Lenny Kaye (2nd from left); Marshall Crenshaw (with hat)
Forty-two years ago renowned guitarist/musicologist Lenny Kaye curated for Elektra Records honcho Jac Holzman Nuggets, a double LP compilation of American one-hit wonders that came in the wake of Beatlemania.
Kaye last week presented a "40th + 2" live anniversary version of the album, subtitled "Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968," at New York's City Winery. Most of the 27-song album was played, as well as a few other 45-rpm rarities that showed up a subsequent Rhino CD boxed set released in 1998. I first encountered Nuggets as a Sire Records vinyl reissue in 1976, which I now regret including in a massive collection purge about four years ago.
When enlisted by Holzman, Kaye was working as a rock critic and in a Greenwich Village record shop called Village Oldies, which provided easy access for assembling a compilation wish list. In 1966, barely out of high school he also had his own stardom aspirations. The ensuing single, "Crazy Like A Fox" from his own garage band, Link Cromwell & The Zoo, went "unacclaimed," but was lovingly performed this night.
"We actually started out in the basement (not the garage)," Kaye laughs in an interview, following the show. In any case, Link Cromwell's frat parties and dances provided an apprenticeship of sorts for him in 1971 becoming poetess-cum-rocker Patti Smith's musical director, a role he still plays when he's not doing ad-hoc gigs like this one.
Despite geographic disparity (California, New Jersey, Long Island, NY; Cleveland, Philadelphia, Texas, Northwest, et. al.), these Nuggets shared a collective DIY force, an undercurrent of youth culture rejection of the establishment. Suddenly, rock 'n' roll needn't be so slickly polished. By 1966, hair length, clothing styles, pot, coupled with a fuzzy guitar, combined for an unstoppable aesthetic continuum, not to mention burgeoning consumer market, that even Corporate America couldn't deny. Therein lies the contradiction when art meets commerce. The hippies couldn't be too non-commercial if they were to become stars with huge record contracts.
At City Winery, the pleasant surprise was how well the Nuggets, some of them nearly five decades old, held up without toiling in nostalgia. Kaye & Co. faithfully replicated the original album's and show opener, The Electric Prunes' "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night," which was not surprising since he assembled such a crack band, including Patti Smith rhythm section Jay Dee Daugherty and Tony Shanahan, as well as Marshall Crenshaw, who took many of the lead vocals.
Crenshaw singing The Knickerbockers' "Lies," which had many listeners fooled that they were listening to the real Fab Four, made perfect sense because in the late 1970s he was among the John Lennons in Beatlemania. The keyboardist at City Winery was Glen Burtnik who played Paul McCartney in that same Beatlemania production. In any case, the band nailed "Lies's" Beatle-ish harmonies. Burtnik hit all the right notes on the organ solo of The Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard," which Kaye sang.
Crenshaw also took lead vocals on my favorite Nugget on the original album, Texas band Mouse's "A Public Execution," which owed much to Dylan's "Positively Fourth Street."
Special guest Steve Wynn (leader of the 1980s Velvets-influenced Dream Syndicate) nailed it when he prefaced his raucous performance of the Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction" that "these songs are in our DNA." The guitars captured that reckless abandonment, which Wynn called "a traffic jam."
Joan Osborne provided a welcome feminine touch to the testosterone-fueled proceedings, dressing the part with a mini-dress and high leather boots. The best of her four-song set was The Standells' "Dirty Water," in which she changed the chorus to "Brooklyn (instead of Boston), you're my town." The Standells were originally from LA.
So many of these songs covered everything that was right with the hippie era musically and lyrically: self-reflection, experimentation, mysticism, a yearning for intimacy and ecstasy, as well as the universal boy-gets-girl/boy-loses-girl theme.
Kaye introduced "Gloria" as "the national anthem," even though it was written by Belfast's Van Morrison and released nearly 50 years ago by his band Them. The band finished off the evening with "Louie Louie." Waiters passed out to the audience lyric sheets to "our love theme," announced Kaye of a song the FBI once considered pornographic and unintelligible at any speed.
The Nuggets summer residency continues at City Winery on July 10 and August 31.
Rhino also released a second CD boxed set in 2001 featuring British counterparts of the phenomenon that's turned into a collectible import.
But enjoy the music here.