(Originally podcast on 17 October 2014. Expanded for this presentation.)
Once “The Monster Mash” hit the scene in 1962, two things became clear for artists in the 1960’s: the combination of Monsters and Rock Music was perfect for any aspiring artist, and the “Christmas Effect” was now applicable to Halloween as this songs – not even a great song, to be sure – was starting to get guaranteed seasonal airplay. In the same way that cutting a Christmas Tune gave your group some longevity, if only because you would get yearly airplay), then anyone with a guitar and some friends could watch a few horror films late at night and cast around for their own novelty hit that might help launch their careers.
But it wasn’t just people like Bobby Pickett and Don Hinson that were cranking out monster songs, and in the early ’60’s, rock music was changing. Surf had hit the scene pretty hard in the early ’60’s, telegraphing psychedelia by a few years. Surf taught kids that, so long as your guitar player could solo and your rhythm section could play nice with each other, anyone could start one of these bands. Once The Beatles made their epic three week engagement on The Ed Sullivan Show, it seemed as if this version of Rock & Roll was not your parents version from the last decade. Focused on teenagers and their alienation from the rest of modern culture, Rock Music was no longer just about dancing and partying, but had a new range and sound that was electric, and LOUD.
It helped that there was a lot of cheaply made instruments for sale – both new and used – and was thus easy to distribute among the suburbs. Kids everywhere began to create bands with their friends, and by the end of 1964, hundreds of garage bands across the country started, all picking up instruments, picking up cues from the Rock Stars on TV, and picking up on this Monster Vibe that was reverberating through our Culture in Movies and The Late Late Show. Just because these groups were not famous, and were not well known outside of their own home town was irrelevant; if they could get a gig at the local armory, or at a house party, that was fine. And, if one of them had enough savings to sink into pressing up a 45, hey, that was cool, too. Teenagers – distracted by hormones and parties and the War in Vietnam and girls & boys and surfing – had never gotten together and planned to create a music movement. Instead, they were just looking for ways to pass the time.
Lenny Kaye was one of these teenagers, and started his own band in 1964 – The Vandals. As a fanzine writer and music enthusiast, this made sense, and as he got to know other bands and began traveling, he collected records by other garage groups – music that Kaye labeled “punk rock” – and found that many of these songs were in danger of getting lost in the cracks if action was not taken. In 1972 he assembled the original Nuggets compilation, which showcased music by groups that, while not representative of the entire movement, captured those with some pretty big regional hits: The Blues Project, The 13th Floor Elevators, The Amboy Dukes, and Nazz. As some would say, the rest in history: Nuggets has become a sort of cottage industry for Rhino Records, who released 14 sequels to Kaye’s original record in the late ’80’s, and assembled three 4-disc sets of other material, along with other 4-disc localized collections like the LA and San Francisco sets.
It is impossible to say if Kaye knew what was happening when he made that first collection in 1972, but before long he set off not only the modern Rock Record collector market, but a whole genre of compilation albums. The Pebbles series followed in 1978 (which seems to have stopped after 28 collected LPs of tunes), each collecting the lesser-known groups of the Garage Era. Crypt Records‘ very own Tim Warren started Back From The Grave in 1983, as series of comps that focused on some of the wilder, rawer, and crazier records from this same era. (Up to 10 volumes, at this point.)
But more importantly, these (and other) compilations that came out in the years since began to document an era that was beginning to be lost. Classic Rock Radio was the dominant format in America by the ’80’s, and it seemed as if the history of rock and roll was going from Elvis to Led Zeppelin, with little focus on the ’60’s outside of the psychedelic movement (that seemed to map over the political ideology of the counterculture). However, not everyone was into psyche rock. Most people in the ’60’s had grown up on Rock & Roll, and want to make something closer to The Troggs than to Jefferson Airplane. These compilations reclaimed the story of Rock Music from the one that was being heard on the radio, and helped document scenes that had otherwise disappeared once everyone went off to college.
It is ironic that a more complete picture of the ’60’s didn’t come together until the ’80’s, and even then seemed only appreciated by collectors and nerds who enjoyed doing the research. But people who had worked to assemble these kinds of comps also established an entire market for LPs that were not collections of Hit Songs. The idea that you could make a record that documents a time and and a place – wherever and whenever that might be – created the Punk Rock that Kaye had identified in Garage Music. Not only has the Killed By Death series done for punk what these other comps did for the ’60’s, but the larger idea of documenting these fragile (and quickly disintegrating music movements) gave the DIY movement the much needed juice to keep going when things seemed darkest, a tradition that has persisted into the 2010s.
In the early 2000s, S’more Entertainment was just another small record company looking for an angle, and noticed that the reissue market was one place that record sales were not dropping off. They began with re-issues of Black Oak Arkansas and Nazareth records, and hit gold with Dick Dale’s back catalog. They quickly assembled a collection – Surf-Age Nuggets – under the name RockBeat Records, hoping that if it bombed, they could quickly shed the name and keep going. However, Surf was still big money, and this collection (available on both CD and LP) but this new subsidiary on the map. Very quickly RockBeat, and the work they were doing in that office, subsumed the parent company.
RockBeat had hit on a formula, and went on to release collections of The Moving Sidewalks, Little Feat, The Blasters, Albert King, Django Reinhardt, and the very impressive Los Nuggetz Volume Uno, which assembled the previously-uncharted territory of Mexican Rock Music from the ’60’s and ’70’s. Armed with this success, they began casting around for something else they could put in the stores, and hit upon the idea of collecting old ’60’s Monster songs. Plenty of garage bands had recorded stuff like that, and with access to a number of artist’s catalogs, it appeared that they could even release a proper boxed set, music like the comps they were using as their inspiration.
Taking cues from the Wavy Gravy model, RockBeat inserted horror movie trailers into their three-disc set, in-between songs about partying in graveyards and hanging out with vampires. The the concentration (and quality) of the tunes here is what really sets this apart from the stuff you usually find in stores when September rolls around. Foregoing anything close to “The Monster Mash,” they really dug into the Nuggets of the past, and assembled almost 100 tracks of incredibly rockin’ songs, many of which had not been comped elsewhere. (There is some overlap with other sources, but not much.)
As a relatively new compilation – 2014, no less – it remains to be seen if this collection will gain the same kind of notoriety of the Nuggets predecessors that paved the way for this label. And, to be completely fair, RockBeat might not have a long-term future, either. (Having only been around for 10 years, and the increasingly declining state of the Record Industry, might make it hard to build a career on re-issues.) However, in our house, this collection is already a classic, and is absolutely essential listening this time of year. If you want to class up any party you’re throwing – and you still want to be on-point with seasonal treats – Halloween Nuggets is the only way to go.
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You can purchase the album at Amazon.com.
You can stream the entire thing at Spotify. (I think you need to be logged in for that link to work.)
It is also available in a number of other places, too.
Watusi Zombi * Jan Davis * Halloween Nuggets
Graveyard * The Phantom Five * Halloween Nuggets
Scream * Ralph Neilsen & The Chancellors * Halloween Nuggets
Mother Box 034