What Year is it, Anyway? Part 1
I love reading about rock and roll, and I love reading about rock and roll in a historical context. So when I noticed a theme emerging in the stacks of music books at our branches, I took note. That theme was "the year as title," a not-so-subtle bid that tells you exactly what you are in for at first glance. These tomes are fun and informative and so full of music-history-as-sociology minutiae, you can find all kinds of facts you did not know before.
1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music by Andrew Grant Jackson
Structured by the seasons, this globe-trotting, genre-spanning book covers the remarkable year in pop that was 1965. "Winter" touches on the emergence of Dylan, the fledgling success of Motown, and commercial aspirations of Soul and Black Revolutionary Jazz like Coltrane's A Love Supreme. "Spring" covers the battle between Countrypolitan Nashville and the rugged Bakersfield sound on the Country charts, as well as how West Coast groups in the US addressed the challenge of the British Invasion. "Summer" introduces Pop Art sensation Andy Warhol and his Factory denizens while the Beatles try (and fail) to out do the success of '64's A Hard Day's Night with the film Help. "Autumn" opens with a comeback for Frank Sinatra, the folk-rock explosion that would eventually launch artists as diverse as as Simon & Garfunklel and Love, and concludes with looks into The Who and the emerging Black Arts Movement. With its focus on quantity of facts over new insights, 1965 is best for those looking to learn the basics about the many events of this year.
1966: The Year the Decade Exploded by Jon Savage
Jon Savage, author of England's Dreaming and Teenage, two other formidable tomes contextualizing major pop culture movements, takes a swing at what he consider's the 60s moment of take-off, writing "I was attracted to 1966 because of the music and what I hear in it: ambition, acceleration and compression." Structuring the book in halves that reflect this observation, Savage takes it all in, churns it all around, and fills 551 pages with what seems like endless revelations about a time period that has seen plenty of historical traffic throughout the years. True to form, Savage makes it seem like he is the first one on the scene, and 1966 is deep and refreshing and still briskly entertaining. No mean feat. Even the most jaded music fan will learn something new and surprising in this wonderful book about a truly explosive year.
In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea by Danny Goldberg
Structured as a more straightforward memoir, this is author and record executive Danny Goldberg’s version of the year 1967, the beginning of the Summer of Love and the year he graduated high school. While focusing on the usual groups and highlights (Sgt. Peppers, emergence of the Doors and Jimi Hendrix), it is nice to see lesser known happenings like UFO, in the UK, and its participants -- such as Joe Boyd and groups like the psychedelic Tomorrow -- get some reminiscence. Goldberg also dedicates a full chapter to the now established Black Power movement and it’s impact on the times. While highly subjective as a historical record, In Search of the Lost Chord is a good snapshot into the mind of someone who was there in 1967, as an observer and influencer.
Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 by Ryan H. Walsh
My vote for the most enjoyable and revelatory read in this list. This book will make you realize just how little you know about 1968’s masterful recording of Van Morrison’s masterpiece Astral Weeks, and so much more. Framed as a story about how people and places influence art and music, Walsh weaves stories about Boston, Van Morrison, songwriter Bert Berns, New York City, the mafia, Jonathan Richman, and so many other compelling characters you likely have never heard of (but will want to learn more about). No straight structure of a history lesson, this narrative criss-crosses and tantalizes as it unfolds. You will not want the year 1968 to come to an end.
1969: The Year Everything Changed by Rob Kirkpatrick
Since this historical document was published earliest in this list, it is tempting to see this particular piece of research as the template for what followed. In structure, that holds true, but this book is far more expansive and dense than the others. A more traditional historical report, 1969 does not just focus on music or politics or cultural upheaval but puts it all on the timeline. Wonderfully informative and detailed, but like the year that it is about, there is A LOT going on. Not a bad thing, mind you, just a big task to process such an eventful time. So if you enjoy juggling tales about Apollo 11 juxtaposed with the signing of The MC5 and the Stooges to Elektra Records, this will be something you won’t want to put down -- even as it may tax your imagination to think it all happened in one crazy year.