Perhaps the most influential compilation album of all time, the original Nuggets album was lovingly assembled by guitarist/author Lenny Kaye in 1972. Collecting some of the greatest psychedelic garage rock onto one collection was no small feat, but the album went on to inspire tons of musicians in the US and the UK. On this episode, we honor the 50th anniversary of this landmark collection with a look back at some of the best tracks by these long-gone, and mostly forgotten, bands.
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We’re back with another edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast on the Pantheon Podcast network. I’m your host, Brad Page, and if you’re a music lover like me, I’m sure you’ve had this experience before: You hear about a record, maybe someone tells you that you should check it out, or you just keep seeing it referenced in articles or interviews. So you take a chance on it, and it opens up a whole new world of music for you. Well, today on the show, we’re going to take a look at an album that did that for me in a big way. This episode we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the compilation album known as ““Nuggets””, and we’ll be listening to some of the great psychedelic proto-punk garage rock songs from the late ‘60’s.
Lenny Kaye is probably most known for playing guitar in the Patti Smith Group – he played on her first four critically acclaimed albums. He was also a record producer, but before all that, he was a writer and a music journalist. Lenny loved the psychedelic garage rock of the 1960’s, and in 1972, he compiled 27 of the best garage rock singles onto a double album called ““Nuggets””.
The original ““Nuggets”” album was released by Electra Records 50 years ago this month, in October 1972. ““Nuggets”” would go on to become hugely influential, inspiring generations of bands. In the 1980’s, Rhino Records revived the “Nuggets” brand and not only reissued the original “Nuggets” album, they created a whole series of “Nuggets” albums, eventually releasing about 15 albums worth of this stuff. And that’s when I first discovered these records.
In 1998, Rhino collected the best of those songs into a CD box set of over 100 tracks. And we’re going to be listening to a selection of tracks from that box set. Some of these songs are on the original “Nuggets” album, but all of them can be found on that “Nuggets” box set, which I highly recommend.
All of these songs represent a time when kids all across the country, inspired by the Beatles and the Stones and dozens of other bands, went out and bought their own guitars and drums, taught themselves how to play and started bands in their basements or garages, hence the term “garage rock”.
The sound of these records is rough. The performance is even rougher. Any particular skill at your instrument, including vocals, was, uh, a plus, but not required. This was music created in the passion of the moment. It’s about inspiration, not technical skill. As Bill Inglett put it in his liner notes to the box set, “Attitude ruled over aptitude”. Or to paraphrase Lenny Kaye, this is the sound of teenagers yearning to play in a band.
And even though this music was a product of the social norms breaking down at the time free love, psychedelic drugs and all of that, there’s also a certain innocence or naivete to this music that I find charming, as odds that sounds.
So, here’s a baker’s dozen of great tracks from “Nuggets”, starting with Count Five – “Psychotic Reaction”. Originally a surf rock band from San Jose, CA, they were captured by the British Invasion and changed their name to Count Five. They wore vampire-inspired capes on stage. After being rejected by the major record companies, they signed to a small Los Angeles label called Double Shot Records and released “Psychotic Reaction” in June 1966. Singer and guitarist Sean Byrne came up with the song one day in health education class. It became a big part of their live shows with the “rave up” section in the middle, no doubt inspired by The Yardbirds, giving their lead guitarist named Mouse a chance to let loose on his fuzz-tone guitar. The song actually made it to number five on the Billboard Hot 100.
That’s “Psychotic Reaction” by Count Five.
Next up, Michael and the Messengers, “Romeo and Juliet”. The Messengers were originally a high school band from Winona, Minnesota. The bass player reformed the band in college and they released a version of “In the Midnight Hour” on Chicago’s USA Records label. That was enough of a regional hit that the Messengers got picked up by Motown Records, which left the tiny USA label without their hit band. So USA put together their own version of the Messengers. It was actually a band from Leminster, Massachusetts– not far from where I went to high school– called the Del Mars, that USA renamed Michael and The Messengers and recorded this version of “Romeo and Juliet”. Despite the fact that there was nobody named Michael in the band, that didn’t stop them from having a minor hit with this single in 1967.
Michael and the Messengers with “Romeo and Juliet”
Tthis next track is by The Sparkles. It’s called “No Friend of Mine”. The Sparkles were a band from Texas, and their single “No Friend Of Mine” is a perfect specimen of garage rock. Nasty fuzz guitar? Check. That buzzing organ sound? Check. A lead vocal that’s somewhere between spoken word and screaming frustration? Check. it’s a textbook example.
“No Friend Of Mine” by The Sparkles
Let’s check out another track. This one is by the Gollywogs. It’s called “Fight Fire”. Now, a band called the Blue Velvets came out of El Cerrito, CA as far back as 1959. But when they signed to Fantasy Records in 1964, the label changed their name to The Gollywogs. They hated that name. They released a handful of singles, including “Fight Fire” in 1966. A year later, the band would change their name again– this time to Credence Clearwater Revival. That’s right. This is CCR before they were CCR. Let’s have a listen to “Fight Fire”.
The Gollywogs with “Fight Fire”.
Next up is The Rationals with “I Need You”. The Rationals formed in Ann Arbor, Michigan around 1963, signed to a local label and released a bunch of singles that did well in Michigan, but not so much elsewhere. Their version of the Kinks song, “I Need You” released in 1968, one-ups Dave Davies with an even gnarlier guitar sound.
The Rationals and their version of “I Need You”.
Now let’s hear a song by the Sonics called “Psycho”. This is the earliest song of this bunch, released way back in January 1965. But it’s as intense and wild as anything on this list. The Sonics started in Tacoma, WA, and in November ‘64 had a regional hit with a song called “The Witch”, which became the biggest selling local single in the Northwest’s history. They released their first album in 1965 called “Here Are the Sonics”. And it is a seminal piece of garage rock history. Recorded on a two-track recorder with only one microphone for the drums, this album features all their best songs, including this track, “Psycho”. By 1968, the band had split up, but they managed to influence Nirvana, the White Stripes, and are often referred to as the first punk band.
“Psycho” by the Sonics.
Things start to get psychedelic on our next song. It’s The Balloon Farm with “A Question Of Temperature”. Before The Balloon Farm formed, two of the members played in a band called Adam, where every member changed their first name to Adam. Their first and only single was a song called “Eve”. Of course.
When that band split, those two guys formed a new band, and named it The Balloon Farm after a club in New York with the same name. “A Question of Temperature” was their only hit, released in October 1967. Reached 37 on the Billboard chart. But it has everything you want in a psychedelic pop song: A pulsating beat, breathy vocals, fuzz-tone guitar and trippy sound effects. It’s a classic in my book.
“A Question of Temperature” by The Balloon Farm. One of the members of The Balloon Farm was a guy named Mike Appel, who would later go on to manage Bruce Springsteen. But that’s a story for another podcast.
Next is the DelVettes with “Last Time Around”. The DelVettes were a Chicago band that recorded a handful of singles for the Dunwich label. They released “Last Time Around” in May 1966. It features a killer riff on bass and fuzzed out guitar, with a nice chorus. And it’s another tune that shows the influence of The Yardbirds, with its rave -p style solo right in the middle.
“Last Time Around” by The DelVettes.
Now here’s a song by The Elastic Band called “Spaz”. Straight out of Belmont, CA, came the Elastic Band. Get it? Elastic Band. I can’t tell you anything about this group, except that they released two singles. And this one, “Spaz”, managed to get released by ATCO Records, a legit major label, in 1967. And I don’t know what to say about this song. Just listen to this:
“Spaz” by The Elastic Band.
Now, if there’s any song in this episode that you recognize, it’ll be this one: The Strawberry Alarm Clock with “Incense and Peppermints”. This song actually hit number one on the Billboard charts in 1967, and it’s a lot poppier than most of the tracks we’ve been listening to, but no less psychedelic, with its fuzz-tone guitar and vintage 60’s organ sound.
The band was from Glendale, CA, and originally known as The Sixpence, but changed their name after the song was first released. There’s actually a pretty convoluted history to this song. It started out as an instrumental by band members Mark Weitz and Ed King and initially released as a B-side to a single by The Sixpence. Apparently, most of the band members didn’t like the lyrics, so the lead vocal ended up being sung by a guy who wasn’t even in the band. He was a friend who was just hanging out at the recording session. Weitz and King never got songwriting credits. The credits went to John Carter, who wrote the lyrics, and his partner Tim Gilbert, who actually had nothing to do with the song. Guitarist Ed King would later join the original lineup of Lynyrd Skynyrd– About as far away as you could get from the sound of the Strawberry Alarm Clock.
“Incense And Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock.
Next: Love – “7 and 7 Is”. If the Strawberry Alarm Clock was the most commercially successful of this bunch of songs, the band Love was the most influential. An interracial band at a time when that was rare in rock, fronted by Arthur Lee, singer songwriter, guitarist, keyboard player. Lee had a distinct vision, not like anybody else. Love came from LA, but had a sound miles away from the sunny “California Dreaming” sound. Love was the first rock band signed to Electra Records, and released their first album in early 1966. By the summer, they released a brand new single, “7 and 7 Is”. The song explodes with a pent-up teenage frustration, never lets up on the intensity until a bomb literally goes off at the end. This song has been covered countless times, by everyone from Alice Cooper to Billy Bragg to Rush. Here’s the original:
“7 And 7 Is” by Love.
And here’s The Blues Magoos with “We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet”. The Blues Magoos arose from the Bronx in New York, playing around Greenwich Village under various names, before they changed their name to the Blues Magoos in 1966. They released their first album, “Psychedelic Lollipop” in November ‘66, which featured their single, “We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet”, one of the most infectious bits of garage rock you’re ever going to find. It actually reached number five on the Billboard charts, featuring a driving bass line, a pseudo sitar-sounding guitar riff, and the sound of the vox continental organ, such a key element to so many garage rock tunes.
“We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet” by the Blues Magoos.
And one last tune: The Remains with “Don’t Look Back”. The Remains were a Boston band formed in 1964 at Boston University by Barry Tashian, who would eventually end up in Emmy Lou Harris’s band. But at this time, he was freshly back from a trip to Europe, where he was inspired by bands like The Kinks to start his own group back home. They built a following in and around Boston and signed with Epic Records. They appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and even scored the opening slot on the Beatles final US tour in 1966. But they never broke into the big time. Too bad, too, because they had the chops and the talent to do it, but it just never came together for them. “Don’t Look Back” was their final single, released in August 1966. Should have been a hit.
“Don’t Look Back” by The Remains.
It’s funny… when the original “Nuggets” album came out in 1972, most of these songs were five, six years old at the most, but they were already considered artifacts of another time. Here we are, 50 years later– a lifetime ago. But if you look out there somewhere, you’ll still find bands being inspired by these songs from the first psychedelic era.
These days, that DIY spirit, “I want to do that too”, has moved out of the garage and into the bedroom, with digital technology. Things have shifted to software; towards beats and samples, and away from guitars and amplifiers, which I admit, bums me out. But that’s okay. It’s not like anyone’s confiscating all the guitars. And the spirit of “Nuggets” is still there. That idea that passion is more important than technical chops, that anyone can make music if they put enough heart and soul into it. And there’s nothing more rock and roll than that.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. You can find all of our previous shows on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com, as well as on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon… we are everywhere podcasts can be found.
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We’ll see you again in two weeks with another new episode. Until then, here’s one more nugget– The Knickerbockers with “Lies”.