'That Thing' gets record exec wondering

The world was a simpler place when a record company would believe in a one-handed drummer named Moulty and that his story of perseverance — complete with a maudlin harmonica backup — could be a hit single. Or that an L.A. band like the Standells could say “Boston is my home” and help create a “Bosstown” sound. Or that Seattle could give birth to world-class, raucous rock acts. (Oops, guess that happened a few times).

The rock ‘n’ roll sandwiched between the British invasion and Woodstock, at least the music that lacked the name of Dylan, Motown or surf, has been treated like a scuffed and beaten item tucked away in the back of the closet. The period and style were embraced by American punks in the 1970s, but since then the psychedelic garage bands of 1965-68 have gone the way of the 45 rpm single.

Until Tom Hanks stepped in.

That thing

In the ’60s rock pic “That Thing You Do,” Hanks’ fictional quintet the Wonders rode the indie garage-rock wave from Erie, Pa., to radio airplay to state fairs to the top of the charts only to die in obscurity. It got Rhino A&R VP Gary Stewart thinking: What about all those bands that did this in the mid-’60s?

The natural starting point was “Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era,” the 27-song compilation issued by Elektra in 1972 and Sire in ’76 that came to define the great transitional period of rock ‘n’ roll, 1965 to 1968. “Nuggets” was compiled by Lenny Kaye, then a rock journalist before his days as lead guitarist in the Patti Smith Group, and featured spectacular regional hits such as “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” by L.A.’s Electric Prunes, “Don’t Look Back” by Boston’s Remains and the Barbarians’ out-of-left-field “Moulty.”

The album was a staple at Gotham hangouts such as Max’s Kansas City. While “Nuggets” was never a huge seller, it claimed the same legend as the records of the Velvet Underground: Everybody who bought a copy went out and formed a band. “Nuggets’ was to psychedelic rock what “The Harder They Come” was to reggae.

Rhino has scanned the era and embellished the original to come up with a 115-track, four-CD version of “Nuggets” that represents the first release ever on CD of the original album. “Nuggets,” although used as a title for several of Rhino’s ’60s compilations but never close to being a comprehensive overview of the vinyl release, will see its CD release Sept. 15.

“When Elektra did the vinyl album,” says Gary Stewart, Rhino’s VP of A&R and the compilation producer, “there were gentleman’s agreements, not licens-ing contracts. These songs were considered old and useless even though it was only six years removed. ‘Nuggets’ is the first punk record, an album that can be linked to Nirvana and Alice in Chains — the last era before rock ‘n’ roll became self-conscious.”

No song complete

The disc is filled with acts that wanted to be the Stones, the Animals, Them and the Yardbirds, almost all of them believing no song is complete without a maddening scream during the intro and a high-pitched guitar in the middle solo. (Bonus points seemed to go to those who could best manipulate a two-note bassline.)

Rhino has packed the set with a number of obscure songs from other vinyl “Nuggets” emulators, “Pebbles” and “Back From the Grave” being the most notable. One of “Pebbles’ ” classics that never was, the Squires’ “Going All the Way” from 1966, comes the closest to embracing that initial “Nuggets” feel.

Stewart has included a number of examples, which rose into the top 10, that fit the model of the fictional Wonders: Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense and Peppermints”; the Outsiders’ “Time Won’t Let Me”; Syndicate of Sound’s “Little Girl”; the Blues Magoos’ “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet” and a handful of other, even better-known tunes.

Major genre survey

“Nuggets’ will be marketed as a major genre survey much like Rhino’s doo-wop and surf boxes, and the label will be pitching media through individuals such as Kaye, Dick Dodd of the Standells (“Dirty Water”) and the Remains’ leader Barry Tashian.

“This is about the great recycling of rock ‘n’ roll,” Stewart said. “The blues that went to England, got reinterpreted and sent back to the U.S. and reinterpreted by bands that had no class and got no respect.”

It wasn’t until the 1970s that the San Francisco scene was given such weight that it overshadowed the psychedelic bands of the mid-’60s, Stewart said, which has contributed to making it “the great lost chapter.”

And Moulty, quite possibly, its great lost icon.

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