David Fricke on Nuggets: “It’s now its own genre”

Nuggets is now its own genre, old and rugged enough to have sired a long line of ‘60s-comp children and puns, writes Rolling Stone senior editor DAVID FRICKE in the liner notes for a new compilation, Nuggets: Antipodean Interpolations of the First Psychedelic Era.

Meanwhile, the compilation’s producer, OWEN PENGLIS, talks about capturing the spirit of the original series nearly 50 years on. Out now through Warner it features interpretations of Nuggets’ classics by Straight Arrows, Eagle & the Worm, The Frowning Clouds, The Laurels and Pond.

David Fricke (senior editor, Rolling Stone)

Nuggets was one of the most important albums in my rock’n’roll life long before it arrived in the fall of 1972, bearing that distinctive Elektra logo and propelled by Lenny Kaye’s impeccable scholar-fan stewardship. I am old enough – and grateful for it – to have heard the LA-Stones drone of the Seeds’ ‘Pushin’ Too Hard’ and the Electric Prunes’ echo-soaked nightmare ‘I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)’ when they were new and rudely exotic, busting through the pocket sonics of my AM transistor radio. I still have my original Double Shot-label 45 of ‘Psychotic Reaction’, bought right as Count Five’s California-Yardbirds raveup hit the Top 40 in late 1966. And since I’m from Philadelphia, I knew by heart every pop-technicolor atom of ‘Open My Eyes’ – the ‘68 debut of Nazz, our local Who – way before the rest of creation discovered the genius-imp at the center of the ruckus, Todd Rundgren.

But it took Nuggets to give all of that fuzz, bark and attitude a name – the perfect one, since everything on the original double LP was gold – and Kaye to set me straight, in his programming and annotation, on the historical worth and revolutionary depth of the extremes in those 27 tracks, from the neo-Beatlemania of New Jersey’s Knickerbockers to the Detroit KO of the Amboy Dukes’ ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’. Nuggets is now its own genre, old and rugged enough to have sired a long line of ‘60s-comp children and puns (Boulders, Pebbles, Rubble). In Australia, the groundbreaking Ugy Things eventually ran to four volumes, introducing my hemisphere to the R&B-droog and acid-blues mayhem of the Missing Links, the Creatures and the Pink Finks.

Nuggets defined a time and spirit much bigger than its usual synonym, “garage rock”: wide open in dynamic possibility yet true to the mutinous impulse and amateur enthusiasm that Kaye, one of the main reasons I first set a typewriter next to my turntable, caught in his ‘72 liner notes. I especially loved his line about “the relentless middle-finger drive and determination offered only by rock & roll at its finest” – so much, in fact, that I quoted it not long after Nuggets came out, in a college term-paper project inspired by that anthology. The course was American music – from Shaker hymns and chain-gang work songs to the 20th Century composer Aaron Copeland. But I stretched the syllabus, creating a radio documentary about the twisted roots and suburban-pioneer spirit in the Standells’ ‘Dirty Water’ and the Blues Magoos’ freak-out treatment of the country blues ‘Tobacco Road’. I got an A, probably for originality. The professor’s main comment was about the guitar hook in ‘I’ by the Knight Riders, pulled from another compilation: “Nice use of ostinato.”

Since then, Nuggets has been somewhere in my work and life almost every day. I use it as a reference and standard in my writing. “Nuggets-like” is sometimes the fastest and most accurate way to sum up a song, scene or gig I dig – or wish was better. And Nuggets has come up in a lot of my interviews over the years, as a touchstone for always-curious and passionate listeners like Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and an enduring learning tool for the newly psychedelized. I remember talking with the Undertones, the great Northern Ireland punk band, during their first US tour in 1979. When I told them how much I liked their recent B-side cover of the Chocolate Watch Band’s ‘Lets Talk About Girls’, singer Feargal Sharkey confessed they had never heard of the song until a friend played it for them – off of Nuggets.

”’Nuggets’, in 1972, was designed as a celebration of a not-so-distant but largely forgotten, misunderstood past.”

Nuggets – Antipodean Interpolations of the First Psychedelic Era comes to you in that spirit and renewing tradition, with an extra twist in the tale: These bands, representing the best of young, electric Australia, honor the rough euphoria and often-naive adventure in the ‘65-’68 recordings by kicking ‘em forward, with a fresh coat of strange. Some of these combos I already count as personal favorites, such as Pond and Step-Panther. Others I want to know better like Pearls, who reimagine ‘Dirty Water’ as iridescent post-rock; Montero, whose luscious monument to Sagittarius’ ‘My World Fell Down’ suddenly veers into Gothic-Beach Boys frenzy; and Baptism of Uzi, who turn ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ into Seventies-Krautrock hypnosis, Nuggets-goes-Neu!.

Nuggets, in 1972, was designed as a celebration of a not-so-distant but largely forgotten, misunderstood past. The quality and love in the execution ensured that the music would be with us for a lot longer than the Shadows of Knight or the Magic Mushrooms ever imagined. This album is now part of that story. And I have a spot ready for it in my collection – within arm’s reach, just like the original.

Owen Penglis (Straight Arrows/producer)

I was 17, living in the suburbs, and an older friend (seemingly heaps older, as in probably 20, thanks Sam!) lent me the four-disc boxset. It completely blew my mind and made making pizzas in the back of a shitty corporate pizza chain store a little more bearable. Until it got to the point where I was ignoring customers, blasting the album, and sitting out the back reading the booklet that came with it; discovering all this information about a whole bunch of bands and weird sub-genres I was hearing for the first time. Thanks to me they banned the CD player from the shop. Dicks.

At the time I was starting to come around to early British beat music off the back off your standard teen Beatles and Rolling Stones fascinations, but this stuff was actually weird, and showed that there were literally thousands of excellent bands from the mid-1960s that I’d never ever heard mention of that all had at least one amazing song. Otherworldly psych stuff like the Electric Prunes, pre-punk attitude stuff like the Del-Vetts and the Vagrants, and wild inept frat rockers like ‘Louie Louie’ by the Kingsmen and ‘Double Shot of My Baby’s Love’ by the Swingin’ Medallions. Plus the fuzz pedal, like with Richard and the Young Lions. Along with completely weird stuff like ‘Liar Liar’ by the Castaways, and the Magic Mushrooms. And every time I switched it on and changed discs I’d hear something I’d missed before. Hell, I still find stuff in that boxset I’d never properly paid attention to. And even better, a whole heap of these original singles could be found in the two dollar bins at local record stores and junk shops, even way out in Asquith and Hornsby.

On top of all these revelations, a whole heap of these tracks stripped away all the complications of ultra-modern songwriting. You can literally hear how these were thrown together and recorded with equipment that was probably only a little better than the four-track cassette recorder my friend lent me, and even better, these guys were mostly just a little older than me too. From there I went on to discover even more primitive stuff like the “Back From The Grave” series, which is another story for another time.

“Most covers records are fucking garbage.”

I guess when I was seeing bands I started to figure out that if they weren’t down with Nuggets, no matter what the genre, they probably weren’t worth watching. After getting inspired by all this wild US music I went and spent all my 18th birthday money on the Nuggets 2 boxset, which features bands from around the world plus Australia, which had its own ‘60s scene of absolutely amazing, creative, and weird groups breaking ground and only being recognised years after the fact.

So when producing this compilation the last thing I wanted to do was screw up something I liked so much and ensure that I’d never be able to listen to it again. Mostly it was about getting these goddamn bands to play the songs right, with their own interpretations on top. And make sure it didn’t have some shitty, slick modern production values that would absolutely destroy the spirit of these songs. Most covers records are fucking garbage, and I wanted to ensure this didn’t happen here. This is a modern Australian companion and a celebration of a record that all of these bands love and hold dear, recorded partly in a friend’s studio full of really old equipment, and partly in the loungeroom and kitchen at my place.

Nuggets – Antipodean Interpolations of the First Psychedelic Era will come to life at Sydney Town Hall as part of Sydney Festival this Friday, January 25. Acts performing include The Laurels, Straight Arrows, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, The Murlocs, The Gooch Palms, Step-Panther and Bloods. Click here for more details.