In mid-Sixties Detroit, where cool white R&B bands were as common as cars, the Big Three were Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Bob Seger and the Last Heard, and, from nearby Ann Arbor, the Rationals. You might not know that last name: Think Rational! The A-Square Anthology (1965-1968) (Big Beat), a U.K.-import two-CD set, is the first time the quartet’s seminal garage-rock recordings for their manager Jeep Holland’s A-Square label have ever been officially reissued. But now it’s time to dance and be dazzled.
Ryder had the big national singles; Seger got the long platinum career. But the Rationals — guitarist Steve Correll, bassist Terry Trabandt, drummer Bill Figg and singer Scott Morgan — were the local Rolling Stones, Small Faces and Kinks all in one, cutting regional-hit versions of Otis Redding’s “Respect” and Eddie Holland’s “Leaving Here” as tense, brash pop, with the tightness of a Motown rhythm section. Morgan didn’t howl like Ryder or growl like Seger; he had a long range and bright, biting intonation that meant he could cover the waterfront, from his Motor City-John Lennon attack on the Rationals’ 1965 debut, “Look What You’re Doing (to Me Baby),” to Morgan’s high, rippled-note submission in the 1968 slow-ballad inferno “Temptation’s ‘Bout to Get Me.”
Morgan still records and tours with that fire intact, and Big Beat promises a sequel covering the Rationals’ switch to heavier psych-tinged rock; their 1968 monster “Guitar Army” alone will, I assure you, be worth the wait.