Aug 222011
 

It’s showtime! Round 2 of the Nuggets Divisional Series (NDS) gets underway with a SHOWDOWN between the winners of albums sides 1 vs 4.

The Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream Last” night lived up to its top-seed status by outlasting a tough Side 1 field that included The Standells’ “Dirty Water,” The Knickerbockers’ “Lies,” and The Strangeloves’ “Night Time.” This stomping psychedelic classic, in my opinion, outdid the mighty Rolling Stones in that legendary band’s efforts at recording a “turned on” classic.

The Prunes’ scene-setting album opener will go up against The Nazz’ “Open My Eyes,” which jumped to an early lead against the compilation’s least-gripping songs and easily outdistanced a late challenge from The Premiers’ “Farmer John.”

Efforts to reach “Open My Eyes” composer Todd Rundgren were unsuccessful, as he could not risk missing his hair salon appointment for touching up his blond highlights, but James Lowe, lead vocalist and autoharpist of The Electric Prunes responded to Rock Town Hall’s questions regarding the creation of his band’s masterpiece. No joke! Check out his excellent anecdotes…after the jump! And vote for the winner of our first NDS match-up!

SHOWDOWN (choose one): What's the BETTER song between the division winners of sides 1 and 4 of the original Nuggets?

  • The Electric Prunes, "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night" (Side 1) (62%, 41 Votes)
  • The Nazz, "Open My Eyes" (Side 4) (38%, 25 Votes)

Total Voters: 66

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Electric Prunes' at American Recordings during recording of "Too Much to Dream Last Night" (1966), L to R: Preston Ritter (drums), Mark Tulin (bass). Ken Williams (lead guitar), James Lowe (vocals), Dave Hassinger (producer). Photo courtesy of James Lowe.

Rock Town Hall contacted The Electric Prunes to see if they might share their memories on the making of their Nuggets classic, “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night,” and vocalist/autoharpist James Lowe, the guy with the cool shades in the bonus clip we posted last week, wrote the following tales from Europe. Thanks, James! 

The Electric Prunes had gotten a one release deal with Reprise Records, and our first single “Ain’t It Hard” had flopped. We were dropped from the label but given one more chance to record something that would chart. Annette Tucker and Nancy Mantz had written a mild country song, “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night),” and Dave Hassinger, our producer, liked the title. I am not sure he had even listened to the demo he gave us. “See if you can do something with this,” was his directive. We went through the lead sheet and made notes like, crash here, noooooo yell, break break break… We rehearsed sections of the song as we came up with an arrangement; but i am not sure we ever played it in total. Only sections.

For tech heads the song was recorded on an Ampex 4-track machine at American Recording in North Hollywood. We did it in pieces, playing up to each break and stopping tape. The drums breaks were added last and edited in. Once we had the body of the song I added a lead vocal and a reverse fuzz guitar was added. We wanted the song to “float,” and a rubbery fuzz backward guitar popping out here and there with a tremolo rhythm guitar under it took the song to another level. Mark Tulin wrote the measures out backward for lead guitarist Ken Williams and tried to keep him appraised of where he was in the song as the tape played. Back then we had to turn the tape around and actually record against the backward track. It was very easy to get lost. I remember about halfway through Mark couldn’t figure out where he was and just walked back into the control room in the middle of the take and waved “good luck” to Ken. Ken’s licks and dripping fuzz-buzz sound were magic from the start, and it was done in one take. We had discussed a “dream” sound for the intro but had never really said exactly what that was? A few weeks before we had been rehearsing up at Leon Russel’s house and a recording accident gave us that crazy “bumble bee” intro sound at the top of the song. We cut that piece of tape off and brought it to the recording session at American for TMTDLN. When we edited it in It just seemed like it belonged as the intro to that song.

People have asked if we knew TMTDLN was a “hit” when we recorded it, and the answer is no. We played it for numerous people and they just thought it was “weird.” “Where would you get something like that played?” a record executive asked. It took a long time for the song to catch on and garner play on AM radio stations. We thought it was another flop; but it finally found an audience in a Seattle radio station with Pat O’ Day. Reprise allowed us to stay.

I had never heard of the “Nuggets” compilation until 5 years after its release. Thanks, Lenny Kaye!

– James Lowe

Postcard courtesy of James Lowe.

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  37 Responses to “Once and for All: Round 2, Side 1 (The Electric Prunes) vs Side 4 (The Nazz) Divisional Playoffs, Featuring Anecdotes from The Electric Prunes’ James Lowe!”

  1. tonyola

    I think “Open My Eyes” is a fine tune and its wipeout victory on Side 4 is well-deserved. However, in this matchup, the Prunes have it down. Lenny Kaye couldn’t have picked a better song to open Nuggets.

  2. Yeah, I say the Prunes win this one. I missed voting on side four, but I would have probably gone with The Premiers over The Nazz. As good as “Open My Eyes” is, it’s just too professional sounding to capture what I think of as the spirit of the Nuggets compilation.

  3. Great stories!

    I’ll go w/ The Prunes

  4. Sorry, the poll is now open.

  5. Ditto, tonyola.

    From the beginning, I knew it was going to come down to Too Much To Dream and Psycotic Reaction for me, with the Prunes being the likely winner.

    That’s really cool of James to check in like that.

  6. mockcarr

    I’m still going with the better song, even though I know once again, it will not win. Call it the Nader vote if you must.

  7. I’ll take the Prunes here. These are pretty well-matched songs with the “Dream” getting into darker, more acid sounds and the Nazz hitting that late 60’s Who power pop button. In the analysis, I’d say “Too Much to Dream” is a more involving song and the psychedelic elements were simply current (not rehashed) when it was released.

  8. 2000 Man

    I had never heard of the “Nuggets” compilation until 5 years after its release. Thanks, Lenny Kaye!

    Hmm…sounds like someone’s missing a royalty check. With all that interest it’s probably enough to buy a couple beers by now!

    I’m going with Electric Prunes. Had it been Farmer John, I would have went with that, but as much as I like that Nazz song, it’s just not my favorite song on the album.

  9. BigSteve

    Man, I would love to hear the original demo for “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night.” You know, before it got psyched up.

  10. Both of these tunes are great and were my second choices in the original votes. “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” gets my vote this time because it’s more psychedelic and nugget-y than “Open My Eyes.”

  11. alexmagic

    I voted for Farmer John in the Side 4 battle on the strength of the goofy faux-party atmosphere and the perfectly half-assed “impromptu” girls who join in on backup. Also, it received double Nugget Points because of that Sonics Christmas song that is set to Farmer John’s tune.

    That said, I figured The Nazz would win, and I have no problem with that, as it was easily the best song on that side and a winner both in and out of the context of the collection.

    But I still had to go with the Prunes in this match-up. The song is just this huge, weird, inexplicable success, and I go back to the notion that no song with a name like that by a band with a name like that should be anywhere near as good as the final product ends up being. Too Much To Dream just has it.

    As an exploration about what works and/or what doesn’t work with it, how would people compare it to Dukes of Stratosphear’s “25 O’Clock”, which is obviously a pretty direct homage? When you bring in some real ringers like XTC who knew exactly what they were doing and how to do it, how does the end result of their attempt to ‘reimagine’ the song stack up to the the original and its unique origins?

  12. BigSteve

    alexmagic: “I voted for Farmer John in the Side 4 battle on the strength of the goofy faux-party atmosphere and the perfectly half-assed “impromptu” girls who join in on backup.”

    Thankfully the version on Nuggets is the one where the overdubbed party sounds are dialed down. You can hear the version where they practically drown out the song on this groovy clip of the Premiers playing it on Bandstand:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDI_2vm-9Ks

    I had forgotten that Neil Young & Crazy Horse revived the song on Ragged Glory. Here’s the original by New Orleans R&B duo Don & Dewey:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40bStlJyqsg

  13. pudman13

    I have to admit I felt pretty lame voting for all four side-winners (if only “My World Fell Down” had been on another side!), but my streak is obviously going to stop here, as my fave song gets knocked out.

  14. machinery

    Prunes. But can they win it all?

  15. The Nazz song is a bit slow out of the gate, and so has a lot of ground to make up, but it comes on with a fast and furious finish. Still, despite a few less than great passages, after its killer opening the Prunes song has enough of its own finish to come out on top by several lengths.

  16. This is outrageous.

    Prunes — please — this song is a total fake. It’s a stupid play on words that has not aged well at all.

    Nazz — a terrific slice of power pop that most rock bands today would be glad to call their own.

    I implore you, if you have not voted yet . . . listen to these again and vote Nazz, or if you have voted, and now regret your vote, e-mail a friend and have them nullify it.

    • BigSteve

      So you’re saying that fake is bad? And that the Nazz is, what, real? Authentic? Seriously?

    • Although I will continue to take points off for that song’s middle eight’s superfluous use of the maj7th chords, I commend you, funoka, for taking a stand for what you believe to be right!

    • tonyola

      If the only criterion in this vote was musical merit, you’d be absolutely right in declaring “Open My Eyes” as the superior song. It really is a fine piece of power pop. But in this evaluation of all things Nuggety, attitude, inspired amateurism, and adolescent blueball angst all play roles here and “Too Much to Dream” is just dripping with those qualities. Also, as I said in a previous post, it broke new sonic territory on AM radio in late 1966. There was simply nothing like it. That’s why this committed progster chose “Dream”.

  17. BigSteve

    Btw it was great reading the details about the recording of TMTDLN. Recording it piecemeal of 4-track tape, flipping the tape and doing the backwards guitar on the fly, cutting in the bit that they had recorded at Leon Russell’s house … totally cool. I knew that producer/engineer Dave Hassinger had worked with the Dead and Airplane, but it looks like TMTDLN predates both Surrealistic Pillow and the self-titled Dead album.

  18. I am going with IHTMTDLA because it blows my mind, pure and simple! A Nugget of information–James Lowe engineered albums for Nazz, so there is a connection between Prunes and Rundgren! Here’s an early clip of Nazz, with James helping out on bass:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwsWgnuB-Nk

  19. Excellent!! It’s an interesting story… Thanks, Mr M!:)

  20. saturnismine

    The Prunes tune is an absolute masterpiece of its idiom. But it sounds so dated. And lyrically, it’s a pretty flat reading of a bad trip.

    For some, I’m sure the Nazz tune loses points for copping the “Can’t Explain” riff, but I like the riff as a setup that tricks the listener. Lyricaly, at least the Nazz tune reaches out to another person and uses some nice poetic devices (e.g. not being able to see because the singer’s eyes have been opened).

    Sonically, the Nazz tune is much less dated sounding to my ears. And the bridge is unbelievable.

    I took the Nazz tune.

    In the end, I simply like it better.

    Almost too close to call, though.

  21. The Prunes get my vote, just for the sheer imagination utilized in the recording process and for being the first band to get a totally weird record into the US national singles charts!

  22. saturnismine

    I never understood what people find so “mind blowing” and about “too much to dream.”

    I’m sure that *in its day* it was mind blowing, but even then, not by much. Do I have to write a list of songs that were contemporary that are similar in their creative approach to the studio?

  23. I’m voting for Nazz……

 
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