Sifting Through
the Pebbles

If you’re even somewhat interested in 60s-era garage rock, you’ve probably already purchased Rhino’s 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 60’s 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 aren’t 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 shouldn’t have bothered in the first place. There’s 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.

Here’s an overview of some of the best tracks from Pebbles:

“Suzy Creamcheese,” Teddy and the Patches. The entire history of 60’s 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.

“Green Fuz,” 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. It’s 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. (It’s 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 Dylan’s 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, it’s 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 didn’t 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 (“I’m 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.

“She’ll 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, it’s hard to understand why this one wasn’t 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.

“Move,” State 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.

“Searching,” Omens. Yet another variation on the venerable “Peter Gunn” guitar riff, this one stands out for the truly primitive backbeat and the great (if off-key) chorus harmonies, with a short and tight guitar solo added for good measure.

“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, “I’m 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 could’ve fit in on any second-tier class of ‘77 punk single you’d 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.

“Go Away,” Plague. Maybe the best misogynist song in this series, which is saying quite a bit considering just how many 60’s garage songs center around the evils that women do. A speedy rip topped with a very short pseudo-Yardbirds rave-up that pounds its way to a satisfying conclusion.

“My Soap Won’t 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 it’s 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 you’d care to name, and it’s a perfect example of why the garage rock genre still fascinates listeners today. It’s a pure blast of rock and roll in all of its primal, stupid, cathartic glory.

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