Therefore, since obscurity is so much fun (admit it, we all love having OUR bands, the ones no one else has discovered yet, harder and harder to experience in this digital age, but anyway…) let’s go back to my teenage years; especially to 1974. The Stones, Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult et al were my fave raves, and I had already discovered The Stooges and New York Dolls (thank you, Mr DJ), when suddenly I heard stuff on a local college station that blew me away: ‘Psychotic Reaction’ by the Count Five, ‘Come On’ by the Chocolate Watchband, ‘The Trip’ by the Fire Escape and loads of others. Yep, I had my introduction to the wonderful world of 1960s punk rock (or garage punk, as often the garage was the only rehearsal option in suburban US). Of course, no one would have called it that then.
What we’re talking about demographically is that between roughly 1964-67 (with ’66 probably being the creative and technical ‘peak’ before rock music started getting really progressive, although there was lots of later overspill) loads of teenagers all over the country (and in fact, all over the world!!) in their little local areas reacted to and tried to emulate the Beatles, Stones (Jaggeresgue vocals were often VERY important, not to mention attempts at bluesy harmonica playing), Yardbirds, Dylan and protest in general, cheap guitars, fuzztone pedals, pudding bowl haircuts, raucous lyrics (often about being dumped by girls, but a year or two later on, rather more psychedelic), sneering vocals; in fact everything that makes it fun and scary; in short, being a teenager. Some of this stuff is wonderfully crude and basic, some sheer genius, but it all has fantastic energy. It’s quite amazing to see how youth made music internationally; spotting the similarities and differences. In the UK there was excellent R&B a la Stones, Freakbeat, Mod and Psychedelic, and I know that there was a thriving Greenbeat and Beat Club scene here in Ireland. I believe that there was a club in Templeogue. Can anyone confirm this?
Anyway, these guys (and sometimes girls) rarely managed to really make a success of their work, other than as occasional one hit wonders. Some never even recorded and most just managed to record singles for small, fly-by-night companies, getting lucky if airplay or word of mouth generated major label interest. Most just played local high school dances, county fairs, supermarket mall Battle of the Bands, etc; some did manage success via repeated singles, LPs or in later incarnations. It really was rather the same DIY aesthetic of 70s punk, though perhaps not as conscious. Some even got on local or national television, or got to support the big groups when they were in their area.
At any rate, after my ‘radio experience’, I rushed out and got the original ‘Nuggets’, a double album compiled by Lenny Kaye (soon to be Patti Smith’s guitarist) in 1972. At that time, Nuggets and original recordings (or the radio) were the only sources of this stuff. Original stuff already had collector kudos and was often very expensive. At least up to the mid-80s, in many department stores there were bargain basements for LPs (also known as cut-out bins) and I can still remember my greatest coup, when I was visiting Toronto later that year: getting ‘Back Door Men’ by the Shadows of Knight AND the first Them album (AND an English pressing to boot!!) for something like two dollars each. Words cannot describe the joy!
Nowadays we can help our muso addictions with lots of digitally remastered masterpieces. Nuggets has been re-released as an excellent four cd set (with lots of classic and more obscure stuff), there’s the Back from the Grave series of largely obscure gems and lots of other compilations and re-releases.
After this rant, let’s talk about Volume 7 of the Garage Beat 66 series, called ‘That’s How It Will Be!’ This music is far more obscure than most of the Nuggets songs, so you get stuff like ‘I’m in Pittsburgh and it’s Raining’ by The Outcasts (from Texas), with a great driving drum beat and spooky harmonica, ‘Come with Me’ by the Exotics (from Texas, again and apparently THE band in the Dallas-Fort Worth area), a great rocker of a song with lots of organ and great guitar riffs. They actually did an ad for a local car dealer which has the same music but different lyrics (‘If you want the perfect car than Bill McKay’s the best by far; Bill Mckay, Chevrolet, Bill Mc…kay, Chevrolet’). Genius or what? `
There’s a pretty good cover of the Creation’s ‘Makin’ Time’, by the Livin’ End (they seemed to like apostrophes), ‘That’s How It Will Be’ by the Liberty Bell, a snarling psych punk classic with enough fuzztone and snotty vocals to satisfy the punkiest in your family, two great tracks by Detroit’s Unrelated Segments who were interviewed in ’67 and stated quite categorically ‘We are not a psychedelic group. We play rock ‘n roll music’. There ya go, plenty of room for everyone in this genre! There’s also a great cover of ‘I’m a King Bee’ by the Bad Seeds. One suspects that they were rather more familiar with the Stones version than the original by Slim Harpo, but that just makes it better!! Likewise ‘East Side Story’ by the District Six bears more than a passing resemblance to Van the Man’s ‘Gloria’, but imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery.
There’s lots more, too. Need I say more? Three chords are every bit as important now as they were then.
Signal Arts Newsletter of Jan-March 2008