Life at 33 1/3: The album classics of 1964

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Here’s ten of the best and most important albums that were released 50 years ago.  Except for “A Hard Day’s Night” you may rank them in any order you like.

The Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night” (Parlophone) – released: July 10, 1964

This joyful record kick-started the real 60’s.  Almost all of the 13 cuts are classy tunes.  Overwhelmingly spirited, high on the Rickenbacker 12-string (Roger McGuinn built an entire career on the guitar sound of “A Hard Day’s Night”), airy harmony voices that embrace the singer so tight they almost become one, the wise use of acoustic guitars that give the sharp and often pretty hard hitting songs a chance to breathe.  The Beatles are such an incredibly guitar band on this LP.  The songs are all given the same fresh, colourful and crisp sound.  And all the tracks are Lennon/McCartney-originals.

Contents: A Hard Day’s Night/I Should Have Known Better/If I Fell/I’m Happy Just To Dance With You/And I Love Her/Tell Me Why/Can’t Buy Me Love/Any Time At All/I’ll Cry Instead/Things We Said Today/When I Get Home/You Can’t Do That/I’ll Be Back

The Rolling Stones, The Rolling Stones (Decca) – released: April 16, 1964

Five white upstarts from London are brave, getting braver and mixing their own scruffy attitude with the Chicago blues and some Chuck Berry licks.  Produced by a guy who didn’t know anything about producing (Andrew Loog Oldham), the result is rough and ragged, sometimes painfully ramshackle, but it never ceases to rock.  The music has an authentic edge to it, made even stronger by the messy production and the band’s enthusiastic attack.  Sound quality is a bit tinny and lacks bottom.

They mainly do covers, and succeed beyond their wildest dreams on tracks like “Route 66” and “Carol”.  There’s a couple of band originals here that are not too impressive, but the album’s only Jagger/Richards-track, “Tell Me”, on the other hand, is a real heartbroken winner and could have been a single. Impressive stuff for a debut album.

Contents: Route 66/I Just Want To Make Love To You/Honest I Do/Mona (I Need You Baby)/Now I’ve Got A Witness/Little By Little/I’m A King Bee/Carol/Tell Me/Can I Get A Witness/You Can Make It If You Try/Walking The Dog

The Beatles, “Beatles For Sale” (Parlophone) – released: December 4, 1964

The Beatles never repeated themselves.  “A Hard Day’s Night” was crisp and joyful pop for now people.  “Beatles For Sale” is more moody, autumn-like, with a country feel to it.  John and Paul’s voices are so equal that it’s hard to determine who sings the main melody and who sings the harmony.  The album contains several examples of maturation in the Lennon/McCartney lyrics.

“No Reply” tells a whole story in tight, focused stanzas.  “I’m A Loser” mixes Dylan (voice and folk arrangement) with Buck Owens (lyrics).  “Baby’s In Black” is no ordinary love song, this girl is in mourning, and one can sense the grimy grin of death between the lines.  The three mentioned and “Rock And Roll Music” (an explosive Chuck Berry-cover) and “Eight Days A Week” (pure joy) are my favourites.

Contents: No Reply/I’m A Loser/Baby’s In Black/Rock And Roll Music/I’ll Follow The Sun/Mr. Moonlight/Kansas City- Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!/Eight Days A Week/Words Of Love/Honey Don’t/Every Little Thing/I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party/What You’re Doing/Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby

Bob Dylan, “Another Side Of Bob Dylan” (Columbia/CBS) – released: August 8, 1964

Considered to be a transitional album, the missing link between the protest singer and the visionary rock’n’roll poet.  But really, “Another Side Of Bob Dylan” is the actual phase 2 kick-off.  The only thing that differs from “Bringing It All Back Home” is the absence of electric guitars, drums and bass.  There are no so-called political songs here, no agitating.  The songs are significantly introverted, some very much so, others smash their heads through the diamond sky and are overflowing with rich imagery and striking poetic stanzas that never before had been heard from a so-called pop musician.

All the songs were recorded one night in June 1964, Bob Dylan armed with a case of red wine, some funny cigarettes, an acoustic guitar and a piano.

Contents: All I Really Want To Do/Black Crow Blues/Spanish Harlem Incident/Chimes Of Freedom/I Shall Be Free No. 10/To Ramona/Motorpsycho Nightmare/My Back Pages/I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)/Ballad In Plain D/It Ain’t Me, Babe

Manfred Mann, “The Five Faces Of Manfred Mann” (His Master’s Voice) – released: September 11, 1964

Teenagers who bought this album were in for a surprise.  No “5-4-3-2-1”, no “Hubble Bubble (Toil And Trouble)”, no “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, nothing in that neighborhood at all.  Instead you find yourself in the hot and smokey rhythm & blues and jazz clubs of swingin’ London with a band that play rings around their competitors.

The jazz background of several of the members give them a flexibility that enables them to play around with Muddy Waters, Howlin ‘Wolf, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, taking the music to new places while Rolling Stones, Animals and the Pretty Things still were purists trying to copy the originals.  The interplay is awesome, and when Paul Jones blows the harmonica the music catches fire.

Contents: Smokestack Lightning/Don’t Ask Me What I Say/Sack O’ Woe/What You Gonna Do?/(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man/I’m Your Kingpin/Down The Road A Piece/I’ve Got My Mojo Working/It’s Gonna Work Out Fine/Mr. Anello/Untie Me/Bring It To Jerome/Without You/You’ve Got To Take It

Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (Columbia/CBS) – released: January 13, 1964

Contents: The Times They Are A-Changin’/Ballad Of Hollis Brown/With God On Our Side/One Too Many Mornings/North Country Blues/Only A Pawn In Their Game/Boots Of Spanish Leather/When The Ship Comes In/The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll/Restless Farewell

Johnny Cash, “Bitter Tears: Ballads Of The American Indian” (Columbia/CBS) – released: October 1, 1964

Contents: As Longs As The Grass Shall Grow/Apache Tears/Custer/The Talking Leaves/The Ballad Of Ira Hayes/Drums/White Girl/The Vanishing Race

The Animals, “The Animals” (Columbia) – released: October 1964

Contents: Story Of Bo Diddley/Bury My Body/Dimples/I’ve Been Around/I’m In Love Again/The Girl Can’t Help It/I’m Mad Again/She Said Yeah/Night Time Is The Right Time/Memphis Tennessee/Boom Boom/Around And Around

The Yardbirds, “Five Live Yardbirds” (Columbia) – released: December 4, 1964

Contents: Too Much Monkey Business/Got Love If You Want It/Smokestack Lightning/Good Morning Little Schoolgirl/Respectable/Five Long Years/Pretty Girl/Louise/I’m A Man/Here ‘Tis

The Kinks, “The Kinks” (PYE) – released: October 2, 1964

Contents: Beautiful Delilah/So Mystifying/Just Can’t Go To Sleep/Long Tall Shorty/I Took My Baby Home/I’m A Lover Not A Fighter/You Really Got Me/Cadillac/Bald Headed Woman/Revenge/Too Much Monkey Business/I’ve Been Driving On Bald Mountain/Stop Your Sobbing/Got Love If You Want It