When the original Nuggets collection came out in 1972 on Elektra Records….it was a BIG thing. Collecting some of the greatest garage and psych recordings from the 60s, the record took a period of music that was only, at most, seven years old and celebrated it as if it were straight from Tut's tomb (with a third eye hovering above) holding it up as a pantheon of one of recorded sound's greatest (drippiest?) evolutionary eras.
Found within the grooves were not songs from the mega bands of the time, like the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, or The Jimi Hendrix Experience, but instead bands that emerged from the garage…bands with no-hits, regional hits and the occasional national hit. Bands with names like The Chocolate Watchband, The Blues Magoos and The Magic Mushrooms. Dig it, man? Bands that were making music that realized, musically and lyrically, the free, rebellious, acid visions that bled from the streets and the clubs of both the big cities and the small rural lands across America. Nuggets made the music accessible, influencing the tastes of the next generation of music freaks (and influencing musicians as well).
With the success of Nuggets came more volumes. A box set. Another box set featuring European Nuggets. All releases killer. All presenting the drooling enthusiast with wonderful psychedelic sounds excavated from oblivion. And there were other great compilation series adding to the conversation: Pebbles (VOLUME 3!), Back From The Grave, Acid Visions, Psychedelic Pstones, anon. With each release, a feeling of amazement that there was still quality music to be mined from a relatively brief era.
Flash forward to this past Summer….the 50th anniversary of the Summer Of Love. Celebrations of flower power everywhere and with them, a slew of music reissues and compilations. None of them very good, most mere embarrassing marketing ploys (the Monkees comp, which does not even include their psychedelic masterpiece Porpoise Song, needs to be avoided).
Which makes it that much more amazing that the Summer saw the release of yet another volume of Nuggets, one that continues the genius of the past volumes. Transparent Days: West Coast Nuggets (Rhino Records) was compiled by friend and musicologist premier Alec Palao. It is hard to believe Palao pulled off what is another four sides of amazing nuggets from the 60s, many that have been completely lost in time. And in classic Nuggets fashion, it features both bands unknown and bands that have become celebrated over the years by the now-playing crowd.
For this set, Palao plays archeologist with the Warner Brothers "family of catalogs" including Valiant Records, Reprise, Autumn, Elektra and York Records. He breaks his compilation up into four thematic sides: Folk Rock, Garage Punk, Pop-Psych, and Psychedelia, providing thoroughly researched liner notes that properly frame each side and each song. The comp comes in a strange-yet compelling gatefold package with a dada-esque cover, sleek clear vinyl and a pull-out Acid Test-inspired poster showcasing the editorial content.
Like the best Nuggets releases, it is hard not to mention so many stand-out tracks. So let's take a few. The title track comes from the enigmatic ensemble The West Coast Pop Art Experimental band. It is a wistful groovy little number, opening the record by asking the listener "Tell me what to do. Tell me how high to go." OK—let's go really high. Let's go high with the Peanut Butter Conspiracy and their build-up groover "Time Is After You" where the beat-poetic driving chorus is followed by a mysterious sound…of someone taking a hit? No. no way….not here. But then the lyrics start blending into each other… things begin to change… maybe there is something to this wacky tabbacky they were espousing back then.
There is the sing-song jingle-jangle of the Dover's "I Could Be Happy" and the also catchy "Bye Bye Bye" by the Tikis, featuring harmonies by Harper's Bizarre vocalist and future Van Halen producer Ted Templeman. The Association, one of the most well-known bands of the era present here, breaks its squeaky clean image with a dark, journeying number wonderfully titled "Pandora's Golden Heebie Jeebies": "And I will see the sparrow/That need no longer fly/And all that will be left for me to do/Is die." Yes, even popsters can ride a bummer.
The Garage Punk side blasts off with the sizzle guitar driven you-really-got-me-now feel of "Make It Easy" by the Collectors followed by the For-Your-Love vibed "I'll Sell My Soul" by the Mohave Dessert's sun-warped Allies. Oh yeah. The side also features an instant garage rock classic, Art Guy's "Where You Gonna Go." Fuzz. Fuzz everywhere. Fuzz all over "She's My Baby" from The Mojo Men, fuzz taking hostage The Ballroom's cover of "Baby Please Don't Go," which ends in a cacophony of amped-up nonsense.
Are you getting the picture? The compilation is filled to the brim.
The psychedelic side is the e-ticket ride however, starting out with the driving "Come Alive" from the collector-scum-bag embraced "Things to Come." It is followed by The Glass House's haunted "House of Glass," driving rhythms and organ that reminds us that there is "No need to hide/in a house of glass/Love can be seen/ And it's such a gas." The Bonniwell Music Machine (really the same The Music Machine that had the hit with "Talk Talk") Captain Beefhearts its way through the barrage that is "The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly" followed by the Electric Prunes rarity "Shadows," in its original Mono splendor, featuring the growls of James Lowe and the heavy electric guitar sounds of Ken Williams, together defining the band and in some ways the sound of whole era. The instrumental liquidation of The Ceyleib People's Changes paves the way for the often forgot fragile epic "Your Mind and We Belong Together" from Los Angeles' favorite sons Love, finishing the side and the comp.
There is no denying that this Nuggets is very much like the final Game Of Thrones novel that we did not even know to look forward to. It is thoroughly satisfying. And while we live in an age where musicologists rule and new lost collections of bygone day recordings are commonplace in the racks of your local record store, there is something extra special about a new Nuggets compilation, one that courageously continues the mind bending tradition, started so many years ago, of saluting the lysergic laminations of a tripping period of time that was like no other.
Transparent Days: West Coast Nuggets (Amazon)