Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2013-09-17


Flamin Groovies: Supersnazz (CBS Special Products, 1990) This apparently modest 1969 LP was recorded before these onetime San Francisco folk-rockers found a market niche as the thinking man's Sha Na Na, pointing garage rock back toward the '50s with songs that seldom approached the content-free ideal of the one we all remember, "Shake Some Action." Instead they spent $80,000 of Columbia's money trying to figure out either what kind of hippies they were or why they weren't hippies at all. Half the songs sound like '50s covers, but only three or four are: Eddie Cochran's "Somethin' Else" and Huey Smith's "Rockin' Pneumonia," good calls for the time and they did love their dropped G's, plus Little Richard's "The Girl Can't Help It," composed by jazzbo-for-hire Bobby Troup, and the earlier "Pistol Packin' Mama," beloved of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters. The primal-sounding "Love Have Mercy" and "Bam Balam" they made up themselves in an attempt to have simpler and sexier fun than was dreamed of by Blue Cheer, the Sopwith Camel, or the blues-tripping psychedelic establishment. "The First One Is Free" may not be altogether tongue-in-cheek. "A Part From That" exposes the bummer man. And while "Pagan Rachel"'s Rachel and "Brushfire"'s Dottie may strike some as all too old-fashioned sex objects, the prize is "Laurie Did It," which quietly ponders, praises, celebrates, and mourns a dead girlfriend, shaking its fist at God all the while. A

Nuggets (Rhino, 2012) Crammed onto one CD, here are Lenny Kaye's 27 selections for the first of more garage-protopunk crate-digs (multivolume series dubbed Pebbles, Flashback, etc.) than any sane person could count. Kaye's terrific notes are included, as is a useful addendum from Elektra's Jac Holzman. Assembled just a few years after the singles it comprises were first released, this is punk's Anthology of American Folk Music, the most influential rock comp ever. And some of it is absolutely classic: for me, the Standells' "Dirty Water," the Knickerbockers' "Lies," the Castaways' "Liar, Liar," the Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard," maybe the Electric Prunes' "I Had Too Much to Dream," and definitely the Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction," the only one of the 27 to go top 10. In fact, note that all of my six designated classics went top 40, while a mere five of the remaining 21 did. With early efforts by Roky Erickson and Todd Rundgren, this signifies nothing. But too many of these records were marginal because they weren't all that good, and are now evocative period pieces only. As Kaye contextualizes them, they make a hell of a variety show, with plenty to say about mass bohemia hippie-style. As a dream to build a band on, they have limits rockin' guitar crazies have been failing to get a bead on ever since. A-

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