In a year studded with all-out rock masterpieces – Aftermath, Pet Sounds, Revolver, Blonde on Blonde – a grungier offshoot of the genre was also reaching an apex.
Garage rock, which has existed since rock & roll’s advent, and will probably always exist, had exactly one year when it was a national force. Meaning, when you could be a pimply virgin living under your parents’ roof, team up with some of your friends and force your way into a trend that had hit-making ramifications.
The Shadows of Knight, from Chicago, helped get everything rolling with their cover of Them’s “Gloria,” a hit at the end of 1965. Hell, even today, if you hear a version of the song on the radio, it’s probably that spiky Knights version, which led to the band cutting their first long-player in March 1966, a shot heard round the carport world.
The album, of course, was named for its big hit, and Gloria was as apt a garage-rock tutorial as you’ll find. What you most wanted to do was assimilate the sonic vocabularies of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, the latter especially. Which seems ironic, considering that American teens and college kids couldn’t hope to play at the level of a Jeff Beck, but when the chops weren’t there, the attitude was. Snotty, strangely charming, earnest and sounding not as old as they wished themselves to be, bands like the Shadows of Knight had themselves a raucous national prom of sorts.
But pretty much just for a year. Psychedelia and hippie-dom killed off the toughs, you might say, and though garage-band careers could persist into 1967 and beyond, there was nothing like that kind of initial fervor of 1966. So back the car out and grab your ax: Here are 10 other great garage LPs.
The Sonics, Boom
Seattle’s proto-punkers were the loudest of the garage bands, and those most in thrall to distortion – to an almost erotic degree. The lyrics, too, could get a bit Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, so you wonder just what the hell they were reading. The version of Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch-Hike” out bad-asses the Stones’, whereas band original “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is like the rock & roll version of a horrifying B film featuring a cameo from the Devil himself.
The Barbarians, Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl
Ah, a garage band from the brine-clotted peninsula of Cape Cod, complete with a drummer, in Victor “Moulty” Molton, who had a hook for a hand – a misfortune the band cashed in on by having him sing a ballad of his real-life left hand’s downfall. The title track of their debut was a hilarious take on gender which would horrify the Internet-scouring militants of today ever in search of things to be offended by, but better still is “Linguica,” a greasy slab of surf-infused bonhomie that has some real instrumental aplomb to it.
The Leaves, Hey Joe
California’s the Leaves – never you mind what kind – went the garage-folk route. Quite the cool little hybrid. The title track was a grassier version, you might say, than something like Hendrix’s take on the standard later in the year, but rare was the garage band who would tackle Dylan, and tackle Dylan well, as the Leaves did with “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” a single commonly appended to the original LP as a bonus track. Their cover of Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On” is Deep South American rhythm & blues, via English Northern soul, flecked with let’s-cut-class California sunshine.
The Music Machine, (Turn On) the Music Machine
Some songs, like the Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” and the Who’s Leeds version of “My Generation,” just make you say, “what the fuck was that?” the first time you hear them. Sean Bonniwell‘s “Talk Talk,” from this L.A. band’s debut, is one of those songs. These guys come off as total nutters at times. Like on a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Cherry, Cherry,” or a version of the Beatles’ “Taxman” that sounds like the original has been forced to take Valium and then get stomped on by a group of nascent L.A. art punks.
Question Mark and the Mysterians, 96 Tears
Hailing from Saginaw, Michigan, Rudy Martinez, lead singer of this group of organ-loving oddities, claimed to be from Mars, but if you were from Mars, would you really write a song, in the title track, which inverts the 69 sexual position and turns it into a symbol for teenage heartbreak? Who knows. These Tex-Mexers were pretty foul, but sufficiently adept that they could handle a blues like T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday,” which betters the Them version. And hey, “96 Tears” hit Number One on the charts, which was quite the bedpost notch for the garage crowd as a whole.
The Standells, Dirty Water
Long before it was a song played as the Red Sox walked off the field after a Fenway Park win, the title cut off the Standells’ debut was a catchy-as-fuck ode to BU coeds along the banks of the River Charles – gotta love the “classy” English phraseology – who had such early curfews. Never mind that the L.A. band hadn’t been east of the Mississippi. The song also offers a cautionary tale: It can be easy, with a garage band known for a huge hit, to think they had nothing else. This LP, though, is loaded with irascible, edgy cuts, like the blue-balls lament that is “Little Sally Tease,” and the strangely heart-rending “Why Did You Hurt Me?” You know that time after a dance when you saw the football star out back being consoled by his lineman buddy because his girl dropped him? This is a song for moments and memories like that.
Count Five, Psychotic Reaction
If you know this San Jose band, you probably know the essay Lester Bangs wrote positively drooling over this album, which got him so excited he made up a bunch more Count Five LPs that didn’t exist. The Count Five – who wore Bela Lugosi-style Dracula capes – had a touch of the Zombies about them, and some similar melodic and rhythmic panache, albeit with less flexible grooves. This record is catchy as hell, with a couple Who covers, but more highlights in terms of originals. The hit title track borrows the rave-up gambit from the Yardbirds’ “I’m a Man” – a pretty bold pilfer – but opener “Double-Decker Bus” is the real rabble-rouser. Again, the American guitar-wielding teens of 1966 loved British stuff. And the reconceptualization of everyday British imagery could be pretty heady in its new seedy American digs. Don that cape!
The Remains, Don’t Look Back
Some Boston boys here, and Boston boys who could play. Barry Tashian and the Remains were musicians first, garage-band dudes second. The title track of this album is to this band as “Paranoid Android” was to Radiohead. Multi-part, with the coolest vamp groove you will ever hear, with percussive guitar effects and Tashian’s voice skipping over the beat, it is one of the great rock & roll cuts of its decade. These guys opened for the Beatles on the latter’s final American tour, and with Tashian originals like “Thank You” and “Time of Day,” you can see how the two bands would be melodic ensembles in arms, of a sort.
The Blues Magoos, Psychedelic Lollipop
No garage band, back then or since, ever came up with a better, more saucily absurd album title than Psychedelic Lollipop. These Bronx kids had a hit with “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet,” a stompy organ-based number, but they were perhaps the most versatile of the first-wave garage groups. Their cover of James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy” is tighter than tight, whereas the Magoos’ take on “Tobacco Road” foreshadows metal’s birth more convincingly than anything else in the garage canon. The wig-out section even has a touch of My Bloody Valentine about it.
The Clefs of Lavender Hill, Stop! Get a Ticket
OK, so this sister and brother helmed outfit from Florida didn’t have an album, but there’s this compilation of their 1966 recordings, and it is a true garage cornucopia. The name is, of course, deliberately English-inflected, but that kind of invention – or reinvention – is what garage glory is all about. Maybe you can’t be everything you wish to be, but you can pretend and push, and doing so will get you at least part of the way there. The title track is a sophisticated outlay of melodies that are almost floral in their overtones, with a clever bass-drum part where a chorus would usually pop in. “First Tell Me Why” is akin to a garage analogue of Schubert’s “Winter Journey” in the Floridian sunshine, and “One More Time,” which might be the best thing a garage band ever did, is a massive, bass-powered, hand-clappy song with a giant beat that makes you want to lower your shoulder and power through a wall. In a good way.