One hit wonders, amateurish garage rockers, the first punk rockers: they’re all here in this newly updated version of Lenny Kaye’s classic Nuggets collection, which is included in its entirety on the first of these four fully-packed compact discs. Most of these songs feature fuzzy riffs, amateurish yet appealing organ, and primal beats, but these songs are all the better for their simplicity. Raw and primitive but vitally alive, these 118 songs include somewhat well-known (or at least “legendary” to some extent) numbers such as The Electric Prunes' "I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)," The Standells’ “Dirty Water,” The Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard,” The Thirteenth Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction,” Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense And Peppermints,” The Amboy Dukes’ “Journey To The Center Of The Mind,” Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs’ “Wooly Bully,” and the Kingsmen’s immortal “Louie Louie.” However, unless you’re some kind of expert '60s archivist most of you likely have never heard most of these songs, many of which were regional hits that never found a national audience. Bands such as The Vagrants, Chocolate Watchband, Magic Mushrooms, Barbarians, Woolies, Lollipop Shoppe, Electric Prunes, and Mouse & the Traps are just some of the splendid names of these obscure American bands who had the rock n’ roll spirit down pat, even if they didn’t have the talent to go very far with it. Yet most of these bands did have a great moment or two that were lost in time, and now after many years they’ve thankfully been resurrected by the good folks at Rhino Records.
As I said before, disc one is Kaye’s original 1972 collection, which begins with one of the quintessential Nuggets songs, The Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night).” Highly psychedelic, as are many of these songs (these are artyfacts from the psychedelic era, after all), the song is all about its distorted guitars (as are many of these songs) and trippy atmosphere, with sleazy lyrics (about a wet dream!) and an impassioned vocal/catchy chorus as bonuses. Other highlights of this first disc are The Knickerbockers’ “Lies” (admit it, you thought this was an early Beatles song too, didn’t you?), The Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard” (psychedelic yet rocking, this primitive classic is almost too good to be true), The Remains’ soulful “Don’t Look Back” (a “long lost classic” by a good group who could really sing and play), The Thirteenth Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (take the riff/rhythm from “Gloria,” add an electric jug, the bloodcurdling screams of Roky Erickson, and even a cool harmonica solo and what you have is another all-time ‘60s classic almost lost to time), Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” (so catchy and freaky that it caused Lester Bangs to temporarily lose his mind and declare the band better than Led Zeppelin), Sagittarius’ “My World Fell Down” (a brilliant approximation of prime Beach Boys), and The Nazz’ “Open My Eyes” (excellent power pop, despite its blatant thievery of the riff from The Who’s “I Can’t Explain”; that’s OK because enough people would rip off group leader Todd Rundgren years later).
That’s the creme-de-la-creme of the original collection, but there are other high points as well. The Standells’ “Dirty Water” may be a simple garage rocker, but it has become Boston’s unofficial anthem for good reason, while The Blues Project’s “No Time Like The Right Time” is an early Al Kooper project that’s predictably dominated by his organ playing and is a very solid psychedelic pop rocker. The Magicians’ “An Invitation To Cry” is a (rare) soulful ballad and The Castaways’ “Liar, Liar” a catchy psychedelic-bubblegum pop song (actually, there are more bubblegummy songs here than you’d expect), while Michael & The Messengers’ “Romeo & Juliet” delivers enjoyably light organ-led pop, and The Amboy Dukes’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” is an overly long yet rocking guitar workout from Ted Nugent and co. The Blues Magoos “Tobacco Road” (later covered by David Lee Roth) is another prototypical Nuggets nugget in that it’s Yardbirds-influenced, but this one is more ambitious than most of the songs here, as the band pulls out all the stops during a wild jam section. By contrast, The Third Rail’s “Run, Run, Run” delivers more charming bubblegummy pop, and The Magic Mushroom’s “It’s-A-Happening” is another uniquely dated yet fascinating track that’s perfectly in line with the Nuggets spirit; you’ll never hear a song quite like this anywhere else, and once again that’s a good thing.
Alas, the original collection is not without significant flaws. Overly generic (The Stranglers’ “Night Time,” Chocolate Watchband’s “Let’s Talk About Girls”) and boring (“The Shadow Of Knight’s “Oh Yeah”) rockers bring the collection down a notch, as does a (too) dead-on Dylan imitation (Mouse & The Traps’ “A Public Execution”) and a silly novelty song (The Barbarians’ “Moulty,” about their drummer, who had a hook for a hand!). The Vagrants’ “Respect” is good and The Leaves’ “Hey Joe” is really good but both are made somewhat redundant by the more famous - and far superior - versions of those songs (as if you didn’t already know, by Aretha and Jimi), while the rest of the songs I haven’t mentioned (The Cryan Shames’ “Sugar and Spice,” The Mojo Men’s “Sit Down, I Think I Love You,” and The Premiere’s “Farmer John”) I can take or leave depending on my mood, though the last song among those three at least seems to fit (the other two don’t). Neil Young loves it (even covering it on Ragged Glory), and I’m guessing that he and many other aspiring musicians wore out their copy of the original NuggetsLP way back when.
You know, at first I was annoyed that Rhino released Nuggets as part of a 4-cd box set. My thinking was “why should I have to shell out big bucks for a box set when I’m only interested in the original classic?” However, the researchers at Rhino know what they’re doing, and as soon as I started listening to disc two (the first half of which blows away disc one) such feelings dissipated. Anger was replaced by awe; how could so many great songs be so completely obscure even to a music geek such as myself? How is it that amazing songs such as “Talk Talk,” “Last Time Around,” and “Spazz” would likely have been lost or forgotten over time if not for this collection? My gratitude to Rhino is now considerable - but back to the contents of disc two, which falters somewhat during its second half but which contains some unforgettable stuff, most of which (again) you’ve never heard unless you’re some kind of expert ‘60s archivist.
Both harder edged and more r&b-based than disc one, disc two peaks immediately with the fantastic 1-2 punch of The Music Machine's "Talk Talk" and The Del-Vetts' "Last Time Around," two of the hardest-hitting songs on the album. These two are slam dunks for my inevitable Best Of Nuggets comp., as is The Human Beinz' "Nobody But Me," a catchy, propulsive r&b-based party tune that I've actually heard on the radio (it’s also popular in sports arenas). After a more generic yet impressive Yardbirds-influenced (i.e. fuzzy guitars, gothic chorus) effort from Kenny & The Kasuals ("Journey To Tyme") comes The Sparkles' "No Friend Of Mine," a catchy garage rocker that nods to The Rascals (albeit with added distortion) and which by all means should've been a big hit. Continuing, "Outside Chance" is a typically catchy and good Turtles song (written by a young Warren Zevon!), while The Litter's "Action Woman" is one of many Stones-derived rockers on this set and is arguably the best of the bunch. I'm not quite sure what to say about The Elastik Band's "Spazz" other than to say that it's spectacularly unlike anything I (or you, most likely) have ever heard, in part due to it's, ahem, unusual lyrics/vocals but also because of its adventurous music.
Keeping that pace would be damn near impossible, but disc two does just that, at least for awhile, though The Chocolate Watchband's "Sweet Young Thing" (yet another Stones homage, this one with a heavily psychedelic flavor) is merely good, unlike Strawberry Alarm Clock's "Incense And Peppermints," which is one of the definitive psychedelic tracks. Few songs take me (and Austin Powers) back to 1967 quite like this one, and I love every damn dated minute of it (especially those "sha la las" there at the end). On a side note, that's Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ed King on guitar, of all people! You know, I didn't mean to do a track-by-track review of disc two, but I simply haven't hit on a song yet that I felt didn't deserve at least a mention. I mean, has there ever been a more convincing Animals imitation than The Brogues' "I Ain't No Miracle Worker"? And yet this superb song is followed by even stronger tracks such as Love's hard-charging "7 And 7 Is" and The Outsiders' catchy, horn-heavy "Time Won't Let Me" (actually a #5 hit). The Squires' "Going All The Way" is another haunting highlight, and this mellower track is a good example of the surprising diversity on this set, though the raw rockers are still definitely the majority.
Inevitably, the second half of disc two isn't nearly as good, though it certainly has its fair share of stellar songs as well. On the down side, there are quite a few generic efforts (The Five Americans' "I See The Light," The Woolies' "Who Do You Love," and Paul Revere & The Raiders' "Steppin' Out") and even one horribly dated atrocity (Kim Fowley's "The Trip," this box set’s biggest misfire). On the plus side, The Beau Brummels' "Laugh Laugh" and The Nightcrawlers’ "The Little Black Egg"are a couple of charmingly folksy lighter efforts that I like a lot, The Seeds' "Can't Seem To Make You Mine" has a slinky charm, and The Shadows Of Knight do much better than on disc one with "I'm Gonna Make You Mine" (it rocks hard and has a supremely catchy chorus), while The Remains ("Why Do I Cry") and The Blues Magoos (("We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet") score again (the former not quite as impressively as on disc one), making me think that they were probably good bands who deserve their own comps. Other very good songs include The Merry-Go-Round's "Live," a song that sounds familiar in a Fab-kinda way (I'm pretty sure I've heard it before, and leader Emitt Rhodes later did some good solo stuff), and Syndicate Of Sound's "Little Girl," which has a naggingly catchy guitar jangle.
Which leaves us with several more truly terrific tracks, starting with another excellent Beatles influenced track (what, you thought all these bands would try to ape the Stones, Animals, Yardbirds, etc. without trying to be The Beatles?) in The Gants' "I Wonder," an airy, melancholic pop song that crosses "In My Life" with Del Shannon's "Runaway." One of my favorites here, and a song that's more in line with the frat party vibe of songs like "Wolly Bully" and "Louie Louie" - both coming later - than the rest of these psychedelicized songs, is Swinging Medallions' "Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)", which features a street corner doo wop vibe, cheesy but supremely hooky keyboards, catchy hand claps, and endlessly singable call and response vocals, resulting in an absurdly entertaining song that I simply can't get out of my head. You'll rarely hear a more beefed up bass sound or a more straightforward Captain Beefheart than on "Diddy Wah Diddy" (an early single), while even AC/DC would be envious of the energy and power The Sonics achieve on the astounding "Strychnine." And rounding out the set is Max Frost & The Troopers "Shape Of Things To Come," one of those mysterious '60s tracks (think LOTS of organ and a somewhat gothic atmosphere) that they don't make any more for some ridiculous reason. That won't stop you from hitting the repeat button, though; it didn't stop me, anyway, or prevent me from panting in anticipation of disc 3.
Which is pretty disappointing, actually. While few of these songs are outright offensive, far too many of them are overly generic (there's amateurism and there's inspired amateurism) and kinda dull, and even the best songs are generally more very good than drop-dead great. Among the first ten tracks, only The Choir's "It's Cold Outside," The Music Explosion’s “Little Bit O’ Soul” (actually a #2 hit), and The "E" Types' "Put The Clock Back On The Wall" really stand out, though "Fight Fire" is notable because it's The Golliwogs (the band who would later become Creedence Clearwater Revival, who sound nothing like this solid but unspectacular Merseybeat combo) and The Rare Breed's "Beg, Borrow And Steal" because it shamelessly steals the riff from "Louie Louie" (and I mean shamelessly). There are too many Stones/Yardbirds ripoffs the rest of the way, as this disc lacks the variety and high points of disc two, but things do pick up somewhat. For example, The Gestures' "Run, Run, Run" has moody minor chords and whispered harmonies that bring The Byrds to mind, and I LOVE the intensity and tension of The Humane Society's "Knock, Knock," a stalker anthem if ever there was one. The Sonics' Gerry Roslie sure can scream, though "Psycho" isn't quite as great as "Strychnine," while The Balloon Farm's "A Question Of Temperature" is another strangely superb "long lost gem" that simply defies description. And is that really Mouse & The Traps rocking so convincingly on "Maid Of Sugar-Maid Of Spice"? What happened to those tentative Dylan copycats, and how did unknown guitarist Harry "Bugs" Henderson pull off those astonishing guitar runs? Ah, such discoveries are what makes even the weakest cd on this box set well worth wading through, and most of the songs on the second half of the disc are at least good, as are several of the earlier songs (The Hombres' "Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)," The Daily Flash's "Jack Of Diamonds,' Lyme & Cybelle's "Follow Me," Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About A Mover”). Later on, I like the cocky attitude and atmospheric music of The Third Bardo's "I'm Five Years Ahead Of My Time" (even if it's overly repetitive), and We The People's "Mirror Of Your Mind" is catchy, energetic, and fun, everything you'd expect from a good Nuggets track. Again, we're talking very good rather than great here, but that's OK, 'cause then The Shadows Of Night deliver "Bad Little Woman," a surprisingly heavy song that rocks like a mofo. Though it's no "Talk Talk," The Music Machine's "Double Yellow Line" is also good (and different) enough to make me wonder if there's more where that came from, while as usual the disc ends with a definitive '60s statement in the Amboy Dukes' "Journey To The Center Of The Mind." Sounding like a hard rock Moody Blues, this song practically drips LSD, and Ted Nugent has rarely sounded better. Still, for all it's merits, which are pretty plentiful all things considered, I rarely play disc three since the first two are so superior. (P.S. That’s Warren Zevon again co-writing and performing on the Lyme & Cybelle song.)
Which brings us to disc four, which is better than disc three but not as good as disc one or (especially) disc two. Once again there's too many (mostly Stones-influenced) generic Nuggets-by-numbers tracks here, but again there's a large amount of leftfield surprises to make up for it. Quite a few of the bands here (The Chocolate Watchband, The Leaves, The Barbarians, The Strangeloves, The Knickerbockers, The Sonics, The Electric Prunes, Paul Revere & The Raiders, We The People, and The Standells) appeared previously, but only The Barbarians, The Strangeloves, and Paul Revere & The Raiders improve on their previous songs. There are some surprisingly well-known songs here too, such as Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs "Wolly Bully" and The Kingmen's "Louie Louie," while The Strangeloves "I Want Candy" became a hit for Bow Wow Wow years later. You won't hear me complain about the inclusion of these songs, however, 'cause all three are great. To quote fellow reviewer George Starostin, "Wolly Bully" is a "Tex-Mex minimalistic idiotic pleasure," while "I Want Candy" is all about its super-sized Bo Diddley beats, catchy chants, and details in the background (Spanish guitar, saxes, etc.). And if you don't like "Louie Louie," often called "the ultimate party song," then you probably don't like rock n' roll or you used to work for the FBI, who actually "investigated " the band since the song's indecipherable lyrics somehow seemed dangerous to them (truth is in fact stranger than fiction!).
Ridiculous politics aside, let's focus on the rest of the highlights from disc four, shall we? "Out Of Our Tree" is a primitive winner by The Wailers' (no, not Bob Marley's Wailers), The Dovers' "What Am I Going To Do" delivers sorrowful yet supremely satisfying pop, and the handclaps and repeated chorus chants of Clefs Of Lavender Hill's (Beatles influenced) "Stop - Get A Ticket" will stick in your head. The Monks' "Complication" is an odd one, to say the least; performed by American GIs stationed in Germany who dressed like Monks and played a raw, uncompromising harbinger of punk rock, The Monks are certainly not for everyone. I rather like this one, though, even if it takes some listens to sink in, unlike The Sonics' (who rule) "The Witch," which is instantly gratifying just like the band’s prior two inclusions here, while Paul Revere & The Raiders' "Just Like Me" overcomes its genericness by virtue of its catchiness quotient and powerful performances. And The Lemon Drops' "I Live In The Springtime" is one of the highlights of the entire box set, led by its bluegrass-based guitar jangle, sunny harmonies, and a freaky guitar solo.
Finishing with a flourish, The Standells' "Why Pick On Me," Gonn's "Blackout Of Gretely," The Bees' "Voices Green And Purple," and Davie Allan & The Arrows' "Blues' Theme" are all excellent as well. It may not be as fondly remembered, but "Why Pick On Me" is far more adventurous than "Dirty Water" (where in the world did that organ solo come from?), while George Starostin correctly called "Blackout Of Gretely" a "totally deranged garage-psycho rave-up" (sorry, this is my longest review ever and I'm running out of my own ideas). Eclectic and idiosyncratic to the end, "Voices Green And Purple" is the compilation's briefest track (1:35), while "Blues' Theme" is its lone all-instrumental track. Last but certainly not least, I'd say that there are several candidates for "best of the rest" of disc four, with The Chocolate Watchband's "Are You gonna Be There (At The Love-In)," The Leaves' "Too Many People," The Brigands' "(Would I Still Be) Her Big Man," The Mystery Trend's "Johnny Was A Good Boy," and Fenwyck's "Mindrocker" coming immediately to mind. Again, too many generic attempts (i.e. most of the songs I haven't mentioned) bring the overall cd down several rungs, but there's enough good obscure (and popular) stuff here to keep you busy for days at a time.
In summary, it should be clear by now that this box set is ESSENTIAL, so essential in fact that I'd argue that any collection of '60s rock n' roll is incomplete without it. As such, it’s great to have the incredibly influential original collection back in print. Of course, with this set that's just a mere appetizer, and as usual Rhino has done things the right way, with extensive liner notes (by Lenny Kaye, Greg Shaw, and Mike Stax) and excellent artwork completing a classy package. So, if you're in a band and things aren't going too well, keep your chin up. Even if you have minimal talent, you too could strike paydirt (get lucky?) once. And if you do, so long as you keep it real you may be surprised to one day find yourself on a future Nuggets compilation (there's already been a second box set released - Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From The British Empire And Beyond 1964-1969 - that focuses on non-American bands). Why not?
OK, here goes nothing. Although I’ll probably kick myself after the fact for excluding certain songs, the following is my Best Of Nuggets condensed into a 50 song playlist (only 1 song per artist):
1. I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) - The Electric Prunes 2. Dirty Water - The Standells 3. Lies - The Knickerbockers 4. Pushin' Too Hard - The Seeds 5. Don't Look Back - The Remains 6. Liar, Liar – The Castaways 7. You're Gonna Miss Me - Thirteenth Floor Elevators 8. Psychotic Reaction - Count Five 9. Run, Run, Run – The Third Rail 10. My World Fell Down - Sagittarius 11. Open My Eyes - The Nazz 12. It's-A-Happening – The Magic Mushrooms 13. Talk Talk – The Music Machine 14. Last Time Around - The Del-Vetts 15. Nobody But Me – The Human Beinz 16. No Friend Of Mine - The Sparkles 17. Outside Chance – The Turtles 18. Action Woman - The Litter 19. Spazz - The Elastik Band 20. Incense and Peppermints - The Strawberry Alarm Clock 21. I Ain't No Miracle Worker – The Brogues 22. 7 and 7 Is - Love 23. Time Won't Let Me - The Outsiders 24. Going All The Way - The Squires 25. I'm Gonna Make You Mine – Shadows Of Night 26. Laugh Laugh – The Beau Brummels 27. The Little Black Egg – The NIghtcrawlers 28. I Wonder - The Gants 29. Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love) - The Swingin' Medallions 30. Diddy Wah Diddy - Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band 31. Strychnine - The Sonics 32. (We Ain’t) Got Nothin’ Yet – The Blues Magoos 33. Shape Of Things To Come – Max Frost & the Troopers 34. It's Cold Outside – The Choir 35. Little Bit O' Soul – The Music Explosion 36. Put The Clock Back On The Wall – The E Types 37 Run, Run, Run – The Gestures 38. Knock, Knock - The Humane Society 39. A Question Of Temperature - The Balloon Farm 40. Maid Of Sugar-Maid Of Spice - Mouse & the Traps 41. Mirror Of Your Mind – We The People 42. Journey To The Center Of The Mind - The Amboy Dukes 43. Wooly Bully - Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs 44. I Want Candy - The Strangeloves 45. Louie Louie - The Kingsmen 46. What Am I Going To Do – The Dovers 47. Paul Revere & The Raiders – It’s Just Like Me 48. I Live In The Springtime - The Lemon Drops 49. Blackout Of Gretely - Gonn 50. Voices Green and Purple – The Bees
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