It’s tempting to overinflate both the importance and the musical quality of the bands on the original Nuggets anthology. The Remains, who shot out of Boston in 1965 with “Why Do I Cry”, opened for the Beatles on their final tour, and imploded prior to the release of their only album, were one of those bands. “Don’t Look Back” is a highlight of Nuggets, and it’s certainly the strongest song to be found amongst the Remains’ rather small recorded output, all of which is collected on this most recent reissue of their work. The first, 1991’s Barry & the Remains, sported one extra alternate take and was organized chronologically by recording date. “Don’t Look Back” was the culminating track. The Remains presents the original album in its proper running order, adds ten bonus tracks, and gets the job done.
First things first. The Remains won’t change your life, and The Remains won’t change your mind about the Remains, no matter what your opinion may have been. After all, if you only know them for “Don’t Look Back”, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not only the best thing they ever did, their most driving, racing-heartbeat rocker, but one of the greatest non-hit records of the ‘60s. And if you got Rhino’s Nuggets box set, you’ll know “Why Do I Cry”, which is fantastic as well, but far less incendiary and far more indicative of the rest of the Remains’ output.
The debut album itself is a much-more-than-competent collection that amply demonstrates the Remains’ way with the group’s original material, as well as some off-beat covers. Petula Clark’s “Heart” never quite achieves liftoff, although it comes close: Barry Tashian’s guitar solo alone separates this from standard beat-combo fare. Charlie Rich’s “Lonely Weekend” works much better, although its even-more-scorching guitar solo should’ve been a bit more up front in the mix. Then comes the biggie: “Don’t Look Back” has the best lyric and most original melody of any Remains song, plus a soulfully spoken/shouted bit and shifting rhythms, which are deftly handled by the entire group. It’s their tour-de-force, reason enough for the Remains to warrant a footnote in the annals of ‘60s rock-and-roll. The rest of the first album doesn’t quite scale these heights, which would be impossible, although the group gives it a hell of a shot. The guitar scratches and keyboard stabs of “Once Before” are definitively garage-y, and “Thank You” sounds like Mick Jagger fronting one of Bob Dylan’s ‘60s electric bands (as does the bonus track “But I Ain’t Got You”).
The bonus material is just as good as the group’s lone long-player. “When I Want to Know” is, perhaps surprisingly considering the Beatles connection, the only Remains song to closely approximate an original Lennon-McCartney tune, and that’s more a compliment than a criticism—while the Remains might not have had the psychotic rage of the Sonics or the 13th Floor Elevators, they certainly weren’t generic. And the songs they chose to cover weren’t necessarily the ones every garage band was tackling—how many of those groups were willing to give Petula Clark a shot? And their version of Don Covay’s “Mercy Mercy” actually tops the Stones’ by virtue of better drumming and a more determined vocal—Tashian will work three jobs, which is one more than Mick or Don could manage, to keep his baby.
The Remains were a better-than-average rock-and-roll group, one who recorded less than an hour’s worth of music and never had a hit, but who rarely stumbled and were a model of consistency. They might not have deserved a better fate than being included on Nuggets, but they certainly didn’t deserve a worse one, and if “Don’t Look Back” is all you know, The Remains is a small investment that will pay off.