Posts Tagged ‘Lenny Kaye’

Buried Treasure: The Undertones

28 May 2010

[Today: John Peel weeps with joy…]

Inspired by the Stooges, Sex Pistols and Ramones, as well as Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets compilation, Northern Ireland’s Undertones spent 1976/77 honing their songs during club shows before making enough headway to get their eponymous debut recorded in time for UK punk’s second wave. In lead singer Feargal Sharkey, The Undertones had one of the most unique voices in all of punk. His lilting, nasal croon sounds almost literally imbued with electricity – at times Sharkey’s voice wavers like a man singing with his finger in a live socket. The band also enjoyed the adoration and critical patronage of legendary Radio One (and Peel Sessions) DJ John Peel.

Upon hearing the song ‘Teenage Kicks’ on the radio for the first time, Peel broke down in tears of joy and had to pull his car to the side of the road. He claimed the need to always play another song after ‘Teenage Kicks’ on his radio show so that he had time to gather himself before going back on air, and even had lyrics from the song (“Teenage Dreams, So Hard To Beat.”) inscribed on his tombstone.

“I play ‘Teenage Kicks’ to remind myself exactly how a great record should sound,” Peel wrote in 2001. “But what’s so great about it?’ people, from my own children to complete strangers in wine bars, have asked. I’ve never yet come up with an answer that pleased me much, falling back each time on: ‘There’s nothing you could add to it or subtract from it that would improve it.” The same could be said of The Undertones’ entire debut – it’s a taut, uplifting piece of punk that reveals flashes of pop and glam, all smothered in irresistible guitar hooks.

In spite of Peel’s enthusiasms, ‘Teenage Kicks’ only hit #31 on the charts, and The Undertones lived on the near-fringe of punk rock. The band released four albums, as well as 13 singles (an enormous output for a punk group) before disbanding in July of 1983. “One of the reasons I left when I did was that I wanted to preserve the Undertones for people as something special,” Sharkey told ZigZag in 1984. The joy of a legendary DJ, the pure sound of the evolution of rock, Feargal Sharkey’s quavering call of freedom – it’s all preserved on The Undertones

Listen: Teenage Kicks

Listen: Girls Don’t Like It

Listen: I Gotta Getta

Listen: Mars Bars [bonus track on CD re-issue]

Masterpiece: Nuggets

3 April 2009

[Today: The compilation that helped unleash Punk…]

Various Artists | Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era (1965-1968)

Nuggets was the brainchild of rock journalist Lenny Kaye, who dreamed up the set in the early 70’s, at a time when re-issue albums and nostalgic compilations were the domain of labels like K-Tel and Ronco. The original 1972 double album set* dipped into rock’s then-recent past to rescue 27 fuzzed-out, psychedelic singles by the likes of The Electric Prunes, The Shadows Of Knight, The Seeds, and The Remains. These bands were all influenced by the British Invasion, and because their enthusiasm and attitude far outstripped their musical abilities and sales figures, they were left to their own devices by otherwise occupied record labels. Taken individually, these songs are flashes of brilliance from obscure 60’s garage bands – collectively they represent the foundation of Punk rock.

The songs compiled here are living proof that great Rock & Roll doesn’t require great chops, and the number of bands influenced by that revelation is incalculable. But many of them started showing up in the mid-70’s, wearing leather jackets and playing a minimum-chord/no-solo form of primitive rock that came to be known as Punk. Nuggets is bare-knuckles tough, but much of it is also drenched in lysergic acid, and the songs here that don’t overtly reference tripping make up for it by aurally recreating the experience. The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, for example, is a band that shouldn’t be enjoyed while operating heavy machinery.

Amazingly, Nuggets still sounds fresh and vital – a timeless reminder that most bands are just a bunch of kids getting together for the love of music and trying to create something magical. And sometimes they even do…

Listen: I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) [The Electric Prunes]

Listen: Pushin’ Too Hard [The Seeds]

Listen: You’re Gonna Miss Me [The Thirteenth Floor Elevators]

Listen: Psychotic Reaction [The Count Five]

*[Rhino released an expanded, 4 disc set in 1998]


Nuggets is the 100th album to be featured as a ‘Masterpiece’ on this blog. Here are the rest, in order of appearance:

1) Led Zeppelin | Physical Graffiti [4/16/07]
2) The Stooges | Fun House [4/18/07]
3) Miles Davis | Kind Of Blue [4/21/07]
4) Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry | Arkology [5/3/07]
5) Van Morrison | Astral Weeks [5/5/07]
6) Pink Floyd | Wish You Were Here [5/14/07]
7) The Byrds | Untitled [5/17/07]
8) Minutemen | Double Nickels On The Dime [6/8/07]
9) Various Artists | Anthology Of American Folk Music [6/24/07]
10) The Flying Burrito Bros | The Gilded Palace Of Sin [7/7/07]
11) Nick Drake | Pink Moon [7/17/07]
12) The Beatles | Abbey Road [7/24/07]
13) Charles Mingus | Mingus Ah Um [8/6/07]
14) Duke Ellington | Ellington At Newport [8/8/07]
15) Hank Mobley | The Turnaround [8/11/07]
16) Elvis Presley | The Sun Sessions [8/16/07]
17) Funkadelic | Maggot Brain [8/21/07]
18) New York Dolls | New York Dolls [8/29/07]
19) Neil Young | After The Goldrush [9/2/07]
20) Marvin Gaye | What’s Going On [9/11/07]
21) AC/DC | Highway To Hell [9/14/07]
22) Johann Sebastian Bach | The Brandenburg Concertos [9/26/07]
23) The Rolling Stones | Some Girls [9/28/07]
24) Various Artists | The Harder They Come [10/7/07]
25) Miles Davis | Bitches Brew [10/12/07]
26) The Beach Boys | Pet Sounds [10/17/07]
27) Jeff Buckley | Grace [10/23/07]
28) Black Flag | Damaged [10/30/07]
29) Curtis Mayfield | Curtis/Live! [11/1/07]
30) Junior Wells | Hoodoo Man Blues [11/10/07]
31) Motorhead | No Remorse [11/13/07]
32) Spinal Tap | Spinal Tap [11/16/07]
33) Led Zeppelin | Led Zeppelin IV [11/24/07]
34) The Velvet Underground | Loaded [11/27/07]
35) Old & In The Way | Old & In The Way [12/1/07] *selected by The P
36) John Lennon | John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band [12/8/07]
37) Talking Heads | Remain In Light [12/11/07]
38) Parliament | Mothership Connection [12/16/07]
39) U2 | Achtung Baby [12/21/07]
40) Oscar Peterson | Night Train [12/24/07]
41) J.J. Johnson | The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson, Vol 2 [1/4/08]
42) Otis Redding | Live In Europe [1/9/08]
43) Pearl Jam | Ten [1/13/08]
44) Donald Byrd | Long Green [1/18/08]
45) The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band | Will The Circle Be Unbroken [1/22/08]
46) Sly & The Family Stone | There’s A Riot Goin’ On [1/28/08]
47) The Seeds | The Seeds [2/1/08]
48) The Beatles | Rubber Soul [2/6/08]
49) Marvin Gaye | Let’s Get It On [2/14/08]
50) Jimi Hendrix | Electric Ladyland [2/18/08]
51) Steve Earle | I Feel Alright [2/25/08]
52) Soundgarden | Superunknown [3/4/08]
53) Various Artists | Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory [3/9/08]
54) Culture | Two Sevens Clash [3/16/08]
55) Various Artists | Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack [3/23/08]
56) John Coltrane | A Love Supreme [3/30/08]
57) Fela Kuti | Zombie [4/7/08]
58) Joni Mitchell | Court & Spark [4/17/08]
59) Nirvana | Unplugged In New York [4/27/08]
60) Willie Nelson | Red Headed Stranger [4/30/08]
61) Neil Young & Crazy Horse | Rust Never Sleeps [5/15/08]
62) The Flaming Lips | Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots [5/19/08]
63) Black Sabbath | Master Of Reality [5/27/08]
64) Steely Dan | Greatest Hits 1972-1978 [6/2/08]
65) Beastie Boys | Check Your Head [6/7/08]
66) Cannonball Adderley | Somethin’ Else [6/13/08] *selected by The P
67) The Doors | L.A. Woman [6/18/08]
68) Quicksilver Messenger Service | Happy Trails [6/23/08]
69) INXS | Kick [7/1/08]
70) Buena Vista Social Club | Buena Vista Social Club [7/9/08]
71) The Rolling Stones | Exile On Main St. [7/17/08]
72) The Meters | Funkify Your Life: The Anthology [7/28/08]
73) Art Pepper | Intensity [8/6/08]
74) Van Halen | Van Halen [8/15/08]
75) Tom Waits | Rain Dogs [8/29/08]
76) The Temptations | Psychedelic Shack [9/7/08]
77) Toots & The Maytals | Funky Kingston [9/14/08]
78) Pink Floyd | Dark Side Of The Moon [9/20/08]
79) Johnny Cash | American Recordings [9/25/08]
80) Bob Dylan | Blood On The Tracks [10/6/08]
81) Thelonious Monk | Thelonious Himself [10/10/08]
82) Santana | Abraxas [10/20/08]
83) Joy Division | Closer [10/31/08]
84) Sam Cooke | A Change Is Gonna Come [11/5/08]
85) Judas Priest | British Steel [11/16/08]
86) Andres Segovia | The Segovia Collection [11/24/08]
87) Gerry Mulligan & Chet Baker | Mulligan/Baker [12/1/08]
88) Buzzcocks | Singles Going Steady [12/15/08]
89) Smashing Pumpkins | Siamese Dream [12/27/08]
90) Traffic | Traffic [1/7/09]
91) Eric Clapton | 461 Ocean Boulevard [1/14/09]
92) Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five | The Message [1/23/09]
93) John Martyn | Solid Air [1/30/09]
94) The Beatles | The White Album [2/6/09]
95) Radiohead | OK Computer [2/19/09]
96) T. Rex | Electric Warrior [2/26/09]
97) Ryan Adams | Heartbreaker [3/5/09]
98) Cheech & Chong | Cheech & Chong’s Greatest Hit [3/19/09]
99) Bob Marley & The Wailers | Exodus [3/25/09]
100) Various Artists | Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era (1965-1968) [4/3/09]

Review: Black Lips @ GAMH

8 October 2008
Chaos is the name of the game at a Black Lips show. Photo by dk.

Chaos is the name of the game at a Black Lips show. Photo by dk.

The Great American Music Hall opened its hallowed doors Monday (and Tuesday) night for the lunacy of Atlanta’s Black Lips. It’s tempting to say that the Lips’ brand of garage-punk went out of style shortly after the 1972 release of Lenny Kaye’s famous Nuggets compilation, but in truth this kind of music has always lived in the margins of popular culture. It’s no coincidence that the Lips were mentored by Bomp! Records impresario Greg Shaw. The living legacy of Shaw’s musical vision was on display Monday night, and it was a sight to behold: pop music laced with the psychedelic fuzz of garage rock and performed with the frantic, anything-goes spirit of punk.

The gilded hall was about half full – to be expected considering the day of the week and the musical margins mentioned above. But this was no passive audience, content to sit back and nod along. More than half the people in the building were involved in a rather feisty mosh pit, and the energy on the floor was matched by the whirling dervishes on stage. When the band launched into ‘O Katrina!’ and ‘Bad Kids’ the stage became an ocean beach, pounded by wave upon wave of bodies. By the end of the night, that stage was littered with crushed beer cups, stray brassieres, a set of car keys, and a lone Chuck Taylor high top. Impressive damage for a crowd of about 300 people.

Black Lips are gloriously ragged, but there’s a method to their madness. Drummer Joe Bradley is steady as a rock, and bassist Jared “Hondo” Swilley is on point enough of the time to provide a solid bottom, freeing guitarists Cole Alexander and Ian St. Pe – and I swear I’m not making these names up – to wander off key, elicit feedback with their mic stands, or climb the speaker stack in a big floppy pilgrim hat. Late in their set, Alexander (the pilgrim) called to the stage hands “I’m tangled up real bad here.” He was talking about the myriad chords connected to his effect pedals, but could easily have been referring to his band’s psychedelic web of sound.

Masterpiece: The Seeds

1 February 2008

[Today: A nasty relic from a pioneering pre-pre-punk combo…]

The Seeds - album

Lots of 60’s groups acted tough, but The Seeds were the real deal. The photo on the back jacket of their self-titled 1967 album shows four guys who look like they’d enjoy nothing more than jamming your teeth down your throat for you. The music inside does little to dispel that menacing first impression. The band doesn’t play well, but they assault their instruments with a primitive aggression that translates into simple sonic perfection. Meanwhile, lead singer Sky Saxon goes about his business with a sour sneer that makes Mick Jagger sound positively polite.

The Seeds are an important link in the history of rock because they proved that it was possible to make powerful music without relying on technical perfection. Many other bands reached the same conclusion around the same time (some of the best are anthologized on Lenny Kaye’s historic Nuggets compilation), but The Seeds were the most raw, aggressive, nasty ensemble to make great music not in spite, but because of their musical limitations.

‘Pushin’ Too Hard’ and ‘Can’t Seem To Make You Mine’ were actually hits, but it was fool’s gold – The Seeds were not destined to become a household name. However, their rough and ragged sound inspired the next generation of primitive rockers (The Stooges, MC5, New York Dolls) who would in turn play a huge roll in the birth of punk music. It’s probably not the legacy that the group set out in search of, but it’s a fine legacy just the same.

Listen: Pushin’ Too Hard