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Fifty years on.

In 2014, America’s mass media will celebrate the 50th anniversary of a defining moment of baby boomer culture — the arrival of the Beatles and their attendant mania.

The anniversary is already being noted in some circles. My man Jim Bartlett, for instance, recently did some good work on the earliest American DJs and radio stations to play Beatles records.

But what if you’re not a Beatles fan? Are you doomed to spend 2014 endlessly repeating a triumph in which you have no interest? Is your best course of action to lock yourself in a closet for the next year, with a copy of London Calling your only company?

As a service to you, our faithful reader, here’s a list of 15 significant non-Beatle musical events that will also mark their 50th anniversaries in 2014. All sorts of interesting stuff went on in 1964 that didn’t involve John, Paul, George, Ringo, or the mop-topped Limeys who followed in their wake.

Raise a glass to one of these milestones instead, if you feel nostalgic.

1. The recording of A Love Supreme. John Coltrane recorded his most widely heard, acclaimed and beloved album in December 1964 at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey. The album was released the following February.

2. The release of “Viva Las Vegas,” the high point of Elvis’ career between his release from the Army and his comeback special. The swingin’ title track was a hit, and the movie — released in May — was one of Elvis’ few post-Army films in which he woke up and put forth an effort.

3. The release of Bob Dylan’s fourth album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, in August. The album marked Dylan’s shift away from socially conscious lyrics (or, as he put it, “finger-pointing songs”) and towards more personal concerns — a major, and necessary, evolution.

4. A pretty good four months for the Supremes. Diana Ross and company hit Number One three times between the end of August and the end of December, with “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me.” I’m not a fan myself, but those who go in for Motown or girl-group pop would struggle to find three more definitive records than that.

5. A pretty good year for show tunes. I’m not a fan of the musical the-ay-ter, either. But even nonbelievers like me can whistle a couple of songs from “Hello, Dolly!” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” which opened in January and September of 1964. Oh, and don’t forget  “Mary Poppins,” released in August, which came with its own batch of memorable original songs.

6. The release of Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian in October. Dylan might have been moving away from socially conscious lyrics, but Cash wasn’t. He tackled one of America’s more righteous and less glamorous causes at full album length, and got a Top Five country hit out of the bargain.

7. The composition of Terry Riley’s “In C.” The piece was first recorded in 1968, so not many people would have heard it in the year of its birth. But over time, “In C” would be recognized as an early classic in the field of minimalist composition.

8. The formation and first recordings of Them. The spirited Irish R&B group formed in April of 1964, made its first recordings in July and released its first hit, “Baby Please Don’t Go,” in November. The band is best remembered now for its lead singer, a complicated, pugnacious lad named Van Morrison.

9. The filming and release of “The T.A.M.I. Show.” Movie audiences who wanted something younger than Elvis and edgier than “Mary Poppins” could have gone to see this now-legendary concert film, taped in October at the Santa Monica, Calif., Civic Auditorium. It’s most commonly remembered as the movie in which James Brown blows the fledgling Rolling Stones off the stage. Other acts on the bill included the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Jan and Dean, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and the Supremes.

10. The release of All Summer Long in July. Oh, yeah, the Beach Boys. They stayed busy in 1964 too, releasing a couple of studio albums and their first live (or at least semi-live) album. All Summer Long, like their other early albums, is highly uneven. But its one-two opening punch of “I Get Around” and “All Summer Long” nicely captures the group’s combination of teenage bravado and vulnerability.

11. The release of Out To Lunch! Jazz multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy died in June 1964 from complications of diabetes — a far too early end to a promising career. A few months before his death, Blue Note Records released Out To Lunch!, Dolphy’s final album as a leader. The album, which features a heavyweight cast of collaborators, is often praised as a classic of Sixties jazz.

12. The passing of Cole Porter. Speaking of losses to the musical world, America’s most wonderfully urbane songwriter died Oct. 15, 1964. The 50th anniversary of his death seems like a delightful opportunity to mix up a few cocktails and do something intelligently naughty.

13. Birthdays. Conversely, if you want to celebrate someone’s 50th birthday in 2014, you can choose from any number of performers, depending on your taste. To name a few, there’s folksinger Tracy Chapman; Duff McKagan of Guns n’ Roses and Velvet Revolver; Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum; Chris Cornell of Soundgarden; Trey Anastasio of Phish; jazz vocalist Diana Krall; and Corey Glover and Will Calhoun of Living Colour.

14. The composition of La Monte Young’s “The Tortoise Recalling The Drone of The Holy Numbers as They Were Revealed in the Dreams of The Whirlwind and The Obsidian Gong and Illuminated by The Sawmill, The Green Sawtooth Ocelot and The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer.” Young’s version of the song failed to reach the Hot One Hundred, but Manfred Mann later rode the tune to a Top Ten showing in 1977. (Still paying attention?)

15. The 1964 Grammys. Announced in May. The all-star cast of winners included Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bill Evans, Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Vladimir Horowitz, and Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The winners for Best Rock and Roll Recording: April Stevens and Nino Tempo, “Deep Purple.” (Maybe Beatlemania is worth celebrating after all.)

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One response »

  1. This is a fine and interesting list, and I’m not just saying that because you said something nice about me. We are going to be drowning in 50th anniversaries for the next half-dozen years. The boomer navel, which is always well gazed-at, is in for its closest inspection yet.

    Reply

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