IT IS ACCEPTED “FACT” that two seminal works of popular music—the Beach Boys’ PET SOUNDS and Bob Dylan’s BLONDE ON BLONDE—were released on the same day, May 16, 1966. And there was a second reason to celebrate that date: BLONDE ON BLONDE was also the first rock double-album of all-new studio recordings, beating the Mothers of Invention’s FREAK OUT! for that honor by one month. 1
This is accepted canon—the gospel according to millions of well-intentioned but misinformed and under-researched websites.
The paragraph above was the first thing that I wrote for this article a month ago, an article about two groundbreaking albums that have very little to do with each other except for their release date. I gave the article a convoluted working title of “I Know There’s An Answer Even If It’s Temporary Like Achilles.” I intended to use those words to open this piece because they are accepted canon—the gospel according to millions of well-intentioned but misinformed and under-researched websites.
This includes general information sources like general information sites Wikipedia and Yahoo, along with sites by fans and collectors—who should know better than to trust generalist sites like Wiki when compiling data for their specialist sites.
MGM had spent too much money on FREAK OUT! and were about to let it die, but it started selling all over the place!
My original article was to be about the Beach Boys and Dylan albums, focusing on their commercial and critical response (both sold about the same number of units in 1966, although you’d never know that by reading those millions of websites) and collectors info regarding original pressings and important reissues.
And it was supposed to be a fairly brief article.
Now let’s go back read that first paragraph again. It consists of three statements about dates:
PET SOUNDS was released on May 16, 1966.
BLONDE ON BLONDE was released on May 16, 1966.
BLONDE ON BLONDE was released before FREAK OUT!
When I sent a rough draft of the original version of this article to Frank Daniels, he responded with this: “When people started posting about how PET SOUNDS and BLONDE ON BLONDE came out at the same time, I assumed my usual role of Internet Quote Cop and examined the evidence.”
And what did his examination uncover?
Frank questioned the date of the Dylan album and suggested I conduct more research.
And so I did.
And so I soon found that I was no longer working on an article called “I Know There’s An Answer Even If It’s Temporary Like Achilles” but on an article titled “What Was The First Rock & Roll Double-Album Of All-New Recordings?”
But that didn’t last when Jerry Richards pointed out that another double-album that qualified for that title. So I made a few changes and now you are reading an article titled “What Was The First Rock Double-Album Of The ’60s?”
(And while the exclamation mark is traditionally part of the title FREAK OUT!, from this point on I will dispense with its use.)
Due to Brian Wilson’s hearing problem, he worked exclusively in mono His engineer—usually Chuck Britz—mixed the multi-track tapes into stereo. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen with PET SOUNDS: for some reason, Capitol was forced to take the mono masters and, using their patented Duophonic Stereo system, create a fake stereo album which was released as DT-2458. It turned one of the most beautifully recorded albums into a cacophony of distorted signals.
Rock & roll versus rock
I started separating the concept of rock & roll music from rock music back in the ’60s. I grew up with rock & roll music: Elvis and Fats and Little Richard and Buddy and the Everlys and “Just let me hear some of that rock & roll music, any old way you choose it.”
Rock & roll also means Pat Boone and Neil Sedaka and Connie Francis and the Brill Building and the Bobbys and the Tommys. It means such silliness as Little Darlin’ and “Who put the bomp in the bomp-bah-bomp-bah-bomp? Who put the ram in the rama-lama-ding-dong?”
Dylan fans were rabid; if a new album was released on Monday, every fan had to have it on his or her turntable by Tuesday.
But a lot of things happened in 1965, notably Dylan and the Byrds ushering in a new way of making “rock & roll” music that actually considered the intellectual needs of an audience beyond high school. This topic should be another article, but here are three points:
1. I’m not saying that pre-’65 rock & roll was dumb but usually the lyrics were aimed at the only audience and market that was believed to exist for the music: teens. This was true until Subterranean Homesick Blues and Mr. Tambourine Man and Like A Rolling Stone.
2. Paul Williams created Crawdaddy as a fanzine in 1966 to address the “new music” that was never addressed intellectually in the teenybopper ‘zines like 16 and Tiger Beat. With this magazine, Paul cemented the shorter term rock—which is too short for me; I usually refer to it as rock music—and effectively invented modern rock journalism. All he did was write intelligent articles for intelligent readers:
“Most people see rock as a phenomenon. But rock to me is not a phenomenon at all—rather I see rock as a means of expression, an opportunity for beauty, an art.” (Outlaw Blues, 1969)
3. From this point on in this article, BLONDE ON BLONDE and FREAK OUT will be referred to as rock albums, not as rock & roll albums.
This is a double-page advertisement that appeared in Billboard and Cash Box heralding the new single I Want You from the new album BLONDE ON BLONDE.
When was Blonde On Blonde released?
I knew that I would be looking through old issues of Billboard and Cash Box for advertisements and reviews to nail down some realistic dates, but I began my research where so much internet research begins—with Wikipedia. It gave the following dates:
PET SOUNDS was released on May 16, 1966.
BLONDE ON BLONDE was released on May 16, 1966.
FREAK OUT was released on June 27, 1966.
Most data does support the May 16 date for the Beach Boys album, including Keith Badman’s authoritative The Beach Boys – The Definitive Diary Of America’s Greatest Band.
For the Dylan album, Wikipedia cautiously noted that the date could be “as late as July 1966” but they seemed confident with that date for the Mothers’ title. My research would show that to be incorrect. 2
In one of those moments we call serendipity, the Glorious Noise website posted “When was BLONDE ON BLONDE Released? Nobody Knows” a few minutes before I found it! In the article, Jake Brown addressed one of my issues and saved me a considerable amount of online site-hopping and research. 3
Generations ahead of his peers, Frank Zappa used irony and subterfuge in advertising his record. He created Freak Out! The Official News of The Mothers of Invention, a fake newsletter that was distributed as an insert in the Los Angeles Free Press (September 9, 1966). So FREAK OUT received free advertising in the most widely read underground newspaper in the world!
Strong sales action in major markets
I followed Jake’s links and checked his facts, so some of the information that follows originated with the Glorious Noise piece. I recommend that you click on over to that site and read the piece in its entirety, as his conclusions are not exactly the same as mine.
Here are a few salient facts about Billboard and BLONDE ON BLONDE:
• Billboard mentioned it for the first time in its New Action Albums on July 9, 1966. That section of the magazine listed albums that reported “strong sales action by dealers in major markets.” This could mean reports on pre-release orders from wholesalers and retailers, not actual records bought by individual customers. 4
• Billboard reviewed it on July 16, 1966, in its New Album Releases.
• Billboard added it to its Top LPs chart on July 23, 1966.
As Jake observed, “Clearly, BLONDE ON BLONDE was not released on May 16, 1966.” In fact, these facts indicate an early July release.
Once I realized that was the case, then the focus of this article shifted the Beach Boys and Dylan to being about Dylan and the Mothers of Invention! I wanted a definitive answer to a question: What was the first double-album of all-new rock-music of the ’60s?
For the third single from the album, Columbia coupled the effervescent I Want You with a blistering live version of Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues. It’s a delightful sleeve with Dylan caught in a gesture that could be interpreted as him explaining the size of “the one that got away” to him in the midst of dancing in the street.
Mondays and Saturdays
In the ’60s, record companies generally released new product on a Monday. May 16, 1966, was a Monday. As it took time for the records to be shipped, reviewed by reviewers, and magazines to be printed and published, Billboard and Cash Box normally reviewed new records on the second Saturday after the album was issued.
That is, an album was usually reviewed twelve days after its release. Regarding this, Jake Brown observed:
“Going by the appearance in Billboard’s new album listings and reviews, we can conclude that the actual release date of BLONDE ON BLONDE was July 4, 1966. Or can we? The Fourth of July is a holiday. Would an album be released on a holiday? So until somebody comes up with definitive proof otherwise, I’m going to believe that BLONDE ON BLONDE was released on Friday, July 1, 1966.”
Brown’s decision to go with July 1 is reasonable if you accept that the record companies would not be releasing new product on the Fourth of July. I’m not aware of any evidence for this, so the July 4 date is just as reasonable
On his Bob Dylan Pressings site, Frank Daniels leans toward an even later date:
“The first pressing of the album was released on or about July 10, 1966. The record had not been released by June 25th, when Columbia entered an ad for the single, I Want You, that also promoted the upcoming album. By the end of the first week in July, promotional copies were getting airplay. The album was reviewed in the issue of Billboard dated July 16th, in which it was listed as being new that week.”
Go magazine was a free weekly publication associated with WMCA 570-AM radio (you know, the one with “the Good Guys”) available in the New York area.
The sound of Bob Dylan in selected markets
There is also evidence for an earlier date, even if some of it is anecdotal. The Glorious Noise website received an informative comment from Stephan Pickering, a very knowledgeable fan. He recalled buying BLONDE ON BLONDE on June 28 in Hollywood, and stated that the album was released at this early date “in selected markets.”
Pickering also noted two other publications: the June 24, 1966, issue of Go magazine featured a Dylan cover with a large ad for BLONDE ON BLONDE claiming, “Now Available! The Sound of Bob Dylan on Columbia Records.”
He also mentioned the June 29, 1966, issue of Variety mentioned BLONDE ON BLONDE in its Longplay Shorts section. I could not find any more info on this section but with that title, I infer a line or two with basic information (artist, title, label, catalog number, etc.) but no actual review.
Meaning it could merely be announcing the imminent release of a title based on information provided by the record company. This would not be proof of an actual release.
Billboard’s Four-Star Albums were new albums with sufficient commercial potential in their respective categories to merit being stocked by most dealers.
Let’s look at our dates as a list/timeline:
Go advertised BLONDE ON BLONDE as “Now available!”
Variety listed BLONDE ON BLONDE in its Longplay Shorts.
Billboard listed BLONDE ON BLONDE in its New Action Albums.
Billboard reviewed BLONDE ON BLONDE in its New Album Releases.
Billboard entered BLONDE ON BLONDE on its Top LPs survey.
The first two items seem to confirm Pickering’s assertion that BLONDE ON BLONDE was released in a few major markets such as Los Angeles and New York in the last week of June. The last three items seem to confirm a general release for the album in the first week of July.
In this full-page advertisement, Verve offered FREAK OUT as “two records for one freaky price”: Did they mean two-records-for-one-low-price, or two-records-for-the-price-of-one-record?
Those fabulous furry freak Mothers
Many fans have long questioned BLONDE ON BLONDE as the first ever rock double-album, believing that it was the Mothers of Invention that owned that title. So I looked into that and the earliest listing in Billboard that I could find for FREAK OUT was June 25 in a small piece titled “Puzzler Put Out by MGM-Verve.”
It relates how Verve had sent an 8-piece puzzle of the cover to FREAK OUT to 1,000 radio stations one day at a time for eight days. Displays featuring the front cover with red and black flashing eyes were to be sent to dealers. But the text does not say whether the album had actually been released yet.
In the July 2 issue, FREAK OUT was listed in Billboard’s Four-Star Albums. This section was reserved for “new albums with sufficient commercial potential in their respective categories to merit being stocked by most dealers.”
If we use Brown’s twelve-days-later rule, then the Mothers album was released on June 20. I read the “sufficient commercial potential” comment to mean new albums by unproven artists. This could mean that the album was released even earlier and Billboard was just noticing it.
The July 9 Billboard carried an article about the selling of FREAK OUT titled “MGM/Verve Fathers Radio Pitch on Mothers’ Album.” This indicates that the album may have been in stores for weeks and was just getting corporate support.
If an album by a major artist was released on a Monday, it was usually reviewed in Billboard twelve days later on Saturday.
Let’s look at our list/timeline again with the FREAK OUT added:
Go advertised BLONDE ON BLONDE as “Now available!”
Variety listed BLONDE ON BLONDE in its Longplay Shorts.
Billboard listed FREAK OUT in its Four-Star Albums.
Billboard listed BLONDE ON BLONDE in its New Action Albums.
Billboard mentioned FREAK OUT in its main news section. 5
Billboard reviewed BLONDE ON BLONDE in New Album Releases.
Billboard entered BLONDE ON BLONDE on its Top LPs survey
Using the July 2 and 9 listings, then we can infer that the Mothers album was released at least one week before the Dylan set. And that’s if Billboard gave the same attention to a new album by an unknown artist as it did to an artist of Dylan’s caliber. If not, then FREAK OUT could have been released even earlier.
Either way, all the evidence that Jake Brown, Stephen Pickering, Frank Daniels, and I could find points in one direction concerning the answer to my burning question: What was the first rock double-album of the ’60s?
The first rock double-album
For my way of ratiocinating, the debate over the release dates of these two albums is so much nitpicking. So, nitpicking aside, essentially and effectively Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention conceived, recorded, and released The First Rock Double-Album at the same time! But, for we nitpickers, Frank beat Bob by at least a week!
The Mothers Of Invention: Freak Out!
Verve V-5005-2 (mono) and V6-5005-2 (stereo)
Released: June 20, 1966
The June 20 date for FREAK OUT is the latest probable—and the most likely—date for its release, although June 13 or even June 7 is possible.
MGM staff producer Tom Wilson signed the Mothers of Invention to Verve Records on March 1, 1966. The group entered the studio with Wilson and began recording their first album on March 9, and completed their sessions on March 12.
So FREAK OUT was recorded in four days! Here’s another way of looking at this moment in Rock Music History:
1. In less than two weeks, Zappa conceived and wrote the bulk of two records worth of material.
2. In less than two weeks, Zappa convinced Verve to pay a small fortune in production costs and allow the Mothers to record two records of the perhaps ugliest (get used to that word) rock music ever put on tape.
3. In less than two weeks, Zappa then convinced Verve to release a double-album for the price of one album to entice the kids into buying that ugly music.
By the summer of 1967, the Mothers had inspired a new magazine, Freak Out, U.S.A. It looked like other teenybopper publications of the time. But check out the cover: it was running articles about the Monkees and LSD, calling the Mothers “greasy,” and making sexual innuendo about what love is like with The Mamas & The Papas (two guys and two gals) and how one girl makes it “work” with five boys in Jefferson Airplane!
An unlimited budget to do this monstrosity
In an interview with Zappa that appeared in the June 1968 issue of Hit Parader magazine, he recalled the album:
“Tom Wilson came to the Whiskey A-Go-Go and heard us. He stayed for five minutes and said, ‘Wonderful. We’re gonna make a record of you. Goodbye.’ He thought we were a rhythm & blues band. We decided not to make a single; we’d make an album instead. He wouldn’t give me an idea of what the budget would be for the album, but the average rock & roll album costs about $5,000.
When Wilson heard Any Way The Wind Blows and Who Are The Brain Police, he was so impressed he called New York, and as a result, I got a more or less unlimited budget to do this monstrosity. The next day I had whipped up the arrangements for a 22-piece orchestra. The editing took a long time, which ran the cost up. The start-to-finish cost of FREAK OUT was somewhere around $21,000.
MGM felt that they had spent too much money on the album and they were about to let it die, but it started selling all over the place. We sold 5,000 albums all over the country with no extra-hype or anything. Finally, the company started pushing the album and sales went even higher!” 6
In 1966, FREAK OUT was unlike anything anyone had ever heard: the music was an egalitarian mix of the avant-garde (including aspects of Musique Concrète) with the sentimental (such as ’50s doo-wop) delivered in a reasonably contemporary rock style. Lyrically, the songs took pokes at mainstream American culture, politics, and the emerging rock and drug-based counterculture.
While engaging to young listeners today, it was unlistenable garbage to many people then, including fans of rock. Even the album’s cover art was challenging! It’s as if the Mothers had tired of hearing old people complain about the Rolling Stones being unkempt and boorish and decided, “You want ugly? We’ll give you ugly!”
And so they did.
For a detailed look at the original pressings of FREAK OUT from 1966 through 1969 and what they are currently worth on the collectors market, refer to “Freak Out! Labelograpy (and Price Guide).”
Original 1966 jackets have an offer for a Freak-Out Hot-Spots in a box above the triangle-shaped photo in the lower right corner of the right panel of the inside of the gatefold jacket.
Original printings of the jacket for promotional and stock albums have a blurb printed in the lower right corner on the inside cover that reads, “Planning on visiting L.A. this Summer?” It’s an offer for a Freak-Out Hot-Spots map available via mail-order from MGM Records.
Note that some original jackets erroneously list the catalog number as V-500502 and V6-500502 on the inner cover slicks. These may be the first printings, as all other jackets have the correct numbers.
• Counterfeits copies of the stereo album exist.
• Copies with black and white covers are bootlegs.
• Copies on colored vinyl are bootlegs.
• Copies with promotional stickers on the cover are bootlegs.
Regarding the promotional pressings of FREAK OUT above: I would be truly amazed if there was a radio station in this country that played a selection from FREAK OUT more than once prior to the “underground radio” phenomenon on FM radio in 1967!
FREAK OUT has not been certified by the RIAA for a Gold Record Award. In fact, not a single Mothers of Invention album of the ’60s has sold the requisite amount to qualify for an RIAA Gold Record.
Almost the first rock double-album
Repeating myself, the debate over the release dates of these two albums is so much nitpicking. Essentially and effectively Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention conceived, recorded, and released The First Rock Double-Album at the same time!
But Frank beat Bob by at least a week and that’s counting the pre-official release of BLONDE ON BLONDE to select market, not its release date to the general public (meaning you and me).
Bob Dylan: Blonde On Blonde
Columbia C2L-41 (mono) and C2S-841 (stereo)
Released: July 4, 1966
The July 4 date for BLONDE ON BLONDE is the middle ground between a possible unofficial release to select markets of June 27 and latest possible general release of July 10.
The Mothers’ competition for the title of First Rock Double Album was a tame affair in comparison, both visually and aurally. In fact, BLONDE ON BLONDE was downright lovely to look at and lovelier to hear!
Dylan’s first round of recording sessions for his seventh album began on October 5, 1965, at Columbia’s Studio A in New York City. They were completed at Columbia’s Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 10, 1966. The last overdub session was on June 16.
That is, Bob began work on his project five months before the Mothers’ first official session for Verve, yet finished two days after they had wrapped up their sessions. Of course, it was well worth the effort and the wait!
The art for BLONDE ON BLONDE was an out-of-focus photo that covered the front and back covers, folding open into an imposing image of the artist at the height of his folk-rock fame and glory. Pictured here is a factory-sealed copy with a sticker calling attention to the album’s two singles.
That thin wild mercury sound
Those of us who came of age in the ’60s grew up with the legend that Dylan wasn’t certain that he had a two-record set until the last session. At that point, he and Bob Johnson realized they had too much material for a single record but not enough for two.
Then Dylan stepped up to the plate and hit a grand-slam, writing all eleven minutes of Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands in one sitting just to fill up the fourth side!
With the information that has come forth in books and on the Worldwide Web, we old-time Dylan fans now know two facts that ruin our legend:
1. There was plenty of material for two LPs before Sad-Eyed Lady.
2. Sad-Eyed Lady wasn’t even the last track recorded!
The decision to place it as the sole track on the fourth side was exactly that: a decision, an aesthetic decision. The released album could have held more music, but Dylan didn’t want any more on the records than what he selected.
BLONDE ON BLONDE was certified by the RIAA for a Gold Record Award on August 25, 1967. This award represented $1,000,000 in sales at the wholesale level for approximately 300,000-400,000 copies sold. It was finally certified as Platinum for 1,000,000 copies sold on May 5, 1999. 7
For a detailed look at the original pressings of BLONDE ON BLONDE from 1966 through 1969 and what they are currently worth on the collectors market, refer to “Blonde on Blonde Labelograpy (and Price Guide).”
Some original 1966 jackets have a sticker on the front cover that reads “Limited Edition – 2 L.P.‘s for the price of one.”
Rock double-albums of 1966
There were only two rock double-albums of all-new material released in 1966, but what a pair! One consistently ranks among the greatest rock albums ever, while the other has seen its star rising among fans and critics for the past few years. But how did they affect the industry? How did they affect other rock musicians?
Dylan was an established seller and BLONDE ON BLONDE was riding on the back of a Top 10 single, Rainy Day Women #12 & 35. So good sales of the album must have been expected.
Record company execs probably took some notice of the extra money made from the album’s higher price, but the success of this two-record set wasn’t an earth-shaking event.
There wouldn’t be another such double-album until Donovan’s super-deluxe boxed gardening set in the final weeks of 1967.
On the other hand, FREAK OUT was a début album by an unknown group with no sales history. Verve didn’t even know how to promote them: “They look bad and smell even worse” was actually used in at least one European country!
The industry must have paid some attention to the sales of this unsellable record—even if Verve did initially sell the two records for the price of one. Sales increased exponentially to the point where the album found its way onto the Billboard’s LP chart in February 1967. It spent a good portion of the year in the lower realms of that survey. 8
Despite the success of these two albums, there would not be another double-album of new studio material until Donovan’s A GIFT FROM A FLOWER TO A GARDEN in the final weeks of 1967.
In the summer of 1968, Cream’s WHEELS OF FIRE was the hottest album in the US and may have been the biggest-selling double-album in recording history up to that point. As impressive as its sales were, they were totally forgotten when the Beatles released THE WHITE ALBUM later in the year!
Wheels of fire and white albums
So FREAK OUT may have issued as late as June 20, and early copies of BLONDE ON BLONDE might have shown up in Los Angeles and New York on June 27. For my way of ratiocinating, the debate over the release dates of these two albums is so much nitpicking. But then I can pick nits when moved by the right topic and, like it or not, the Mothers were first.
But in terms of effect, Dylan and Zappa conceived, recorded, and released The First Rock Double-Album at the same time!
And as important as that may seem to rock aficionados, neither album had a fraction of the impact on the pop world or the recording industry artistically or commercially that WHEELS OF FIRE and THE BEATLES would have two years later!
And for those readers with a long memory, recall that Jerry Richards mentioned a title that could answer the question, “What was the first rock & roll double-album of all-new material? Of course, I’m not going to tell you here—I’m saving it for another article.
And the answer is so surprising that I will offer an amazingly accurate reproduction of a 1966 Marvel No-Prize to anyone who gets it right in the comments section below …What was the first double-album of the ‘Rock Era’—Bob Dylan’s BLONDE ON BLONDE or the Mothers of Invention’s FREAK OUT? Click To Tweet
FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page was cropped from the front cover of FREAK OUT. I played with the color balance to get something a little different and more eye-catching (bottom image). The long, stupid title for this article came naturally. Finally, another round of applause for Frank Daniels and his suggestions and contributions to this article, which included being a researcher and a proofreader!!!
1 Depending on how you define rock & roll music, by 1966 it was at least twelve years old! And it’s ridiculous that sixty years after Bill Haley rocked around the clock and Elvis checked into Heartbreak Hotel we still can’t agree on a universal definition.
2 For many researchers, the first place they begin is with Wikipedia. Unfortunately, there the blind are all too often led by the blind: as long as contributors supply linked sources for their entries, those entries are accepted—even if the sources are incorrect. And the Wiki contributors and editors make constant and egregious errors where popular music is concerned.
3 Finding the Glorious Noise article within minutes of its being posted was rapturous, like The Void designed things intelligently and there are no coincidences but this isn’t the place to talk about Free Will and Fate and Karma and Dharma and Greg and freeing Willy and all that woo-woo kinda stuff.
4 Other albums noted as new releases on the same page included the Beatles’ YESTERDAY & TODAY and the Rolling Stones’ AFTERMATH. Imagine being 16-years-old and walking into a record store that Monday in 1966 and handing the cashier a ten-dollar bill and walking out with the new Beatles, Dylan, and Stones LPs with change from the ten-spot in your pocket?)
5 FREAK OUT didn’t sell enough copies to make the LP charts until early 1967.
6 The paragraphs here were liberally adapted from the paragraphs printed in Hit Parader. I made changes for stylistic consistency and general readability.
7 From 1958 through 1975, the RIAA Gold Record Award for LPs was based solely on dollar amounts: an album had to sell $1,000,000 at the wholesale level to qualify for an RIAA Gold Record Award. Period. Unit sales were not considered at all. And Platinum Record Awards didn’t exist until 1976. For more information, refer to “Understanding RIAA Gold And Platinum Record Awards Of The Sixties.”
8 Regarding the use of “unsellable”: To explain to a modern reader how repulsive the Mothers were to white-bread America fifty years ago is beyond the scope of this article. Perhaps a modern rap group consisting of members of NAMBLA (look it up) might be analogous.