18 January 2021

A Very Good Year

I've heard it said that the music we hear in our teens defines our taste because those are such formative years in our lives, and I won't argue. The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan in my junior year, but for me the biggie was 1966.

After my freshman year of college, I scored a night shift job at a sheet metal plant. My hours were 6:30 pm to 5 am Monday through Thursday and 3:30 pm to midnight on Friday. There were only nine of us, a 31-year-old foreman, four welders, and four machine operators, three of us college kids. I worked a two-man shear with Al, who was missing an upper incisor and smoked a pack a night.

The 52-hour week meant 12-hours of overtime. I still lived with my parents and drove my mother's car to work, so that summer paid for the remaining three years of my undergraduate degree. It put me on "normal" time for the weekend, which meant I could have a social life...except that my midnight lunch break made it hard to call a girl for a date. It let me play golf almost every day, too, and that was the summer I broke 80 for the first time.

Swell, you say. So what?

Well, we played the radio most of the time, but all the metal around us interfered with reception so we could only pick up one local station, WSGW, which had a trasnmitter two miles away. At midnight, the DJ piled singles on the spindle. After they all played, he'd lift them, read the news headlines, and play that same stack again. And again. Between lunch break at midnight and punch out at five, we'd hear the same songs ten or twelve times. That was the year my first girlfriend dumped me and the year I fell in love for the first time, so those singles trigger a lot of emotional baggage.

Were they all great songs? Not by a long shot, but some were. The Rolling Stones released "Paint It, Black" and the Beatles gave us "Paperback Writer/Rain." The Hollies offered "Bus Stop," The Kinks "Dedicated Follower of Fashion," and Paul Revere and the Raiders were "Hungry." The Mamas and the Papas released "Monday, Monday." But the local DJ promoted home-grown groups selling their new single at the Battle of the Bands at Daniel's Den on Saturday night.

The Rationals at Daniel's Den, Saginaw's teen hot spot

Southern Michigan's music picked up the heavy metal thunder of the automotive plants, where Dad could make enough money to buy his kid an electric guitar and amplifier. Those kids formed bands and practiced in their garages, the DIY movement that became the flagship of garage rock, the grandfathers of Punk. It was democratic music, the kids stealing their licks and lines from the songs they heard on the radio, so simple ANYONE COULD DO IT. And if you got a fuzz-tone for your birthday, even better.

? & The Mysterians

That summer, "96 Tears" was huge. ? & The Mysterians, a Saginaw band, played Daniel's Den and the Blue Light constantly. Terry Knight and the Pack (Later to morph into Grand Funk Railroad) had a cover version of "Lady Jane," but it got pulled because the Rolling Stones hadn't released theirs yet. DJ and the Runaways had "Peter Rabbit," featuring the octave riff they lifted from "Wooly Bully." The Bossmen (Never big, but members went on to play with Lou Reed, Meat Loaf, Aerosmith, and Alice Cooper) released "Thanks to You." The Standells from LA had their biggest hit with "Dirty Water" and the 13th Floor Elevators gave us "You're Gonna Miss Me" with the full-bore reverb and an electric jug. Really.
The 13th Floor Elevators, Tom Hall on Jug...

Bob Seger and the Last Heard scored their first single, "East Side Story," recycling the riff from "Gloria" into flash-fiction noir. Seger wouldn't hit nationally for several more years, but he was probably the biggest act in Detroit behind the Motown groups (Where Stevie Wonder was also from Saginaw). He would have several more hits that don't appear on any of his greatest hits collections, too, maybe because they were on the tiny Lucky Eleven label, swallowed up by Cameo Parkway, which submerged in the late sixties.
Young Bob Seger

The Rationals from Flint had the first version I heard of Otis Redding's "Respect." Contrary to local myth, Glenn Frey was NOT a member of the band, but he did hail from Royal Oak, a Detroit suburb. 

The Syndicate of Sound's "Little Girl" came out then, too, along with the Music Machine's "Talk, Talk," and Love's take on "Little Red Book." Composers Bert Bacharach and Hal David preferred Manfred Mann's version of that song and loathed Love's take on it. The Shadows of Knight put out "Oh Yeah," the follow-up to their cover of "Gloria."

Those were the songs I heard while a two-man shear pounded out the rhythm for my summer. I bought my first guitar a few months later. When I look back at these songs, they evoke a very good year, and I can play pretty much all of them now without even thinking about it. The only surprise is that I've never used any of those songs as story titles. 


  1. Oh, yeah. The best music in my life came in the 1960s. 1966 was fantastic. Great listing. And MOTOWN – "You Can't Hurry Love" "Reach Out I'll Be There" "You Keep Me Hanging On" Cool post, Steve.

  2. Mine was 1970 (ish) - Albums: Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Lola by the Kinks, Bitches Brew, Ladies of the Canyon, Woodstock, Don't Crush that Dwarf Hand Me the Pliers, Morrison Hotel, etc... The sheer mix of musical styles on main-stream radio was unbelievable for maybe 3,4 years, everything from Traffic to Santana, Jethro Tull to Led Zeppelin - it opened my eyes to a wider range of musical styles than I'd ever imagined.

  3. Eve, the difference between 1966 and 1970 is seismic, and I think it started in 1967 (maybe my next blog) when the Beatles released Sergeant Pepper and the focus began to move more toward albums and FM radio got a foothold. It did open us to more styles and cultures, and it continues today.

  4. Steve -- Good memories, here. You and I have talked before, in emails, about the late sixties, and I loved (and still love) that music. I've always associated certain songs with certain periods in my life, and hearing them now always brings back those great times. Interesting column!

  5. Steve, I sent my brother a link to your article. I hadn't realized Saginaw birthed so many artists. I don’t know what the magic was, but I liked most of those. ‘?’s 96 Tears’ was a grabber at the right moment. (I wasn’t a fan of either ‘Talk, Talk,’ although I liked the 80’s group.)

    One Detroit outlier was hard rock’s Mitch Ryder, who enjoyed popularity in the mid-60s, for a while outshining Bob Seger. He played our local school when I was a kid.

    I’d always assumed a Boston group had written ‘Dirty Water’, especially since my brother tuned it in on WBZ. Strangely, it got strong footing in Florida, of all places.

    Fun article, Steve. Nicely done.

  6. Leigh, you're right about Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. He had a string of hits, and "Devil With a Blue Dress," which made the top ten, was released a few weeks after I finished the summer job. At least one source claims the late guitar giant Michael Bloomfield played on that recording, but I've seen others that disagree. How did I miss him?

  7. Steve, it's funny how a song can transport you back to a time and place 40 to 50 years ago. "Paint It Black," "Love Child" and "We've Got to Get Out of This Place" immediately take me back to the late 60's in the Highlands in II (Two) Corps. Listening to the music of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Moody Blues, the Super Fly theme songs and the Shaft theme puts me in the OGV playing 8-tracks while cruising the darker side of Kansas City in the early 70's. Some music just resonates with the time. Nice article.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>