Wednesday , June 12 2024
Pushin' Too Hard

Music Reviews: ‘Pushin’ Too Hard: American Garage Punk 1964–1967,’ plus Rod Picott and Tinsley Ellis

Pushin’ Too Hard: American Garage Punk 1964–1967, a new three-CD anthology, mines the same fertile territory as Lenny Kaye’s classic Nuggets collection, which first appeared in 1972 as a two-LP set and was expanded in 1998 to a four-CD box. If you love this musical sub-genre, you probably already own that anthology, so you’ll be glad to know that the just-released 94-track set repeats only about two dozen numbers from the 118-song Nuggets box (though zero redundancy would have been even better).

At any rate, the lion’s share of this is thrilling garage rock, loaded with fuzz guitar, caffeinated percussion, generously employed organ and harmonica, and assertive vocals punctuated by whoops and hollers. It evidences the kind of raw energy that groups such as the Ramones, the Stooges, Television, and the Sex Pistols sought to recapture in the late 1970s and beyond.

The program includes a few big hits, among them Sam the Sham’s Tex-Mex smash, “Wooly Bully”; Paul Revere & the Raiders’ gritty “Just Like Me”; the Strangeloves’ Bo Diddley–influenced “I Want Candy”; the Bobby Fuller Four’s cover of the Crickets’ “I Fought the Law”; the Beau Brummels’ Beatles-influenced “Just a Little”; and the Castaways’ organ-spiced “Liar, Liar.” Another Top 40 hit here is the anthology’s title cut, the Seeds’ propulsive “Pushin’ Too Hard,” which appears in an unedited recording that runs half a minute longer than the hit single.

The emphasis, though, is on deep cuts—including a few not previously on CD—that even some serious collectors might not know. Eschewing the Electric Prunes’ two hits (both of which show up in Nuggets), for example, this set features their commercially unsuccessful but noteworthy first single, “Ain’t It Hard.” Similarly, the Newbeats, who are known for a No. 2 hit called “Bread and Butter,” are represented by the punchier “Top Secret,” which didn’t sell well; and Question Mark and the Mysterians, whose name will be forever linked with their chart-topping “96 Tears,” deliver “Girl (You Captivate Me),” an innovative but rarely heard album track. Instead of the 13th Floor Elevators’ most famous record, Roky Erickson’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” this set offers “Tried to Hide,” its little-known flip side, plus an equally obscure version of “You’re Gonna Miss Me” by the Spades, Erickson’s pre-Elevators group.

Among the many other highlights of the collection, which comes with an information-packed and well-illustrated 44-page booklet: “It’s Cold Outside” (which is closer to power pop than garage punk) by the Choir, an Ohio group that included three future members of the Raspberries; “My Little Red Book,” the Burt Bacharach/Hal David number that opened Love’s essential eponymous debut LP; and the Squires’ high-octane “Going All the Way.” None of these made much of a dent in the charts, a fact that probably deserves to be listed in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Also Noteworthy

Rod Picott, Starlight Tour. You need to have lived rather long and seen a lot to make an album like this latest one from folk singer/songwriter Rod Picott. After hearing it, you won’t be surprised to learn that the 59-year-old artist has published books of poetry and short stories or that he grew up in a small town in Maine and worked in construction before turning to music decades ago.

Virtually all of his more than a dozen albums deserve a listen, but none outshines this latest release. Winningly produced by longtime associate Neilson Hubbard, who also plays drums, the set finds Picott applying his authoritative, evocative vocals to 10 original songs (four co-written). Limning characters and incidents with cliché-free details that make them come alive, he addresses subjects ranging from mortality (“Next Man in Line”) to huckster evangelists (“Television Preacher”) to Vietnam and PTSD (“Pelican Bay”).

Though a few of the melodies are upbeat, there’s more than enough melancholy here to render the album’s cover photo of a somber-looking Picott appropriate. There’s also enough poignant, powerful music to make you wonder why this guy isn’t a whole lot better known than he is.

Tinsley Ellis, The Naked Truth. The title of this 21st album from blues-rock singer, songwriter, and guitarist Tinsley Ellis reflects a shift from the full-band performances that have characterized his four-decade career. He recorded the self-produced CD “naked,” relying on nothing but his soulful vocals and 1969 Martin acoustic and 1937 National steel guitars. That’s a first for Ellis, though for many years, he has performed solo concerts and included acoustic sets in his band shows.

The stripped-down country blues approach shines a fresh and appealing light on the Atlanta-based artist, who offers nine new original compositions and three covers: Leo Kottke’s “The Sailor Grave on the Prairie” (one of the album’s four instrumentals), Son House’s “Death Letter Blues,” and Muddy Waters’s “Don’t Go No Further,” which Willie Dixon wrote.

About Jeff Burger

Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains half a century's worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.

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