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.