History Lesson

It's an amazing assembly: 118 songs on four discs, complete with a memorabilia- and trivia-packed book.

Thank you, Lenny Kaye, for helping me appreciate Puff Daddy.

Some might call that a backhanded compliment, one that

your peers might shun. Of course, when it comes to music, you're about as

open-minded as anyone I've ever encountered, so I figure you can bear the

weight.

You shouldn't even see it as a burden, really. In fact, it's a fitting

tribute. Back in 1972, you were helping people appreciate a truckload of

tunes that had been critically written off -- at least that's what I

understand from the myriad testimonials to your work in the liner-notes

booklet to the new Nuggets four-CD box set.

In '72, you were schooling kids in the garage and punk-rock

sounds from a half-dozen years before when you compiled the original

double-LP Nuggets collection. Twenty-three cuts of mayhem it was,

99 and 44/100ths percent pure in their grittiness. For people my age (28

now) -- that is, people steeped in media, in the Net, in instant

archives -- it seems amazing that all this phenomenal music could have been

forgotten just six years after its unholy conception, which is what

necessitated those first Nuggets slabs. How do songs such as

"Psychotic Reaction" and "Dirty Water" get forgotten?

As spiritual father of this new box-set reissue, you'll recall that one of

the bits that had been gathering dust was the Rare Breed's "Beg, Borrow or

Steal," which to some sample-weary ears of the 1990s is a more than

appropriate title. You know the riff: Duh, duh, duh -- dah dah -- duh,

duh, duh -- dah dah. Oh wait, isn't that "Louie, Louie?" Exactly. It's a

direct bite off Richard Berry's original riffage from 1957, although the

Rare Breed were surely better versed in the Kingsmen's classic from 1963.

Listening to the track on disc three of the Nuggets box, it sounds

to me as though the Rare Breed felt no shame for that cop (and they

needn't have). It's a fairly righteous track, and one that I'm glad made

it on here.

Which brings us to my opening conclusion. After all, it follows that if

I'm gonna let the Rare Breed off the hook for -- and even defend -- their

"Louie"

bite, I'm only partly justified in ragging on Puffy Combs for sampling

every song in sight. Then again, I s'pose there's a difference between

charting a major

career based on song-snatching, a la Mr. Combs, and nabbing a riff

-- as the Rare Breed did -- for a

measly 7-inch single that had little chance of blowing up beyond

whatever tri-state area you happened to live in.

(But since contrition and repentance appear to be in the national air

right now, I'm more of mind to ask for Puff's forgiveness.)

Obviously, it's those garage-born, occasionally riff-ripping singles that

are what Nuggets is all about. It's a shame that your original

album didn't take off into the series you'd intended, but I'm happy as

all-git-out that we've got this box now. It's an amazing assembly: 118

songs on four discs, complete with a memorabilia- and trivia-packed book.

Best of all, the first disc reprises the original Nuggets set as you

had pasted it together, the very set that influenced all sorts of good

folk, from Lester Bangs to Joey Ramone.

The songs make me shiver: the Sonics' "Psycho," Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs'

"Wooly Bully" and my oft-stated favorite going into the first listen,

"Double Shot (of My Baby's Love)" by Swingin' Medallions. And those --

along with crowd-pleasers such as the Kingsmen's "Louie, Louie," "Hey Joe"

by the Leaves, the Human Beinz's "Nobody But Me" and "Little Bit O' Soul"

by the Music Explosion -- is just some of the stuff I already

know and love.

But there are more than five hours of music here, which means that to me

and to a lot of those my junior, there are a ton of songs that have never

before graced our

thirsty ears. Which brings me to the Vagrants' version of "Respect." I

thought I'd heard it all with Aretha's and Otis' time-stopping takes on

that song. Who knew that you could stain the cut with all the dirt of VU's

"Waiting For the Man" and come out with a thing of beauty?

I'm also clued into the two minutes and 43 seconds of sheer lunacy that is

the Elastik Band's "Spazz"; the goofy melodrama of "A Question of

Temperature" by the Balloon Farm; and the greasy swagger of "Sometimes Good

Guys Don't Wear White" (originally recorded by the Standells, but

successfully barked by Minor Threat in 1983). And there's more than five

score

more! (While I could steep in a vat of nearly all of this stuff all day

long, I do have to admit that it's gonna take me a while to acquire a taste

for, what do they call it these days, the Dylan

"interpolation" by Mouse on "A Public Execution.")

Surely, Lenny, you'll always be known, and deservedly so, as the guitarist

for the Patti Smith Group (and perhaps as an occasional contributor to

Addicted To Noise). As much as anything else, however, I think of

you as your generation's Harry Smith. Smith, for those caught unawares, is

the record hound and music maven who put together the enormously

influential Anthology Of American Folk Music in 1952, which was

released on CD for the first time last year.

What is Nuggets if not folk music from another time and place? Not

from the hills or the fields, but from the suburbs and garages. In the

first half of the century, songs were performed for others, who then often

took the tunes, rewrote the lyrics and made them their own. By the 1960s,

they just wrote, or rewrote or re-recorded whatever rip-snortin' tune was

setting teen-age fancies afire in other states. Anybody could pick a song

up and learn it, be it Frank Hutchinson on "Stackalee" in 1927 or the

Woolies' "Who Do You Love" in 1966.

As Puff Daddy might say, it's all good. Good indeed: It doesn't get any

better, in fact, than Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First

Psychedelic Era 1965-1968.