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Rhino Handmade's new series of proto-psychedelic 60's goodness debuts . . .

Hallucinations: Psychedelic Pop Nuggets from the WEA Vaults

What hath Lenny Kaye wrought? Back in 1972, when the rock critic and future Patti Smith Group guitarist compiled the first Nuggets collection, few would’ve guessed that he was paving the way for a small cottage industry. Kaye’s two-record anthology of “original artyfacts from the first psychedelic era” – which is to say: whacked out garage band cuts from ’64-’68 – proved so influential to succeeding generations of would-be fuzztoners that it sparked all manner of legit and quasi-legitimate follow-ups, collecting increasingly more obscure sets (Pebbles, Back from the Grave, etc.) of energized out-of-touch attempts at approximating the drug-drenched sound of barely competent musicianship at its most experimental. In 1998, Rhino Records brought things back full circle by releasing Nuggets as a four-disc boxed set – first disc contained Kaye’s original selection, while the remaining three added similar tracks by many of the same suspects – then following up with a four-disc collection of European Nuggets.
Clearly, there’s a market of fanatics for this stuff – record store devotees who’d rather listen to the Barbarians than the Hives – and to meet this cult need, Rhino has turned over part of its boutique label, Rhino Handmade, to feed our sonic gluttony. The first of two recent Handmade releases, Hallucinations: Psychedelic Pop Nuggets from the WEA Vaults, culls 24 singles and album tracks from the voluminous Warner archives, and it delivers the goods. Clunkily profound lyrics and cheesy sonic effects (every time someone sings the word “high,” you can rest assured someone on the board is gonna mess with it), chaotic guitar and wrongheaded attempts at approximating Sgt. Pepper, spoken interludes and strangely treated instruments. It’s all there for the listening; you supply the incense and peppermint.
Most of this material isn’t strictly garage, of course, but the sound of professional and nascent professional musicians, would-be poets and total poseurs, struggling to capture that golden vibe. The opening title track, “Hallucinations,” isn’t even the work of a young ‘un: singer Baker Knight was a former rockabilly artist (who wrote “Lonesome Town” for Ricky Nelson), though you can barely tell by the flabbergasting guitar sound being laid by a group of cats who’d been rockin’ together since 1956. The Tokens, best known for “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” show up as both producers and performers here – as do future names like session king Jim Keltner and munchkin songster Paul Williams (in a band happily called The Holy Mackerell).
Where many of the original Nuggeteers looked to blues rock for their inspiration (think of the Thirteen Floor Elevators’ grandiose “You’re Gonna Miss Me” or Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes’ early geetar hero cover of “Baby, Please Don’t Go”), the predominate template on Hallucinations is Association/Mamas and Papas styled folk-rock. So when The Collectors – who later would become Canadian popsters Chilliwack – sing about the joys of “Looking at A Baby” (“So innocent and pure and clean[!] just like a newborn baby”), they do so with baroque instrumental flourishes and lotsa sweet harmonies. When the Association themselves try to reach for the cosmos, they layer a superfluous sitar over their usual sound and pen sub-Kahlil Gibran lyrics. The result (“Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies”) made for a flop single but a great Nuggets cut.
But if the would-be hitmakers on this collection aren’t all authentic feed-yer-headcases, there are plenty of mind-expanding moments for the listener. Like L.A. scenester Kim Fowley’s “Strangers from the Sky,” which interrupts its Zappa-esque song cycling to portentously announce “there is life on Alpha Centauri.” Or the Salt (the studio creation of future bubblegum maestro Joey “Yummy Yummy Yummy” Levine) and their equally disjointed paean to “Lucifer,” which strives for rock operetta seriousness but keeps undercutting it with a laughing chorus reminiscent of Crazy Elephant’s “Gimme Gimme Good Loving.” Or sessioneer Lee Mallory’s Love-influenced cover of Phil Ochs’ “That’s the Way It’s Gonna Be,” with its Les-Paul-on-uppers guitar break. Or the otherwise unknown Ellen Margulies’ “The White Pony,” a folkish experiment that almost succeeds at blending madrigal with Theodore Bikel.
In the end, the selection on Hallucinations is exemplified by Rhino’s inclusion of a single mono mix of “Porpoise Song,” the Goffin-King song cut by the Monkees for their last-ditch attempt at a career salvager, Head. Featuring strings by Jack Nitzsche, the track attempts to replicate “I Am the Walrus” and damn near succeeds. Thoroughly inauthentic? Certainly. But just try and resist when the music stops and then suddenly swells into an “I wanna turn you on” symphonic blend of music and chattering porpoise voices. Now that’s artyfactual. . .
NOTE: Rhino Handmade releases are limited editions sold through mail order, so if you’re interested in this disc, check out the label’s website.

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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