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Fifty years on, a great leap forward – but then a reminder of two more …

At my advanced age, inevitably, working with new technology tends to present a clear and continuing problem. However, having acquired an iPad a few months back (Apple systems being something unknown to me) to be honest I haven’t used it much, mostly because I don’t really know how to – but also because whenever I wish to do something it seems easier and quicker to use my desktop computer or smartphone.

This all changed yesterday for one simple reason.

I’d seen in my weekly television and radio guide that, at about 11.00am, Radio Four was going to be transmitting a programme called 16.5.66 – the title referring to the date the 16th of May 1966, on which by complete chance two of the seminal 1960s pop music albums (Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde and the Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds) were released.

Not being a regular listener to Radio Four, I switched off my television and tuned in to the station at about 10.50am.

I’m making no profound comment here about the content of Radio Four’s iconic Women’s Hour programme, hosted yesterday by Jane Garvey, but let’s just say that, as I tuned in, I caught the last couple of minutes of a piece by a lady in her fifties or sixties upon the joys of coming out as a lesbian way back in the 1970s. Then, winding up the show, Ms Garvey previewed today’s programme which will apparently include a section on [this was the gist of it anyway] ‘Exploring the female anatomy’ … and made a mental note to myself that, if I was awake, at home at the time and remembered to, this was something that I might well try and listen to, being so ignorant upon the subject.

Having thus strapped myself in for my music programme, I was then stunned by the continuity announcer saying that ‘After the news Joan Bakewell will present a programme on ‘Living With Dementia …’ (or something like that).

dylan 4I’d obviously made one of my regular cock-ups.

Perhaps I had seen ’11.00pm’ in the newspaper radio preview schedule as the time of the programme and taken it to mean 11.00am – that’s the kind of thing I might well do. Okay, so this Dylan and Beach Boys programme was probably going out late last night … even though I’d normally have gone to bed well before then – and also don’t know how to tune my bedside radio – it might well be something that I could catch up with later.

Via the iPad!

Yes, a couple of months ago with the help of my daughter I had downloaded several free ‘apps’ (I won’t pay for them), including BBC iPlay, BBC Weather and BBC (radio) iPodcast (or whatever it’s called). I hadn’t ever used them, but hey – acquiring the capability to do so is the first step, right?

Some time later, post-lunch, I revisited the television and radio guide and saw that I had missed the 16.5.66 programme for a quite different reason.

I’d got the bit about getting its ’11.00am’ start of transmission wrong – but not because it was actually ’11.00pm’ … it was actually ’11.30am’!

In other words, if only I had bothered to stay with Radio Four and Joan Bakewell investigating dementia for thirty minutes, I’d have gone straight into the programme I was hoping to hear!

Great minds can work these things out. I decided to fire up my iPad and see if I could find and play 16.5.66 on it. I hadn’t used the iPad for about a month, but was pleasantly surprised that it still had 91% of its battery left when I did.

I managed to negotiate myself to the BBC (radio) Podcast app and clicked on it. That provided my first issue – apparently I hadn’t yet actually downloaded the app … but after calming myself for the technological ordeal, I manage to achieve this … by pressing the ‘download here’ box, which then took less than a minute.

Finding my way to the programme itself took a bit of effort as I didn’t know under which category to look for it.

However, having done that, I downloaded 16.5.66 and played it sitting in my armchair at a suitable volume.

It was tremendous. I didn’t catch the name of the presenter, but he’d recently written a book identifying 1966 as the most important year of the 1960s. For this outing he had chosen the 16th of May for the reason previously stated.

beach boysFor any listener like myself – slightly too young to call myself a proper child of the 1960s, but whose musical tastes were definitely forged in that decade – the presenter’s introduction of where Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys had reached musically by 1966 told me nothing I did not already know, but I do not criticise him for that.

In fact, his understated style of delivery was a perfect precursor for the remainder of the programme, which was a brilliant series of samples of both Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde and the Beach Boys’ Pets Sounds albums (and their recording sessions) intercut with those who were around at the time and had some connection with either or both – some of them mere fans, some of them industry insiders and some had actually ‘been there and involved’ at the time of the recordings being made – recalling their memories of what it was like to hear this extraordinary music for the first time.

It was a truly fascinating half-hour radio broadcast (well actually about 27 and a half minutes, if truth be told).

Hearing again the tales of how the brilliantly-talented but troubled Brian Wilson impressed the hard-bitten veteran session musicians who had been hired to help him create the deeply personal Pet Sounds – which then severely strained his relations with Beach Boy band member Mike Love because it was such a departure from their normal style of music – and then to hear extracts of the ‘voice only’ recordings they made of classics such as God Only Knows and Wouldn’t It Be Nice in the background as an ‘insider’ talked of how Brian worked in the studio, seemed to make the music once again as ‘fresh’ as if it had been made yesterday.

Similarly, to hear Bob Dylan’s instantly-recognisable non-voice (recorded at the age of 24, but sounding as if he was ageless, bordering upon 74) spitting out the opening to Desolation Row, Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands and then finally the good-time roll of Rainy Day Women nos 12 and 35 whilst ‘some who was there’ recalled how the sessions were brought together down in Nashville was jaw-dropping radio.

This was wonderful stuff – congratulations to all who were involved in the production from me.

For any Rust reader who would missed the programme and would like to hear it – follow this link (I hope!) – BBC RADIO FOUR ‘16 5 66’ PROGRAMME



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About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts