If youre even somewhat interested in 60s-era garage rock, youve probably already purchased Rhinos deservedly acclaimed Nuggets box set. You may have even bought Nuggets II, the poppier and more psychedelic sequel. If so, the next place to look for 60s garage gems is the Pebbles series on Bomp! Records.
Pebbles is an undiluted romp through the murk of one-single wonders long forgotten outside of the rarified world of record collectors. There arent any familiar tracks like Psychotic Reaction or Dirty Water here, just raw, unrefined records too jagged and uncommercial to dent the charts. The ratio of good stuff to junk is also significantly lower than the Nuggets series. The problem with the anyone can make a garage record ethos, like any DIY creative climate, is that most people who do it probably shouldnt have bothered in the first place. Theres plenty of rote three chord bash-em-outs, embarrassing attempts at psychedelia that were dated ten minutes after the record was pressed, and enough lousy attempts to knock off British rock to fill an army of Beatlemania! touring casts. But there are also plenty of amazing moments: inept teenage kids who somehow stumble upon a magic riff for two and a half minutes, unusually strong vocal or instrumental performances that capture the mixture of angst and hormones that are the lifeblood of rock and roll, and a few genuinely powerful anthems that, in a just world, would be played ad nauseam on classic rock and oldies radio.
Heres an overview of some of the best tracks from Pebbles:
Suzy Creamcheese, Teddy and the Patches. The entire history of 60s rock and roll neatly encapsulated into a three minute package. A three chord stomper that abruptly segues into a psychedelic organ breakdown that (unlike most psych) ends before it gets too ponderous. The lyrics are another variation on that timeless straight-girl-becomes-hippie-and-then-goes-insane story immortalized in countless exploitation films and in the real life of Diane Linkletter.
Randy Alvey and Green Fuz. Perhaps the most famous song on the
series, due to the Cramps' cover version, Green Fuz is one
strange yet undeniably powerful recording. Its apparently an attempt
at creating a mythmaking theme song, and it does succeed at making the
group sound dangerous, albeit in a stupid and self-destructive way. The
Green Fuz sound like the sort of gang who probably lost more members from
accidental shootings and motorcycle accidents than any sort of conflict.
The Green Fuz sound like the sort of gang who probably lost more members from accidental shootings and motorcycle accidents than any sort of conflict.
Like a Rolling Stone, Soup Greens. This version of the Dylan standard is a prime example of a little known musical fact: Any lyric can be sung over the "Louie Louie" chord progression. (Its about time that some group of enterprising garage-rock revivalists finally arrange a three chord version of "Tales from Topographic Oceans.") The Soup Greens may dull the seething anger and unrepentant venom of Dylans version, but this take has its own thuggish charm.
Beaver Patrol, Wylde Knights. If you can overlook the really dumb frat-guy humor on this song, its a great Farfisa-led groove with a succinct, biting guitar solo. Actually, the song is a lot more innocuous than it may seem from the title. Unfortunately, the followup singles Bikini Inspector and Muff Diver failed to dent the charts.
Makin Deals, Satans. Naming your group The Satans in 1960s America didnt turn out to be the commercial boon these guys might have anticipated. Dabbling in Satanic imagery two years before the Rolling Stones released Sympathy for the Devil, but lacking some of the edge of the Stones classic (Im the guy who makes the deals). The song makes Satan seem more like a smalltime record hustler than a powerful, merciless deity; in other words, Kim Fowley as Satan. Actually, that would explain quite a bit.
Shell Lie, Satan and D-Men. Brazenly unheeding the commercial lesson taught by the Satans, Satan and D-Men dispense with any sacrilegious marketing schemes and dole out this woman-bashing stomper. Most notable for the truly nasty guitar work on the verses, which sound like a white guy version of Chicago blues played through a trash compactor.
The song makes Satan seem more like a smalltime record hustler than a powerful, merciless deity; in other words, Kim Fowley as Satan. Actually, that would explain quite a bit.
Writing on the Wall, Five Canadians. Unlike many of the other songs in this series, its hard to understand why this one wasnt a huge hit it outdoes Paul Revere and the Raiders at their own game. Taut and driving, with a instantly memorable chorus. You can picture them doing this one on Where the Action Is, dressed in matching Mountie outfits or toques or torques or whatever the hell it is they wear up there.
of Mind. Kind of a forgettable song, albeit with a suitably driving
chord progression, but then out of nowhere comes one of the great guitar
solos of the 60s a jagged, spiraling go-for-broke masterpiece that
elevates this song into a minor classic.
You Treat Me Bad, JuJus. The agonizing sound of puberty, captured for posterity on vinyl. The trebly, just slightly post pubescent vocal tone of the lead singer on this one is made even more poignant by the hysterical raw emotion of his vocal performance. Acne-covered soul.
Flight Reaction, Calico Wall. This nerve-wracking bit of early psychedelia about fear of flying is propelled by a creeping guitar line and paranoid vocals, building steadily to the final and inevitable plane crash. Marred somewhat by the novelty song touches (duck calls, a W.C. Fields monologue, etc.), but a compelling vignette nevertheless. Also worth seeking out is the flipside to this single, Im a Living Sickness, a tale of self-loathing set to a proto-Doors minor key organ.
Loose Lip Sync Ship, Hogs. A truly odd pastiche one part soul instrumental a la a white cover of Booker T and the MGs or the Meters, one part Zappa homage and/or parody, one part psychedelic/pseudo-free-jazz freak out, concluding with the kind of goofball stabs at humor heard in the Hombres Let it All Hang Out. Somehow, it all holds together, at least for three minutes.
Going Away Baby,
Grains of Sand. About as raw and unrestrained as 60s era garage
could get, the slashing guitar riff and driving drumbeat that power this
song couldve fit in on any second-tier class of 77 punk single
youd care to name. This performance is only marred by an unnecessary
organ solo, one of the rare examples in music history where there was
actually too much Farfisa organ.
My Soap Wont Float, Regiment. You have to give the vocalist here credit he manages to sound completely anguished throughout this slice of mid-60s suburban angst (TV personalities all look nice in black and white/Turn the color on to green, makes me want to eat ice cream). Also includes several denunciations of phonies, a perfect example of why its a good idea to read other books besides Catcher in the Rye over and over again. Musically, the band works up a nervous, taut atmosphere led by a percolating organ.
Doin Me In, Gonn. Of all the gems unearthed in this series, this one is the most stunning a tense back-and-forth over two chords on the verse, building into an explosive call-and-response chorus. Doin Me In stands up next to I Can See For Miles or You Really Got Me or any other 60s rock anthem youd care to name, and its a perfect example of why the garage rock genre still fascinates listeners today. Its a pure blast of rock and roll in all of its primal, stupid, cathartic glory.