John, Paul, George and Twink
If there’s one type of music fan that never fails to get my goat it’s the Beatles fan who listens to no other ‘60s rock at all. Since they have no concurrent musical context in which to place the work of the Fab Four, the members of this species (Beatlemanic Ignoramus) commonly make claims like “The Beatles started fuckin’ everything, man!” and “Sgt. Pepper made rock into, like, art or something”. When you try and question them about the dubious nature of their statements its like you were trying to convince them that Oscar Wilde wrote the Declaration of Independence. Of course, you then cite the hefty musical accomplishments of British Beatle peers such as the Yardbirds, Zombies and Kinks as well American counterparts like the Byrds or Beach Boys. In response, you get “The Kinks? They had like, what, two songs”? That’s when you want to grab that McCartney-worshiping jackass by the back of his neck and drive your forehead into the bridge of his nose. Well, maybe you don’t; but I do.
Anyway, if you feel you belong to said group of nitwits and wish to retain your ability to breathe clearly, all previous sins shall be washed away via baptism in the River Jordan of the Nuggets 2 box set. This gorgeously packaged, meticulously compiled four-CD set of rare ‘60s freakbeat/psychedelia/mod/whatever-you-want-to-call-it from the “British Empire and Beyond” makes one thing abundantly clear: the Beatles, however great you think they are, were one of many and to solely revere them is an act of purposeful ignorance on a par with never straying further than five blocks from your childhood home.
Unlike many collections of ‘60s rock, Nuggets 2 intentionally steers clear of hits and focuses on the era’s overlooked gems. So you don’t get any Stones, Who, Kinks, Yardbirds, Zombies, Hollies, Animals, etc., all of whom have tremendous songs, to be sure. The great thing about this box is you don’t really miss them. What you get is a universally strong set of coulda, shoulda, woulda been hits that are largely unknown to anyone but hardcore record collectors. We should thank them for doing the dirty work for us. After hearing this, you may wonder why the Creation were never recognized as the innovative rock pioneers they surely were. You may wonder why the Move’s “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” wasn’t being hummed by every man, woman and child on the planet during the summer of Love. You may wonder how in God’s name did New Zealand’s La De Da’s ever come across the obscure American garage single “How Is the Air Up There?” and then record it as an incredible, snotty, fuzzed-out thumper that easily rates very high on the all-time sing-along list. And that’s just the first disc, as well as the tip of the iceberg.
Far from being some elitist “the more obscure the better” bullshit manifesto, Nuggets 2 is a celebration for both bands who deserved better and the fans who made sure they got their due. Nowhere in the excellent liner notes (by Greg Shaw, Alec Palao and Mike Stax) does anyone imply that, say, the music of the Pretty Things makes the work of the Rolling Stones obsolete. Rather, they show how much “if you like popular band X, you’ll like obscure band Y” gossip was used by collectors to ferret out unheard music. This not only shows the lust for rarities, but reverence for the larger acts of the era. The collectors simply made it their mission that those acts who were unrecognized at the time get their proper place in rock history. Whether their discographies are worth exploring beyond the contents of this box (and those of the Pretty Things, Creation and Move, for example, certainly are) or if they only managed to get it together for a single or two, Nuggets 2 makes them part of the pantheon. And as Scotland’s Poets put it, “That’s the Way It’s Got to Be”.
Over all, the box isn’t quite as strong as its predecessor, the first Nuggets box set. That set had the advantage of having a blueprint from which to draw (Lenny Kaye’s original Nuggets double LP, the granddaddy of all garage comps and included as the first CD of the previous box set). Also, while the first set focused mainly on American garage rock, the scope of Nuggets 2 is a bit broader, including, not only British acts, but also bands from Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Holland, Canada, South America, Japan and more places where you probably didn’t think they even had guitars. Furthermore, Nuggets 2 has many more excursions into psychedelia than it’s precursor. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it’s psych rock as ferocious as the Misunderstood’s “Children of the Sun” or as delightfully trippy as Tomorrow’s “My White Bicycle” or “Madman Running through the Fields” by Dantalion’s Chariot. It just doesn’t make for as cohesive a whole.
Those inclined to nitpick may also find fault in some of the tracks chosen. For example, the Birds (the British group featuring a young Ronnie Wood, not the American band of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” fame) are represented with “Say Those Magic Words” and “No Good Without You”. Both are great songs but are they better than “Leaving Here”, as killer a proto-punk stomper as you’ll ever hear? Similar comments could be made about the Downliners Sect and the Eyes selections, and maybe its licensing problems, but the Small Faces tracks chosen really have me scratching my head. Also, the Troggs, who many feel are the ultimate British embodiment of the Nuggets aesthetic, are represented with only one track, though that may be anti-hit bias. (The Troggs’ hit, in case you were wondering, was “Wild Thing”, not included, by the way.) Of course, none of the above are any reason not to own Nuggets 2 and play it until new technology renders your CD player obsolete.
The compilers of this set have done us a great service. They spent years digging through the collectors’ goldmine for these nuggets. I suggest you show your appreciation and plunk down your hard earned cash and give it a listen. It beats a Ringo solo album eight days a week.