In the wake of the great British Invasion of the 1960s, hippies, arty college students, and aspiring rock stars all wanted their ticket to ride. A truly unfathomable number of bands were formed, which was good news for the litany of labels that were happy to sign them and try to get even a fraction of the success of a single Beatles hit. It didn’t take long for the market to become oversaturated, as most consumers couldn’t tell much difference between the Strawberry Alarm Clock and the Chocolate Watchband.
In 1972, the Lenny Kaye-compiled box set Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968, forever changed the conversation around psychedelic rock. Kaye was a fanzine fiend and journalist before working with the Patti Smith Group, and his evident love of the genre allowed his skills as a curator to come to the fore as semi-hits danced with uncharted numbers to paint a picture of the scene as it was. Occasional moments of garage-pop beauty collided with noble-intended experiments, making for a sonic document that has inspired the entirety of the punk-rock movement and gone down as one of the most celebrated compilations ever released.
Yet one success is not enough for the industry, and Nuggets soon turned into a brand, with Rhino Records later unleashing a bevy of location-specific (San Francisco! Los Angeles!) and genre-specific spin-offs in the 2000s. Kaye even admitted to putting together an entire list for a second volume, but it never got released, despite some of his picks eventually making it onto later Nuggets releases. The brand, having mined so much of the one-off hits available in the 1960s, soon started looking for garage-rock gems in different decades, signaling that as interesting as new permutations of the genre may be, the well from the inspiration of the original Nuggets was drawn from had all but dried up.
All of this serves as context to When the Alarm Clock Rings: A Compendium of British Psychedelia 66-69. Courtesy of the ever-reliable Cherry Red Records, this curious compilation rounds up many breeds of also-ran psych-rock wannabes, many of whom had songs licensed out for other Nuggets compilations. When it comes to curating a genre overview, several approaches can be taken, and when bold moves are made, as Rhino Records did with its stunning 2005 box set One Kiss Leads to Another, which delved head-first into 1950s girl group obscura with nary a hit in sight, it feels like you’re discovering a secret history of a beloved scene. With When the Alarm Clock Rings, it’s hard to shake the sense that we’re being served a litany of also-rans.
Across 30 tracks, the all-male vocals range from perfectly acceptable (see Jack Ttanna’s pipes on the Genesis song “In the Beginning”) to barely on-key (sorry, The Mirage). The Fab Four cosplay is as prominent as expected, which makes the outliers to that formula stand out all the more. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s spoken-shouted “Spontaneous Apple Creation” is pure theatrical nightmare but strangely one of the album’s otherworldy highlights. “Remember the Times” by Mike Stuart Span, meanwhile, opens with a rock riff that feels teleported straight from 1970s AOR radio back to the 1960s, predicting rock’s future before settling into a more Beatlemania-friendly groove.
So, while the compilation may not yield any truly worthwhile discoveries, it’s still a Cherry Red release, which means it is immaculately researched and presented. In the liners, every band featured receives a detailed bio and press shots where appropriate. There are tales of fluke hits, auditions where one pianist won out over a rival named Elton John, and records that were sabotaged by their label in a bid for market dominance by having two versions of the same track out by different groups (it seems that the Syn got the short end of the stick there). Immaculately researched, deeply compelling, and serving as the context much of this album so greatly needed, it truly is the work of the Cherry Red writers and designers that help give this compilation its unique lift.
Whilsincerelyly well-intentioned, don’t feel bad if you feel like hitting the snooze button on this Alarm Clock.