10 tracks: Jon Savage

For the release of his CD anthology on pop in 1967, we asked the cultural critic to pick the cuts that defined the year

Last year, the author Jon Savage released a tome exploring 1966 – a year he saw as a pinnacle of pop culture. He has now returned to chronicle everything pop from 1967 with a CD compilation with Ace Records.

He describes it as “the year that the 1960s divided”, specifically between cultures from the US and UK. It was when, with the massive success of Sgt Peper’s Lonley Hearts Club Band, LP sales took over 45s. Pirate Radio stations were also outlawed on 14 August 1967.

While the Love Generation and San Francisco took centre stage, there were all kings of splits in pop. These reflected political events, including severe race riots in major cities and deepening protest against the Vietnam war. The UK saw a worsened economic situation with a devaluation of the pound at the end of the year.

Before the release of The Year Pop Divided, Jocks & Nerds asked Jon Savage to capture the soundtrack of this tumultuous year with a selection of 10 tracks.

The Birds - So You Want To Be a Rock’n’Roll Star. 9 January 1967

The new year gets off in fine style with this barnstorming single: the Byrds’ eighth and the first from their forthcoming ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ LP. Built around a ferocious Chris Hillman bass riff, the sarcastic lyric takes a swipe at the plastic nature of contemporary teen stars like the Monkees. The Byrds’ former teen idol status informs the caustic atmosphere, enhanced by both Hugh Masekela’s trumpet and genuine screams recorded by Derek Taylor at an August 1965 Byrds show in Bournemouth, of all places. All this, and only #29 in the US chart.

The Action - Never Ever. 17 February 1967

This record is an excellent example of why British pop psych sounded so good. Built on a super-tough soul base, the production – by George Martin, no less – adds sympathetic brass and backtracked cymbals to a convincing Reg King vocal and astral harmonies that reinforce the lyrical message of support and optimism. How could it miss? Maybe it’s because the punters were dazzled by Englebert, Vince, Val and all. Oh well, “Never ever think of bad times, just remember the glad times!”.

Gladys Knight & the Pips - Take Me In Your Arms and Love Me. 16 March 1967

A co-write between Barrett Strong, Cornelius Grant and Rodger Penzabene, this is a great example of Motown baroque – with its slow, sinuous intro dominated by a harpsichord. Gladys Knight begins slow and slides, on the words “loooove me”, into a masterpiece of pop erotica, enhanced by softly cooing background vocals and a slowly building structure. It was her first UK hit, reaching #13 in the early summer and staying in the charts for nearly three months. All together now: “This feeling is too strong to hold/ Any second now I’ll explode”.

Rex Garvin & The Mighty Cravers - Believe It or Not. February 1967

Aside from early adopters the Chambers Brothers and Jimi Hendrix, LSD was very much seen as being not for black people: the November 1966 cover of the mainstream blackamerican magazine Sepia had a front cover montage: “LSD Monster or Miracle?”. This extraordinary single – the flip of beater ‘I Gotta Go Now (Up On The Floor)’ – begins with a gong before relaxing into a punchy organ and horn-led cautionary tale: “Look – did you hear about the man who tried it? He wanted to leave his troubles behind/ He wound up going crazy: he thought he was Frankenstein”.

The Soft Machine - Feelin’ Reelin’ Squeelin’.11 March 1967

Produced by a manic Kim Fowley (“He never stopped talking,” Daevid Allen later remembered), the B-side of the first Soft Machine single packs a lot into just under three minutes: vocal sections from both Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt, lyrics about “this is a feeling from the ceiling of my dreams”, a break that mixed piano and flute cut-ups and a free jazz finale with a bizarre rap about “I close my eyes on your soft guitar”. One of the very first singles from within the British psychedelic underground, it still casts a spell nearly 50 years later.

The Third Bardo - I’m Five Years Ahead of My Time. May 1967

This perfect example of the punk/psych crossover was almost entirely unnoticed at the time, but it’s a corker. These are aggro hippies: “I’m doing exactly what I want to/ Society can’t play with my mind” spits lead singer Jeff Moon while the bass rumbles and the fuzz guitar soars. We’re still just about in teen beat so this is an elaborate come-on: “It may seem like I’m coming on strong/ But I know just where it’s at for me/ I’m through caring about their right and wrong/ I’ve unlocked the door to life’s mystery”. Remember: you have nothing to lose but your mind – at least, that’s what the Cramps thought when they covered it in 1982.

Sharon Tandy - Hold On. July 1967

Another UK psych/soul favourite: backed by the peerless Fleur De Lys, Tandy’s restrained yet sinuous vocal puts over the song’s sexy miasma: “It’s sleepy people, you’re all together/ but the mist from your eyes/ you don’t see too well/ but the world has got you under its spell”. The Fleur De Lys were always hot but on this 45 they are positively scorching, with a tightly wound basic riff, killer drumming and a wonderfully berserk guitar solo: the playing is so present that you’re there with Tandy as she draws you in: “It’s easy to face the music if you know the style”.

Diana Ross & The Supremes - Reflections. 25 August 1967

The first single to be issued under the group’s expanded name, ‘Reflections’ was a reboot after the odd, vaudevillian ‘The Happening’. Beginning with synthesizer oscillations and whooshes, the tune quickly resolved into a smooth, electric piano-led groove, driven by a super-funky James Jamerson baseline: with its string section, Motown baroque. With Diana Ross returned to her customary lovelorn patch and psychedelia admitted through more oscillations and spacey lyrics – “Trapped in a world/ That’s a distorted reality” – ‘Reflections’ was a deserved, massive hit, making #5 UK and #2 US (stalling just behind ‘Ode To Billie Joe’).

Dave Davies - Suzanah’s Still Alive. 24 November 1967

The follow-up to the unexpectedly successful ‘Death Of A Clown’, this wonderful single exhibited Dave the bluesman with its chromatic chords, sloppy but great ensemble playing and general downbeat air. Inspired by his teenage love Sue Sheehan, the lyrics sympathetically describe an older woman pining for a lost love: “Doesn’t matter what she does/ she knows that she can’t win”. Ending on a pure 1965 folk rock chord change, this apparently uncommercial 45 went to #20 in the UK – Davies’ last solo hit.

James Brown & The Famous Flames - I Can’t Stand Myself (When You Touch Me). February 1968

Another tortuous funk workout – that shows Brown nearly leaping out of his skin – ‘I Can’t Stand Myself’ was recorded with white band the Dapps, whose bassist Tim Drummond produces a funky vamp on demand on the fade (“Show me how you work a little bit, Tim”). Built on a subtle, stinging guitar riff and percussive organ stabs, Brown’s 11th (!) single of the year continued his hurtling forward motion, reaching #4 R&B and #28 Pop in the US, quite an achievement for such a futuristic and uncompromising slab of sound.