Gordon Thompson is Professor of Music at Skidmore College. His book, Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out, offers an insider’s view of the British pop-music recording industry. In the post below he commemorate January 15th, a day two British bands released classic records. Check out Thompson’s other posts here.
A year after the Beatles stormed into American charts, British record companies continued to release disks that redefined how we hear pop music. Out of the seemingly endless stream of British performers flooding the international media emerged two performing songwriters with distinctly British voices. In one of the ironies of the era, on Friday 15 January 1965, two British bands released records that would become classics and both had the same American producer. Shel Talmy had relocated from Los Angeles to London with an introduction and faked credentials (he passed off the Beach Boys “Surfin’ Safari” as his own production) just before the Beatles and other bands lit the fuse of the “beat boom.” He had what few other British artist-and-repertoire managers had at the time: a great ear for hit songs, knowledge of how to elicit and to capture the excitement of performances, and an attitude big enough to push his ideas through to completion.
The Kinks premiered a song that Ray Davies had written as the follow-up to their breakout hit of the previous summer, “You Really Got Me.” Shel Talmy, although in favor of eventually releasing “Tired of Waiting for You,” wanted something that more clearly established a Kinks sonic identity. Consequently, for October release, Talmy, Davies, and the Kinks turned out “All Day and All of the Night” whose power chords and distorted guitar functioned the way the industry expected classic follow-up hits to sound. In January when the band appeared on ITV’s Ready, Steady, Go! to debut “Tired of Waiting” for Pye Records, the arpeggiated chords and nasal voice introduced listeners to a less aggressive and more melancholy Ray Davies. Instead of the hormonal lust of their previous two hits, “Tired of Waiting” spoke to an ambiguous ambivalence ambling about in that twenty-one-year-old heart. This would be the beginning of Davies finding his British voice. By the end of the year he would be skewering the well-respected men who rode trains into London’s City every morning.
Appearing on the same day, Brunswick Records unleashed the Who’s first single, “I Can’t Explain” for an expectant audience of London mods and to an unsuspecting world. Pete Townshend took the Rickenbacker electric twelve-string guitar that George Harrison had charmingly chimed on Beatles records over the previous year and turned it into a weapon. Shel Talmy allowed the band to play at club volume and compressed the sound so tightly that the guitar chords and drum hits project at the listener like spikes against a black background. Although Townshend would later complain about Talmy bringing in the Ivy League (John Carter, Ken Lewis, and Perry Ford) for backup vocals, the performances and the recording sound as crisp and cool as a mid-January night. Just as he had with “You Really Got Me” for the Kinks, Talmy helped the Who establish a unique sound that many would imitate, only to have the band move on to a new audio universe.
In all likelihood, the heart attack that Sir Winston Churchill suffered that same day had little to do with the music revolution underway in London; but even as Americans declared a “British Invasion,” few knew that one of their own lay behind the assault.