A couple days ago I noted that the Seattle Public Library has the magnificent survey of the psychedelic pop era known as Nuggets II. Obviously enough, it’s the second in a series which begins with Nuggets, which I’m happy to note is also available.
Nuggets focuses on obscure American rock bands; Nuggets II looks afield to the UK, Europe, and beyond, including Mexican and Asian groups. It’s really astonishing in the diversity of sources.
I first was exposed to this material through Steve Millen’s ongoing tape-compilation projects, The Enpsychedelipedia and the followup, best-of project, The Re-Enpsychedelipedia. I don’t recall how many volumes the series collectively ran to, but I’m gonna guess in the range of twenty ninety-minute tapes. A day after linking to the CDs, I got an email from a pal wondering if anyone had converted Steve’s Enpsychedelipedia to digital formats. I believe that there are one or two cassette-based complete copies of the project around, but it’s so much material I doubt that it’s been completely converted, and possibly hasn’t been attempted.
Steve had a collection of original vinyl from the era in addition to being a knowledgeable and passionate pursuer of roughly every vinyl reissue series available at the time. The project really picked up steam in the mid-to-late eighties, when there were several competitor series to Nuggets in circulation. The competitor compilations were a mixed bag: definitely of greater interest to connoisseurs of the obscure, these series tended to emphasize rawer songs and musicians, with recording quality being less of a consideration for inclusion than is the case on the relatively polished and well-budgeted Nuggets series.
Nuggets is a fantastic introduction to these sounds, make no mistake, and avoids falling into the anti-commercial trap that can so easily limit enthusiast-oriented compilations to material that did not succeed commercially at the time of release; thus, along with Tomorrow’s Digger anthem “My White Bicycle,” you get some pre-Monkees Davy Jones, pre-Eurostar Status Quo, the Troggs, and so forth.
Nuggets was originally compiled by Patti Smith cohort Lenny Kaye in the early seventies; the original track notes may be seen at Little Steven’s web site, which has a number of interesting rock history goodies scattered about.
The most wide-ranging and best distributed of the non-Nuggets compilations is the 28-voume (!) Pebbles series. Apparently, twelve of these have been re-issued on CD, with differing track selections, and three 2-CD best-of sets are also available.
The final compilation source that I know Steve worked from to assemble his survey of this fertile field was also released by the same company that promulgated Pebbles.
Highs in the mid-Sixties focused on the many distinct regional rock scenes in the US. I can still remember the first time that Steve played Volume Seven for me, which features Pacific Northwest bands from the mid-sixties. He backed that up with an introduction to the original vinyl of The Sonics, which astonished me in its’ rawness.
Finally, Steve’s favorite band from this era is the formerly overlooked 13th Floor Elevators, a band that, he maintained, was infinitely superior to the no-count likes of “orchestral rockists” such as the Beatles and “instrumental fascists” like that “tightass white boy” Eric Clapton. Steve had strong, and frequently amusing, opinions.
The Elevators are legendary in Texas, partly because lead singer Roky Erickson is supposed to have gone nuts from using too much cough syrup. The truth of the matter is probably more complex; however you come down on the debate concerning the high-art aspirations of the most widely celebrated artists of the late sixties, it does seem clear that the Elevators were long unfairly neglected, something that may have changed somewhat since the early eighties.
So, is there a way to emulate the Enpsychedelipedia? Are there other knowledgeable eccentrics that still care about this material sufficiently to present guides, their own recompilations, and the like?
Happily, the answer is yes.
Turn Me On, Dead Man (despite an unfortunate all-graphic front page) offers webcasts via live365.com, and though their features highlight predictable artists that would have induced armwaving rants from Mr. Millen, there is an extensive catalog of garage and psychedelic compilation reissues.
Of course, a nod to Bomp! and the bomplist is called for. Bomp appears to have centralized many of the catalogs from other distributors that I recall from the eighties and appears to have a distribution relationship with Rhino, which in turn has a relationship with the big boys. Note that this is sheer observational speculation, I don’t keep up on label contracts and distribution relationships any more.
The bomplist, despite its’ name, is not specifically about Bomp product, but an active email discussion list that covers the same areas of inerest that the label’s catalog does. At times it’s been the best way I know of to find a particular garage-rock musician – while it’s not uncommon for artists to be kinda disengaged from the internet and computers and so forth, their fans and friends are often in the thick of things.