Sometimes I get by with just listening to a 12″ to complete a post here, sometimes even just a single LP, this time for your infotainment and delectation I have savoured, devoured and digested the entire contents of the 5LP Pebbles Box Set and so here’s my, umm, abandon metaphor, ABANDON METAPHOR!
Indebted to (and named in tribute to) Lenny Kaye’s seminal Nuggets compilation the Pebbles LPs were an attempt to present the, mostly, passed over gems of the past (mid to late 60’s) to us modern hepcats. I mean anyone with pulse loves ‘Louie Louie’ don’t they? all 5 LP’s here celebrate a whole culture and generation whose worldview was based solely on ‘Louie Louie’, bad drugs, Merseybeat and booze. As always with these compilations I find myself wondering whether the fact these bands never found any fame at the time was due to some Darwinian mechanism, were they simply not good enough? and okay, having just listened to a whole phalanx of dimly-recalled garage rockers from all points from Bakersfield, Tampa, Rochester all the way to Keokuk, Iowa, there may be a slight truth there sometimes. However, what is also crystal clear is that there were a whole generation of young (mostly) men desperately waiting for the social and musical conditions to click so that they could unleash their own frustrations and bids for awesomeness on the world, most of whom ended up going back to school, working at the garage or their father’s store after, at best, a brief flurry of local fame. They also served and we should remember them. I love the idea that by spinning this record and grooving along to ‘Move’ by The State of Mind, I’m somehow honouring the five minutes of fame somebody’s great uncle from Wilmington, Delaware was seeking. I like that thought andthe fact that some enthusiast has in all probability spent years nosing through the usual vinyl detritus to unearth it for us in the first place.
It’s also a whole lot of fun.
I picked up the beautiful Pebbles Box Set up on 29 November 1997, probably whilst I was meant to be Christmas shopping solely because it had a great cover and 5 LPs all on cool coloured vinyl inside. I knew, but didn’t own at the time, all about the Nuggets LP and The Sonics (who I still don’t own any LPs by) and I loved the often primitive energy these rare cuts had; but I’d be lying if I said I bought this solely for the music. Inside the box, as befitting an enterprise put together by enthusiasts for enthusiasts the liner notes were opinionated, informative and all-round great, athough due to the nature of the types of bands included details were pretty damn sketchy upon occasion.
I’ll tell you straight that this is a pretty top-loaded compilation, the first LP’s 14 tracks are all damn fine, apart from one Kim Fowley cut and feature raw gems like The Litter ‘Action Woman’, The Preachers take on ‘Who do You Love’, The Grains of Sand ‘Going away Baby’ and my absolute favourite, a hilarious garage punk cover of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ by The Soup Greens – which, as the liner notes point out, turns one of Dylan’s weightier statements into grungy teenybopper dance fodder. The pickings get a little leaner thereafter, but all the LP’s are shot through with flecks of gold like The Regiment ‘My Soap Won’t Float’, a derranged piece of acid rock from the Chicago area*, The Little Boy Blues buzz-saw guitars and half-assed Beck-style vocals, Randy Alvey & Green Fuz ‘Green Fuz’ – a frankly, terrifying record. There are hordes of good songs here, but my favourite bit is what happened when psychedelia hit the backwoods…
The third LP is dedicated to just that occurrence. Again the eloquent liner notes trump anything I might have to cobble together here about the subject but there is a wealth of material here. From the slick, nonsensical psychedelic DJ patter of Dave Diamond & The Higher Elevation, Teddy & His Patches Louie-Louie-isation of Zappa on ‘Suzy Creamcheese’, to a priceless period piece ad for the Vox wah-wah pedal and the frankly unlistenably historic mannerisms of The Hogs ‘Loose Lips Sync Ship’ and The Driving Stupid, wonderfully titled. ‘Horror Asparagus Stories’**. My favourite though is Godfrey ‘Take a Trip’ (itself a cover of a Kim Fowley obscurity) where the DJ gives the psychedelic meanderings some real punch for his (reported) audience of cholos.
Discs 4 and 5 contain a touch more of the uninspired^ as the quality / obscurity quotient gets weighted a little more the wrong way. It also includes Bobby Fuller’s ‘I Fought The Law’, hardly an obscurity but a tune I only knew through the Clash and The Dead Kennedys, it is a great track and in this company its’ production sounds like something akin to Dark Side of The Moon ! Although I am ridiculously fond of The Haunted (from Montreal) ‘Vapeur Mauve’ – a french-language cover of ‘Purple Haze’ and the good, earnest garage punkers like The Tree ‘No Good Woman’ and The Gentlemen ‘It’s A Crying Shame’.
Incidentally, throughout all of Pebbles Box Set if there is a common theme, it’s that chicks are no good – apparently they’re bad to the core I mean really rotten; check out these femme-related titles – You’ll Never Be My Girl, Cry a Little Longer, Foolish Woman, You Rub me the Wrong Way and I Can Make it Without You. I suspect we’re just dealing with the perennial song motivations of heartbreak, testosterone and bravado in a less liberated time. Not a single female, or mixed sex band here at all.
Another thing about these times that I find quite seductive are the descriptions of the various local scenes which were clearly thriving all over the US in the late 60’s and the way most of them had their own sound in those less homogenised times. Knowing what I do now it would be fun to aim the 1537 time machine back to 1966 and check out the ‘thriving Pacific Northwest scene’ or the equivalents in Rochester / Chicago / Austin. The idea that there was sufficient isolation for each scene to properly develop its own peculiarities without reference to anywhere else seems so antiquated now, it makes me semi-nostalgic.
So there you have it, I’m a sucker for this lot and think it justifies its place in the 1537 on aesthetic grounds alone. How much you like it will depend on how much you really like ‘Louie Louie’, whether the obscuritan in you loves the idea of stumbling across unpolished tunes and bands from yesteryear and whether you have a slightly odd uncle who owns a Vox wah-wah pedal and who used to mutter about his group The Basement Men, being a big noise on the local scene before the bassist got drafted.
METAL FOOTNOTE: One of the bands on the third LP, Macabre from Arlington, Virginia, sound a bit more powerful than some of the others here – they went on to become Pentagram, a band who I’d never heard of until a few weeks ago but who several trusted musical friends tell me I’d love. Fate.
* ‘Chrome-plated candy bars and plastic tangerines/ They are nice to look at but you know they are useless when you’re hungry’ – and that’s just the opening lines!
**my kids would relate to that title!
^I mean this literally, this is not a reference to a hyper-obscure beat combo called The Uninspired operating out of Mancos, Colorado, who released a single probably called ‘Baby Diamond Fly’ in 1967, who I just invented. Who and where would your Pebbles band be / be from ?