Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era [Box Set, 1998]

In the mid-'60s the British Invasion arrived upon the colonies' shores, reselling Yanks back their own indigenous R&B-based music with a limey accent, until the said limeys began to feel out artistic ambitions and incorporated a new mind-expanding style referred to as 'psychedelic music' (itself another form of music with American origins that the Brits pluckily adapted and resold to Yanks). All across this great, huge country, teenagers with access to the latest technology of television witnessed the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, and lesser long-haired English beat combos on Ed Sullivan and were entranced and enervated enough to hed to the local hardware store the next day and plunk down allowance money on musical equipment, in vague hopes of forming a band and taking over the world. Naive, yes, and clumsy, yes (in most cases), these teenage garage bands of the '60s didn't reach the heights of their idols, but that only adds to their shambolic charm at this late date -- the '60s garage rockers wanted to be superstars, make no doubt, the next Fabs with their own Saturday morning cartoon and lunchbox and high-minded concept album, but they didn't have the professionalism to do so. Instead, they accidently invented something called punk rock. Loud, sloppy, amateurish, hormone-crazed, sweaty, freaked out, angst-ridden, goofy, snotty, snide, exuberant, ready to burst -- these garage bands held closest to the true spirit of rock'n'roll with their blasts of one-shot glory when their superstar betters were dorking around with noodly instrumental wank-offs and soma-inducing Indian mysticism.

When Lenny Kaye released the original Nuggets in 1972, his intentions were to save a number of those one-hit wonders for posterity before they were lost to time. To many kids at the time, Nuggets came as a revelation, a crucial inspiration for the burgeoning punk movement that came a few years later. But listening today, none of these one-hit blunders sound very much like the '77 punkers -- no, if these garage bands point to any period at all, it's the era that came shortly after punk: the golden era of American indie rock. Much blather has been splattered about these discs inspiring the likes of the Sex Pistols, but sonically and culturally '60s garage rock's legacy finds its true home in bands such as the '80s SST roster (Black Flag, the Meat Puppets, Husker Du, the Minutemen, Sonic Youth) and hundreds of other independent labels such as Sub-Pop, Homestead, Twin/Tone, 4AD, Matador, etc., that took the garage bands' turning of limitations (shambling amateurism, sub-standard production) into strengths. So forget punk rock and listen to Pavement or Guided By Voices or Sleater-Kinney or Jon Spencer when you're seeking proof of the Nuggets bands' impact.

In sum, the original Nuggets package -- a 27-track double LP, later expanded into an 11-volume series by Rhino in the '80s, and in 1998 released as an 118-track box set by the same record label -- accomplished two primary goals. First, it set off the deluge of repackaging previously released material by proving that audiences and collectors (especially collectors) were still interested in music of the past. It's easy to overlook the importance of this today, but in 1972, according to the liner notes of the box set, record companies still viewed rock'n'roll as a fad and only concerned themselves with peddling current music, letting music of only a few years earlier fade out of existence. Today, if you haven't noticed, there's barely a corner of pop musical history that hasn't been lavishly repackaged with extensive liner notes as a "lost classic" (most of which are indeed lost, but few of which are actually classic). Secondly, these garage bands upset the unspoken rock hierarchy, proving that one didn't have to be a genius like Dylan or Hendrix to make great rock'n'roll -- that in fact, some of the greatest rock'n'roll was the product of a gang of ordinary guys with no more than amplifiers and a six-pack in the basement. This second point is arguably Nuggets' most important legacy -- with that DIY, democratic spirit, there's no punk and definitely no indie rock.

But let's get down to the core of what this music's about: the frustrated hormonal cries of legions of adolescent boys who understandably wondered when this so-called sexual revolution they kept hearing about in the media would reach their hometowns. Remember, the '60s preached free love and drugs, but it wasn't until the '70s that average people actually put that rhetoric into practice. If there's one universal in nearly every culture in any era (except for maybe South Sea islanders), it's this plain fact: the vast majority of males in their teens and 20s don't get laid nearly as often as they'd like. So many of the songs found on the Nuggets set deal with the same primal theme: I can't get no satisfaction, I can't get no girlie action. If even Mick Jagger whined about not gettin' some back in the '60s, how do you think your average guy felt? The average garage rocker's sexual frustrations can seem unappetizingly ugly and sexist in these more enlightened times -- many of the women here are referred to as witches and bitches -- but that's just the way things are with neurotically insecure young men singing the virginity blues: put up a false macho front of sexist bravado to hide the fact you're scared to death of talking to girls. Nothing particularly shameful here, just the normal strains of growing up (god, how did I ever get through it?). And I definitely mean boys when I'm talking about these garage rockers - aside from a few prettily chirping backup singers, girls are practically non-existent on these discs. This was all before feminism, after all, and most girls were content to merely applaud their boyfriend from the audience rather than form any bands of their own. And in the garage rockers' defense, often the protests of sexual dissatisfaction masked another sort of protest that in America is taboo: class. The frustrations of working-class boys wasting their youth in dead-end jobs to make someone else rich spills over explicitly in several of these tracks (witness the amazingly nihilistic, naked class hostility of "So What" for example), but mostly it's ever-so-thinly veiled behind the socially acceptable (at the time) veneer of sexism. Or as Iggy Pop put it, "Punk rock was the greasers taking back rock'n'roll back from the college kids who ruined it." Of course, a lot of these were middle class kids running amok with the brand new toys afforded by '60s technology -- fuzz ambs, reverb, echo, feedback, the eternal Farfisa, any production gimmick that sounded cool run through a tape machine. So Nuggets most importantly testifies to what a unique time the mid-'60s were musically, thematic sex/class/race/societal pressures issues aside -- the best of these tracks stumble across the perfect median between arty and raw, in a way that the definitely more one-dimensional punk that emerged a decade later rarely achieved. In sum, for all these reasons, you need to hear this music. A lot of these bands either never approached the glory of the one great single they had in them, or never even released a proper LPs' worth of material, and even if you were foolish to try to dig into their catalog, that would amount to hundreds of CDs, when you can avoid bankruptcy by just sampling 118 songs spread out over 4 CDs, of which, amazingly enough, most are of high quality, and some even freakin', absolutely, astoundingly, GREAT. On that note, let's look at the tracks, one by one:


Disc One

Best Song: "Don't Look Back" by The Remains
Song Least Likely To Make It To a Mix Tape: "Oh Yeah" by Shadows of the Night

The original Nuggets, released in 1972; poppier and softer than the next 3 discs

The Electric Prunes, "I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)" -- A buzzing drone circles through like an eel surfacing from the deep, a boy awakens from a wet dream in fright, the ultimo goth-punk single.

The Standells, "Dirty Water" -- Lemme tell you a story 'bout my town. We got muggers, lovers, thieves, frustrated coeds gotta be in by 12 o'clock, ah, but they cool cats, only one place in the Yoo-S-of-Ay like my town, I'm a tawkin' 'bout mah Boston, man, City of the Brotherly Middle Finger, or Bosstown as we's locals likes tah caw it. Written by a Texan and performed by a California band, naturally.

The Strangeloves, "Night Time" -- These shameless opportunists (pretending to be Aussie sheep farmers to cash in on the British Invasion) only had one idea musically, and a very musically primitive idea at that: to jack up the Bo Diddley beat to the pounding forefront and build a simplistic chant around it. Here, it works. But I still hold "Rock'n'Roll Part 2" and "We Will Rock You" against them.

The Knickerbockers, "Lies" -- Not the Beatles! Simply the greatest one-shot imitation of a raw John rocker circa '65, the guitars amped up slightly so that it rocks harder than anything the Beatles actually released in '65. Play it to your friends, don't tell them who it is, and watch them scratch their heads as to what Beatles LP "Lies" is on. Fooled me when I first heard it on the oldies station, too.

The Vagrants, "Respect" -- These white boys ain't Otis, whose arrangement they mimick, and they ain't Aretha, whose new arrangement would make all other versions of the song superflous.

Mouse & the Traps, "Public Execution" -- Not as close a '65 Dylan imitation as the Knickerbockers '65 Beatles imitation, and obviously lacking Dylan's talent for arcane wordplay, this "Positively 4th Street" knockoff is actually an enjoyable substitute for the real thing, long as you don't think too hard about it.

The Blues Project, "No Time Like the Right Time" -- Actual Dylan sideman Al Kooper, on the other hand, sounds nothing like Dylan; his new band bear an obvious heavy Zombies influence, only pushing more towards mainstream soul -- you know, the Zombies Americanized.

Shadows of the Knight, "Oh Yeah" -- As if releasing a pale cover of Them's "Gloria" wasn't enough, these milksop white boys try on John Lee Hooker for size, with predictably lame results. Bleh.

The Seeds, "Pushin' Too Hard" -- The Seeds, revered in certain circles for their ability to produce good rock'n'roll despite piss-poor musicianship and thereby proving punk dogma a decade or so early, at least on this particular song make a convincing argument for amateurism, plying simple chord sequences to a simplistic, ungainly song structure. The clincher is the jaw-droppingly amateurish guitar solo, so easy for even beginners (as in, just learned two chords yesterday), yet it works, despite the fact that I'm laughing at it. No, probably because I'm laughing at it, is the reason it works.

The Barbarians, "Moulty" -- Their music was never even remotely barbaric, or even very good, just incompetent, simple sing along jingles. They did manage to appear regularly on a TV show as a house band, though, and had a great visual gimmick in their drummer, Moulty, whose loss of his hand (replaced by a pirate's hook) is narrated in this corny novelty number.

The Remains, "Don't Look Back" -- If there's one band on this compilation that I definitely need to check out more, Barry & the Remains, legendary in mid-'60s Boston, are it. This driving, anthemic single displays a tight powerhouse of a band that could hold its own and rock as hard as any of the British Invasion competion, with smart pop instincts & admirable guts, yet somehow success eluded them. I'm never going to get that "you gotta keep running to the end of time" refrain out of my head...

The Magicians, "An Invitation To Cry" -- A very average mid-'60s soul ballad, ever so slightly psychedelicized -- nothing more, nothing less. Which means pretty good.

The Castaways, "Liar Liar" -- With its nursery rhyme, falsetto chorus and swirling haunted house keyboard hook, a highly unique, naggingly memorable single that couldn't possibly be duplicated, not even, it appears, by the Castaways themselves, who like most of the bands herein promptly swept back into obscurity as quickly as they grabbed the public ear.

The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, "You're Gonna Miss Me" -- An intense folk/soul threat from a jilted lover, the electric jug keeps it wobbily off-center, but what makes it truly classic is the effect of Roky Erickson's feral wolfman howl.

Count Five, "Psychotic Reaction" -- California white boys ripping off English white boys ripping off Mississippi black boys -- one order of slopbucket teenage junk-blues, to go, please.

The Leaves, "Hey Joe" -- Now of course no one can really compete with Jimi Hendrix's definitive version, but this speedy rip through the old folk chestnut about killin' mah woman comes pretty close. Galloping at a clip as if they can't wait to get to the end of this sordid tale, it sounds like a completely different song than Hendrix's version. Well, the Leaves did release this single at least a year before Hendrix told the tale, after all.

Michael & the Messengers, "Romeo & Juliet" -- Admirably high energy for such throwaway teenage bubblegum, which keeps it marginally more interesting than your average throwaway teenage bubblegum.

The Cryan Shames, "Sugar and Spice" -- "and all things nice..." is the rhyme, which should tell you all you need to know about this innocous fluff. Searchers cover, BTW.

The Amboy Dukes, "Baby Please Don't Go" -- Now this is whut I calls muh rawk'n'roll! That thar Ted Noojent kin shore play that thar gi-tar. Ugh!

Blues Magoos, "Tobacco Road" -- Take one mid-'60s hard rock standard, extend it with a mildly interesting instrumental freak-out section, and you've got something somewhat more than mildy memorable.

Chocolate Watch Band, "Let's Talk About Girls" -- Made redundant by the Undertones cover. Whatever joker is singing should keep his day job. Well, since this is Nuggets, he probably never quit his day job in the first place.

The Mojo Men, "Sit Down I Think I Love You" -- Like most Stephen Stills love songs I've heard, remains imminently resistably by its whiff of smarm. Basically he's saying that since a bird in the hand is better than one in the bush, he'd like to try to love what he's caught. What girl could resist?

The Third Rail, "Run Run Run" -- Great Society-era bubblegum from what sounds like three conscientous beatnik-Brill-Building-hacks '60s bourgeios liberals, comfy sweaters and all. Which isn't to say it isn't catchy.

Sagittarius, "My World Fell Down" -- A Smile-era Brian Wilson ripoff, and who better to do it than Gary Usher and Glen Campbell?

Nazz, "Open My Eyes" -- Todd Rundgren flirts with ripping off "I Can't Explain" for the first few bars before exploding into a fuzzily crunchy slice of Move-style hard rock/pop, rocking harder on the first cut of his first album than he'd do at any other time in his career.

The Premiers, "Farmer John" -- Migrant worker hermano spies Anglo farmer's daughter (figure since I don't know many Mexican chicks with shale green eyes), and falls in love. The perfect example of early '60s East LA Chicano R & B stomp, not that I've ever heard any other examples, mind. Sometimes simplicity rules.

The Magic Mushrooms, "It's-a-Happening" -- This sounds so much like a parody of psychedelia that one would suspect a put-on if this future-looking single weren't released in 1966, considerably before the tune in, drop out revolution in the head.


Disc Two

Best Song: "Talk Talk" by the Music Machine. Or is that "I Wonder" by the Gants?
Most Totally Ungroovy Waste To Screw Up My Vibes, Man: "The Trip" by Kim Fowley

Strongest of the 4 discs, overall

The Music Machine, "Talk Talk" -- Amazing how when you check the credits, it comes in slightly over a minute and a half, when with its twists and turns and tempo shifts it feels at least twice as long. Black-souled teenage frustration angst, dense as the room you keep yourself locked in from the world cause you've got a complication and it's an only child.

The Del-Vetts, "Last Time Around" -- Who says they didn't have heavy metal back in the mid-'60s? What with this hard rock nugget possessing a crushing riff to do Black Sabbath proud?

The Human Beinz, "Noboby But Me" -- Tight and driving, yes, but this oldies staple, an Isley Bros. cover, is in the running for most obnoxious refrain of all time: "No no no no no no no no no no....." ad infinitum....

Kenny & the Kasuals, "Journey To Tyme" -- It's got an oversize hook that's pushed so far out in front that it completely overshadows everything else in the song. Which is good, because apart from the giant guitar hook the song isn't anything spectacular. But that is a good hook.

The Sparkles, "No Friend of Mine" -- One of those definitive sneering put-downs of fake friends that garage bands specialize in, this chain-smokes through half of east Texas, which is a mighty big share of country, hombre.

The Turtles, "Outside Chance" -- Warren Zevon's tougher, snottier take on Paul Simon's sentiments in "I am a Rock" -- "Stone walls surround me," the individualist proclaims, and if it weren't the sunny Turtles singing, I might believe him this time.

The Litter, "Action Woman" -- Yeah, it's a sexistly repugnant sentiment, oink oink, but in defense it's honest and it rocks. Guy is pissed off cause his girlfriend ain't giving it up, so he tells her he's gonna find an "action woman" who does give him "satisfaction."

The Elastik Band, "Spazz" -- A genuinely warped peek into cartoonish madness, a redneck bully mercilessly taunts a hapless spazz, cackling every time the nerd trips his feet. Gives novelty singles a good name.

The Chocolate Watchband, "Sweet Young Thing" -- Winner of 1966's highly competitive Stones imitation award, thanks to a) a singer who's a dead ringer for Mick, b) a memorable Aftermath- style guitar hook, and most importantly c) that dead-on sleazy atmosphere, meaning that they truly grokked what the Stones were all about. Though they get it wrong on one count: Mick wouldn't bug out because his chick split for another guy; he'd keep his cool -- course, Mick wouldn't be so uncool as to lose his chick to another guy in the first place, would he?

Strawberry Alarm Clock, "Incense and Peppermints" -- Hokum smokum, that's what I call smacking bubblegum, psychedelia-flavor.

The Brogues, "I Ain't No Miracle Worker" -- I like Elvis Costello's "Miracle Man," which treads similar ground musically and lyrically, better; which isn't to say this isn't fine in its own right. Written by a team of Brill Building female songwriters, interestingly enough.

Love, "7 and 7 Is" -- A monster rhythm keeps pushing this demented, apocalyptic frenzy farther and farther into intensity until the roar of a mushroom cloud halts the madness; it's the only fitting way to stop the momentum.

The Outsiders, "Time Won't Let Me" -- A killer bassline hook fronting a memorable chorus makes this the dancefloor smash at the local sockhop of '66.

The Squires, "Going All the Way" -- Too bad this amounted to these Connecticut Yankees' only release, since it's an excellent thumping single that quite holds its own against any of the competition.

The Shadows of the Knight, "I'm Gonna Make You Mine" -- The lamest of lame-o's finally achieve competence with a forceful proclamation of teenage lust.

Kim Fowley, "The Trip" -- The perplexingly successful Fowley (perplexingly since he has never shown any glimmer of talent), author of "Alley Oop", Byrds collaborator, and future Runaways svengali, releases one the '60s most unlistenable novelty single: over a simple vamp, Fowley shout-talks in his hoarse voice (not sings, for heaven's sake) nonsense LSD imagery, "purple cats and emerald rats" blah blah bleah.

The Seeds, "Can't Seem To Make You Mine" -- Made redundant by Alex Chilton's superior cover, supposedly this is Sky Saxon's best composition but the band is so sloppy and enervated I can't tell.

The Remains, "Why Do I Cry" -- Fine midtempo ballad from Boston's greatest '60s band, especially notable for its terrific bridge.

The Beau Brummels, "Laugh Laugh" -- One of America's better Merseybeat imitators jangle melancholily in refutation of the upbeat title; more than worthy of the Byrds, though definitely lower echelon (i.e., Ringo tune) for the Fabs.

The Nightcrawlers, "Little Black Egg" -- One of those singles whose existence proves beyond doubt that anyone can do it, if only as a fluke: a simple nursery rhyme set to some of the beginning guitar player's easiest chords, it quickly established itself as a standard because even highschool bands with a week's practice together could play it. So insanely simple it keeps popping up in my head at odd moments, just like "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Three Blind Mice".

The Gants, "I Wonder" -- Like a proto-Alex Chilton or Chris Stamey, which is to say a Southern boy ignoring his deep-fried roots to ape the Brits, Mississippi's Sid Herring knicks a bit of the melody of "In My Life" to come up with this rolling, wide-eyed dewey gem of puppy-ish infatuation (head over heels lyrically of a girl, musically of John Lennon).

The Five Americans, "I See the Light" -- Somewhat grating with the singer's hoarse hectoring and somewhat forgettable single from the band that later had a bigger hit with "Western Union".

The Woolies, "Who Do You Love," -- With all the countless renditions of Bo Diddley's signature song, kind of redundant, don't you think?

Swingin' Medallions, "Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)" -- With its mixed alcohol/one-night-stand metaphor that keeps tripping over itself into incoherence (but who gives a shit about the lyric, anyway?), the ultimo fratboy anthem. Can allegedly be enjoyed sober, but I wouldn't know because everytime I hear this I feel drunk. I'm sure it's Dubya Bush's favorite song.

The Merry-Go-Round, "Live" -- Fresh and tingling as a coastal Cali breeze.

Paul Revere & the Raiders, "Steppin' Out" -- Boy gets called up on the draft, comes back to his small town in Idaho and finds out that his girl's been messin' around while he's been gone. So it's sayonora, bitch!

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, "Diddy Wah Diddy" -- With its growling, rumbling bass and Beefheart's inimitably gravelly vocals, the definitive take on John Lee Hooker's signature tune. And get this, it's Beefheart, and it's totally accessible!

The Sonics, "Strychnine" -- Don't try this at home, kiddies; these wailing Sonics, who kick up the fiercest, most primally driving pre-hardcore punk racket in the American Northwest behind their studio with egg carton walls, are just kidding when they encourage you to ingest one of your household's most lethal substances.

Syndicate of Sound, "Little Girl" -- "Bitch, I know what you been doing behind my back," quoth the cuckold.

Blues Magoos, "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet" -- Ahh, baby, one of the '60s great lost singles amounts to perfection with its plexiglass guitar hook and proto-Misfits "whoah-whoah-whoah" chorus. (Cool can be) grammar bad.

Max Frost & the Storm Troopers, "Shape of Things To Come" -- The title track to The Year of the Student Revolts (1968), another classic hook by Brill Building's top-notch Mann/Weil team, foretells of a future when a rock star named Max Frost will be elected president by extending the vote to 14-year-olds and subsequently force everyone over 35 into concentration camps where they are forcefed LSD. But to understand that you'll have to see the recommendable Wild In the Streets, a badly dated and laughable teensploitation flick that is highly entertaining for exactly that, in other words a 'camp classic'. Don't trust anybody over 30! which i'm pushing in a few years, sigh....


To make things uploading a bit easier, my review comes in two parts. Onward to Nuggets Discs 3 & 4

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