The glory days of Top 40 are over, at least for those of us who dug the dangerous sounds of 1966-1969. Songs like “96 Tears,” “My Little Black Egg,” “Talk Talk.”
You either owned those gruff one-off records or you didn’t. In 1972, there were no rock record collector conventions. No album compilations worth a crap (“20 Original Hits! 20 Original Stars!”). Radio silence enveloped all but the most golden of golden oldies.
“No one much cared about music that was even 2 years old, let alone 6,” says Bill Inglot, who would help revive “Nuggets” for Rhino Records several decades later. Musician Marshall Crenshaw recalls: “Anything that was two weeks old often was sneered at and quickly forgotten.”
Enter Lenny Kaye and Jac Holzman. Kaye was a musician who wrote about rock for various publications. Holzman founded Electra Records, bringing us the Doors, Love, Carly Simon and Bread.
Holzman wanted Kaye to put together a compilation album. Something hip and psychedelic. Kaye immediately started thinking about the kick-ass records he played while driving cross-country.
And so was born “Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968.”
Despite the title, “Nuggets” wasn’t all that psychedelic. This was mostly action-packed garage/indie rock, the scruffy hits and the near-misses of the day. And then some.
There are two “Nuggets,” really. The first, the Elektra release from the dark days of 1972, covered four sides of vinyl.
The second, from 1998, was a Rhino CD box set spanning four compact discs, with the first dedicated to the original “Nuggets.” The others mined Kaye’s vibe.
Time has been kind to Kaye’s selections for the original “Nuggets.” “To a certain faction of people, the ‘Nuggets’ album was like a religion … I happen to be one of those people,” says Crenshaw,
Three proto-psychedelic songs were enshrined as classics by virtue of primo slots on “Nuggets” — although those of us who were around for their AM radio runs were never in danger of forgetting them:
- The Electric Prunes: “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)”: A 3-minute rush of prescient psychedelic sounds from late 1966. The backwards vibrating guitar that begins the song sounds like the spawn of a buzz saw and a hornet. Alarming and compelling, the song told of a love hangover, but the ominous sonics summoned up a nightmare — or a really rotten LSD trip.
- 13th Floor Elevators: “You’re Gonna Miss Me”: Also from late 1966. Often cited as the first psychedelic song, although that’s debatable. The number’s warped excellence isn’t. The madmen from Texas built the song around crunchy garage chords and a sci-fi sound poured from an electric jug. Roky Erickson, who wrote “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” sings from a place of pain and hostility, delivering a classic garage band kiss-off to an oh-so-deserving female.
- Count Five: “Psychotic Reaction”: From 1965, a track that cops the Yardbirds’ rave-up sound, yet somehow anticipates the British stars’ journey into psychedelic territory. Definitive fuzz guitar, howling harmonica and stomping-on-the-gym-floor drums. Our singer-narrator suffers from depression, brought on by what appears to be a clinical case of blue balls. He unleashes the cacophonic instrumental break by declaring: “And it feels like this!”
“Nugggets” heads into the garage for four sneering killer tracks: “Dirty Water” by the Standells, “Night Time” by the Strangeloves,” “Oh Yeah” by the Shadows of Knight and “Pushin’ Too Hard” by the Seeds.
Kicking ass with pure-pop precision are the Knickerbockers’ “Lies,” the Castaways’ “Liar, Liar,” the Cryan’ Shames’ “Sugar and Spice” and the Nazz’s “Open My Eyes.”
Rough and ready come “Hey Joe” by the Leaves, “Baby Please Don’t Go” by the Amboy Dukes, “Tobacco Road” by Blues Magoos, “Let’s Talk About Girls” by the Chocolate Watchband and “Farmer John” by the Premieres.
1950s meet ’60s in “An Invitation to Cry” from the Magicians, “(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet” by Michael and the Messengers “and “Run Run Run” by the Third Rail. “Invitation to Cry” is a real find, as if the band headed for the garage and found Gene Pitney hiding there.
Flower power blooms in “My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius, “Sit Down, I Think I Love You” by the Mojo Men and “It’s-a-Happening” by the Magic Mushrooms.
Then come the oddities, sources of pride to compiler Kaye: the Dylan imitation act “A Public Execution” by Mouse and the bizarre bio “Moulty” by the Barbarians.
So what to make of the “Nuggets” aesthetic?
“What I really graded ‘Nuggets’ on was how good the song was,” Kaye says. “I didn’t really care if it fit the genre. I don’t think I really understood what the shape of the genre was.”
The golden “Nugget,” Kaye says, was the Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard”: “I’d have to say that ‘Pushin’ Too Hard’ exemplifies, in its most basic form, what ‘Nuggets’ is about … really the one that says it all for me.”
The one that got away? “96 Tears.”
Kaye’s choice for the greatest garage band song of all time? What else. “Gloria” — the “national anthem of garage rock.”
Liner notes: There are many “Nuggets” spinoffs, including the “Pebbles” series. Rhino and Warner have been especially active in expanding (and diluting) the brand over the years. For those who accept no substitute, you want the 27-track original “Nuggets,” starting with “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” and wrapping with “It’s-a-Happening.” Rhino rereleased the title on CD, vinyl and MP3 last November.
Radio tribute: Marshall Crenshaw surveys “Nuggets.”
- The definitive Lenny Kaye “Nuggets” interview is on Rock Town Hall, conducted in 2011.