It starts in the fall of 1965 with the near simultaneous release of Yesterday by The Beatles and Lovers Concerto by the Motown group, The Toys. Both became immediate smash hits - on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart for October 30, 1965, Yesterday is #1 and Lovers Concerto #2. Yesterday, featuring just Paul on vocals backed by a string quartet, was a startling departure for The Beatles and rock music in general. As for Lovers Concerto, while the instrumentation was pure Motown, the melody came directly from Minuet in G Major by Christian Penzold (1677-1733) a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach.
In December, The Beatles released Rubber Soul containing In My Life with its unusual harpsichord solo, a baroque instrument which began to see more use in pop songs. That same month, the Rolling Stones, at the beginning of their imitative Beatles phase and after, no doubt prodding by their panicked manager and producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, decided to mimic Yesterday by releasing a string sweetened version of As Tears Go By, originally written for, and released by, Marianne Faithful, the year before but with a more pop/folk arrangement.
July 1966 saw the release of what many regard as the quintessential baroque rock song, the melancholy Walk Away Renee by the Left Banke:
Just walk away ReneeThe Left Banke followed this up with one more baroque single in late 1966 before breaking up, Pretty Ballerina with its gorgeous oboe solo.
You won't see me follow you back home
Now as the rain beats down upon my weary eyes
For me it cries
The month after Walk Away Renee was issued Revolver by The Beatles hit the airwaves with two entries in this category, the best known being Eleanor Rigby, recognized as a remarkable accomplishment at the time, along with For No One. The version below of Eleanor Rigby is a reimagining, using the original recorded tracks, created by Giles Martin (son of George) with the approval of Paul & Ringo for the Cirquedu Soleil show Love which is based upon the music of The Beatles.
1967 and early 1968 saw the last burst of the initial wave of baroque rock. May saw the release of Procol Harum's first single A White Shade of Pale, a monster worldwide hit with a majestic vocal from Gary Brooker and would reprise elements of the sound in 1969's A Salty Dog.
The end of the year saw the release of Harry Nilsson's album, Pandemonium Shadow Show (named in homage to the strange and disturbing traveling circus at the center of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes) featuring, among other tunes, Without Her, with a wonderful arrangement of strings and woodwinds.
Child Is Father To The Man, the debut album of Blood, Sweat & Tears released in February 1968, produced by John Simon (who also produced the first two albums by The Band) and arranged by the band's founder Al Kooper, remains one of the best sounding albums of the 60s. Kooper put together a talented group of musicians to create a unique blend of rock, pop, blues, and jazz and had a great ear for new songwriters finding tunes by little known, at the time, composers Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, and Tim Buckley, and he was also a good songwriter in his own right. Unfortunately, Al couldn't sing a lick and his stubborn insistence of being lead vocalist led, after the album's release, to a revolt by the other band members and eviction from his own group, after which they recruited David Clayton-Thomas as vocalist and went on to great commercial success, though in my estimate the first album with Kooper remains their finest despite his vocal limitations.
The results was an eclectic collection of songs with the oddest being a Kooper composition, The Modern Adventures of Plato, Diogenes, and Freud, with the string arrangement making an appropriate capstone to this era.