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Psychotic Reactions

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

“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.”

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