Why 1972 compilation ‘Nuggets’ remains one of music’s most influential records

Why 1972 compilation ‘Nuggets’ remains one of music’s most influential records

Words by James Lynch

Wind back almost 50 years.

Back in 1972, Lenny Kaye (who would go on to play guitar with Patti Smith) was working as a music writer at Elektra, an American record label owned by Warner. One day he was called into the office of Jac Holzman, the label’s founder, and was tasked with a unique job – to compile an album made up of tracks from albums that only had one good tune.

Between working his regular job at a New York record store, Kaye spent the following months listening obsessively to the radio on drives across the country, and somewhat purposely misinterpreting Holzman’s brief, began compiling a list of songs with a heavy focus on the garage bands from the ’60s, a scene that he’d previously been involved in. Eventually, he handed in a list of up to 50 lost singles and minor hits from beat acts, their sound inspired by the British Invasion mixed with their own youthful excitement and frustration.

With Holzman’s help, the list was shortened to 27 songs, an illusive cover design was created and the title Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era: 1965-1968 was slapped on – a relatively apt name, despite the fact that a handful of tracks came from outside this time period.

Despite these tracks being short, raw and proudly unsophisticated, they would go on to form one of the most influential compilations in music history.

In the liner notes, Kaye is credited as being one of the first to use the term “punk rock”, as he perfectly encapsulates the magic of Nuggets – “most of these groups were young, decidedly unprofessional, seemingly more at home practising for a teen dance than going out on national tour.

The name that has been unofficially coined for them, “punk rock”, seems particularly fitting in this case, for if nothing else, they exemplified the berserk pleasure that comes with being outrageous on stage, the relentless middle-finger drive and determination offered only by rock and roll at its finest.”

And while the comp does undeniably contain some pure punk moments – see the raucous energy of The 13th Floor Elevators’ ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’, the ferocious fuzz guitars on ‘Psychotic Reaction’ by the Count Five, or the guttural stomp of The Seeds’ ‘Pushin’ Too Hard’ – the psychedelic flourishes and freakier moments of Nuggets may have kept it from being completely heralded by punks to come.

However, the foundations of what punk would become were well and truly set – and with everyone from The Ramones to Neil Young to King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard noting its influence, the legacy of Nuggets lives on near 50 years later.

Elektra Records has now become a global platform for musicians across the world. Check out the record label here.