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Rhino Records Celebrates 50th Anniversary of “Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-68” With 5 LP Expanded Record Store Day Edition

Mark Smotroff again goes down an Alice In Wonderland like rabbit hole of music discovery…


In 1972, music writer and future Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye realized a vision for a musical time capsule compilation of psychedelic era rock and pop which would capture the essence of that period in then still-recent history. Called Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-68, over the years the initially slow selling collection has escalated in stature with music archaeologists and musicians alike as a significant and important audio documentary-like statement. Nuggets is the perfect snapshot of what was going on then, a supremely transformative period of popular music.

On Record Store Day this year, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-68 was re-issued in a celebratory super deluxe expanded vinyl 50th Anniversary edition. It not only recreates the original two-LP set but also includes music from a second volume that was being considered but was never issued (primarily due to licensing challenges back in the day).   

Mr. Kaye wasn’t the first producer to try to create this sort of aural photograph. For example, Jazz impresario Norman Granz crafted an elaborate release in the late 1940s called The Jazz Scene featuring multiple 78 RPM records with then-exclusive music by artist such as Duke Ellington and Lester Young. It was representative of sounds of the times and some of the top artists working in it. Later reissued as a 10-inch 2 LP set, eventually it was released on a 12-inch LP and remains a compelling release.

According to new liner notes, Mr. Kaye took some of his inspiration in creating Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-68 from the “Mr. Maestro” series of early rock and roll / doo wop collections (issued in the early 1960s) as well as the many great compilations of vintage 78 RPM sides on the Yazoo Records label. 

Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-68 pulls together songs from multiple labels not only from the psychedelic movement but also some raw proto-indie/proto-punk groups now commonly categorized as “garage rock.” This was not a collection of songs by the big name bands of the times like The Beatles, The Who and The Rolling Stones! No, Nuggets featured lesser known yet no less influential groups, some of whom only issued singles.  

It is worth noting that Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-68 had been expanded upon in the compact disc era, initially as a four CD boxed set. This was a pretty great package and for many people was their first exposure to the Nuggets experience. The first CD in the set featured Lenny Kaye’s original collection and the other three discs expanded with more material from that period.

Eventually a second multi-disc Nuggets boxed set was issued featuring the British psychedelic singles from that era (called Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From The British Empire And Beyond 1964-1969) and later still there was Children Of Nuggets – Original Artyfacts From The Second Psychedelic Era 1976-1996!  Betwixt, between and beyond there have been several Nuggets related compilations issued by the label such as Come To The Sunshine, issued on Record Store Day some years back and reviewed by me on Audiophile Review (click here to jump to that mini review)

Some of you may wonder about the validity of putting out this music on LP again given that the CD version existed and was and remains pretty popular (for reference, the 10 copies of that set up on Discogs right now range in price from about $80-$200!).  

I initially wondered myself, but can attest the power of listening to Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-68 in its original vinyl form.  When the two LP version was re-issued some years back by Rhino Records on 180 gram vinyl, I got a copy and I immediately enjoyed the listening experience better than the CD version!  It is hard to explain, but there’s something about hearing Lenny Kaye’s original sequence of the music as broken out into four album sides that was lost on the continuous playlist format found on the CD version. It is almost like you are hearing miniature suites of music that were meant to go together; it is a testament to Mr. Kaye’s skills as a producer (and, effectively, a DJ!) that it works so well. 

If you are wondering whether if the new 50th Anniversary Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-68 expanded box set is worth getting, I think the answer is a resounding: yes! 

This collection is certainly made with a great deal of love and passion, featuring an elaborate and beautiful refractive psychedelic cover on the outside, new artwork for Volume 2 that captures the feel of the original plus a detailed booklet with fresh essays from Mr. Kaye, original Elektra Record founder and Nuggets conceptualizer Jac Holzman as well as set co-producer Bill Inglot. Each album features detailed annotation about the tracks. There is also a bonus disc Mr. Kaye compiled just for this set called “also dug-its” which is great fun as well. The set even comes with a fold out large scale poster of the album artwork!

The new pressing of the original two LP version of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-68 certainly sounds pretty fine overall. I’m not going to critique the track-by-track fidelity because these are obviously recordings which come from different sources. That is the point of this compilation, so just listen to it for the collective experience. Some of these tracks were probably one-off single mixes so do anticipate some sonic variety. That said, the new set was mastered by Chris Bellman with producer Bill Inglot at Bernie Grundman Mastering. It was “cut from original 1972 master reels,” according to liner notes. 

One thing that is a bit curious to me is that when I compared the overall sound of this new edition to the 180-gram version issued by Rhino Records in 2012, I found the earlier version was a wee bit warmer sounding. The new one has a somewhat brighter edge to it. That doesn’t mean it’s bad — I still find the new one very enjoyable! But if you have an earlier edition, you might notice a different sound palette (if you will).

There are no doubt some tracks here on the new previously unreleased Volume 2 collection that I knew already, many of which are in my collection both on original vinyl LPs and singles: “Do You Believe In Magic” by The Lovin’ Spoonful; “7 And 7 Is” by Love; “Laugh Laugh” by The Beau Brummels, “A Little Bit Of Soul” by The Music Explosion; and “96 Tears by ? And The Mysterians) and The Choir’s classic “Its Cold Outside.” 

However, there are many great new tracks I’d not heard before and this is where a set like this becomes super exciting! Some of my favorites on this new collection include the scorching “Frustration” by The Mystic Tide and “Free As The Wind” by The Myddle Class, a NJ band who opened for The Velvet Underground’s first gig and featured future Steely Dan singer David Palmer (and bassist Charles Larkey later joined The Fugs and married Carole King!). “Whatcha Gonna Do About It” by The Evil is a neat nick on The Who’s “My Generation” concept, replete with guitar solo freakout and feedback.

As I’ve found in the past, this kind of compilation album makes me want to dig down into my own collection of old 45s to see which ones I actually own!  I could have sworn I had the album by The Lollipop Shoppe with their terrific “You Must Be A Witch” but I’m not finding it so far (and thus I add another album to my never ending of list of records to look for out in the wilds!).

And there-in lies a good portion of the fun of a collection like Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-68.  Nuggets is that kind of connect-the-dots listening experience where you inevitably will go down some rabbit holes of discovery.

You can still find copies of this great collection at many independent record stores or if you prefer shopping on online it is up on Amazon now (just click on the album title anywhere in this review and it will take you there).  

If you love this period of music, the 50th Anniversary boxed set celebration of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-68 is an essential release to get.

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