Sep 092011

RTH: I’m curious to hear your take on Nuggets, both when you first compiled it with Jac Holzman and in light of its legacy over the years. You had made mention, when we first connected, when you saw some of the comments coming in on our blog, that people have different notions of what’s a Nugget? People have been defending their thoughts on the best song on Nuggets according to what’s “Nuggety” or not. Then, I’m also curious to hear how you first compiled the set.

Lenny Kaye: Well, you know, actually my Nuggets, which was actually just the first album and a smattering of songs that would be on the Rhino box set, was un-Nuggety, in a certain way. I mean, that title has kind of been specified to refer to specific types of garage rock with fuzztone and Farfisa organ and a scowling lead singer, and that fact of the matter is that my compilation, under Jac’s mentorship, is kind of sprawling and all over the place.

Anyway, the brief that Jac gave me was to collect those songs that were the only good songs on an album. I personally believe he’d just gotten one of the first good home recorders and was trying to simplify his record collection. He gave it to me and I spun it in my own direction. I appreciated the songs I accumulated driving across the country in 1967, and it’s kind of a replication of my own life in a garage band, what I wanted to do, even though we never made any records or did original material. That experience nurtured the kind of bands I was attracted to. I mean, if you look at the original track listing of Nuggets, which was put together mostly in 1971 and 1972, there are very little similarities between a group like Sagittarius, with “My World Fell Down,” and The Blues Project or The Seeds or The Music Machine. It’s kind of great singles from a certain era that might have been forgotten, that seemed to fall in whatever defined blocks I did in the liner notes, which was a transition period in how rock ‘n roll was evoked and perceived, that middle ground between the great 3-minute hit single and progressive rock that was already mushrooming out of the minds of psychedelic musicians.

RTH: Growing up I was an AM radio kid, and when I first heard the comp at the end of high school it sounded like the cool stuff that fell in the nooks and crannies of what was on the radio while I was turning the dial. It’s funny over the years how it’s taken on this life and fostered the couple of waves of garage-rock revivalism. It’s been funny during our discussion of Nuggets on the blog to read people saying that Sagittarius isn’t “Nuggety” enough. It’s on the record!

LK: I mean, I’m not a definition-oriented guy. I like things that kind of fall outside the boundaries, and a lot of those songs were drawing from so many elements that they were hard to pinpoint. There was a certain punkish attitude to these musicians, who were kind of reinventing certain band instrumental forms. That record was kind of twofold: on the one hand it takes a scholarly view, modeling itself along the lines of Yazoo Records’ Blues of Southeast Georgia, 1927-33. And also the kind of Golden Goodies hits that I would pick up that usually had a lot of random oldies with pictures of motorcycle guys. Mr. Maestro, I believe, was a collection, or Paragons vs Jesters. What I really graded Nuggets on was how good the song was. I didn’t really care if it fit the genre. I don’t think I really understood what the shape of the genre was. Some of those songs were only 4 or 5 years old, which is kind of like doing an oldies album now with songs from 2006.

Everybody brings a different concept, as you can see from your site, of what a Nugget is. To me, personally, it’s a great song.

RTH: Can you tell me about the mechanics of how you put together the comp? I mean, there were other compilations at the time, but this was a more finely crafted compilation, probably one of the earlier ones done that way in rock ‘n roll. Did you have challenges in acquiring the licensing?

LK: The real hero of that record is Michael Kapp, who was Mickey Kapp’s son, of Kapp Records. He tirelessly chased around all these weird people who owned the rights to these out-of-the-way singles. I was working at the end of 1970 at Elektra as a kind of freelance talent scout. And so, not much that I brought to them they liked, but for this project I submitted a list of maybe 50 or 60 songs that I thought would be, you know, cool, many of which were more for collectors’ interests, and some of them I was just trying to figure it out. You know, on the original list there was Jeff Beck‘s “Hi-Ho Silver Lining.” I had a sense, at one point, that Elektra should do regional collections: The Sound of New York, The Sound of Los Angeles, something that Greg Shaw would pick up on. Really, I was just trying to put together something – and really I was a little bit rebellious, because Elektra had a reputation for being Art for Art’s sake, you know, The Doors, Earth Opera, Love… And these were bands that Elektra might have signed, but they didn’t, so I was involved in my own little mess of trying to go against the grain of what dominated Elektra.

I had a lot of spunk, as a young rock writer, and a sense of what made a great rock record. I’ve been at shows where bands do these the Nuggets songs—and they are great songs. Even with Patti we spent a summer tour where I would sing “Pushin’ Too Hard,” and it would just galvanize the audience. In the end these are great records. And you can say that they’re great “garage” records, but that’s like saying “Be My Baby” is a great “girl group” record. They’re great records, and great records transcend genres. I do feel that as the Nuggets idea moved through the culture that it became very specified in ways that don’t interest me as much. I mean, there are lots of great garage records, but I know what they’re gonna sound like. What’s fascinating to me, what I would like are Nuggets from every genre, you know, the great Girl Group Nuggets, the great ’70s Punk Nuggets, the great ’90s Grunge Nuggets, even the ’80s Hair Metal Nuggets. All crazy genres that have your 20 to 25 incredibly unbelievable records.

I spoke with Jac Holzman this year about doing a Reggae Nuggets for, possibly, Rhino, and knock together 2 albums’ worth of great songs that, if you like reggae, great, and if you like great songs, great! That’s what made Nuggets so listenable, beyond certain attitudes and aspirations and innocence and the desire to be on stage and all those things that made those bands special. To me, what they are is, if you happened to come over to my house in 1972 and we happened to move over to the “garage” area as opposed to the doo-wop area or the novelty area, of which I’m quite a connoisseur. Most of these records I would have played you. Some of them are records you might have known and some of them are records you might not have known. I tried not to make this a collectors’ album and I tried also not to make this an expected golden oldies album. Everything fit somewhat the middle ground. I wanted to make a listenable record, a record you could listen to regardless of any cross-cultural assumptions.

Everybody brings a different concept, as you can see from your site, of what a Nugget is. To me, personally, it’s a great song. It can’t be classified under a particular genre. There are a lot of records that are their own genre. How can you put an umbrella over them? To be honest, nearly 40 years after it was put together, I’m amazed that Nuggets has such a special spot. In 1972, I doubt very seriously that anyone was talking about the greatest hits from the era of Russ Columbo and the crooners. I’d probably like to hear it myself! Nuggets still speaks to people. There are a lot of bands that sound like it, if you listen to Little Steven’s radio station… As a template it’s still being followed and honored, and that’s an honor for me. I don’t pretend to have created the genre. I just put a bunch of records together, and The People took it up. And that’s a beautiful thing.


  21 Responses to “The Rock Town Hall Interview: Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets of Inspiration”

  1. bostonhistorian

    Absolutely fantastic Mr. Moderator! Thank you, and thanks to Lenny Kaye.

  2. That’s really cool.

    It’s interesting that his take on the Nuggets scene (for lack of a better phrase), is similar to the Punk scene that he would help launch. Both were just a disparate collection of songs/groups, who’s main similarity was that they didn’t fit in anywhere else, before they were codified after the fact.

  3. Excellent Work, Mr Mod!

  4. misterioso

    That was great. I did not know the Nuggets comp as such when I was growing up, but a big part of my rock history education came from an “oldies” show on a New Hampshire rock station, and it was only later that I realized how much that drew from Nuggets.

  5. Top shelf, Moddy! Glad Lenny got to straighten our asses out as to the original intent of the comp. Cool guy, that Mr. Kaye!

  6. Very nice, thank you!

  7. 2000 Man

    That was great! Lenny certainly deserves Good Egg status, and it’s awesome that he really answered all the questions, especially about something he did so long ago. So many people would just be brief and say they don’t remember, but Lenny really explained a lot. Great job, Mr. Mod!

  8. mockcarr

    AHA! Lenny liked these “songs”. So my methodology was correct in not paying too much attention to nuggeticity and nuggettorifferey.

  9. hrrundivbakshi

    What a cool interview of a cool guy. Well done, and thanks, Lenny!

  10. Great job . . . .and the fact he wanted 96 Tears on the original is priceless.

  11. machinery

    Nice job Mr. Mod.

  12. An excellent interview. Hopefully one that will come up anytime someone Googles Nuggets + Lenny Kaye. So, once and for all the best song on Nuggets is “Psychotic Reaction” AND “Pushin’ Too Hard”.

  13. BigSteve

    I really enjoyed that. It’s interesting to hear how the tracklisting was not the result of a clear philosophy. It’s also good to be reminded how recent these ‘forgotten’ tracks were when the LP came out.

  14. tonyola

    Great interview. I’m still carrying a torch for “Liar, Liar”, though.

  15. A fine interview, and really fun to read. I thought the most fascinating moment was when Kaye pointed out that the songs were only a few years old at the time he was putting the collection together. It’s so easy to assume that it was some kind of musical history recovery project, like going to the south to find aging bluesmen, but it wasn’t that at all.

  16. That is an interesting point, but just look how drastically music changed in the years 1965 to 1972. One-off singles didn’t take long to drop off the radar of people’s memory. If it hadn’t been for Kaye’s efforts, a lot of marginal music would probably have remained undiscovered for a long time.

  17. BigSteve

    I hate to pince nez Lenny Kaye, but Brian Jones plays dulcimer, not sitar, on Lady Jane.

  18. Pince nez REJECTED! Maybe my transcription didn’t do his words justice, but he was throwing out generalities: the era when Jones would play sitar and when the band played songs featuring Jones’ sensibilities, like “Lady Jane.”

  19. Interesting as well how bands like the Patti Smith Group and the Flamin’ Groovies et al embraced the cover tune not just live but on their records. Bands these days seem so afraid of not just copping to, but celebrating what made them want to rock out in the first place.

  20. misterioso

    That is a good point. A similar point dawned on me when I bought the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music, when it was reissued in the 90s. The time separating the first release of the compilation in 1952 and the recordings is larger than the gap between Nuggets and the “Nuggets era”: the Anthology recordings date from 1927 to 1933. Still, 20-25 years is not that long, and one gets the sense that even in the early 50s those records already sounded like they came from a different century.

  21. shawnkilroy

    That was GREAT!

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