When Elektra Records boss Jac Holzman enlisted journalist and sometime garage musician Lenny Kaye to put together the tracks that would eventually feature on the first Nuggets compilation, the music industry was a far different beast. Elektra had already taken a punt and released such provocative and seminal acts as the MC5, Love and The Psychedelic Stooges, all of whom flirted with fame just long enough to be seduced by its chemical and sexual allure. It was an era of five figure record company advances, rose-coloured dreams of pop success and sociopathic corporate behaviour.
Kaye’s brief was to unearth and celebrate classic songs from the rock’n’roll’s adolescence. Perhaps surprisingly given the rough and proudly unsophisticated nature of many of the songs featured on the compilation, Nuggets has remained one of rock’n’roll’s most visible and influential compilations – like The Velvet Underground’s debut record, it’s said that for every purchaser of the album, a band was spawned. Tracks such as The Seeds’ Pushin’ Too Hard, The Standells’ Dirty Water, The Thirteenth Floor Elevators’ You’re Gonna Miss Me and Count Five’s Psychotic Reaction and The Leaves’ Hey Joe (covered not long after – in short succession – by Love, The Byrds and Jimi Hendrix) are instantly recognisable; more obscure tracks like Sagittarius’ trippy My World Fell Down, The Barbarians’ chemical country Moulty, The Magicians’ dark, dangerous and kaleidoscopic Invitation To Cry and The Magic Mushrooms’ freakishly It’s-A-Happening are as arresting as ever.
Australia, like the United States at the same time, was heavily under the influence of British R&B; though in Australia’s case, this was as much an indirect consequence of government-subsidised migration programs as it was a reflection of a skewed cultural cringe. Some of the artists and songs featured on Down Under Nuggets: Original Australian Artyfacts 1965-1967 have become etched into the national, and occasionally international consciousness – The Master’s Apprentices’ Buried And Dead, The Missing Links’ Wild About You (surely the only garage rock track featuring a future Neighbours actor?), The Loved Ones’ The Loved One and The Easybeats’ Sorry. But Down Under Nuggets uncovers yet more buried Antipodean treasure, including The Bee Gees’ Like Nobody Else, The Black Diamonds sexually-charged I Want, Need, Love You and The Wild Cherries’ psychedelically bizarre Krome Plated Yabby.
Forty years later, and the garage rock tradition continues – notwithstanding the (d)evolution of the music industry, advances in technology and genetic engineering of genres into a thousand counter-cultural splinter movements. Nuggets: Antipodean Interpolations Of The First Psychedelic Era locates the contemporary Australian garage rock scene directly in the context of its American antecedents. Much of the album stays true to the look, feel and sound of the original tracks – Velociraptors’ cover of The Electric Prunes’ I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night), The Murlocs’ Psychotic Reaction, The Straight Arrows’ Lies and The Frowning Clouds’ Let’s Talk About Girls. But to listen to Pearls’ billowing interpretation of Dirty Water, Eagle And The Worm’s intense ’70s soul take on An Invitation To Cry or Baptism Of Uzi’s krautrock interpolation of Baby Please Don’t Go is to understand the subtle depth and perpetual attraction of the Nuggets milleu.
While many of the original Nuggets artists fell victim to the whims of commercial indifference and the perils of ephemeral success, the music has lived on. In 2052, Lady Gaga, PSY and every other two-bit cheap and nasty pop artist will have disappeared into the rancid dumpster of commercial music history – but the Nuggets tradition will live on.
B PATRICK EMERY
Best Track: Baby Please Don’t Go covered by BAPTISM OF UZI
If You Like This: track down the Pebbles compilations and don’t stop
In A Word: Raw