[Note: This is the first of a two part post covering an overview of garage rock and tracks 1 through 14 of the original Nuggets release. Part two covering tracks 15 thru 27 will follow.]
Got Your Helmet? Flashlight? Canary? We’re going down into the mine…
One musical topic that I find fascinating is the history of where the bands and where the sounds came from. Like a genealogists quest to dig down to the family roots, I love the interconnections, the history, the who played with who, the early days of guys who sweated it out in garages and dive bars well before hitting the stage at big arenas and festivals. One of the more overused phrases in rock journalism has been “overnight sensation”. Not only overused but rarely accurate. The music from these groups took a lot of hard work and sometimes longer than you might think.
This particular journey into the roots of modern-day rock focuses on the great, and not so great, garage bands of the mid to late 60’s in the United States. To guide us on this journey this post focuses on a compilation set of CD’s entitled “Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965 – 1968”.
American rock and roll, having developed from the early days of Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and the doo wop bands of the city street corners had taken off with the arrival of Leo Fender’s electric guitar. Kids in every corner of the nation were looking for that new sound. With the invasion of The Beatles in 1964, the roof came off and garages everywhere were vibrating to the sounds of kids making music.
One thing to keep in mind is that these were mostly high school boys – so the common theme to most of the songs is girls – more specifically girls who lie. These clearly aren’t the most sophisticated songs but they did have the requisite three chords and the spirit of rock n’ roll.
Countless 45’s (remember them?) were being recorded and promoted across the country. Regional influences were a part of the mix and submarkets such as garage rock from Detroit or Austin or Southern California were developing across the country. These singles were defining a genre of rock and pop that continue to have a lasting influence even today.
The vast majority of garage bands went nowhere. Even those talented enough (or lucky enough) to get a record out and onto the local radio station rarely went any further. Those who actually went nationwide were even rarer. Two life events eventually led to the demise of garage rock – guys going off to college and the draft that sent them to Vietnam.
What remained of garage rock mostly evolved into what became punk rock in the 70’s. It held on a bit longer in Detroit with the MC5 and Iggy Pop and The Stooges with the latter sometimes credited with being the last of the garage bands. It was these bands that were the prime influence on groups like the The Ramones.
In 1972 Jac Holzman (founder of Electra Records) and Lenny Kaye (lead guitarist of Patti Smith’s Band) compiled the original release of Nuggets. They knew their music and assembled a broad cross-section of garage gems on a two-record set. The original mix was re-released with updated cover art by Sire Records in 1976. A later re-release of Nuggets (by Rhino Records) converted it to CD format and added an additional 91 songs. Disc One of the Rhino 4-disc box set release is the same as songs and order as the original release.
The track listing of the original release included the songs listed below. The number at the end of each title represents the highest point reached on the US charts.
I’ve added my own commentary and notes in italics.
1) The Electric Prunes: “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” (Annette Tucker, Nancie Mantz) – 3:02 (#11)
The Prunes were a LA (founded at Taft HS in the San Fernando Valley) band that had some success with this song and also had a song (Kyrie Eleison) on the Easy Rider soundtrack. They rehearsed IHTMTDLN at Leon Russell’s house. Kenny Loggins was briefly in the band but not on this track.
2) The Standells: “Dirty Water” (Ed Cobb) – 2:50 (#11)
Another LA- based band. Considered to be an early pioneer of the punk rock scene. Their drummer was a former Mouseketeer but their biggest claim to fame is likely that Dirty Water is still played as an anthem after Boston sports teams games (Bruins, Pats, those other guys). Since it’s about crime, frustrated women, and pollution in Bahstan Hahbaa I’m not sure I get the connection here.
3) The Strangeloves: “Night Time” (Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, Richard Gottehrer)– 2:35 (#30)
Strange also describes their marketing. Although a New York songwriting team, they created a false identity and claimed to be from Australia. Not sure why. Their biggest hit, later covered by Bow Wow Wow, was “I Want Candy”.
4) The Knickerbockers: “Lies” (Beau Charles, Buddy Randell) – 2:46 (#20)
A Bergenfield, NJ band that imitated The Beatles so closely most people assumed this was a “lost” Beatles track. They eventually added Buddy Randell who had a hit with “Short Shorts” in 1958. So, who do you think it sounds like? 8-)
5) The Vagrants: “Respect” (Otis Redding) – 2:17
Clearly one of the most well-known songs on the album later made into a classic hit by Aretha. A Long Island band that included guitarist Leslie West who later went onto fame in the band “Mountain”.
6) Mouse: “A Public Execution” (Knox Henderson, Ronnie Weiss) – 3:02
A Tyler,TX garage band also known as “Mouse and The Traps” that included lead guitarist Bugs Henderson. A personal connection here as I had the opportunity to meet Bugs a few years ago at a guitar show in Maryland. A very sweet guy. Sadly he just passed away on March 10th..
7) The Blues Project: “No Time Like the Right Time” (Al Kooper) – 2:49 (#96)
A Greenwich Village formed band their early lineup included Al Kooper (see my other post on Al) and guitarist Danny Kalb. They are one of the earliest examples of a jam band along the lines of the Dead.
8) The Shadows of Knight: “Oh Yeah” (Ellas McDaniel) – 2:51 (#39)
The SoK met in high school in the northwest suburbs of Chicago in 1964. They have a heavily influenced British blues sound. You can hear the Yardbirds, Animals, and The Stones coming through here – picture Mick singing this one.
9) The Seeds: “Pushin’ Too Hard” (Richard Marsh) – 2:39 (#36)
A Southern California regional band that was mostly the brainchild of bassist and lead singer Sky Saxon. Pushin’ was their only Top 40 hit.
10) The Barbarians: “Moulty” (Barbara Baer, Douglas Morris, Eliot Greenberg, Robert Schwartz) – 2:37 (#90)
This is a strange tale. A garage band from Cape Cod. Their gimmick was to sport a pirate look. This was further highlighted by the fact that the drummer (Vic “Moulty” Moulton) had lost a hand as a kid and had a “hook” prosthesis. The song is about him and his tragic accident. They had their biggest hit with a novelty tune titled “Are You a Boy or Are You A Girl?” (peaked at #55). Their big break was when they performed “Hey Little Bird” on The TAMI Show along with The Stones, Lesley Gore, James Brown, and The Supremes. Just a guess but I’m going with the most famous band to come off the Cape.
11) The Remains: “Don’t Look Back” (William McCord) – 2:45
A Boston-born garage band that has the distinction of being the opening act for The Beatles on their last US tour in 1966. The lead singer, Barry Tashian, later went on to sing harmony and play guitar for Emmylou Harris. The drummer, N. D. Smart went on to spend some time with Mountain and also Ian & Sylvia.
12) The Magicians: “An Invitation to Cry” (Alan Gordon, James Woods) – 2:59
No information found yet on this group but wouldn’t it be cool if the co-writer of the song turned out to be the James Woods?
13) The Castaways: “Liar, Liar” (Dennis Craswell, Jim Donna) – 1:56 (#12)
A band from the Twin Cities, this was their only hit single. They have the distinction of having the song played in the movie “Good Morning Vietnam”.
14) 13th Floor Elevators: “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (Roky Erickson) – 2:31 (#55)
As it turns out, I saved one of the best bands for last. I could write a lot about Roky Erickson but for this post I’ll focus on the 13th Floor Elevators. A garage band from Austin, TX (a hot bed of musicdom), the 13FE released four LP’s and seven 45’s during their existence. Billy Gibbons of ZZTop (also an Austin band) acknowledges 13FE’s influence on his playing and their bluesy sound has been compared to early Allman Bros. Even after national fame – and adventures on the road with Janis Joplin and Big Brother – they returned to Austin and continued to rock locally. They had some degree of commercial success before dissolving in a storm of drug use and legal battles.
Tracks 15 through 27 will be covered in Part Two.