1966 was a pivotal year in every possible sense of the word. Everything began changing, and people were becoming more socially and politically active. There were massive shifts in power in the United States government, and it started to become the youth who were at the forefront and not their parents. According to The Guardian, the British invasion was beginning to shift across the pond. Groups like The Beach Boys and The Monkees were starting to gain recognition, and California was making a significant impact on the music scene with artists like Bob Dylan. Additionally, many artists embraced psychedelics. As such, their music began to exhibit more esoteric qualities. 1966 was a year for pushing boundaries and a more diverse music scene. These are the top 10 albums of 1966.
10. Buffalo Springfield – Buffalo Springfield
The group’s first album was first released in mono. However, For What It’s Worth became so popular they re-released the album in stereo with their most famous track replacing Baby Don’t Scold Me, which never became a stereo recording. Even though Steven Stills and Neil Young wrote most of the songs, the producer insisted Richie Furay sing most songs because it was thought Young’s Voice was too strange. The most famous song on the album is For What It’s Worth which was written after Stills witnessed a protest after a nightclub on the Sunset Strip was closed down.
9. The Sounds of Silence – Simon and Garfunkel
Famed Rolling Stone writer Cameron Crowe wrote a memorable scene in his semi-autobiographical movie Almost Famous about Simon & Garfunkel’s album, a gateway to promiscuousness. Some thought it was a slight poke at the group. Despite their impact on music, they weren’t a standout like other 60s groups. This album marked the group’s transition from folk to folk-rock. The album’s title track was initially a stripped-down version for their first release. Yet, it received a makeover and became one of the group’s greatest hits. Moreover, it was one of the group’s darker songs that gave them an edge unseen in previous albums.
8. Fifth Dimension – The Byrds
This album was released after Gene Clark, the group’s primary songwriter, left the group. The rest of the group collaborated and decided to shift the group’s sound to raga, which was a term coined for groups who embodied a sound inspired by musical instruments of eastern origin. Although this album was influential in many ways, some critics thought it was an underbalanced recording since the group was still trying to find its footing after departure. Additionally, the group was under a lot of pressure when this album dropped. According to Classic Rock Review, the group was being promoted as America’s answer to The Beatles, which is thought to be why Clark left the group.
7. The Monkees – The Monkees
Britain had The Beatles, and America had The Monkees. Even though (Theme From) The Monkees was one of the group’s most memorable and catchy songs, the standout on the album was Last Train to Clarksville, which was only meant to be an additional song but wound up the only number one hit on the album. Nonetheless, this album stayed at the top of the Billboard 200 for thirteen weeks, only to be replaced by the group’s second album.
6. Sunshine Superman – Donovan
This was Donovan’s third album and marked a shift in his sound. Throughout the album, the singer explored more dreamy and introspective lyrics displayed in reflective psychedelic layers and well-balanced vocals. Additionally, this album was the first to rely heavily on sitar and other eastern instruments. Although the album was released in the United States in September 1966, there were issues with his contract halting the release in the United Kingdom.
5. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys
During the first part of the group’s career, they didn’t seem like the type of group that would change the face of music. After all, the group image was built on a squeaky-clean California image; young men who loved cars, surfing, and fast cars. However, on Pet Sounds, they discarded many of their original origins and created an entirely more experimental album than their previous recordings. They combined instruments like guitars and keyboards with stringed instruments. Additionally, there are every day sounds like barking dogs and bicycle bells. Many people feel this album was based on Brian Wilson’s sound more than The Beach Boys.
4. Aftermath – The Rolling Stones
This album was the fourth released in the United Kingdom, and they’re sixth in the United States. The song Out of Our Heads was one of the group’s greatest hits, combining blues and pop-rock. Additionally, this album was the group’s shift from their earlier sound to more rebellious rock and roll icons. Aftermath was also the first Rolling Stones Album to feature only original songs written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, with Brian Jones contributing most of the instrumentation.
3. If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears – The Mama’s and The Papa’s
In January 1966, the group’s single California Dreamin was released and peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100. A month later, the album was released. There were many other songs on the albums that showcased the group’s dreamy sound, but none had the popularity of the first single. The Mamas and The Papa’s had a folksy vibe that transported listeners to the beaches of California. However, woven into the mellow sound were lyrics bout social justice, jealousy, and other introspective topics. Additionally, The Mamas and The Papa’s were the first groups to blend female and male harmonies, creating a fresh sound.
2. Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan
Even though Dylan released six albums before this one and many after it, Blonde on Blonde is considered his best album. When released, it was the first rock album with multiple records. According to Guitar, it is “a scintillating fusion of rock, blues, folk, and country guitar music, an intoxicating brew of surrealist imagery and some of the finest poetry to unfurl from Dylan’s masterly pen.” This album was the third to achieve critical acclaim, a record only matched by The Beatles.
1. Revolver – The Beatles
According to Pitchfork, even though this album was a little over thirty minutes, it took three hundred hours of studio time to create. John Lennon and George Harrison had begun experimenting with psychedelics which was evident in many songs on the album like Tomorrow Never Knows and Taxman, Harrison’s not-so-subtle blast on the establishment. Additionally, two significant events happened before this album was released. The group’s long-time manager Brian Epstein died, and The Beatles were shifting from the stage to the studio. Moreover, this album marked a transition from a quartet to each member’s distinct sound is represented. Ringo Starr’s standout track was Yellow Submarine, an uptempo song with dreamy lyrics. Paul McCartney’s style was heavily influenced by pop, evidenced on Got to Get You Into My Life. However, it was the track Tomorrow Never Knows that was the real standout on the album because not only was it the last track on the album, it was also a segue into The Beatles psychedelic era.