Love Is The Song We Sing (San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970) (Rhino Records) Keith Boyd 9.18.07
Without the 1960's we'd be nowhere. I don't care what music, literature or art you dig (you know, the BIG priorities in life!) somehow it wouldn't have come about were it not for the amazing cultural blossoming and legacy of that decade. Don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying that there's been nothing since. That misses my point entirely. Punk, Electronica, Hip-Hop, hell even Disco were all full of sublime and transcendent moments. It's more that the experimental, open-ended and adventurous ethos underpinning the expressive realms of 60's (particularly underground) culture provided the fuel to propel onward the subsequent developments of the next 4 decades. I think a lot of the staying power of this energy has to do with a magickal belief in the self and world transformative powers of art. However self or chemically driven the developments of people like Brian Wilson and The Beatles/George Martin it remains that they were seeking out new ways of producing sound and in turn there were people willing to try to find new ways of hearing. Along with the big names of the era there were a million and one forgotten aspirants to the throne. For every Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix there were 50 Chocolate Watchbands and Frumious Bandersnatches. Any number of reasons exists as to why this host of names has been lost to the ruins of time. Bad management is one. Bands of teens or early 20 year old fresh from the garage signed ridiculous contracts binding them to labels with no distribution and very little profit. Drugs were another. The 60's weren't all lightness and freedom. For every mind opened by an LSD trip or toke of grass there were plenty destroyed by speed and heroin. The death toll of 60's luminaries is quite high. Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Pigpen, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones are just a few of the more well known names. Along side these two major forces is another and that is dumb luck. It's hard to lay out exactly what this constitutes but it's likely a combination of the previous two with a dash of wrong place at the wrong time thrown in for good measure. This isn't quite the tragedy it might seem at first. Some of the lost is quite rightly lost. I can't tell you the amount of times I've taken a chance on a reissue without really knowing the artist and come away with terribly corny songs and rotten, scratchy recordings. What it does mean is that along with what is known of the music scene in the 60's, it was complimented, bolstered and moved along by host of other innovators and one-off's. The good news is that for those of us inclined to look back and dig through the crates, there's a mountain of good stuff out there waiting to be discovered. Remember, not all you'll find will be good. You'll come across and have your mind blown by some Nick Drake or David Allan and the Arrows track just to wash up on the shores of the fractured mess of The Shaggs or William Shatner singing The Beatles. And while there might be strange pleasures awaiting you amongst the local Salvation Army record stacks, great companies such as Rhino are using their considerable resources to put out wonderful overviews such as their new 4-disc set, "Love is the Song We Sing".
This set is simply an over the top pleasure-fest for Bay-Area 60's fanatics. The design is stunning and comes in a book sized package with silver metallic on black printing. The book length material inside is chockfull of amazing and rare photos of every band on the discs and the San Francisco scene in general. There are three essays written by Alec Palao (creator of the set), Ben Fong-Torres (of Rolling Stone magazine fame) and Gene Sculatti (noted music journalist). Also provided is track by track commentary by Palao. This is perhaps the greatest addition as you get a taste of the history and trajectory of each band. Some of course will be well known. Tastefully represented are the big names of the era; The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. Others are just down right wonderful, wild and unknown. The disc is organized thematically and somewhat chronologically. Each disc has a representative name of its' contents and includes; Seismic Rumbles (highlighting the divergent fault lines separating the traditional pop flavors of the early 1960s from San Francisco's emerging bands that were inspired by the more complex rock and roll of The Beatles and Bob Dylan), Suburbia (exploring the nearby burgs of Berkeley, Sausalito, Sacramento, and San Jose to show the garage, folk-rock, and musically-hybrid psychotic reactions to San Francisco's psychedelic stew), Summer of Love (celebrating the myriad riches of that era-defining season with many well known classics) and The Man Can't Bust Our Music (charting the visionary artistry and mind-blowing evolution of the maturing San Francisco sound - an epic musical wellspring that changed the course of rock and roll and gave birth to freeform FM radio). This is truly an embarrassment of riches.
"Love is The Song We Sing" is going down on my list as one of the best releases of 2007. The variety, quality, surprise and plain old fun to be found here are worth the price of admission alone. So on some clear and lazy afternoon when you're dying for some good soul-cleansing music slide these discs in and hit shuffle. You'll be treated a taste of just how high that high-water mark rose on the Pacific shore some 40 years ago.