Why, it seems like only yesterday [cue harp and wavy, out-of-focus visuals] when you could pore over an album's liner notes and not have to squint to garner an embarrassment of riches and a treasure trove of tidbits…
Rhino Records, your “One Stop Pop Culture Shop” dedicated to “discovering and compiling … relatively obscure hits, and those ‘hits’ you never heard,” not only offers a wide variety of ‘60-era American and British pop, pre-punk, and psychedelic “Artyfacts” in its Nuggets anthologies and boxed sets, it also aptly documents in its albums’ liner notes applicable rock history that can serve as either refresher courses or as edification for the uninitiated.
Nuggets, Volume Three: Pop, from 1984, is a good example of how the LP’s back cover annotations provide succinct and incisive commentary and biographical information that not only enhance the track-by track listening experience, but also sets up the overall scheme of things. It's a mission statement of sorts that touches upon some nuances of experimental changes creeping into the state of AM Pop radio of the time:
- While pop music of the mid-to-late 1960s brought far reaching change and experimentation, the vast majority of musicians were still trying to concoct good old fashioned, pop-oriented hit records. The San Francisco Sound was promoting turning on and dropping out, but many musicians from all over the country were more interested in becoming the next Beatles, while only marginally incorporating the more radical ideas going on around them.
Perhaps nothing on this album's 14 cuts signifies that inclination for “becoming the next Beatles” better than 1966’s “Lies,” by the Knickerbockers, which kicks off this volume of Nuggets. Even after all these years, “Lies” remains an uncanny fab-four dead ringer, from its Lennon-ish lead vocal to rave-up harmonies and spirit. But anyone who remembers seeing the Knickerbockers on their many TV appearance back in the day — it was virtually the only way people were convinced that they weren’t actually the Beatles — knows that any similarities stopped with the sound. As the liner notes remark, the Knickerbockers were “An affable bunch [but] their appearance was disappointing, looking more like an early ‘60s New Jersey lounge band (which they were) than a hip Beatles-era rock band.”
Also on the Beatlesque end of the spectrum, though not as slavishly so, is The Merry-Go-Round, represented here by the McCartney-styled sweetness of “You’re a Very Lovely Woman” (I would’ve preferred the Paul-Pop of the great “Live,” but I think that gem shows up on another Nuggets compilation). The Merry-Go-Round were more of a regional success in California, a quartet “led by Emitt Rhodes, ex-drummer of the Palace Guard … After a couple of years and a half dozen singles on A&M, Rhodes became a solo artist. Very Beatles-rooted, his acclaimed 1970 solo debut LP was very favorably compared to Paul McCartney’s first solo album, both in sound, and in playing-all-the-instruments-approach.”
From “Red Rubber Ball” to rudderless, “Turn Down Day” to turned-around life. Both bouncy hits by the Cyrkle ("Red" written by Paul Simon), Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s first America-signed acts, are here. But after he died, “the band was left with little direction, and the members broke up the band a short time thereafter.” A little prefab foursquare position is also taken up by Boyce and Hart, writers of such Monkees hits as “Last Train to Clarkville,” and “Valleri.” “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight” made it to number eight in 1968, but “the Boyce & Hart ‘artist’ concept was short-lived, although they joined ex-Monkees Dolenz and Jones, and recorded and toured in the ‘70s as ‘Dolenz, Jones, Boyce, and Hart.'"
The stand out track for me on Nuggets, Volume Three: Pop is The Bobby Fuller Four’s vibrant and rollicking “Let Her Dance,” a stomping and shimmering production suffused with reverb and lyrical defiance and ache. “The Bobby Fuller Four,” notes the commentary, “was originally from Dallas, but relocated to Hollywood, where they became a very popular club band. A listen to their very best work reveals what may have been the state-of-the-art of rock recording for that period. ‘Let Her Dance’ … preceded ‘I Fought the Law,’ and was the record that established the band in Los Angeles.”
Indeed, encountering a mobbed Bobby Fuller was one of my first up-close-and-personal rock star moments, when as a kid growing up in L.A. — shortly before he was mysteriously found dead in his car, a death implausibly ruled a suicide — I saw Fuller at an in-store appearance in 1966. It was also the same department store where I would later buy my first electric guitar. And, in retrospect, where I would start collecting my own rock ’n’ roll nuggets, good and bad.
- 1. "Lies" – Knickerbockers
2. "Sugar and Spice" – Cryan' Shames
4. "Sunshine Girl" – Parade
5. "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight" – Boyce & Hart
6. "Turn Down Day" – Cyrkle
7. "You're a Very Lovely Woman" – Merry-Go-Round
8. "Let Her Dance" – Bobby Fuller Four
9. "Can I Get to Know You Better" – Turtles
10. "Red Rubber Ball" – Cyrkle
11. "Baby What I Mean" – Spiral Starecase
12. "Time Won't Let Me" – Outsiders
13. "I Love You" – People
14. "October Country" – October Country