Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From The British Empire & Beyond
is a box set
put out by Rhino
records as a sequel to the earlier box set Nuggets
The first box set (and the earlier double album it was based on) dealt solely with records from the USA, and primarily garage records. This new set, while still dealing with rare 45s, casts a wider net both geographically (the records are primarily British, but there are tracks from South America, Australia and Japan among others) and stylistically, ranging from the Bo Diddley-esque R&B of The Pretty Things to the proto-prog of Dantalion's Chariot.
This 4-CD set is a thing of wonder and beauty, collecting more obscure classics in one place than almost any other set I know of. The one flaw with it is it is obviously aimed at US consumers - the liner notes talk about there being no hits on the set, when anyone in the UK with even the most cursory knowledge of these genres will know the tracks by The Small Faces and The Move.
It is impossible to review the whole box in this brief space, so I will just deal with a few representative samples. Quicktime and Real Audio samples of every track can be found at http://www.rhino.com/store/productdetail.lasso?number=76787&
My Friend Jack by The Smoke was a minor hit in the UK (and was recently covered by The Wondermints on their album Wonderful World Of The Wondermints). About a man who 'eats sugar lumps' and 'sees the hawk fly high to hail the setting sun', this is a psych-pop classic that is regrettably little-known outside the UK.
My Mind's Eye by the Small Faces is very different from their more well known work - a rewrite of Gloria In Excelsis that was released as a single without their knowledge. A beautiful little pastoral song that in many ways points the way to Ronnie Laine's solo work.
Desdemona by John's Children is a legendary 'should have been' hit. Written by backing vocalist Marc Bolan (later obviously of T-Rex), this was a favourite of John Peel, and is a wonderfully catchy freakbeat song that is musically more interesting than many of Bolan's later hits, but the line 'lift up your skirts and fly' made the song unplayable on daytime radio at the time.
Pictures Of Matchstick Men by Status Quo is an oddity. This band of course were later known for their 12-bar boogie workouts, and have managed somehow to build a 35-year career on three chords. However this, their first hit, is more in the cod-psych vein of Spinal Tap's Listen To The Flower People, and for anyone who's familliar with their later work, hearing Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi's unison vocals singing about seeing the sky a funny shade of yellow is a very bizarre experience.
How Does It Feel To Feel by The Creation is a revelation to anyone who remembers the Britpop boom of the mid-90s. This song, produced by Shel Talmy and apparently written in less than 5 minutes, is the blueprint for every song on the first two Oasis albums (Oasis' label was named after this band). In fact I guarantee that any Oasis fan who hears this without being told who it is would assume it was a new track by that band. Given that the Creation were totally unsuccessful at the time, it must have been odd for them to see just how influential they were.
I'm Just A Mops by The Mops is the solitary example of Japanese 'group sound' on this set. A wonderful three chord rocker, the lyrics are some of the best Engrish ever comitted to vinyl "When I walk down the street/Everybody says 'here's a mops'/But I don't care of them/So I'm just a mops"
Why Don't You Smile Now by The Downliners Sect is actually an early Lou Reed/John Cale collaboration, from before the Velvet Underground ever formed, that the Downliners Sect found in a pile of publisher's demos. While lyrically slight, musically the track very clearly prefigures the sound of the first couple of Velvets albums, and is fascinating to anyone with an interest in that band.
The Bitter Thoughts Of Little Jane by Timon is the most fascinating track on the set by a long way. A Liverpool busker and later associate of the Clash, Timon's vocal is so mannered that when I first heard this, I assumed it was one of the European bands with a non-native English speaker on vocals. However the track itself is quite astonishing. Musically beautiful, it's in the pop-psych style of Curt Boettcher/Gary Usher projects like The Millennium and Sagittarius - gorgeous orchestral psych-pop. The lyrics however are something altogether darker. The song is about 'the bitter thoughts of little Jane' which 'are locked away and left unspoken', and portrays a typical nursery school scene of children playing games, 'but little Jane she has no toys'. The chorus is simply 'she'll find a way/She'll find a head to pound on' - little Jane, the sweet quiet child in the corner, is dreaming of killing the other children. This song is almost like a collaboration between Chris Morris and Brian Wilson, and is worth the price of the box set on its own.