Music Reviews

posted: September 11, 2009

One more great box set!

One more great box set!

Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968.
Rhino (4CD box set)
-By Bob Gendron

Beginning with its generous expansion of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968, originally released on double-LP in 1972, Rhino has done more for long-forgotten, classic garage rock during the past decade-plus than all other reissue labels combined. Subsequent Nuggets volumes have followed, including Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970, a scintillating box set housed in the equivalent of a hardcover coffee table book.

With its latest Nuggets entry, the venerable imprint follows the same packaging model and moves a few hundred miles down the California coast. Thematically arranged by geographic area, the four-disc Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968 is another deserving edition to the essential series, an excavation of near-flawless counterculture singles by bands familiar (The Byrds, Jan & Dean) and obscure (The Mustangs, The Spats). And while known tracks such as Lee Hazelwood’s “Rainbow Ballroom” and The Doors’ “Take It As It Comes” hold true, its lesser-known gems by bootstrap bands that were trolling clubs on the Sunset Strip and in the suburbs that deliver the biggest thrills.

Whether it’s the Standells raving about a “Riot on Sunset Strip,” the Seeds getting gruff on “Tripmaker,” the Bush wailing about what it’s like “To Die Alone,” or Ken & the Fourth Dimension daring anyone to “See If I Care,” this is what gritty, raw, raucous 60s rock and roll is all about. However crude, there’s a timeless quality to the overdriven guitars, humming organs, gauzy vocals, R&B-spiked rhythms, jangly chords, waterfall harmonies, stinging solos, and psychedelic accents that pepper the economically concise songs—most of which still come across with a freshness that suggest they could well be emanating out of basement windows today. Of course, the lyrics belie that notion. In step with the period, there are plenty of references to dying young, teenage rebellion, drug experimentation, hippie delights, and abstract thought. The performances are urgent and compelling, even when the material leans in folksy directions or whimsically dreams of love. And it does: Discs 3 and 4 are dedicated to L.A.’s producers, arrangers, and studio wizards, while Disc 4 encompasses the region’s transition into a country- and canyon-rock mecca.

Ranging in scope from echo-laden pop to jazzy psychedelic odes to hard-biting soul, the 101 tracks are illuminated by song-by-song commentaries and histories. A Los Angeles timeline, regional nightclub crib sheet, and radio-station essay also accompany the music, each providing context and trivia that place the groups in a light that most never experienced. With one’s eyes closed and ears open, it’s all enough to serve as a time machine that takes a trip back into a quainter, hipper, and cooler Los Angeles that, like the eclectic albeit tunes here, is a secret garden to which you’ll want to return again and again.