If you’re not familiar with the Nuggets albums in any of their many incarnations, you should check them out. The original album was compiled by guitarist/author/historian Lenny Kaye in 1972 (a few years before he would become Patti Smith’s guitar player). For that original album, Kaye collected classics of mid-1960s garage rock, often performed by short-lived bands who may have only had a single hit. Occasionally, a particular member of one of those ‘60s bands would achieve acclaim later in his career, but for the most part, these songs are lo-fi obscurities. And they are absolutely fabulous.
The Nuggets series eventually spanned 12 volumes, almost all of which are hard to find these days. But they are out there, floating around online and in your uncle’s basement. Even harder to find are many of the original albums on which these modest hits first appeared. That’s unfortunate because several of those albums are absolute gems of early rock & roll. Weird, wonderful, high-energy collections that gave the fledgling art form its early pulse.
Today, we’re going to take a look at five such albums from largely forgotten bands of the mid-‘60s. Call them garage. Call them psychedelic or proto-punk. It doesn’t matter what you call them. If you’re a rock & roll fan, you just need to hear them.
Five fantastic garage rock albums from the 1960s
Psychotic Reaction – Count Five
Mouse Michalski and Roy Chaney were high school friends who formed their band in 1964 and hit it big with their single “Psychotic Reaction” in 1965. It led to their one and only original album, named for their hit, the following year. While a lot of mid-‘60s American garage bands were doing their best to filter the Beatles into their own sounds, Count Five was bluesier, sounding more like the Yardbirds and the Stones.
On that first album, they also throw in a couple of Who covers – a surprisingly tame version of “My Generation,” and a better, sprightly version of “Out in the Street,” with more of a psychedelic edge than Pete and Roger gave it.
“Psychotic Reaction” is the show stopper – a bouncy workout that goes perfectly off the rails by the time you hit the first chorus. But there are plenty of other minor miracles throughout. “Double-Decker Bus” kicks things off. It is almost a carbon copy of “Psychotic Reaction,” with Sean Byrne’s vocal offset by Kenn Ellner’s wailing harmonica. Ellner’s tuneless tenor takes the lead on some of the hippier numbers and his technical difficulties actually add to the authenticity of the tracks. That voice fits perfectly on psychedelic ditties like “The Morning After” and the paranoid glory of “They’re Gonna Get You Someday.”
Those bizarre tracks add color and dimension to the 26 minutes of music on Psychotic Reaction. But the centerpiece of Count Five’s sound can be found in the blues rock numbers sung by Byrne, like “The World,” and the truly great “Pretty Big Mouth,” one more song that is as good if not better than the song Count Five was most known for.