Psychotic Reactions

Guitarist/rock historian Lenny Kaye looks back at "Nuggets" twenty-six years on

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"This is what the spirit of Nuggets is all about," beams Lenny Kaye from the stage of the East Village den of iniquity known as the Continental. "A bunch of your friends, getting on stage and getting whack!"

By getting whack, Kaye -- rock historian and Patti Smith Group guitarist -- means playing the living s--- out of the type of three-minute anthems, each every bit as visceral as "Satisfaction," that he compiled in 1972 for the collection Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968. Long out-of-print but still a cornerstone on two separate Rolling Stone essential album lists, the compilation has just been reissued -- with three additional volumes -- as a Rhino box set. Kaye was at the Continental to host a release party featuring more than twenty New York bands performing their favorite Nuggets. (Kaye cheated by choosing "Gloria," which is not on the box. "I don't know why -- maybe so I can keep playing it," he offered by way of an excuse before digging in.)

Originally conceived by Elektra Records founder and president Jac Holzman as a collection of keepers from albums otherwise maybe not worthy of shelf space, he handed the project over to rock journalist and independent A&R scout Kaye, who subtly reshaped the concept into an entirely different animal. In Kaye's hands, Nuggets became a testament to the exhilarating spirit of the early American garage band or punk ethic. Here, on one double-vinyl collection, were twenty-seven bands like the Seeds, the Electric Prunes and Count Five, whose fifteen minutes were spent hammering out unforgettable anthems like "Pushin' Too Hard," "I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)" and "Psychotic Reaction," which would endure long after their creators' slip into Trivial Pursuitville.

"I brought together a lot of records that at the time were either becoming sought-after in record collector circles or seemed to have a weird, cliff-hanging place in rock & roll that was neither the singles-driven hit factor of the early Sixties and had not yet become the album-as-art of the later Sixties," explains Kaye. "I think what people have seized on in the Nuggets bands is the sense of incredible possibility and hope and doing it yourself and being able to do it yourself with whatever sense of vision you possess. It's kind of like the original sin of rock & roll for me. You bite the apple, and all of a sudden the whole garden of Eden is revealed ... [it's about] a simple and accessible technology, and an ability to kind of pull the wool over the more established music business and take it over for yourself, because what you're having is a music that comes up from the hearts of the people."

Not surprisingly, while some factions of the music business no doubt cursed these young upstarts, there were some within the beast that responded by throwing their lot in with the DIY punks. The original Nuggets, and more-so the expanded edition, is peppered with acts like the Strangeloves, a trio of New York songwriters and producers who flirted with garage rock for the sheer thrill of it. Original Strangelover Richard Gottehrer was on hand for the Continental festivities, treating the packed crowd to "Night Time," the only Nugget heard tonight as sung by an original Nugget.

"I haven't sung that song since 1966," laughs Gottehrer, who has long since gone back to producing and formed his own indie label, Sol 3 Records (he was backed on stage by one of his projects, a mostly-girl band called the Prissteens). "I did it tonight for them, and for Lenny because the Nuggets record is such a significant contribution to the history of modern music, which is why it's still remembered."

And with its reissue, the original Nuggets and ninety-one worthy bonus tracks are ripe for rediscovery by an entire new generation of upstarts. "Hi, we're Girltoucher," announces a guitarist as a new band takes the stage. "We're going to perform a song that came out the year I was born." With that, they tear into -- what else? -- "Let's Talk About Girls" by the Chocolate Watch Band. Hell yes, let's.

"I'm pretty overwhelmed that people still care about it," muses Kaye. "If I had thought that twenty-five years later I'd be talking about it, I might have thought more about it when I did it, and probably would have screwed it up."