The Remains (180 gram vinyl)
The original Nuggets collection did a lot more than just rescue 27 bands with severely combed bangs from bargain-bin obscurity. It rescued rock 'n' roll itself by simultaneously kick-starting the punk movement while whetting people's appetites for more unsung American garage bands. A great deal of enjoyment was wrought from seeking out Chocolate Watch Band or Standells albums to see if their one great Nuggets moment maybe panned out to four, five or six prized gems. While very few of those bands made a long player that could be considered classic, or even good all the way through, The Remains, in its original 10-song running order, pounds along like a one-band Nuggets collection.
Since the album culls music from the band's brief two-year recording career, it runs the gamut from the frat-party "Louie Louie" chord progressions ("Why Do I Cry") to angry young Them tributes ("Don't Look Back," "Heart") to Yardbirds fuzz-pop ("You Got a Hard Time Coming") and Blonde on Blonde lethargy ("Thank You").
The Remains had it all, except for luck. Despite supporting the Beatles on their last-ever tour, the band's best shot at a charting national hit, the Billy Vera-penned "Don't Look Back," didn't dent the Top 100. By the time this album hit the shops in late 1966, the Remains remained no more.
People who saw the band's phenomenal live shows swear their studio work did them no justice. The reason for that may be the band's inexperience -- after all, the boys were signed to an Epic recording contract after only two months of gigs. The balance of finished masters date from this early period where they wrote rather trite lyrics that rhyme "home" with "alone" and "lies" with "eyes." That's why anyone who heard Sony/Legacy's Remains collection from a few years ago came away disappointed -- all the weak stuff was chronologically programmed first. Conversely, The Remains jumps out of the gate and only falters when some of the band's weaker early original songs show up as "bonus cuts."
One can imagine the excitement of the Remains taking the stage with a song like "Heart," which builds up from a slow thump to a full-out cardiac assault. Singer Barry Tashian is quite aware of what makes him tick and talks us through the whole ordeal: how his heart is beating and how this bewitching girl is insinuating herself in it. Once his "Mystic Eyes" rave-up builds up steam, Barry gets progressively more out of control, yelping, "What you're doing to me? I'm going out of my mind! You better stop it!" before finally breaking down with a wounded, "Am I gonna lose my heart to you?" Tashian had his Van Morrison sneer down cold, but here it also seems crossed with a Jonathan Richman-like vulnerability.
The group's cover versions are impeccable throughout. They totally sleaze up Charlie Rich's "Lonely Weekend," with a frustrated Barry doing some wordless, exasperated throat-clearing before pointing the lonely accusing finger again with "and you said our love would last."
If Captain Beefheart's competing West Coast version of Bo Diddley's "Diddy Wah Diddy" weakened the Remains' chances of a national hit, Tashian and company's faster version is impressive and distinctively East Coast, too, as if they were in more of a rush to get to "the gal in diddy wah diddy." Of the six bonus cuts, only "I Can't Get Away From You" should've been stuck on the original 24 minutes and 35-second album. With its fuzzy shard of a guitar riff and punky Trogg-lodyte sentiments ("You smoke my cigarette . . . and leave the end all wet"), this track deserved better than its B-side status, another indication that Epic didn't know what it had. Don't make the same mistake again. -- Serene Dominic
Twentieth Century Zoo
Thunder on a Clear Day
Even when Nuggets was expanded to a four-disc boxed set, there were still no Phoenix bands represented. Certainly we had garages and plenty of good bands to go with 'em as local music historian Johnny Dixon tells us in the album's liners. Just note the recent Alice Cooper boxed set which had three rare Nazz and Spiders singles from the '60s, all valued in the $1,500 to $2,000 range for mint copies. One wonders what Twentieth Century Zoo's records would fetch if Goldmine price guides even knew they existed.
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The first psychedelic band from Phoenix to have a national album, Twentieth Century Zoo encapsulates all that was good and bad about the '67'70 period, much of which can be gleaned from hearing the turned up fuzzed out single version of "You Don't Remember" recorded at Audio Recorders on North Seventh Avenue (now Audio Video Recorders) and the Los Angeles studio-recorded album version a year later.
All the crunch is gone on the stereo remake; the drums are lower in the mix and move away from the band's primal Neanderthal thud toward sophisticated Latin beats. The Zoo's singer Bob Sutko actually sounds like Vince Furnier on the first version, but his later vocals sound light-years away from the original source of irritation -- enough to insert the word "groovy" once. It's all the difference between the Stooges and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Or worse, Bloodrock, when the Zoo tacks on a woman's scream and some ambulance sound effects at the end.
This stylistic punk vs. pretension war played itself out as early as the group's first single -- with pretension winning out. "You Don't Remember" was relegated to the Bside, while the precious "Clean Old Man" got the local push, and it's the sort of sociological drivel people usually blame dangling conversationalist Paul Simon or "Eleanor Rigby" for. And anyway, who can be sure that an old man who "walks with his hands tight in his pockets" isn't shootin' dirty pool?
There are still enough good tracks to make this Sundazed reissue worthy of investigation, and the classical music rip-offs and drippy prose like "back to the gate of crystal dreams" are good for the occasional chuckle. But I'll tell you one thing -- if a band blew into town today with a bio that read "we are trapped in a cage of civilized living" and "with these vibrations we hope to break down the bars to communication which line our cages," I'd go to see them in a heartbeat. But I'd be tempted to bring ripened produce as well. -- Serene Dominic