Perfect Sound Forever

60's Punk Compilations*

by Johan Kugelberg
(March 2013)

ED NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Kugelberg's recent book, Brad Pitt's Dog, details of which are below.

The commencement of the '60's Punk compilation in the wake of Nuggets and Pebbles is shrouded in secretive assembly, exercises in obscurist taste, subterranean connoisseurship, secret-handshake knowledge and one-upmanship up the yingyang. All those whispered secrets of the disenfranchised middle-class white-boy college-boy inner city-junkie-boy of the seventies, eighties and nineties has now come to pass as a ruling paradigm for how beyond-the-pale rock music consumption is directed in blog-dom, on-line mag-dom, bit-torrent/stream-dom, and how the necessary strands of elitism are perpetuated in an era where ownership of a musical artifact not-so-much determines the egoboo as the knowledge of the artifacts existence.

The tasty morsel of deep-fried metaphorical gristle on my plat-du-jour is 60's Punk Compilations. A recent field of fevered collecting, outpacing recent record collector micro-trends like Minimal Synth, Junk Shop Glam and California Singer-Songwriter is the pursuit of the rarest vinyl comps of '60's punk that were issued in the early/mid '80's. These compilations are filled choc-a-bloc with some of the most thrilling sounds that are out there.

But I don't have to tell that to the informed readership, as the informed readership:

A. Bought the comps when they came out.
B. In some cases, compiled them.
C. Already know most everything that I write in this article.
D. Disagrees with everything I say.
E. Can command the direction of the traffic outside their window utilizing strange and ancient Jedi mind-control powers.

It is a bit of a natural after-the-end-of-the-world, or at least after-the-end-of-the-record-shop conceptual finality that what started as consumer guides that were prepped to spread the knowledge about some rare and tasty sounds (with a healthy spread of collector-scum one-upmanship on top) have turned into a premier-status desired commodity. Pressed in editions that in many cases were as small as the original 45's compiled, wrapped in hand-made-looking packages, and with liner-notes that read like a copy of Black To Comm had mated with a sports-blog, these artifacts are rightfully fetishized as capable of providing the white middle-class collector with a more than adequate block-stop for that aching void of his or us or mine.

The dividing line between SERCON and FANNISH is a natural in the history of the '60's punk compilation album: albums that are basically fannish, i.e. jumbles of insane garage punk 45's in an attempted palatable and amusing order, are in counterpoint to the comps that are sercon: regional compilations, or compilations where a given producer or a given label will provide "historical" parameters for the music. It will come as no surprise that I vastly prefer the prior, and that notwithstanding the subtle beauty in challenging oblivion and/or our-lord- and-master in a crusade or quest to find out as much as is possible to know about a band or a label or the music in a small town in the Midwest back in the whenever, ultimately what erupts out of them there loudspeakers usually benefits the most from the sublime editorializing of the mind of an aesthete. Like the gents behind Open Up Your Door or Scum Of The Earth or Back From The Grave. The temptation to include crap cuts wrapped up neatly in a geographical or economical context can indeed be far too tempting, with the end-game result that Punky Bambi reaches for High In The Mid Sixties volume 24 far less often than she reaches for BFTG#5, and that therefore when Punky Bambi decides to digitize some choice '60's punk cuts for her blog, the tracks from BFTG#5 get heard more often and the ones from HITMS#24 less so. Fannish beats Sercon, hands down.

I started buying '60's Punk/garage compilations in the fall of 1982. Friends of mine pointed out that you could purchase cut-out copies of Nuggets in its Sire Records incarnation, as well as cheap copies of Pebbles volume 9 and 10 from Ginza, the biggest of the Swedish cut-out mail order houses, where we furthermore bought cheapo copies of albums by the Seeds, the Sonics, the Chocolate Watch Band and the Standells. My friends, who were older than me, provided context for the albums ("so you think you are a punk kid, you know nothing") and motivated us to form a band playing Count Five, Seeds and Kim Fowley covers. The first two volumes of Back From The Grave were purchased in '83/'84, and were so much better than anything else on the market, that I remember the listening experience ended up feeling a bit baffling. To this day, as most collectors of the genre will attest, nothing else comes close, pretty much. And in that 'pretty much' I compile this list of my favorite '60's punk/garage compilations with the BFTGs on top.

The '60's punk compilation narrative also contains the fascinating story of independent record shops of the 1980's, especially those that put together mail order catalogues. In Sweden, it was Musik & Konst in Malmö, which was one of the few outlets in the old country for you to obtain '60's punk comps, alongside obscure U.S.-import seven-inchers, fanzines and bootleg LP's by the Velvets and the Cramps. As I spent my teen years in the absolute boonies, these mail order catalogues were lifelines of hep, and they also provided aesthetic directives in a manner much more efficient (and important to us) than the Brit music weeklies, radio, or even fanzines.

As we started to order from overseas mail order operations like New York's Midnight Records or London's Plastic Passion (we had already been buying from Small Wonder and Rough Trade for years, but RT weren't on the '60's punk/neo-garage thing, and I think Small Wonder had gone out of business by then), we were able to locate more obscure stuff, and in some instances original copies of the compiled records. When the illustrious Stefan Kery of Stockholm's mighty fine Stomachmouths combo (and the future honcho of the Subliminal Sounds label) became the buyer for the Vinyl Mania import record shop circa 1984/1985, garage-punking Scandahoovians found themselves in the enviable position of being able to purchase pretty much anything that they'd desire from the Hallowed Halls of Collector Scum Valhalla. I remember original Plan 9 Misfits singles for five bucks a pop, and the first Pussy Galore EP with a store-sticker announcing one OK garage-punker and three experimental clunkers. The fanaticism among '60's punk fans resulted in the development of a global road map: bands devoted to the '60's punk cause in Italy, in Spain, in France and in Midwestern American towns. There were fanzines, mail-order sources for the fanzines (Sweden had an amazing one in the catalogues of Gunnar Johansson), record shops, venues and bands, bands and more bands.

The resounding us-versus-them of this scene collapsed quite rapidly like the house of cards it probably was: the scene rapidly fragmented into micro-scenes along the lines of the ones we see everywhere today. The bands that were into 1965-garage didn't get along with the ones who were into 1967 garage-psych; the bands who mixed the garage sound with other punk strands didn't get along with the ones that were '60's-sound purists, and the bands that mixed '70's hard rock influences with their '60's punk were certainly despised by the bands that weren't. Having authenticity issues within a culture that no one could accuse ultimately of being particularly authentic seems to be yet another example of a means with which the white middle class titillates themselves.

It must be that the more trickle-down post-modernity assemblage in some instances supercedes the original artifact in desirability, but what are you gonna do? If you are all young and all excited, hot and bothered and all that, and when you're done with the porno sites, you can choose to go tooling for garage punk on any of many download/stream sites. You find yourself staring at an event horizon of band names and song titles that provide exactly zilch and bupkis as far as context for the crazy rock & roll that you can (sorta) enjoy on them rin-tin-can speakers on your laptop.

How do you navigate? Who can tell you?

Blogs provide consumer guidance certainly and no doubt, but Francois Boucher's ghost pops up jack-in-the-box style and yells that his axiom on nature "Too Green and Poorly Illuminated"** can be utilized to describe most garage/punk blogs. Fanzines are great but as old ones are hard to find, new ones seem to put more emphasis on collage-art that incorporates Harmony Korine's butt cheeks and less on necessary consumer guidance of primitive musics, and the ones that should be providing that consumer guidance are awfully busy printing extended logorrhea-riffic essays on bands that aren't very good. So, whatever consumer guidance can be found in the assemblage conducted in days of yore warrants big-price-tag merit. As the '60's punk comps assembled back in the eighties were assembled by fanatix that weren't happy with only indulging their own ears, but utilizing their individual collector frenzy to attempt to contaminate the ears of others, that meritocracy will stay potent evermore, and original copies of Scum Of The Earth or Chosen Few will often be more expensive than some of the original records compiled on the same.

(* The term "60's punk" is better than "garage" and was used back when.)

(** I know I've used this joke before but it is still funny.)

The Compilation LP List:

First comes the Back From The Grave series, so,

1. BFTG #1
2. BFTG #5
3. BFTG #3
4. BFTG #4
5. BFTG #8
6. BFTG #6
7. BFTG #7
8. BFTG #2

And the generous reader can go ahead and jest along the lines of sycophancy and ass-kissing as the shapely buttocks of the Crypt Records executives have continued to drive us wild-wild-wild for the last quarter of a century.

9. Boulders Volume 1 (Max 1 USA 1980)

The Dave Gibson-compiled volume one of the Boulders series shouldn't suffer from the same bad reputation as the rest, this one is an all-killer no filler, and came out way back in 1979. And besides: people do beef about the gravelophonic sound quality of the Boulders series, but my ears (both attached to my head still) cannot discern anything worse-sounding here than on the Pebbles comps.

10. Everywhere Chainsaw Sound volume 1 (CSR 001 France 1982)

This early French compilation, sporting a handmade silk-screened sleeve in an edition of 200 numbered copies, certainly weaves the DIY-ethic and the importance of the independent record shop into the grooves of the wax itself: this record is as home-made as any DIY punk record, and its reverberations of the secret handshakes of record store back rooms that followed as the logical next step from fanzine articles and collectors' trading compilation cassettes, show the passion of the chase and the glory of the pay-off in a way most removed from our time of Google-searches and on-line snark. So who cares if there is a bunch of clunkers on this comp, we are talking 1982 here and Ken and the Fourth Dimension are blasting out "See If I Care."

11. Chosen Few Volume 1 (A-Go-Go 1966 USA 1982)
12. Chosen Few Volume 2 (Tom-Tom 3752 USA 1983)

Chosen Few volume one and two (both compiled by east coast garage scenester Bruce and released in the early eighties) are tightly assembled comps, especially if your taste runs to the big riff/big guitar/dare-I-say pro end of the '60's punk spectrum. Volume one assembles bands that coulda, woulda and possibly shoulda had albums deals and the level of notoriety of say the Seeds, the Standells or the Chocolate Watchband. Notable exceptions are some tracks that showed up on BFTG like the Nomads "Thoughts of a Madman" or "Are You For Real Girl" by the Mystic Five. Thee Wylde Main-iacs are Erik Lindgren and pals on a civil war reenactment trek, but remember, this comp came out in '82 and a mere whiff of 16 years had slipped by since 1966 was 1966 and all music was all 1966. If we want to talk 16 years ago, we'd be at Dookie and the death of Kurt Cobain. Ain't it funny how time slips and all, Erik and his pals sure did a good job faking it and Bruce did an equally great job defining that which Thee Wylde Main-iacs were faking.

Hm. There's something in there somewhere about my old fave hobby-horse the Stoic view of time and direction. I'll save that one for my upcoming blogosphere debut, scheduled for, oh, 16 years from now. Volume two might be even better than Volume One, and while still remaining on the bowl-cut tough-guy slant of '60's punk, (instead of my preferred slant of psychotic and primitive shit-music a la Modds or Kick Klack or the Keggs), it is an utterly playable comp, perfectly close to dare-I-say Donatello for its finesse and Brancusi for the vision and brute strength of execution.

See Part II of the 60s punk compilations article

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