1965: A Year Like No Other

Once again, Sixties Music Secrets would like to welcome back Mr. John Ross as this week’s guest blogger! John, as many of you know is the creator and host of our favorite music blog https://theroundplaceinthemiddle.com/“. The Round Place In The Middle   Please enjoy John with his take on the most interesting year, from the most fascinating decade of all time!    Here’s Johnny!

There are a lot of significant years in the History of Rock and Roll America, years that conjure an immediate, forceful image in the mind of anyone interested in the subject: 1956 (Elvis), 1959 (the Day the Music Died), 1964 (Beatles), 1967 (Summer of Love), 1969 (Woodstock…and Altamont), 1977 (the Year Punk Broke).

But there was no year quite like 1965.

I glommed onto it in 1978, three years after I started buying records. I graduated high school in June. We were already hearing about some version of the draft being brought back (they ended up settling for Selective Service a couple of years later) and the betting, even then, was that the next round of madness would be in the Middle East and have something to do with oil.

Seniors had the last week of school off. We just needed to show up for the grad rehearsal and then the event itself.

The day we were supposed to report for rehearsal I took my dad’s car (it would be a few months before I had one of my own) to a nearby mall and wound up sifting through the records in the bargain bin of a Woolco, where I found an as-seen-on-TV greatest hits package on Johhny Rivers for $2.99 and The Byrds Greatest Hits for $3.99.

I don’t remember why I was so flush—maybe just because it was graduation week and presents were beginning to show up—but, for once, I was able to afford both.

I had heard of the Byrds, but I knew a lot more about Johnny Rivers. He had more hits. At a buck cheaper I figured his comp was the score of the day, if not the month.

I figured that right up until I dropped the needle on the Byrds (and what turned out to be one of the greatest comps of all time). A little less than twelve minutes later, “A time for pe-a-c-c-c-e, I swear it’s not too late” was ringing in my head and my life had been altered in that way that only happens a handful of times the very first time you hear a record.

Cut to 1980, my first semester at Florida State, after a couple of years in junior college. I visited a church which, in turn, visited me at my apartment. The youth counselor came by with a kid my age and the first thing he noticed was my record collection. He asked what kind of music I liked and somewhere in the discussion that followed, I mentioned my favorite band was the Byrds.

That struck a chord because his first semester in college had been in 1965. There were two songs he remembered being played.

One was “Turn, Turn, Turn.” The other was “Eve of Destruction.”

Now I had already had my life altered by “Downtown” (#1 in January 1965 and, later that year, my first musical memory, which involved five-year-old me running around in circles in a mall trying to figure out where that wonderful sound was coming from while my sister chased me and my mother, who could no longer run, gazed on in wonder). And I had already been altered again by “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (#1 in February 1965 and, in 1978, my first out-of-body experience that didn’t involve religion, let’s just leave it at that).

But all that was personal. It was only when I had that chat with the counselor whose church I never again attended, that it began to dawn on me. 1965 wasn’t quite like any other year. Not just for me but for the world.

Maybe because I was so taken with the music, or because I had an acute sense of having JUST missed something monumental, or because all my history classes had stopped in the 50s, I already had an abiding interest in everything 60s. The music, yes, but not just the music. Not just the politics or history either. What soon took hold of me was the way they all became inseparable. And the more inseparable they became, the more I noticed everything—and I mean EVERYTHING—ran through ’65.

It became impossible for me to read about the Watts riots without wanting to play “Nowhere to Run” or “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” “Mr. Tambourine Man” seemed more relevant to the Summer of Love than anything from the actual summer of ’67. “Like a Rolling Stone” was clearly the manifesto of the most tumultuous American decade since the 1860s. Unless of course “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was.

And 1965 was peak everything. The Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Dylan, Byrds, James Brown, Motown, Impressions—all at their best. Southern soul made its first serious inroads on the pop charts and the American conscience. Folk rock (which had made such an impression on me) was born and epitomized in a matter of months. I was left gasping for air trying to take it all in year-by-year in the late 70s and early 80s. I can only imagine what it was like at the time.

But nothing ever brought it home quite like those memories the youth counselor shared with me in the winter of 1980. The insanity of Lyndon Johnson escalating the Vietnam war at a moment bracketed by “Eve of Destruction” (#1 in August) and “Turn, Turn, Turn” (#1 in December) and the implications for every decade since, were reinforced by everything I read or saw. I don’t know if politicians would benefit by paying attention to the pop charts now, but in 1965, the very kids who would have to fight and win the new war were the ones buying and requesting Barry McGuire and the Byrds.

Seemed like a serious disconnect to me. It still does. Banning such songs from Armed Forces Radio could not have been of much use. Controlling the air-waves is not the same as controlling the air. With the Spirit of ’65 breaking out everywhere, it’s a wonder the White House missed it.

Or did they?

The American military experience in Vietnam was defined by the first major ground battle, which took place in Ia Drang Valley in November 1965 (three months after “You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun your totin’?” topped the charts and one month before “A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late” did the same). The battle, the first of our string of empty “victories” has been brought back to the public conscience in the decades since by Hal Moore’s memoir We Were Soldiers Once…and Young and the Mel Gibson movie based on it. It’s essence was simple enough. Inflict causalities. Don’t occupy the ground.

It was an odd way to conduct a war, so odd nobody had ever really thought of it before. It’s the way we’ve conducted war ever since. Whatever you think of the results, it is certainly something new under the sun. Before 1965, before “Eve of Destruction” and “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Satisfaction” and “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Nowhere to Run” and “People Get Ready,” not to mention Rubber Soul and Highway 61 Revisited and Mr. Tambourine Man and long-legged girls dancing the night away on Shindig and Hullaballoo and Hollywood A-Go-Go, all promising that a better world was right there within our reach, war leaders of every time and place could always make certain safe assumptions about whether or not the ugliest consequences of their decisions carried any price they weren’t prepared to pay.

After 1965, it has never been safe to make such assumptions. After 1965, the expectations changed for nearly everything. The new world that resulted hasn’t always gone the way we might have hoped. As anyone who has even a modest acquaintance with human history before the 1960s can attest, war, poverty and the desire to inflict them, are far more deeply ingrained in human nature than peace and prosperity. But if we ever do reach that higher ground, I’d be willing to bet that the Spirit of 1965 will play as much a part as the Spirit of 1776.

Cut to a few years ago. One weekend after dark I was driving in my car on my way home from somewhere or other, listening to Little Steven Van Zandt’s radio show The Underground Garage. Steven mixes oldies with newer, independent, garage band records but the highlights are often his monologues. This particular night he went on at length about the lost idealism of the 1960s. It was one of those moments when you hope and pray the DJ is going to somehow find just the right record to punctuate his thoughts—meaning it will surprise you and then make you smile and say “Of course.”

I don’t remember much about the rest, but I’ll never forget Stevie’s last words, a call back to the halcyon spirit of his youth: “Before the empire divided us.”

There was no way to follow that with a record made in any year but 1965 and, when it came on, it surprised me.

Then it made me smile. And say “Of course.”

As I like to say. I don’t miss the past. I miss the future that never arrived.


  1. I gotta say thanks for bring this all together! What have been pieces and fragments of memory are now finally placed in correct order for me. Your instant attachment to the song ” Turn – Turn – Turn” most certainly happened to me! 1965 was the year my parents bought me a guitar which was so much more appropriate for what was about to unfold musically and historically than the trumpet I really never ever spent much time on. The Byrds did reimagine the folk tunes I had already heard and I wanted to learn them all! I admit I had a culturally immature mind at the time not paying much attention to the Watts Riots occurring just 35 miles from our home. But the themes of 65 WERE laid out in front of me as I continued to live and listen to just what that year was telling me. The songs of that time that year are locked in my brain. You are right to remind me that 65 was a FEELING TIME IT IS ALL AROUND ME.

    • Thanks for the kind words Ron…writing the piece brought things together in a way it seems reading it did for you and any writer likes to hear he’s had that effect! I guess it really was a year like no other.

  2. Personally the one song that sums up the Watts riots for me is The Mother of Invention and Trouble every day. So much anger.

    • Hey Albert,
      Firstly, we’d like to welcome you to Sixties Music Secrets, and we hope you make us part of your daily routine!
      But, today we want to recognize an important fact you’ve brought to light! SMS has been around since mid – 2016 and YOU are the first reader to recognize the great Frank Zappa and his early work with The Mothers Of Invention! If you lived in L.A. ( as we did ) Frank Zappa and The Mothers were as vital and relevant as The Springfield, Love, The Byrd’s or The Turtles!
      Thanx Albert for joining in the commentary and shining a light on Frank and “Trouble Everyday” a song that some folks call the first “Rap record”
      Looking forward to hearing more from you in the future!
      Rick ~ SMS

      • RICK

        I rank Zappa’s work in the’60s up there with the best of the best. There were six Mothers albums (including the under-appreciated compilation MOTHERMANIA) and two solo albums. They may not have set the Billboard sales chart afire, but all my friends had at least one Zappa album back then.

        For my taste, HOT RATS was his last great album. As for the rest of his vast catalog post-RATS, I don’t care if I ever hear any of them ever again. But that’s just like me!

        Keep on keepin’ on!


        Recommedned reading about FREAK OUT: https:www.ratherrarerecords.com/double-album

      • Best way to get to know Zappa and the Mothers is album by album chronologically. Start with FREAK OUT! The entire Verve catalog (including CRUISING WITH RUBEN & THE JETS, which a lot of people erroneously neglect) can be experienced as a whole, as a gestalt.

  3. I was 13 years old when I purchased the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” early in 1965 and it changed everything I thought I knew about “pop/rock music.” Later, while I was pawing through the old 45s that John at Public Square Records kept on hand (I don’t think he ever returned anything he liked), he played “Like a Rolling Stone” on his player.

    The first time I heard it.

    I was stunned. Stopped looking at records and stared into space for the next few minutes while Dylan’s interminable whine went on and on . . .

    I mean, I HATED Bob Dylan’s voice but even at 13 I knew this was a game-changer—that he was a game-changer

    As for “Eve of Destruction,” it was arguably the most ominous record ever to be a big hit on Top 40 radio. 1965 wasn’t all that far removed from the Blitzkrieg and Pearl Harbor and D-Day and Dachau and Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Nuremberg and Armageddon (the non-religious kind) seemed more likely than unlikely.

    Hell’s Belles, we had just lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of JFK (now there was a game-changer) and a Presidential candidate who hinted at dropping the Big One on Hanoi wasn’t off the table if he was elected.

    “And you tell me over and over and over again, my friends, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.”

    Personally, I tend to see 1965 and 1966 as one “period” in rock music, and one that has never been equaled.

    Ah, well, I could on and on and on, my friend, but then this would be an article and not a comment.

    PS: Just so younger readers don’t think 1965 was ALL serious business, other chart-toppers from that year were “I’m Telling You Now,” “Game of Love,” and “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.”


    • Hey Neal
      I couldn’t agree with you more, Mr. Tambourine man exploded out of my tiny 6 Tansistor reading as I was riding my bike over to my best friend Louie’s house! TMI? Perhaps, but that record made me pull over…Wow!
      I also agree with you about Frank Zappa Well put!
      Lastly, what I really appreciated about your post is your inclusion of the Cashbox Chart for the period! The diversity of music is staggering!
      Thanx Neal, always fun and enlightening when you drop by!!

    • I tend to agree that 1965-66 as a two-year continuum has never been matched for its fusion of quality, quantity, invention, and relevance. But that’s how it is with artistic explosions: the world can only take (and take in) so much at a time!…I can only imagine what it was like to hear all of that music pouring out of the radio. It blew my mind twelve and more years later when I was only taking it in an album or two at a time (and not always understanding how close in time certain records were…James Brown and the Righteous Brothers and the Byrds and Bob Dyland and Rubber Soul and ‘Satisfaction” were all SEPARATE experiences for me, sometimes years apart). I gotta say thanks to Rick for focusing my mind on the 60s so that I’m able to finally string some of this together!

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