Strikin' the mother lode 

Is reissue giant Rhino Records out to best itself? Over the last two years, the California-based label has released essential box sets on surf music (1996's Cowabunga! The Surf Box: 1960-1995) and '60s soul (last year's brilliantly packaged Beg, Scream & SHOUT! -- the CDs came packaged looking like 7" singles in a replicated 45 box). What could possibly top that?

The answer is simple -- Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968, Rhino's latest and, perhaps, most lovingly indulgent release yet. The packaging alone is worth the price, as each CD's design resembles the label of one of four '60s 45 companies -- Dunwich, Laurie, Tower and Uni.

Ever since the introduction of the LP, there's been no hesitation on the part of record companies to flood the market with compilations boasting shoddy packaging and questionable sound quality. But that all changed when Elektra Records sprang the Nuggets double album on the public in the early '70s. Though it sold only 50,000 copies domestically during its initial release -- and was reissued by Sire in 1979 with a different jacket, which more than anything resembled airbrushed van art or a Journey album cover -- it altered the compilation market for the better (i.e. the ensuing, similar-in-concept, knockout Michigan Mixture Volumes 1 and 2 and the Diggin' for Gold series). This 118-track four-CD set greatly expands upon the 27 tracks contained on the 1972 original double album, which was assembled by Elektra Records head honcho Jac Holzman and soon-to-be Patti Smith Group member Lenny Kaye.

The marketing concept for this long overdue set is: "They wanted to be the Beatles. They wanted to be the Rolling Stones. They weren't." While this tag line may seem appropriate, it doesn't even begin to convey the depth and imagination of music that was created during this period and included here.

For example, take Love's "7 And 7 Is." While it doesn't show the different facets the renowned California band was capable of, it's Love's most extreme recording and its inclusion is important for, if nothing else, the obvious, huge inspiration it gave the MC5. And would the Cramps even exist today if not for "I'm Five Years Ahead of My Time" by the brilliant, obscure New York five-piece the Third Bardo? The eight ball, with the benefit of hindsight, says "Doubtful."

But if Nuggets is indicative of anything, it's how the industry's approach to music has changed for the worse in the last three decades. Today, bands are seemingly picked out of nowhere and signed to three-CD deals. This wasn't the case back in the day. Rather, bands were signed to single deals (usually releasing about three of them on average) and, based on those records' performance (or lack of same), it would either make a band (i.e. the Human Beinz' "Nobody But Me") or break it (i.e. the Lollipop Shoppe's "You Must Be a Witch").

It's easy to gripe about the exclusion of certain acts and inclusion of certain songs. Why no cuts from the Legendary Stardust Cowboy or the Misty Wizards? Both of these acts were far more psychedelic and out there than the Amboy Dukes! And what of Front Page News or the American Four, Arthur Lee's pre-Love band. But these are minor gripes. No blow jobs here.

To use the tired, age-old cliche, Nuggets is one of the best collections of plain, simple, good-time rock 'n' roll. And wasn't that the whole idea in the first place?

Colin McDonald writes about music and film for the Metro Times. E-mail

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