The Kingsmen – Up and Away

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Although they once dominated the airwaves with their single “Louie, Louie,” by 1966 the Kingsmen were struggling to maintain relevancy in the fast-paced, ever-changing world of rock ‘n’ roll music. Numerous line-up changes combined with the waning popularity of garage rock forced The Kingsmen to venture beyond their garage rock style. Released in 1966 on Wand Records, Up and Away would be the Kingsmen’s final studio album. While this album definitely contains some strong garage rock numbers like those that fans of the group have come to cherish, the driving force behind the album is covers of rock, pop and R&B singles that were popular at the time. For example, two of the most well-known songs on the album are “If I Needed Someone” and “Under My Thumb,” songs written and recorded by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones respectively. While both covers are decent, neither does anything to really separate the covers from the originals. Unfortunately, this theme is a little too common on this album. The Kingsmen also recorded covers of “Wild Thing,” “Shake a Tail Feather” and “Mustang Sally,” all of which already had popular versions by other artists that were dominating the charts. Some critics have blamed new producers––Paul Tannen and Mark Wildey––for pushing the band toward these covers and toward a more pop rock sound all together. This theory seems very plausible as these covers lack any resemblance of that classic Kingsmen garage sound. Although these covers do make up most of the album, there are several hidden gems on the album including the opening track, “Trouble” and the hard-driving number, “Little Sally Tease.” Both songs are much more raw and genuine than most of the tracks on the album. Fans of early Kingsmen albums will definitely appreciate these tunes, and the album as a whole is still worth picking up for garage rock fans. As a whole package, the album is fairly decent. While not oozing with originality or surprises, the covers are solid and the original material is quite enjoyable. This album is typical of a great underground band on its last legs––perhaps it could be better, but at least it’s not worse.  B-

Paul Revere & the Raiders – Midnight Ride

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Often described as America’s answer to the British Invasion, these colonial clad rockers are part Beatles, part Stones and part Dylan. Released on Columbia Records in 1966, Midnight Ride is said to be Paul Revere & the Raiders’ response to Rubber Soul. Not only are both albums influenced by the sounds of Bob Dylan and New York’s growing folk rock scene, but both albums also push the boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll even further with bold experimentation and fearless disregard for convention. However, Midnight Ride seems to take bolder steps toward a harder, faster and edgier rock sound that at times sounds like something Iggy Pop and the Stooges could have recorded years later. For example, “Louie, Go Home,” has simple and repetitive chords that break down into a chaotic cluster of clashing instruments topped off by the screaming vocals of Mark Lindsay. The song is more than just a loud and fast garage rock song; it’s a call to action. Meant as a response to the classic garage rock song “Louie, Louie,” “Louie, Go Home” takes rock ‘n’ roll to the next level––a level that we now call protopunk. In this same vein, Paul Revere & the Raiders recorded “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone.” Although The Monkees’ cover version was––and still is––the far more popular version, “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” was first recorded by Paul Revere & the Raiders. These garage rockers were the first to inject the power and attitude into this now wildly popular hard rocking anthem. Despite being masters of loud, fast and hard, Paul Revere & the Raiders show their range with great folk rock numbers like “There’s Always Tomorrow” and “There She Goes.” These songs demonstrate the band’s under-appreciated songwriting abilities and their pure musicianship. Almost every band member plays multiple instruments on the album, and they demonstrate fantastic range going from heavy and fast to scaled back and smooth. The band even tries their hand at slower love songs like “Little Girl in the 4th Row” and “Melody for an Unknown Girl.” Even these songs, while dramatically different from the garage rock sound their known for, are well arranged and written, being spaced on the album perfectly as to inject some softness into the heavy world of garage rock. All in all, this record is amazing. Not only are the individual songs fantastic, but the band’s collaboration and adaptability really shines through. This album is primarily comprised of original songs written by the band members. In fact, all five band members have individual songwriting credits on the album––a feat rarely accomplished in the mid 60s. Although some audiophiles might think it’s a stretch to compare such a little known album to a rock ‘n’ roll mammoth like Rubber SoulMidnight Ride truly proves that notoriety has nothing to do with influence. Midnight Ride played a vital role in shaping the sound of rock ‘n’ roll music. Bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who and Iggy Pop and the Stooges are deeply indebted to Paul Revere and the Raiders for trailblazing the path toward a harder, faster and edgier rock ‘n’ roll sound.  A+

The Kingsmen – The Kingsmen on Campus

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Still soaking in their lingering success from their mega-hit single “Louie, Louie,” The Kingsmen quickly churned out their fourth studio album in just as many years. Released on Wand Records in 1965, The Kingsmen on Campus strays from the pure garage rock sound that dominated the band’s first three studio albums. Beginning with The Kingsmen in Person (reviewed in January 2013) and continuing through Volumes II (reviewed in May 2013) and III, The Kingsmen made a name for themselves with raw guitars, aggressive vocals and simple but driving rhythms. However, The Kingsmen on Campus deviates from this style by covering conventional rock ‘n’ roll hits like “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Stand By Me.” While the band does put their own unique spin on both of these covers, they do not put a raw and heavy garage rock spin on them but rather perform jazzy sax-heavy renditions. With these jazzy covers, The Kingsmen are clearly way out of their element. Although many bands can successfully diversify their sound, The Kingsmen seem to solely be masters of attitude-filled garage rock. In this case, they should have stuck with what they knew. Despite the failed attempts at evolving their style, the album is not wholly a failure. In fact, there are several powerful tracks that harken back to the band’s amateurish rock ‘n’ roll style. Songs like “Rosalie,” “The Climb” and “Genevieve” match the rhythm and style of early Kingsmen songs. These songs are much heavier and faster than many of this album’s songs. They are full of the energy and emotion that is garage rock. Unfortunately these real garage rock tunes are not quite enough to overcome the pop-friendly covers littered throughout the album. While The Kingsmen’s pure, raw sound does find its way to the surface from time to time, overall, this album is a disappointing departure for one of the greatest garage rock bands of the 60s.  B-

Jan and Dean – Command Performance

ImageAlthough they never received anywhere near the same level of success or fame as The Beach Boys, this surf rock duo once dominated the top of the charts for a brief time period in the early 60s. Jan and Dean released this live album in 1965 on Liberty Records just as their popularity was starting to wane. Command Performance is essentially a greatest hits album performed in front of a live audience. The album is packed with many of the duo’s classic hits including “Surf City” and “Little Old Lady from Pasadena.” Interestingly enough, Jan and Dean even cover a couple of their rival’s songs like “I Get Around.” The duo did reportedly have a friendly working relationship with their rivals, despite not becoming the same household name as The Beach Boys. Although the album itself is not all that imaginative, it does serve as a snapshot of the West coast surf rock scene in the early 1960s. Each song brings the driving electric guitar rhythms that have come to symbolize the heart and soul of surf rock. With pleasant, easy harmonies and fast tempos, these songs are quintessential rock ‘n’ roll songs that helped lead to more progressive rock styles such as garage rock and punk rock. Although many of the album’s songs are relatively well-known, it is not without its surprises. The song “Sidewalk Surfin'” is fun and catchy even though it never enjoyed the same success as songs like “Surf City.” Jan and Dean also close this album with a cover of “Louie, Louie,” one of the most celebrated garage rock songs of all time. This cover supports the rock narrative that links surf rock and garage rock with protopunk and later punk rock music. While this album can be mundane at times with many of the songs sounding quite similar, it is also important to recognize the role surf rock bands like Jan and Dean had in experimenting with the sound of rock ‘n’ roll. It is easy to dismiss bands like Jan and Dean 50 years after their prime. It is much more accurate to look at the influence they had on the development of rock ‘n’ roll and how they contributed to the sounds of middle and late 60s underground rock bands.  B

The Electric Prunes – Underground

ImageIn this follow-up to their self-titled debut, The Electric Prunes define themselves as a unique psychedelic rock band by including much more original material than on their first album. Released on Reprise Records in August of 1967, just four months after their debut album, this album demonstrates how much the band had matured in such a short span of time. While their self-titled debut album was successful and was certainly a solid effort, it lacks original material and fails to establish a unique sound for the band. This album, however, displays a psychedelic rock band willing to diversify their sound. Instead of creating more cookie-cutter psychedelic rock songs, the band adds complexity and depth with their own newly found songwriting skills. This increased complexity is evident as soon as the needle drops. The opening song “The Great Banana Hoax,” is an original tune built on the foundation of solid rhythmic garage rock beat with spurts of psychedelic effects. Instead of dominating their sound with fuzzy guitars and intricate melodic psychedelic beats as they did on their first album, The Prunes incorporate these characteristics much more subtly and handsomely. Time and again they show that they are more than just a bag of cool studio effects––they are solid rock musicians as well. Songs like “Wind-Up Toys” and “Hideaway” are other great examples of original songs using psychedelic effects more selectively. These songs still certainly qualify as psychedelic rock songs; however, they may not be as buzzy and fuzzy as most of the songs on their first album. The biggest surprise on this album is the original single “It’s Not Fair.” This song is so unique that it evades categorization. It might be described as honky-psychedelic-garage-country-rock. “It’s Not Fair” incorporates subtle psychedelic effects into a driving honky-tonk country rhythm played by garage rock musicians. It is perhaps my favorite song on the album. My only complaint with the album is that it could feature even more original tunes. While seven originals is a whole lot more than two, the cover songs on the album aren’t quite as strong as the band’s own material. In particular, “I Happen to Love You” and “I” lack the same enthusiasm as other efforts. This criticism is perhaps a bit nitpicky, as neither song is all that bad. When both sides are played through, there’s really very little to be disappointed with. This album is necessary for any psychedelic or garage rock fan, particularly fans that enjoy the subtle nuances that can separate one psychedelic 60s rock band from another.  A

Syndicate of Sound – Little Girl

ImageAfter winning a battle of the bands competition in San Jose, CA, Syndicate of Sound rocketed to regional and even (briefly) national fame with the release of several singles from their first and only album Little Girl released in 1966 on Bell Records. Although their tenure was very brief, Syndicate of Sound’s legacy on rock ‘n’ roll is tremendous. Known for their edgy sound, the band is considered one of the key links between garage rock and protopunk. The album flies out of the gate with the aggressive teenage anthem “Big Boss Man.” Loud, fast, obnoxious, rebellious and sarcastic––”Big Boss Man” is everything that protopunk would become. While coming out with roaring guitars is one thing, keeping them roaring is a whole different challenge: a challenge that Syndicate of Sound accepts head on. In addition to “Big Boss Man,” the band also edges closer to protopunk with songs like “Lookin’ for the Good Times” and a cover of The Sonics’ “The Witch.” While “Lookin’ for the Good Times” is more like a surf rock song on steroids, “The Witch” is pure punk sound with a touch of darkness. Besides being trumpeters for the protopunk sound, Syndicate of Sound is also still firmly rooted in mid-60s garage rock. This album is stacked with songs that are now considered garage rock classics, from “Almost Grown” to “Rumors” to the title track “Little Girl.” Every single one of these songs has that rhythm and edge that you can expect from a Syndicate of Sound song. “Little Girl” would become one of the most covered songs in the mid 60s and can be heard today in the one hit wonder section of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. And just when you think you’ve figured out the Syndicate of Sound, they display their dexterity with love songs such as “That Kind of a Man” and “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby.” These songs are successful because they avoid the cliché of 60s pop love song sound while also delivering emotions that are recognizable by many. Syndicate of Sound truly proves their versatility with the many styles of rock ‘n’ roll they’ve mastered. Although there are one or two songs that could use some more work, Little Girl is extremely rewarding as a whole. Ultimately the Syndicate of Sound was torn apart by the 60s––drugs and the draft––leaving listeners aching for what could have been. This album is a must for any fan of protopunk or garage rock. You will not be disappointed.  A-

The Critters – Younger Girl

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Released on Kapp Records in 1966, Younger Girl is the debut album of the little known pop rock band from New Jersey––The Critters. Modeling their name off of other successful 60s bands (The Beatles, The Animals, The Turtles, etc.), The Critters hoped to rise to fame by combining pop harmonies with the developing rock ‘n’ roll style. Throughout the album the band moves from pop songs to surf/garage rock songs with varying degrees of success. While The Critters gained some mild success for their cover of John Sebastian’s “Younger Girl,” it’s hardly their best pop harmony on the album. “Children and Flowers” and “He’ll Make You Cry” stand out as songs that best capture the   band’s harmonic qualities. Both songs are catchy and sweet without becoming too much of a cliché 60s pop song. In fact “Children and Flowers” seems to foreshadow the psychedelic pop/bubblegum pop sounds of bands like The Box Tops. Besides being firmly rooted in the world of 60s radio-friendly pop, The Critters also dabble in garage rock with songs like “It Just Won’t Be That Way” and “Blow My Mind.” While both songs stand out as very good examples of mid-60s garage rock, “Blow My Mind” might do just that. It’s loud, obnoxious, stripped down and generally the exact opposite of “Younger Girl.” Fans of the heaviness of garage rock maybe even protopunk will  be amazed that this song even made it on the album. Although The Critters find success on both ends of the mid-60s spectrum, the album as a whole still leaves something to be desired. Where the band falls flat, they fall pretty hard. Songs like “I’ll Wear a Silly Grin” give the sense that the album was hurriedly thrown together with too much filler. Perhaps if they had spent a little more time in the studio or a little more time writing songs, this album could reach even higher points. Despite these unfortunate misgivings, the album is still worth getting a hold of. There are some pretty audacious songs, and 60s music lovers will be able to find something for them whether they are pop enthusiasts or garage rock addicts.  B