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Spread over four sides of two 33rpm 12-inch albums, this is a love letter to the 7-inch 45rpm single. Deluxe packaging includes a heavy-duty gatefold jacket and two fully illustrated inner bags containing the 180g orange vinyl discs. Album cover photo: Riot On Sunset Strip 1966 by Julian Wasser.
Since 2016, I’ve collaborated with Ace Records in a mapping of the mid to late 60s in terms of 45rpm singles. We began with 1966 and time stretched backwards and forwards over 96 songs and four double CD’s – one collection per year between 1965 and 1968. We did discuss releasing them on LP format but each compilation would have needed a triple album. So as a resume, we’ve decided to compress the four years into one year a side: beginning in early 1965 and ending in very late 1968. The idea is to give some kind of representation of each compilation on one side, and an idea of their reach across the two albums. You’ll also find songs that have not been released on any official vinyl album before, including the single version of ‘Rain’ by Kak, the overdubbed ‘People! Let’s Freak Out’ by the Freaks of Nature and the preview pressing of the MC5’s ‘Kick Out The Jams’ to name but three.
From ‘That’s The Way It’s Got To Be’ to ‘Kick Out The Jams’, this double vinyl album takes you through four fast-moving years: a period of ferment and experimentation mapped through singles, some of them hits, some of them obscurities, some of them classics. The idea behind the series was to create an idealised pirate radio playlist from each year, mixing genres and attitudes in the holistic pop mixture of the period that, by the late 60s, was dissipating.
The medium of the day was the 45rpm single, a format originated in early 1949 that found its time in the mid to late 50s with the first explosion of teen music: rock’n’roll. From then on the single was THE teen format: cheap (still 6s/8d at the beginning of 1966), focussed – just two songs, one often an obvious dud, and hooked into a compelling narrative by weekly chart rundowns in both the US and the UK. You were only as good as your last hit: and that applied to everyone including the Beatles, locked into a grid of three singles a year.
The 45rpm was the funnel through which so much had to flow. Whole worlds had to be compressed into those two to three minutes – a perfect discipline for musicians and producers. This held until the late 60s – when 1968 in particular saw an arms race in terms of 45rpm length: eight minutes and upwards – but for most of the records on this compilation the rule was get in, make your statement, make it stick and get out quickly. The resulting urgency remains compelling 50 years later: the everlasting NOW.
Side A (1965) begins in plangent Celtic beat, then moves through some late girl group proto-psych (the Chiffons’ ‘Nobody Knows What’s Goin’ On (In My Mind But Me)’ and jumping soul material (the Anglos’ ‘Incense’) to take in a bit of folk rock (the Pretty Things’ version of folkie Mick Taylor’s ‘London Town’) and the start of the drug culture with Donovan’s then-outrageous ‘Hey Gyp’ and Roky Erikson’s teenage group the Spades burning down the house with ‘We Sell Soul’.
Side B (1966) passes through West Coast drug music (the Seeds’ ‘The Other Place’, the Association’s ‘Along Comes Mary’), Norma Tanega’s proto-feminist ‘Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog’, soul (Rex Garvin’s dub-wise ‘Sock It To ’Em J.B. Part 2’, Ray Sharpe’s ‘Help Me’ with an uncredited Jimi Hendrix on guitar) and ends with the time-travelling fury of James Brown’s ‘Tell Me That You Love Me’ and the Belfast Gypsies (as the Freaks of Nature) turning primal on ‘People! Let’s Freak Out’.
On Side C (1967), you can hear the 60s divide. The single was still a vital pop form, but the complexity of records such as the Action’s ‘Never Ever’ and Buffalo Springfield’s ‘Mr Soul’ displayed the intensity that would soon be spread over 40 minutes on an LP. While white pop music began to split between psychedelia and its reaction, black American music made huge strides with Motown and Stax, heard here in records by Gladys Knight & the Pips and Booker T & the MG’s.
On Side D (1968) you can hear the forward momentum of 1967 reflected in a sequence of musical advances: the deconstructed funk of the French Fries (aka Sly & the Family Stone) on ‘Danse A La Musique’, the sanctified pop/soul of Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Say A Little Prayer’, the stretched out psych of Kak’s ‘Rain’ (San Francisco in excelsis), and the baroque folk country of the Everly Brothers’ ‘Lord Of The Manor’. 1968 was the year that the pirate radio stations stopped broadcasting off the UK and during that year, the British charts began their retreat from reflecting the zeitgeist. Albums began to take off as the form of the moment, leaving the charts – once a turbulent and fruitful arena – to autopop and mums’ and dads’ records. Songs that might have been hits in a less polarised marketplace, such as the Kinks’ ‘Wonderboy’, fell between the cracks of chart and underground. The full pelt momentum of the MC5’s ‘Kick Out The Jams’ preview pressing points forward to the turbulence to come.