Viva Garage Rock! Nuggets Turns 50 (review)

Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968: 50th Anniversary Box Set (Rhino)

The seminal, original double LP get expanded to 5 discs, offering even more garage-rock heaven

The original, 2-LP, Nuggets set, released in 1972, was unbelievably influential – essentially setting the stage for the back-to-basics punk movement which would emerge later in the decade.  Curated and annotated by critic Lenny Kaye, the 27 songs helped usher in what later became known as “garage rock.”  The original set has been enlarged for its 50th anniversary, adding a Nuggets vol. 2 that was slated for release, but never actually issued, plus a 5th LP titled “Also Dug-Its,” featuring even more songs that were considered, but left off, the initial collection.

Leading off with the trippy, fuzz guitar of The Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night,” the first Nuggets set features plenty of punk sneering, like “Dirty Water” from the Standells and “Pushin’ Too Hard” by the Seeds.  But, you also get Beatle knockoffs like “Lies” by the Knickerbockers, the Dylan ode “A Public Execution” by Mouse, and a pre-Aretha version of “Respect” by the Vagrants.  There’s party rock, like “Farmer John” from the Premiers, and acid rock freak-outs like “Baby Please Don’t Go” by the Amboy Dukes.  

There were out and out pop perfections like the Beach Boys’ inspired “My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius, the jangly “Sugar and Spice” by the underrated Cryan’ Shames, and the dizzying height of “Open My Eyes” by Todd Rundgren’s first band, The Nazz.  

If all of this sounds sort of difficult to categorize, it is.  In the new liner notes, Kaye admits that he just compiled a bunch of his favorite songs in hopes that Elektra records would like his idea.  They did, and Nuggets created a mild sensation.  

After the initial Nuggets release, there were plans for a followup – a tracklist was assembled, but nothing materialized, largely due to difficulty in trying to license the songs.  This proposed album has now emerged as Nuggets Vol 2.  It starts with the rather un-garage “Do You Believe in Magic” from the Lovin’ Spoonful, but Kaye had posed the question in the first Nuggets’ liner notes of whether “the magic’s in the music…”  

Heavy-hitters like “Seven and Seven Is” by Love and “Little Girl” by the Syndicate of Sound sit alongside the more obscure, proto punk of “Action Woman” by The Litter, and the clever knocking percussion of “Open Up Your Door” by Richard and the Young Lions.  Kaye admits that “96 Tears” by ? & the Mysterians is sort of the garage rock “holy grail,” because they were unable to license it for the original Nuggets, but it’s here now (but honestly, where is “Gloria” by Shadows of Knight?). 

There are several tracks by artists who would gain fame later.  The Pleasure Seekers were made up of all girls, and fronted by Suzi Quatro, and are here with “What a Way to Die,” while the jangly “It’s Cold Outside” from The Choir featured 1/2 of the future band, the Raspberries.  

But wait…there’s even more.  A fifth album is included, called “Also Dug-its,” which features songs that were in the running for the original collection, but never made it.  Some of these are sheer brilliance, like “99th Floor,” from the pre-ZZ Top, Billy Gibbons-led Moving Sidewalks, the pure pop of “Yellow Balloon” from Yellow Balloon, and the Mamas & Papas-esque “It’s a Happening Thing” by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy.  Others are head-scratchers.  What the hell is “Nina Kocka Nina” by the Dinks?  And, apparently, Elektra Record founder Jac Holzman wanted “Don’t Tie Me Down” by Little Anthony and the Imperials included on the original Nuggets.  Um, sorry Jack…it doesn’t fit.

Rhino has faithfully reproduced the look of the original set, right down to the replica “Something Out of the Ordinary” original Elektra inner sleeves.  The original liner notes by Kaye are included.  However, there are a few differences.  The running length of all the songs has been corrected – sometimes drastically different.  For instance, “Pushin’ Too Hard” by the Seeds was credited running at 3:03, when, in fact, it times at a leaner 2:37.  The sound quality is also vastly upgraded – these versions jump out of the speakers in clarity.  

The packaging, in a shiny silver box, really stands out.  There’s a booklet with several essays, and original notes from an early version of Nuggets – all adding to the mystique of this hallowed music.

The original Nuggets gave birth to “garage rock,” and in doing so, influenced a great deal of what came after.  This 50th anniversary set is a testament to the great legacy that lives on.  —Tony Peters