I love Rhino Records. The packages the good folks at Rhino put together are beautiful to behold, and provide great listening experiences. Their crowning glory are the Nuggets compilations. The first, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 compiled the original Lenny Kaye two-record set Nuggets onto one disc, and then added three additional discs of mostly American garage rock. The box set was a goldmine of one- and two-hit wonders from the 1960s. It was a fascinating listen from the first song (the Electric Prunes’ classic “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night”) through the last (“Blues’ Theme” by Davie Allan and The Arrowswho??). The box was a cornucopia of kids playing in garages with fuzztone guitars, three chords, and one shining moment of inspiration. This box set was followed by Nuggets, Vol. 2: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire & Beyond, four more fully-packed CDs pulling the same sort of one- and two-hit garage rockers from all over the globe, from Australia’s Easybeats to Brazil’s Os Mutantes. Far from scraping the bottom of the barrel, this second box was, if anything, better than the first.
Then came Children Of Nuggets. While the title boasts the songs as coming from the “second psychedelic era” the fact is that there was no second psychedelic era. What this box set includes are the bands who drew some or all of their influence from the bands compiled on the first two box sets. These are the acts who grew up listening to the original Nuggets album, and bands like The Remains, The Sonics, and The Standells.
Overall, the album is a great collection. The main difference between this box and the two preceding volumes is that the bands on the first two collections were earnestly forging their own path. There was no real psychedelic garage rock before them. On Children of Nuggets, we have the bands who are following the trailblazers.
Because this is second-generation, most of the bands here can be boiled down to one of three categories.
The first of these groups are the imitators. These are the bands who are trying their best to copy the sound and feel of the original garage rockers. Farfisa organs, fuzztone guitars, phased vocals, psychedelic subject matter…all the elements are there. Sometimes these bands succeed. Their mimicry is so adept that the song sounds like a lost classic from 1967, like The Last’s “She Don’t Know Why I’m Here” or The Pandoras’ “It’s About Time.” This would also include The Dukes of Stratosphear, the nom de psych of XTC. These are also the bands most likely to fail. Vibrasonics’s “Kingsley J” sounds like a song from 1967, but it practically screams out “imitation.” It’s not a bad song, but it sounds like a copy of something better and more original.
The second group contains the bands who were heavily influenced by the garage rockers, but who mix the primitive sound with their own take on it. These are the bands that assume many of the trappings of garage rock, but don’t sound like they’re imitating anyone. Here you’ve got odd surf bands like The Untamed Youth and The Mummies, keyboard-centric bands like the great Lyres, and jangly guitar rockers like The Funseekers.
The third group is the best. These are the bands who capture the spirit of the garage rockers but who don’t feel bound to imitate the sound. Unsurprisingly, this is the group that features the most “famous” names: The Posies, Primal Scream, The Bangles, Teenage Fanclub, The Church, Julian Cope, The dB’s, The Smithereens, Hoodoo Gurus, Screaming Trees, The Plimsouls, The Fleshtonesall common names for those who listened to “college radio” in the 1980s.
Whatever groups the bands belonged to, the bottom line is the quality of the songs. Children of Nuggets is not as consistently great as Nuggets, Vol. 2, and it seems like there was some sort of desire to put a couple of instantly recognizable “hits” on it (this was also done on the first Nuggets box). Still, the quality of the songs is pretty consistently great. There are a few real dogs here (“New Kind Of Kick” by The Cramps sounds timid compared to the Swingin’ Neckbreakers’s ferocious, similarly-themed “I Live For Buzz,” Revolving Paint Dream’s “Flowers In The Sky” goes nowhere, “Psycko [Themes From Psycho and Vertigo]” is a cheesy surf-style instrumental by Laika and The Cosmonauts, The Unknowns are featured with the annoying “Not My Memory,” and Plasticland’s “Mink Dress” is a one-note idea, and not a good idea). These dogs are more than compensated for by the truly great songs (“Help You Ann” by Lyres, the early Bangles gem “The Real World,” “We’re Living In Violent Times” by the Barracudas, the power pop gem “The Trains,” from The Nashville Ramblers, “There Must Be A Better Life” from Biff, Bang, Pow!, “I May Hate You Sometimes” from The Posies, Hoodoo Gurus’s “I Want You Back,” the Godfathers’s “This Damn Nation,” “Everyday Things” by The Plimsouls, The Soft Boys’ classic “I Wanna Destroy You,” and “Ahead of My Time” by The Droogsand that’s just the great songs from the first half of the box.
The good news is that most of the rest of the songs are closer to being great than they are to being dogs. It is these very good songs that make up the bulk of the four discs. Out of 100 songs, more than 90% run the range from good to great, with the vast majority of those falling solidly in the very good to great category.
Children Of Nuggets is also an important history lesson. Rock radio was arguably at its nadir in the 1980s. It’s easy to forget now that hugely famous bands like R.E.M. toiled in obscurity for most of the 1980s, and even U2 were little more than a cult act until their fourth album. At a time when commercial rock radio was dominated by bands like Mr. Mister, Simple Minds, and The Hooters, it was college radio that provided a different venue and gave play to bands like the ones collected here. Alternative rock exploded into the mainstream in the early 1990s. Children Of Nuggets shows what it was like in the underground before Nirvana.