Monday, January 4, 2016

A Little Introduction

Hi, my name is Tony and I'm trying to travel back in time.

You see, I've got a slight obsession with pop music.  And a bit of a thing for a particular year, 1966. As I wasn't born until 1969, I didn't discover 1966 until the mid '80s.  But as obsessed with the entire decade of the '60s as I've been since adolescence, 1966 always had a special resonance for me.  It was a fascinating year, when walls were just starting to go up between youth culture and the old guard, but they weren't fully in place yet.  So Bob Dylan and Frank Sinatra could both hit the Top Ten, and did, regularly.  Duke Ellington and the Yardbirds could be found side by side on the LP charts.  It was a catholic (lowercase "c") time.  I'm sure the people who bought Herb Alpert records and the people who bought Rolling Stones records didn't overlap much, but on Top 40 playlists, there was "Tijuana Taxi" side by side with "Get Off My Cloud."  The envelope was being pushed mightily, almost month by month, and pop culture was fragmenting, but we hadn't quite gone over the edge into the acid freakout stuff which characterized the Summer of Love, and which led to the excess of jam bands, prog rock, and the like.  (Not that there's anything wrong with that....)

I've long wished that I could go back in time to 1966 and hear the music as if it was new.  It's one thing to hear the Beatles' Revolver or Dylan's Blonde On Blonde as part of the Classic Rock Canon, or to hear to Stevie Wonder's "Uptight" or the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" on the local oldies station.  But what did it all sound like in the context of its time?  Was "The Sound Of Silence" really that much better than everything else people were listening to back then?  I don't have a time machine, but I do have the Internet, which is the next best thing.  So I'm going to spend this year, the 50th anniversary of the Best Year Ever (for pop music, at least), listening to the music of 1966 in real time, as it came out, based on Billboard magazine and local radio playlists.

Because I'm a big nerd, I've set some ground rules for myself.  First off, who am I in this quasi-1966 time warp?  I'm 46 now, and my ears are sadly closed to most current 2016 music.  So I'm going to force myself to be more open-minded by making myself, for this blog's purposes, the 46-year-old owner of a record store (a position I actually held in real life for many years), who listens to the latest records out of professional responsibility as well as for pleasure.  In my 1966 persona as well as in real life, I'm nuts for Frank Sinatra, and I love big bands and West Coast cool jazz, but hard bop and free jazz are above my pay grade.  I love R & B but I'm indifferent to country.

The most important thing is that I can't jump forward in time.  If a record hasn't come out on the current calendar date in 1966, I can't listen to it in 2016.  So as far as this blog is concerned, the Monkees, for instance, do not exist until August or so, when their debut single comes out.  I'm also going to be realistic about the context in which the blog me exists.  I've probably heard of the Velvet Underground's escapades with Andy Warhol, but I wouldn't have necessarily have checked out the Exploding Plastic Inevitable in person.  Same goes Jimmy James, who's about to become Jimi Hendrix, at the Cafe Wha? downtown.  2016 me loves the Sonics, one of the great garage bands of the era, but nobody outside the Pacific Northwest really knew about them at the time, so to 1966 me, they don't exist.  Neither does a young Bob Marley, who's making some great ska records in Jamaica.  The Grateful Dead are making a name for themselves in San Francisco, but they're still a local phenomenon, so... you get the point.

I'm going to listen to as much of the music that might have hit my ears in New York City 50 years ago as I can.  And I'm going to share a lot of that with you, both the good and the bad, the classic and the obscure, because time travel can be a lonely thing.  But whether or not anyone winds up reading this, it'll be a blast for your humble narrator.