1966 and all that
This past Saturday, the wife and I threw our third annual Catskill 45s party. The event started two years ago when the wife and we each turned 45, and for my part at least, seeing great significance in that number of revolutions per minute, I determined to put together a party where I would DJ only music from our birth year. So that not all the music sounded quite so … old, I also convinced a few talented neighborhood friends to join me in forming a covers band to perform some of our birth year music in the flesh. The party therefore turned out not only to be a birthday celebration, but a celebration of a new birth: the Catskill 45s.
The event was a success, and we revived it last year, moving the music up, appropriately, from 1964 to 1965. In doing so we took the band a little more seriously and were, if I say so myself (and I can probably afford to, given the incredible quality of the other musicians in the band), damn good. In fact, last year’s 45s party, which occurred the day after school let out for summer, was maybe the best I’ve ever thrown. (And those who know me know I’ve hosted a few of them over the years.) We took a fair few requests for the Catskill 45s to get out and play more often, but perhaps because we want to avoid becoming the local covers band, and no doubt because the other members are all in several other groups already, we limited our appearances to one more private event and the closing party for the Phoenicia Times last Halloween.
Still next you know, spring has rolled back around and it’s time to start planning the annual summer 45s party. This year of course, we moved on to 1966. One of the great things about performing but sporadically and changing the setlist every year – apart from the pretense that what we’re doing is “artistic” – is getting an innate sense of how music changed in the 1960s. Take the Kinks songs we’ve performed: the raucous “You Really Got Me” progressing into the more melodic “Tired Of Waiting For You,” moving on this year to the delightful “Sunny Afternoon.” You can actually feel Ray Davies improving and stretching out as a songwriter. Similarly with the Beatles: “A Hard Day’s Night” is a fun song for sure, but musically it’s not a patch on 1965’s “Day Tripper,” let alone the opening track from Revolver, “Taxman.” (We weren’t brave enough to attempt that album’s proto-psychedelic finale, “Tomorrow Never Knows.”) And over in the world of black American pop music, while in 1966 Motown still had a series of number ones in the States, there’s no doubt that it was being challenged, both critically and commercially, by the sound of a more southern soul; we opted to eschew the Supremes this time around, preferring instead to open our set with Eddie Floyd‘s “Knock On Wood” and close with the Wilson Pickett version of “Land of 1000 Dances.”
Each year, the other band members are kind enough to let me come off the keyboards, strap on my Rickenbacker and then add insult to our guests’ injury by tackling a couple of lead vocals. As a Who fanatic, I make it my mission to channel my inner Pete Townshend, and I achieved a long-standing ambition this weekend when I finally got to perform “Substitute” to a captive audience. Better yet, my 6-year old son Noel fell in love with the song during the weeks I was rehearsing it, and made a splendid effort to learn the chords on his Martin Junior acoustic-electric. We brought him up front and had him perform alongside us, where he engaged in a few Townshend-esque windmills with his right hand while managing to successfully (if not always on time!) rotate through the four main chords with his left. Nice one, Noel!
Again, a sign of changing times: while it was my choice to sing “Glad All Over” for the 1964 set, and while I was somewhat press-ganged into “Over and Over” for 1965 (something about my English accent), I couldn’t bear facing the Dave Clark Five again come 1966, and instead brought the Creation to the table. “Making Time” was never a hit in America back in the day, but thanks to the movie Rushmore, it’s now pretty well known, and it’s a joy to play. All the more so given that one of the other Catskill 45s, Robert Warren, used to perform it when he was in the Fleshtones. The use of violin bow on strings (which we did not imitate), the rather dubiously opaque lyrics and the deliberately disconcerting avoidance of regular rhythmic expectations all point, fondly, towards the psychedelic revolution of 1967 that will be ours to embrace next year.
Other songs from the 66 setlist indicate the inherent variety of music in any year: “Georgy Girl” by the Seekers alongside the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale”; “Penetration” by the Ventures up against Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walking”; “I Fought The Law” by the Bobby Fuller Four and Lee Dorsey’s “Working In A Coal-Mine”; the splendid “Black Is Black” by Los Bravosand the Paul Butterfield Band’s “Get Outta My Life Woman.” Oh yeah, and a song that every mod revival band of 1979 performed as a matter of course: “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” by the Monkees. You can hear (though not see) a little of our version below; we may even have been in tune. Thanks so much to Josh Roy Brown, Robert Warren, Mark, Lukas and Edith Lerner, and Nancy Howell for coming together again to make this happen. And keep your eyes peeled if you live in the Catskills: We may yet play publicly this year.