I was super excited when a four CD box set expanding the legendary Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era (1965-1968) collection came out in the late '90s. I'd heard about Nuggets back when I was a little kid, but never got around to buying a copy. I never seemed to be able to find it on LP or if I did it was too beat up. Thus the CD set was a nice stop-gap. I still pull it out from time to time to explore the amazing music there. Thus, you can imagine my newfound joy when the good folks at Rhino gave me a copy of the original Nuggets two LP set, all newly pressed on spiffy 180-gram vinyl. It has been reissued (on CD as well as LP) to celebrate it's 40th anniversary, remastered from the original analog album master.
The first thing that hit me when I sat down to play the disc was something entirely non-aural -- the experience of enjoying Nuggets begins the moment you pick up the hefty cardboard cover and look at the gorgeous pop psychedelic artwork, done by Elektra Records Art Director William S. Harvey and graphic artist Abe Gurvin. This artwork was highly comprimized -- dare I say, virtually lost? -- on the CD box set. I mean, on the box set you see the pretty colors and graphics but don't really see the full image clearly showing a man and woman driving in a car, listening to AM radio (only one band there) and having their collective minds altered by the music emanating from the speakers. It is a great work this side of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine, Cream's Disraeli Gears and XTC's first Dukes of Stratosphear collection called 25-O'Clock.
It was then it dawned on me that this wasn't just an LP reissue, but a bonafide restoration. Nuggets was designed for the LP format and is best enjoyed that way.
There are the great liner notes on the back cover by legendary writer, producer and Patti Smith guitarist, Lenny Kaye... all presented in full LP size where you can, in a single sitting, grok the essence of the album and its intent. Sure, the CD box set is cool, but this LP is all you need to get your head around this music.
This is the music that influenced generations of bands, like The Ramones, to pick up guitars and usher in the next wave of harder edged pop confections. Nuggets collects 27 seminal, proto-punk psychedelic pop gems, mostly two-minute "nuggets" (if you will) presenting a compelling snaphot of the period of popular music's evolution between 1965 and 1968. Again, this was a time when AM radio was the primary way people heard about new music -- FM wasn't so widespread back then and there were no Interwebs around letting you stream or download tracks, kiddies. On AM radio, on a daily basis you could get your mind blown by new sounds that were pushing the boundaries of what people knew and accepted as pop music. Suddenly, there were bands like The Electric Prunes singing "I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night" and "Psychotic Reaction" by the Count Five. Heck, the revolution was so mainstream that you saw bands like The Seeds appearing in a TV comedy episode (doing their hit "Pushin' Too Hard") really showcasing the massive split that had occurred between the parents generation and their kids. Check out the clips below which someone posted on YouTube including that lip synch performance by The Seeds as well as The Electric Prunes on Mike Douglas' then-popular talk show. You can really see the generation gap widening, even tho' some noble adults were trying their best to understand what it was all about.
On Nuggets, all the tracks work well together as a collection. In these times of single track, just-download-the-hit music consumption mindset, that makes this two-LP set all the more compelling. It could be argued that Nuggets is the first real good "mixtape," the first "playlist," that first collection thoughtfully put together to create a unified listening experience. Sure, there were other enjoyable DJ-made hits compilations out there earlier (Art Laboe's "Oldies But Goodies" to Murray The K's collections and beyond). But these songs were carefully chosen much in the way like a modern DJ would sequence a set.
The sound on the album is first rate, especially for pop songs recorded in the mid-60s -- don't expect wild dynamics and such but if you want a great handy collection of these kinds of songs on vinyl, this is ground zero.
In the liner notes to the four-CD Nuggets box set, producer Jac Holzman (founder and president of Elektra Records from 1950-73) wrote: "This was no K-Tel bargain TV ragbag, but a serious study. Already I could sense that we were on the cusp of a time when doctoral candidates would be writing dissertations on the history of rock." In those same notes Holzman reported that Lenny Kaye subsequently said, in an interview years after the album came out, that he "thought the groups we picked reflected the yearning of a teenager aching to play in a band."
So, there you have it. Now you can go out and get a pristine copy of the original Nuggets collection, presented in a lovingly restored format of the original LP with beautifully printed artwork, thick cardboard covers, original early '70s Elektra Records ("butterfly") labels and dead quiet180-gram vinyl goodness. It doesn't get much sweeter than that, friends.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written. www.smotroff.com