by Martin Popoff
Rhino has always had the key to my box-set heart, ordering untidy universes for that male gene that wants it that way. Add further male tendencies toward dusty, musty record shops and the urge to collect and Nuggets has the ability to put a guy in music library heaven. The best way to enjoy this fascinating meander through the world of United Nations mods’n’rockers pre-psych (the first Nuggets looks at America) is in a smoking jacket, surrounded by pipe smoke, brandy, and the red leather of a good, stiff, disciplined den chair. Of course, with a baby boy, I’ve managed my reading comfortably in fits, the music sparingly and quietly, and the synergy of both together, only in my office, for example, as I write this.
The booklet starts with three similar, mildly obsessive essays to set it up, “it” being 109 tracks of rare, uncharting, obscure garage music from ’64 to ’69, much of it from exotic countries, much of it creating a sound picture of the beginnings of metal and of prog rock, via the wiggling tadpole origins of hard psych. After the essays, which joyously celebrate (but don’t explain, that would cause unease) the record collector’s warped mind, delivering like Satan, all these heads on platters we all wish to covet in our humidity-controlled vinyl lairs (this, I have), the book provides exhaustive track by track notes. While meaty, here I would’ve liked to have a bit more rock criticism. I’m suckered by good rock crit. My enjoyment of these songs five years before my know-how and ten before my golden brown period (you know the one: first beer, first…) would’ve been elevated by “look here,” and “dude, you just gotta check out this backwards guitar solo recorded on one of Pete’s smashed guitars I found in a dustbin and pasted together, played while sucking a sugarcube in a lorry running out of petrol.”
Photos of the bands (the biggest being The Pretty Things, The Move, Small Faces, The Easybeats, and The Troggs), pictures of the album and single sleeves, and a painstakingly argued and chosen collection of insane rarities, the good rock docs at Rhino have basically delivered a lecture, educated us all on a strange, drafty, and somewhat screechy little corner of the rock world, to the point where you feel your life has been just that little pinch improved through lifestyle enhancement, an enhancement that pops out of an experience somewhere between art and travel, both time-tested enhancers. Given its trip through all the continents (who thought Mexico and Japan had mod bands?), Nuggets is like a fascinating little world’s fair of something few of us even have nailed with respect to Britain or the US.
The title says it all: A track, a couple paragraphs, a professorial listen for little futuristic touches, a glance at the haberdashery, and you’re sampling the next one until the box of chocolates is gone. A nugget, a little world, a collection of rock lives that were usually brief, common, less than a blip. And 109 such blips, well, together they make one cheesy Ringo clang on a cymbal, and for about 21 shimmering, vibrating seconds, you feel the immortality of being linked to a long ancestry of happily inconsequential rock cogs.