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
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
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
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.