mine always thought they were singing, “Michelle my umbrella” instead of, “We shared my umbrella.”

The Beatles double A-side ‘Rain’ with its backwards vocals near the end and ‘Paperback Writer’ with its booming bass guitar was soon followed by another very original single; the children’s song ‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ with its string quartet and not a guitar to be heard. The last two songs were taken from The Beatles new album ‘Revolver’ but I never got to hear the full album till months later. Again many people rave about how ‘Sergeant Pepper’ was the best Beatles album but for me, although I like it very much, it sounds too tied to its particular time and doesn’t have the timeless quality that most of the songs on ‘Revolver’ have. The Jagger-Richard song ‘Out of Time’ sung by Chris Farlowe was number one for several weeks in July and The Beach Boys were very much in the air with ‘God Only Knows’, which was a double A-side with ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, as well as ‘Sloop John B’. The Who were on a roll and their hit at that time was ‘I’m a Boy’. Other songs high in the charts then were Chris Montez’s ‘The More I See You’, Alan Price’s ‘Hi-Lili Hi-Lo’ and ‘The Pied Piper’ by Crispian St Peters. If I hear any of these songs, especially the ones I don’t hear very often, it’s like a time-bomb has gone off in my head and I’m whisked back to that summer.

This was all over a year before the creation of BBC Radio 1 which would bring us non-stop pop music during the day and it wasn’t so easy to hear your favourite songs apart from on pirate radio stations. ‘Ready Steady Go!” was the most popular TV show and I always thought it was really exciting to watch. They sometimes had special one-off shows featuring James Brown and Otis Redding while another one was from Paris. It was broadcast live on ITV early on Friday evenings and as they always said, “The weekend starts here!” My weekends at that time usually involved going trainspotting, not dancing at clubs and taking purple hearts but I still enjoyed the buzz. ‘Pretty Flamingo’  by Manfred Mann always reminds me of walking up Elmwood Street in July 1966 on a Friday teatime to watch ‘RSG!’ On one show I was impressed by The Manfred’s lead singer Paul Jones singing a song called ‘Machines’ as several TV cameras moved in to surround him like malevolent robots.

By that time ‘Top of the Pops’ had been going for a couple of years on Thursday evenings and it was also another must-see programme even though the groups all mimed at that time, unlike ‘Ready Steady Go!’ which was live. In its early days at least you’d actually see the ‘DJ’ Samantha Just putting on the disc before the group started to sing. I remember watching an episode of ‘Top of the Pops’ that July at a mate’s house in Otto Terrace and both ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ by Percy Sledge and Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ were on it. They used to have theatrical lodgers at my mate’s house (They had The Ivy League once) and one of them was sitting on the sofa watching that show with me and she said something like, “Ah, this is great!” as Percy Sledge’s promo-film started. My big brother Graham had influenced my musical tastes a lot so I always listened to what older (but not too much older) people said about pop music. Graham was a Mod and used to buy the Melody Maker and I’d sneak into his bedroom when he was out to read up on the latest news. I wondered what was happening when I looked at the US Top Twenty chart one day and saw two groups called The Mamas and Papas and The Young Rascals. I couldn’t believe such stupid names but they were nothing compared to the names that were waiting just around the corner. The Mamas and Papas had a big hit that summer with ‘Monday Monday’ while another folky hit was Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘I Am A Rock’. Every other day at school somebody would ask if I’d heard the great new single by some band or other and I just felt that anything could happen next.

Apart from all that great music, another big event was happening that summer. England of course won the World Cup at Wembley on 30th July and there were a number of games played at Roker Park in my hometown of Sunderland too. There was an official World Cup song called ‘World Cup Willie’, not that I rated it of course. I still have a World Cup Willie badge though

Ian Mole is a teacher of English to overseas students and a walking tour guide in London, specializing in music-related tours.


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