“I’m very tired about the way a lot of music writing now is about personal experience and generational nostalgia,” Jon Savage is telling me. “I’m not interested in talking about whether I ate Crunchies or Orange Aeros on my way back from school. That’s by the by.”

What follows then, you won’t be surprised, is not autobiographical. Or mostly not. But it is about music. Music and politics at a particular point in time. Confectionary doesn’t really get a look in.

Savage, who I guess we might best describe as a cultural historian these days, has written a new book. It’s a book about the year 1966, and it is full of the music of the time, much of it great. But it’s also a book about nuclear fear, the Vietnam war, the rise of feminism (before the word feminism even existed), civil rights marches, LSD and flower power. And it’s a book about how all those things connect and interact.

“Pop was everything in 1966," Savage writes on (almost) the first page of 1966. It was, he argues, “a way of looking at the world” too. And that in essence is what 1966 is about. The music and the mood music. The tenor of the times and the soundtrack that accompanied it. The Beatles and the street battles, if you like (though you can also expect everyone from the Four Tops to Love, Wilson Pickett to the Thirteenth Floor Elevators to turn up at some point).

To some degree the resulting book is as utopian as some of the records it investigates. “There is a disguised polemic in the book,” Savage admits. “I do get very irritated by revisionist histories of the sixties which seek to downplay the impact youth had in that period and to downplay the marginal and the outcast. So I knew I wanted to go into the radical side of that year because it seemed like a radical year to me. You just have to listen to the records. Those are radical records.”

It’s a grey Welsh morning on Anglesey when we speak. This is where Savage lives now, when he’s not delving through yellowing clippings and microfilm in libraries and museums. Possibly still best known for his monumental history of punk, England’s Dreaming, Savage has been pursuing the back story of the teenage dream for decades now. Indeed, 1966 is a reaction to his previous book Teenage, one that covered the years 1875 to 1945 and necessarily entailed engaging with the horrors of two world wars.

“I found them both just incredibly upsetting,” Savage says. “I remember coming out of the Imperial War Museum after spending a day in there researching First World War casualties, statistics and testimony. And I actually walked out the front door and threw up. It was so upsetting. It had a physical impact on me. So I thought ‘I don’t want to go through that again. The next time I’m going to spend a long time in a particular place, I don’t want to be going somewhere like that. Where would I like to be?’ And I thought ‘oh, 1966.’”

So here we are, with a 550-page book (not including notes and discography). There’s also an accompanying double CD if you’re so inclined, though thankfully it doesn’t include Staff Sargeant Barry Sadler’s mawkish, militaristic The Ballad of the Green Berets which does feature heavily in the book.

And the thing is, Savage may have started out not wanting to revisit the horrors of the war but 1966 had its own terrors. It’s a book that begins with the fear of nuclear annihilation after all.

“Every year has its big fear. At the minute it’s probably climate change and Muslim fundamentalism. But then the big fear was nuclear annihilation and of course it was much stronger in the UK than it was in the US because we were closer to it all. If Berlin went up then we were going to go up, so it was very raw.”

Time and again Savage crosscuts from the utopian possibilities of pop to the painful reality of the times, whether it be the escalation in the Vietnam War or the increasing violence surrounding the civil rights marches in the US. And so James Brown rubs shoulders with Martin Luther King and firebrand Stokely Carmichael.

These are subjects that retain the power to shock, Savage found. “I started off watching the footage of Selma and I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t. I was absolutely horrified. It has that power 50 years later.

“I became fascinated by Stokely Carmichael. He said the whole problem of Martin Luther King’s non-violence policy was that it presumed white America had a conscience. And you look at people who are beating up the marchers in Selma and you look at the sheriff in Selma hitting a priest on camera and you just realise these people had no conscience and they didn’t give a shit.”

And not even Diana Ross could change that.

But pop could offer a commentary on and sometimes a rebuttal of that painful reality. And it did. For some it’s why the sixties remain such a contentious part of our history. 1966 is Savage’s defence of that decade.

Jon Savage was 13 in 1966, living in Ealing where his parents had moved after the Second World War. A new beginning in a new place. A new world even.

But that new world – the Ealing bit of it at any rate – seemed empty to Savage. “There wasn’t a lot to get hold of there except for pop music,” he recalls. “I became obsessed with pop music when I was about 10 and it was a good time to be obsessed with pop music.”

You can feel the scar of a generational fracture here. There’s a moment in A Hard Day’s Night when an old man has a go at Ringo Starr. “Don’t take that tone with me, young man,” he says. “I fought the war for your sort.”

“I bet you’re sorry you won,” Ringo replies.

Thinking about it, it’s possible that Ringo’s story, Savage’s story, every sixties story is a war story of sorts.

“I do believe every generation has its own task,” Savage tells me at one point, “and its own time and the work of my generation was to deal with post-war damage and to start unlocking those feelings and all that damage that our parents had quite understandably locked up.

In passing he remembers the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965. “I think what happened for me anyway is that the death of Churchill and the funeral actually unlocked something. That was the end of the war. That was it.

“And because Churchill was such a 19th-century figure in many ways it was also the end of Victorianism. There was an enormous burst of freedom then, 64, 65, 66, 67 and it was a party to which those kind of people who were busy slagging it off weren’t invited. It was young people creating a vibrant, exciting, forward-looking mass culture in plain sight. And they got away with it for a little while.”

They even took it to the top of the charts and around the world. “Really, this book is a celebration of those wonderful records,” concludes Savage. “Because, you know, it doesn’t matter if a right-wing historian slags off John Lennon. It just doesn’t matter. Because those records will endure forever. Those records will last.”

1966 is forever. How sweet is that?

1966: The Year the Decade Exploded by Jon Savage is published by Faber, priced £20.A double CD of the same name has been released on Ace Records.