Fricke's Picks: Indie-Rock History Lessons

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Indie rock is not a genre or a sound — it is a mission, a commitment to go your own way, the hard way. And in Michigan in the late Sixties, Hugh "Jeep" Holland was one of the zealots, a record-store boss in Ann Arbor who decided to make wax, not just sell it. If Detroit's Motown label was the self-anointed "Sound of Young America," Holland's A-Square imprint was, briefly, the sound of hysterical young Michigan, part of the high-energy rock scene exploding at Detroit's Grande Ballroom and a leaping point on record for hell-raisers such as the MC5, the Scot Richard Case (the future SRC) and the Prime Movers (with a teenage Iggy Pop on drums). Holland, who died in 1998, had the nerve to issue the MC5's insane '68 single of "Looking at You," basically distortion with a band somewhere inside. And Holland's final triumph, before A-Square collapsed in debt, was the lone single by his charges the Up, the 1970 radical-warrior anthem "Just Like an Aborigine." Both blasts are on A-Square (Of Course) (Big Beat), a survey of Holland's spell as a garage-rock Phil Spector, along with a Prime Movers demo, snarling Pretty Things covers by the Scot Richard Case and "Get Down," by the mysterious Half-Life, which sounds like a night at the Grande packed into two and a half minutes. Missing here: A-Square regulars and white-soul killers the Rationals, who are getting their own anthology.

Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story (Big Beat) tells a similar tale, down in Memphis, on two CDs. Ardent was closer to Motown than A-Square in all but the hits: a studio-label enterprise, co-founded by engineer John Fry, with a core gang of players, writers and producers (including the now-legendary Jim Dickinson) that, in the early Seventies, fused Beatlemania and Dixie R&B into a crackling power pop epitomized by Ardent house legends Big Star. Disc One covers Ardent's late-Sixties search for that sound in near-misses by garage-rock and psych-pop hopefuls like Icewater and the Goatdancers. Disc Two is practically a new Big Star album: more than a dozen worthy rarities by the band, along with contemporary gems by Cargoe, the Hot Dogs and Tommy Hoehn (his great 1977 candy grenade "Blow Yourself Up"). Ardent remains an active studio and label, but Thank You Friends captures a remarkable time when it was the new Sun and Apple Records combined, the sound of a bright young South.