Wednesday, October 17, 2007

No. 196: Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era

Band: Various Artists
Album: Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The mid-late '60s psychedelic era produced a few big-time bands (Jefferson Airplane, Santana, The Grateful Dead, etc.) and a metric ton of imitators and unknowns. "Nuggets" culls the best of these one- and no-hit wonders. The songs are mostly simple, but always interesting. It's really a "best of the rest" compilation of the non-hit bands of that era.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: There's a case to be made that this set's presence on the list, but I'd say that case is at odds with the large amount of music from '65-'86 on here. That the Quicksilver Messenger Service and Moby Grape records are on here is kind of overkill; "Nuggets" just kind of adds to it. We get it, boomers look at this period with fondness.
Best song: Being that it's a compilation of great songs, it's hard to single out one or two songs. Let's say "You're Gonna Miss Me" by The 13th Floor Elevators and "Open My Eyes" by The Nazz.
Worst song: See above. All the songs are pretty good.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

I've laid out my case pretty well in the capsule above, but let me reiterate something absolutely key to this list: The period between 1966 and 1972 is wildly overrated on this list. I'm not going to do the math, but over 25% of the records in the 500 being from the 1960s. This period was the Boomer's formative years.

I understand that it was also rock and roll's formative years, as well as the formative years for the album itself. So, fine. But, the specific examples of Moby Grape, Quicksilver Messenger Service and multiple album choices from Jefferson Airplane and Santana is just nonsense nostalgia.

Quite simply, I'd take the Santana debut record, "Volunteers," and the Moby Grape and QMS albums off the list and just let "Nuggest" suffice. It represents that era well.

What's striking, of course, is the bands that you are maybe a little familiar with on the "Nuggets" set. The Blues Magoos are a favorite of punk and indie fans, as are The 13th Floor Elevators (Rory Erickson is worshiped as god in some places). The Amboy Dukes, of course, were Ted Nugent's first band, and The Nazz were Todd Rundgren's first band. The Standells' "Dirty Water" was something of a hit (and still gets airplay on oldies stations) and the two big covers (The Leaves' "Hey Joe" and The Vagrants' "Respect") are pretty damned cool. Finally, "Lies" by the Knickerbockers sounds like it came right out of the 1965 Lennon/McCartney songbook.

Lenny Kaye, who helped assemble the two-LP set (it was later expanded into a four-disc box on CD), wrote the liner notes and used a phrase that would gather steam a few years later: "Punk rock." In describing the youthful exuberance of the bands, Kaye would define the next huge musical movement, a lot of which was taken from these records.

While there is a lot of punk rock simplicity, the psychedelic stuff is the centerpice. The opening Electric Prunes number "I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)" and the Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction" are what makes "Nuggets" great.

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