Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond 1964-1969 (Rhino)
PERHAPS IT is about having guts. According to the introductory essay of the Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond 1964-1969 four-CD box set, nothing else "could explain the fact that you've just plunked down 60-plus dollars of your hard-earned money on a boxed set that contains no hits and just a scant few tracks you might recognize."
Or maybe it has more to do with being nuts. Nuggets II is indeed a supreme manifestation of obsessive music collector culture. While the first Nuggets box set was hardly the realm of the casual rock fan, it did include things like "Louie, Louie," "Incense and Peppermints," "Wooly Bully," and "Little Bit of Soul"—songs pretty widely ingrained in popular culture. Nuggets II's dearth of chart toppers—the Easybeats' "Friday on My Mind," with its U.S. peak of no. 16, is the relative smash hit here—is likely to intimidate many who may have taken a leap of faith with the first collection. Sure, someone who enjoys its better-known bands like the Creation or the Pretty Things may take a chance, but to a much greater extent than its predecessor, Nuggets II truly belongs to the diehards who've been hunting down some of these records for decades.
Most of the folks plunking down the 60 bucks for this set already know darn well who the Syndicats, Q'65, and Thor's Hammer are, and can probably recite the r鳵m頯f superproducer Joe Meek. Shortly after the track list was released for the set, a message board on the Bomp Records Web site featured several posts from fans claiming that the selections were too mainstream; some purists even complained about the Creation's "Making Time," popularized by the Rushmore soundtrack, leading off the four-disc set. This is patently absurd. The Creation are perhaps the best band on the set, and "Making Time" is their finest moment; its exclusion would be positively criminal on a compilation of British garage rock, but its entrance into the periphery of the mainstream has sullied it for those who have given their blood, sweat, and tears in pursuit of rock's most obscure treasures.
I should hardly point fingers. When I first got the box set, I was delighted. But within minutes I was coming up with my own list of concerns: Why aren't the Artwoods included? Why did they pick that Missing Links song? Why only one Os Mutantes track? Why "Pictures of Matchstick Men" again? That Nuggets II lends itself so readily to such geekiness is part of its charm; however, nothing should obscure or diminish the fact that it is a truly astonishing document—one too compelling, both in an aesthetic and historical sense, to leave it only for the dysfunctional fans to enjoy.
AS A PIECE of musicology, Nuggets II offers a remarkable study of rock 'n' roll's global impact. The British may not have saved rock 'n' roll in 1964, but they at least gave it a much-needed kick in the pants. The set's focus on the best the British Isles had to offer beyond the Beatles, Stones, Animals, Kinks, Who, and Yardbirds is truly enlightening. The entries from bands like Them, the Move, and the Downliners Sect beg for an explanation of their bewildering lack of success. Meanwhile, bands display their devotion to their better-known counterparts on even more tracks. Sure, the results are often slavishly derivative—sometimes painfully so, sometimes pleasantly so—but these songs do offer vivid reminders of the sonic innovations of bands like the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, and, maybe most notably, the Who; strains of the feedback-drenched passages from "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" and "My Generation" pop up numerous times.
Nuggets II's inclusion of bands from Mexico, New Zealand, Japan, Czechoslovakia, Peru, Iceland, and elsewhere are what legitimize pop culture's claim to being the ultimate global currency. The most amazing thing about the entries from the far-flung corners is that there's almost nothing "foreign" about them. Los Chijuas (Mexico), the Rattles (Germany), and Los Bravos (Spain) sound like they could have just as easily been from London or, for that matter, Nebraska. Brazil's Os Mutantes, who integrated traditional South American rhythms with psychedelic pop to thrilling results, stand out as the only exception. What makes both these literal and more imaginative takes on British and American pop music so exciting is that hundreds of other yet-to-be-uncovered gems from this period will surely continue to emerge as more listeners get involved in this music.
The best reason to buy Nuggets II is that it's full of great music. As with the first Nuggets set, a considerable number of songs could have been left buried. The palette of mod, freak-beat, psychedelic, R&B, and twee-pop oddities included here is plenty wide, though, and offers something for any rock 'n' roll fan. Add to it the fabulous artwork and booklet, and it's quite possibly worthy of your 60 bucks. And if you must aspire to be one of those guys or gals who can spout off trivial facts about the forgotten bands the members of ELO, Yes, and T. Rex formerly belonged to, Nuggets II might just be your new best friend.