Where do you file your ‘Various Artists’ albums? By title in the A-Z? In their own section? Luckily that’s not what we are here to discuss and anyway it was extensively canvassed not long ago.
Today we’re here to pay respect to one of the best compilations of all time, Nuggets.
Curated by guitarist Lenny Kaye, Nuggets—Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 (to give it its full name) was released in 1972 and set the bar pretty damn high. Kaye was an acolyte of the new thing, the Beatles pop thing, the find-a-wayto-do-it-yourself thing. When Elektra approached him to compile an anthology of his fave psych and garage sides he was not yet the admired guitarist of the Patty Smith Group, but a journalist. More importantly, he was a former record store ‘counter rat’ and record collector. His liner notes to the 2012 re-issue capture the passion:
As rock entered its glorious adolescence, I leapt to faith, the being-in-a-band that is a defining crossroads; coupling with a ‘60s cultural moment that was complicit—rock moving to an awareness of its rallying cry and artistic potential. Thus initiated into the sacred garage, where the tune-up and the turn-up perform their mating dance, I apprenticed myself to the gods of fuzz tone and Farfisa, learning the yowl and the rave-up, the well-placed tambourine, the value of a good hook.
What a fine summary of both ethos and album. The twenty-seven songs of the original Nuggets capture a youthful exuberance and lack of pretence that remains inspirational decades later. Thanks to mountains of cheap and careless compilations, this category of album is often collection landfill. How often to comps get played? Yet a thoughtful, diligent anthology can be a stained glass window into another time or style, full of vibrant shards of colour and light. Such is Nuggets.
The songs are drawn mainly from 1965—1967, with a couple of outliers either end. All are from the US (more on that later) and, despite the title, sounds and textures range well beyond three-chord garage thrash.
Really, I could write about every song, even the few that don’t grab me—often they contribute to the flow and feel of the whole, despite being less memorable themselves. But here are just four songs—one per side—from the original Nuggets. [Song title is a link]
It rocks, it sashays, it bounces. Harmony ah-s, a put-down lyric. A perfect teen-angst capsule in 2:41. Covered (rather well) by Linda Ronstadt on her excellent 1982 album Get Closer.
The Remains—Don’t Look Back
Punky and percussive, this could be The Saints forbears playing. Guitars clash, the backing vocals are almost in unison. The changes of pace around the repeated title/chorus are thrilling. Smells like a garage band to me.
Count Five—Psychotic Reaction
One of the best known songs on Nuggets, ‘Psychotic Reaction’ is a lurching, pulsing low-fi freakout that perfectly captures the brittle energy of US psychedelia. No tea and whimsy here, kid, this is brain-twisting.
Can’t move onto the final, brilliant side without mentioning the organ-driven celebration that is Michael & The Messenger’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’, an almost-pop hit I simply love.
Sagittarius—My World Fell Down
A slice of what has become known as sunshine pop, this melodic Mamas and Papas style single has a gorgeous melody, some baroque-pop harmonies and a harp. It also has a strange experimental mash-up “Revolution #9” interlude. Strange and captivating.
Nazz—Open My Eyes
I just couldn’t split this and the Sagittarius. What a contrast! The Nazz is perfect prototype power pop. A riff, an ascending guitar line over a sustained organ note, great melody, catchy chorus. This brilliant Todd Rundgren song deserves to be as famous as ‘Day Tripper’. And it has lashings of phasing too. ‘Nuff said.
File under ‘Timeless Gems’.
Nuggets—Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 was, in many ways, the beginning of the rarity-mining industry. Excavated additions included Pebbles and Boulders plus innumerable copy-cat comps. And there are more Nuggets too. Many more.
In the second half of the eighties, Rhino released no less than fifteen albums of Nuggets material which became the source material for a 1998 box set. This monster 4CD collection is just a couple of songs shy of 120 tracks and it’s all from the USA. In addition to the original 2LP set, the lode is loaded with bands you’ve never heard of. Hello to The Gants, The Lyrics and The Human Expression. Of course there are also familiar names, with contributions from The Seeds, Blues Magoos and even Captain Beefheart.
That cultural focus explodes into world-wide psychedelic mayhem with Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From The British Empire And Beyond, Rhino’s extraordinary 2001 companion set. Like the above Nuggets box, this collection boasts four CDs so overflowing with untrammelled creativity that it deserves—nay, demands—its own post. There’s more swinging technicolour psychedelia than you can shake a tea service at, even one including a sugar bowl full of acid-laced cubes.
In addition to obvious conscripts like The Pretty Things, Status Quo, and John’s Children we also get gems from Thor’s Children (no relation), The La De Das, and a song vital in first turning on this psych-head, ‘Vacuum Cleaner’ by Tintern Abbey.
There are others anthologies, but the only one I want to mention here is a curious compilation called Nuggets—Hallucinations: Psychedelic Pop Nuggets From The WEA Vaults. This 24 track CD came out in 2004, but disappeared so promptly I was unable to track down a copy. So it was with some pleasure I noted it’s re-issue on suitably psychedelic marbled vinyl for Record Store Day 2016.
While not essential, it’s a lovely artyfact and has several stone classics including The Monkees ‘Porpoise Song’ and ‘Smell Of Incense’ by the preposterously named (but influential) West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band.
Nuggets. They’re melting for a smelting.