For hit latest tome, British music writer Jon Savage has chosen to zoom in on the year 1966. The reason for this is revealed in the subtitle – The Year the Decade Exploded. That’s a pretty bold statement. So, the question is – Does he have the evidence to back it up?
The book is presented in a series of twelve chapters which each represent a month as it progresses through the year. If you were expecting a book about music, you will get that plus a great deal more.
Savage deconstructs events leading up to the year 1966 in order to put things into proper perspective. He divides his views over events happening on both sides of the Atlantic. Since the relationships in both the UK and the US can have a different effect, this approach works well as a way to compare and contrast the social, political and cultural developments.
As with many British writers, he spends some time relating the changes in the UK since the end of the Second World War. This was a touchstone for many areas of social progress for the last half of the twentieth century. By the 1960s, its atmosphere was seeming more distant to the current day youth and they had their own issues and problems to deal with.
In the area of music, many of the usual suspects are sited including The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, Bob Dylan etc… He also includes Dusty Springfield, The Velvet Underground, The Grateful Dead, Motown, Stax plus a host of references to quite obscure groups like The Ugly’s.
Each chapter reveals more events which would influence the direction of music and possibly vice versa. There are stories about the CND movement in the UK as well as race demonstrations and riots in the US. The war in Vietnam was also a large factor in the ideologies of many people. The feelings about these and many other subjects managed to inform the music of the youth culture of the day.
He also talks about the fight for women’s rights and the fight to have gay culture recognized at a time when it was classified as illegal.
Of course, there is also quite a bit of discussion about the widening pervasiveness of drugs within the youth culture. This spans the use of amphetamines to pot to LSD. In fact, at the beginning of 1966, LSD was not an illegal substance in either the UK or US. However, this did change before the end of the year.
The juxtaposition of social and political events analysed alongside the music that was happening in the radio charts and in the clubs shows in interesting cultural correlation. At times it may seem difficult to distinguish which is having an influence on which.
In the end, Savage’s case is well stated. Through a vivid word painting of the times, he succeeds in creating a portrait of a year which hold a special place within an era.