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A long buried sixties garage classic gets its overdue Sony Legacy reissue.

Music Review: The Remains

To many sixties pop 'n' rock hounds, Boston's Remains are primarily known as the band who opened for the Beatles during the Fab Four's 1966 American tour. (How's that for a thankless assignment?) For lovers of that fecund musical era's garage sound, the band also has the distinction of appearing on Lenny Kaye's groundbreaking retrospective collection of psychedelic "artyfacts," Nuggets, with its rousing performance of Billy Vera's "Don't Look Back." That the Remains could gain a fervid underground rep without ever once cracking the singles' charts is a testimony to the ferocity with which their regional fans (a young Jon Landau among 'em) carried the band's banner. It's not as if the group did itself any favors: when their one and only Epic label long-player saw its first release, the boys had already disbanded.

But cult legends die hard, and the Remains' one-and-only sixties LP has at long last been reissued by Sony Legacy, with ten bonus B-sides and studio tracks added to the set. Are Sony's archivists doing these guys any favors by making more than one or two selected tracks from their catalog available for collector consumption? Short answer: yup!!! Too often, when you dig into full albums by so many of the Nuggets's "artyfactors," you find an overabundance of crap fillers. Not here.

The Remains still stands as an example of solid sixties rockin' at its most energetic. Led by guitarist/lead vocalist Barry Tashian, the band was as adept at Kinks/Stones-styled blues based stompers as it was more harmonic Beatle-y frug-&-shouters. "Don't Look Back," the group's last released single remains a high point – a masterful pop single that breaks into a glorious "Shout"-styled piece of sermonizing by Tashian right in the middle – but the track which follows it on the album, the band's first single entitled "Why Do I Cry" is the one that I'd wager got 'em the Beatles gig. Sweet melody, great cavernous vocals, a slick tempo shift in the middle of the track (negotiated by the band's first drummer Chip Damiani) – why the hell wasn't this a hit single?

Elsewhere, the boys beautifully revamp Charlie Rich's "Lonely Weekend" into a mildly spooky slow song and take on Bo Diddley's "Diddy Wah Diddy" (also being weirdly reinterpreted around the same time by Captain Beefheart, amusingly enough). At times, the band's revolving door series of producers (among 'em, Nashvillian Billy Sherrill) don't do 'em any favors by mixing Tashian's fiercely economical guitar squonks further back than they should be. But crank this puppy up and that probably won't matter. According to early Remains booster (and later MC-5/Springsteen producer) Landau, none of the group's studio cuts came close to matching their loud excitement in concert. But, you know, that doesn't matter either 'cuz until someone invents a time machine, this collection of the Remains' studio work sounds plenty fine on its own. The CD's bonus material – which includes more-than-respectable garagey covers of blues standards like Willie Dixon's "My Babe" (neat harmonica plaint) & Chuck Berry's "I'm Talking About You" – is almost as strong: proof that this band could've beaten the sophomore slump if it'd stayed together long enough.

In sum: a great reissue. If you at all care for sixties rock, you owe it to yourself to get this disc and blast it through every open window in your home.

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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