In 1972 Elektra Records released Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, a double album of songs from the mid-Sixties by a group of bands who had been influenced and inspired by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dylan and psychedelics to make music that was of the youthful arrogance of musicians breaking new ground and perfect pop. Many of these songs were hits of a kind, if not always Billboard number ones. All of them are great.
In the early Eighties I bought the 1976 re-issue on Sire Records, with a different sleeve to the original. NME had highly recommended the album as at least conceptually an influence on the late Seventies punk movement the NME was championing and had more or less insisted that it was an essential part of the well-dressed record collection. Lenny Kaye, then guitarist in the Patti Smith Group and rock writer, had made the compilation and had written the comprehensive sleeve notes. All in all, Nuggets was a must have.
At the time I my first-hand experience of American rock music from the Sixties was pretty much limited to the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane. The bands on Nuggets came from a completely different angle and, often, geographical location, than the better known mainstream artists. Their basic guiding principle was to write short, fiery pop songs with an edge: that punk attitude that informed the likes of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols roughly ten years later.
The first two volumes of the Encyclopedia of Rock (which I bought in 1974) gave me a theoretical basis for my explorations into rock music by providing brief biographies of the bands and individuals the compilers of the encyclopaedia considered to be the most important rock acts. Volume 2 of the Encyclopedia covered the Sixties and amongst other luminaries, had entries on The Electric Prunes, the Blues Magoos, The Seeds, The 13th Floor Elevators, Standells and The Amboy Dukes. Nuggets afforded me the opportunity of putting a sound to the names. By and large I was blown away by this stuff. It was intensely good end enjoyable fun. The music re-emphasised to me that the experimental Sixties, when bands were trying out new sounds and new experiences, represented the best period in music ever. There was innocence, a naivety and a knowing cynicism all at the same time in the music industry. Particularly in the USA where the music industry was as much a calculated moneymaking enterprise as the movie industry, and where record companies jumped on trends and exploited them to the max for as long as the record buying public could be persuaded to buy the songs from the latest dance craze, and at the same allowed all kinds of weird and wonderful songs out on record and on to the radio. Hence the songs on Nuggets.
Neil Young recorded a version of The Premiers; "Farmer John" for the Weld live double album but could not do justice to the rough and tumble of the original version. "(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet" by Michael and The Messengers is probably the most exciting, revelatory previously unknown to me track on Nuggets. This is the most supreme of one hit wonders and I believe that it is best that the bend was never heard of again. Just for the sake of preserving the pristine sugar rush of this glorious slab of soul inflected doo wop style rock and roll.
There is the glorious mid-period Beatles pastiche of "Lies" by The Knickerbockers or the early electric Dylan pastiche of Mouse's "A Public Execution" or the inspirational version of "Hey Joe" by The Leaves (copied by Japanese psych rockers The Golden Cups) and the snotty snarl of "Let's Talk About Girls" by The Chocolate Watchband, probably my favourite Sixties band of all time.
I could write a eulogy of just about every one of these tracks, as each one is great in its own way, one visceral surge of excitement after another. I would imagine that this album could have been sequenced as an idealised example of perfect, parallel universe style, Sixties pop radio programming. These songs were never Top 40 hits and would therefore not have made it to heavy rotation and that is why it silly to believe in this selection as an accurate reflection of the wonderful world of Sixties pop. Then, as now, a lot of crap made it to the Top 40 and most of the best stuff never did.
The amazing difference between the CD re-issue and my original vinyl copy is that digital remastering gives the tracks far more sonic depth than I knew they had. Perhaps the analogue recording studios and techniques could give these recordings a lustre and a power that belie the relatively primitive times these tunes were recorded in.
Man, I love this kind of stuff! These songs are the reason why I could never get into prog rock. The music on Nuggets is not introspective and the lyrics are not the kind one pores over to seek deeper or hidden meaning. It is the kind of music where you turn up the volume and do a freaky, happy dance.