If a course in punk rock should ever be taught to kids, the tunes on Electra Records’ Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 provide a useful template. Hopefully, those little students would be inspired to compose compact, Nuggets-like tunes (only two of the 27 songs on the double album set log in over four minutes). Guitarist Will Sergeant of Echo and the Bunnymen has stated that the LPs include “some of the most important records ever made.”
Thanks to Nuggets, the British band Spacemen 3 discovered the 13th Floor Elevators. Guitarist Peter Kember recalls first hearing the group’s drug-fueled music. “It was one of those magical discoveries. We used to take acid and listen to those records. They were the soundtrack to many, many explorations.” It’s not much of a shock that the group hilariously named their 1990 album Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To.
Even today, all of the 1960s songs on Nuggets strike a pleasing chord, perhaps owing to the fact that some tunes seemed like they only had one chord like The Chocolate Watchband’s “Let’s Talk about Girls” or The Premieres’ “Farmer John.”
Nuggets was originally released in October 1972, but if it wasn’t for a record store clerk/rock writer named Lenny Kaye, it’s possible that the 27 songs and their associated groups would have been forgotten.
Lenny, who found fame as Patti Smith’s guitarist, was hired by the president of Elektra Records, Jac Holzman to compile a list of killer songs for two compilation albums. Lenny recalled, “I was working at the end of 1970 at Elektra as a kind of freelance talent scout. And so, not much that I brought to them they liked, but for this project I submitted a list of maybe 50 or 60 songs that I thought would be, you know, cool, and were the kind of songs that were rapidly vanishing under the radar or an album track that had been overlooked. It was a lark; just putting a bunch of my favorite records together.” Lenny wanted to call the compilation Rockin’ and Reelin’ USA but Jac overruled him for the Nuggets name, which Kaye later laughingly admitted was “a wise move.”
Sadly, upon its initial release, Kaye’s search for diamonds within rough mixes did not hit much paydirt. Lenny said, “It never sold a lot. I got an advance of $750 and after some years they sent me a note saying this is never going to generate any royalties so we’re going to stop sending statements.”
The albums finally got well-deserved attention in 1977 when Sire Records reissued the albums. Kaye realized their impact when he toured in Europe with Patti Smith: “We were having a press conference in Denmark. The usual discussions, and then some journalist asked me, ‘Well, when is the next Nuggets coming out?’ And I thought, ‘Huh. You’ve heard of it here in Copenhagen?’”
Kaye wound up being a rock ‘n’ roll reanimator, giving life to dead-in-the-water bands like the Seeds. Their punchy and powerful 1965 hit, “Pushin’ Too Hard,” included on Nuggets, gave the group an unexpected career boost. Keyboardist Daryl Hooper, who still does an occasional show as a Seed, noted of his defunct band, “I thought it was done. [Seed leader Sky] Saxon had gone bananas. You couldn’t work with him. The record company was letting us sit on the shelf. It wasn’t a good time. I thought the music was going to be forgotten.”
James Lowe, vocalist of the Electric Prunes can certainly relate to Hooper’s lamentation. After Lowe complained to his son Cameron that no one would remember his old group that broke up in 1970, Cameron replied: “People know you because you’re the first band on the Nuggets compilation.” A perplexed Lowe said, “We started getting more requests to play and I couldn’t figure out why. That had to be what was responsible for it.”
Kaye’s mix-tape-in-vinyl-form spawned more nuggets than McDonald’s could churn out. Besides the 25 Nuggets compilations released by Rhino Records, a new five-record, 69-song box set was released on April 22, 2023, with new liner notes and bios by a still appreciative Kaye. He states, “When I go to a bar in Oslo 50 years later and somebody comes up to me and says: ‘Nuggets changed my life’, I say: ‘Thank you. It changed mine as well.’”
Photo: “Nuggets” cover image (fair use)