Jeff Kravitz, FilmMagic Although they represent two different musical decades,…
- Posted on Dec 18th 2012 2:15PM by David Chiu
"In a way, it seemed to me that these songs were in a twilight zone," Kaye tells Spinner, "between what was then the AM format -- catchy three-minute singles with a good chorus and a hook -- and the more expansive album-oriented music that developed in the '60s when all these artistic parameters were kind of pushed aside, and a certain sense of possibility came into the music where you could think expansively and imaginatively beyond certain time lengths and song lengths and song constructs. Having lived through it as a teenager, I felt very much connected with it in terms of my own artistic growth and what I could see as the possibilities within music."
With songs selected by Kaye and released in 1972, Nuggets became a classic garage rock album featuring bands that never achieved long-lasting fame. In marking the record's 40th anniversary this year, Rhino Records reissued the original set as a single CD (it was previously released as an expanded 4-CD boxed set in 1998).
The sound of Nuggets is characterized by aggressive guitars and beats, and a lot of attitude. As Elektra president Holzman told Mick Houghton for the latter's 2010 book Becoming Elektra: The True Story of Jac Holzman's Visionary Record Label, "Only Lenny Kaye had noticed the musical trend-lines that connected these bands to the Stooges and the MC5, who were fueled by the same energy as classic garage bands."
"In my original anthology, there is a lot of stuff that is kind of all over the map," says Kaye. "You have a group like Sagittarius, which is certainly orchestral. There are local bands who were experimenting, the Nazz, that weren't that successful nationally. You had one-shot hits that encapsulated a whole band's sound -- the Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard." It was a gathering spot of groups that seemed to be aligned with one another, working all ends of the musical spectrum."
For Kaye, it was a matter of personal preference in selecting the material. He says he didn't have a particular coherent theme in mind. "I think if it was more garage, it would have been a lesser record. Because what I wanted to capture was the sense of exploration and inspiration that the sudden opening of musical genre had revealed, and the sense of excitement as rock 'n' roll grew to understand itself as an art form as well as teenage entertainment, and to keep that sense of teenage empowerment of youth discovering itself, as I discovered myself.
"And of course the bottom line is that all of these are great songs. They're just not genre pieces. There has been a lot of archaeological dig in the world of garage since Nuggets. But to me, what made the album initially attractive beyond any musical philosophizing was the fact that every one of these songs were great songs beyond genre."
And there is diversity among the songs on Nuggets beyond garage rock. There is "A Public Execution" by Mouse, which is reminiscent of Bob Dylan, or "Moulty" by the Barbarians, which sounds like a classic Righteous Brothers song." "The word I always use is 'desire,'" says Kaye. "You can feel their desire, their yearning to be heard, and to reveal themselves through song."
The importance of Nuggets was emphasized by Holzman in Houghton's book: "Nuggets was an immediate success. Everyone wanted it, everyone wished they had come up with the idea. Nuggets pointed directly toward the birth of Rhino Records and their revitalization of worthy back catalog." Kaye credits Holzman's trust in him. "He gave me an open door," he says, "and allowed me to walk through it in any way. He didn't say, 'Oh, that's too weird' or 'That's not what I had in mind.' He allowed the record to have an organic life of its own. And so it had."
Kaye recalls that while he was touring with Patti Smith in Europe in 1975, a Scandinavian reporter asked him when the following Nuggets album was going to be released. "Nuggets seems to have a life of its own," says Kaye, "because what it became is a symbol for a type of energy and musical reinvention that is always a part of our growth as musicians and as an audience -- the spirit within it, the sense of beginning anew that Nuggets represented I think is something that's a constant in music as music moves towards the future. I'm just so thrilled that Nuggets has had a chance to be the birthright of many a band and many a musical fan, and that its fountain of youth is continually returned to."
Forty years later, Kaye describes Nuggets a "high-class oldies album" with the scholarly approach of the Yazoo blues anthologies. He also says that he wanted it to be a fun listen. "It captured a moment where people were really not that aware of what they were doing," he says, "so a lot of wildcards and a lot of random inspirations came to fruition. And because of all these factors, we get to speak about it four decades later. To me, I'm just grateful for the intuition that I was given to help gather these songs together, and the ability through Elektra and Jac to realize that vision in a way that continues to still have an influence and an effect within the world."