So many bands from the ’60s literally died for our sins and our entertainment. Horror stories from the Small Faces and the Kinks eat up bulky chapters of their individual lives, some never to escape the poisoned contracts that forced them to fight for long overdue royalties. And all the initial hard work of playing packed clubs eight days a week while the manager stored his other Aston Martin at one of his country homes yielded little but bad habits and in-fighting. While most managers were not innately evil—only longing to follow in the successful footsteps of prototypes like Brian Epstein (Beatles) and Andrew Loog-Oldham (The Stones)—there were typical methods to their manipulation. An enterprising businessman with a knack for knowing the next big thing stalks nightclub hot spots, approaching groups with talk of being as big as So-and-So. He draws up the contracts over drinks, the fine print seldom notes that wages will be extended over a period deemed “life,” no one reads the fine print anyway, and soon the artists no longer have any monetary attachment to their own product or identity.
The one positive result of having a successful manager was in getting the music out to the public. But how often did the music even get that far, and what determined the success of ’60s bands? Who could possibly want to follow in the wake of the Beatles and the Stones? Evidently, a bajillion bands from around the world. Instruments were cheap, clubs wanted the kids’ money and newly formed bands were giving it a go for any form of success. Along with the influx of management, independent record labels popped up like weeds to get a fast piece of the profit. Product flooded the market from all the little scenes influenced by beat music, mod, R&B, blue-eyed soul, psychedelic, or one of any number of sub-genres falling between the cardinal points on the style compass. Small labels in weird niches with obscure product.
These days, searching out such records is another ball of wax. Half of the bands who recorded for these fly-by-night labels probably couldn’t give half their records away back in the day, but just try to get your hands on them now. The price you’ll be asked to pay is generally ridiculous, you really don’t know if they’re any good, and they just might be another carbon copy of the last two bands mentioned.
Don’t sweat it. The kindly folks at Rhino Records are virtual patron saints for their preservation of lost relics. This time their collector largesse comes in the form of a second Nuggets box set, highlighting about 100 bands from the four corners of the globe that all claimed a moment in the brave new world of 1964-69.
The first Nuggets set came out a few years ago and solely featured American garage and psychedelic bands. This time around, Rhino exceeded the call of duty in tracking down rarities from around the world. That’s why they say, “We collect records so you don’t have to.” Apparently they have the money and time to do just that, as some of the unearthed gems brought tears to my eyes. It’s true justice, served in the form of four discs with no less than 25 songs on each. Well-researched liner notes on every band include their origin, labels, players, everything. Best of all, there are very few hits.
No stone was left unturned making this as-complete-as-it-gets, near-perfect compilation, pulling in groups from The Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Iceland, Canada, Japan, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. (the latter in mass quantities). While barely a blip on some radar screens, the biggest names present are the Action, the Creation, the Easybeats, the Move, the Small Faces, Status Quo and the greatest and longest-lasting underground band of them all, the Pretty Things. And from tiny acorns, massive egos grew: Ron Wood with the Birds; Jeff Lynne in the Idle Race; the band Tomorrow featuring Pretty Things/Pink Fairies madman drummer Twink along with Steve Howe of the once-and-future Yes; Mark Bolan and John’s Children; and even the little Davey Jones who would become David Bowie.
But it’s the quantity and quality of truly obscure names that puts the crumb of knowledge gained from years of collecting to absolute shame, and these unknowns dominate the box set. For most, their pinnacle is represented in the A-side tunes of each one, giving the listener the choice cuts even though there’s really not a lousy song on this comp, just a few near-snoozers here and there. Regardless, the education delivered by this package is what showcasing music should be about. Compared to the sucker-consumer discs in the Now That’s What I Call Music series, which is no more than a high-class version of those goofy K-Tel collections from a few decades ago, Nuggets II goes well beyond the concept of “your money’s worth” and delivers the unexpected.
Granted, there will always be those who want their hits overt and obvious. Good luck in choosing from the several dozen cheapo comps found at your local super store. There is a real use for music other than background sound, for which a household electric fan works just as well. There is a real point to going backwards other than for just nostalgia. In their tireless efforts, Rhino has gifted us with another chance to give credit where credit is due, without giving a shrug to the latest modern retro crap. Because as we all shall learn, all in good time, this where the real action is—and it is truly astounding.