While it’s not the extended, long-form work of a single artist whose muse simply cannot be contained by a mere two sides of vinyl (the ostensible purpose of this column), the first NUGGETS compilation deserves applause and appreciation for what it did, because what it did was pretty special.
Compiled by Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group guitarist and rock writer extraordinaire) and released in 1972, NUGGETS turned on listeners to the work of artists whose muses fit perfectly into that most rock ‘n’ roll of formats—the three (or so)-minute single. Though most of the collection’s 27 tracks fall under the rough rubric of garage rock, there are many influences in play here, and many hits (both actual and would-be) that would have influence on artists for generations to come.
There aren’t many true pop hits on NUGGETS. Count Five’s immortal “Psychotic Reaction” is the biggest of them all, having topped out at Number Five in 1966. The Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” and The Standells’ “Dirty Water” both grazed the Top Ten, and there were a few other Top 40 tracks in the mix, but the real gems are the ones you’d probably never heard before hearing them on NUGGETS.
Take The Nazz’s “Open My Eyes.” That’s Todd Rundgren singing on that very Who-ish track “Open My Eyes,” but even though it hit Number 112 on the national singles chart in 1968, you probably had never heard it unless you were listening to WMMR-FM in Philly, which played it a lot. Likewise, you might have been familiar with Van Morrison and Them’s 1965 rendition of the blues “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” but folks outside Detroit likely had not been introduced to The Amboy Dukes’ 1967 take on it (nor had they been introduced to the Duke’s wild-man guitarist, Ted Nugent). If you’d stumbled across “A Public Execution” in 1965, you might’ve thought it was something off the last Bob Dylan record, but it was just Mouse (or Mouse and the Traps, as they’re usually referred to) doing a great version of electric Dylan, mostly for audiences in Tyler, Texas.
There are so many other great tracks—by the likes of The Seeds, The Shadows of Knight, the Knickerbockers and more—it’s best to grab a copy (on Rhino vinyl, preferably) experience it for yourself, and thank Lenny Kaye, if you ever run into him. His archival instincts and flat-out love of rock ‘n’ roll helped NUGGETS influence a generation or three of rock bands over the last four-plus decades. These songs are still a wonder to hear. Drop the needle and turn them up.