Odd pop

They’re guys with guitars, organs, and drums, and they’re playing in a mid-1960s combo style. On paper, they’re garage bands. But it’s still easier to categorize these three groups by what they aren’t. They aren’t really the typical clanging noisemakers revered by fans of ’60s garage bands, for instance. No Mick Jagger-style posturing, or pounding drums, or fuzztone distortion, or wild R&B-inspired guitar breaks. This week’s selections work instead with drones, detuned chords, and unique song structures, succeeding finally with something that’s my favorite kind of experimental. The inadvertent kind.

1. The Beach-Niks, Last Night I Cried (Sea-Mist)
These Iowa teens evoke an eerie drama that ’80s UK neo-psychedelic groups like the Spacemen 3 worked hard to resurrect some twenty years later. There are no solos here. Just booming tremolo guitar, bass, tambourine, and the taped-down keys of a Farfisa compact organ. Basically everything you could possibly ask of an existential meltdown.

The Beach-Niks were inducted in the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 2000. They recorded “Last Night I Cried” circa 1965. They had silver hair. Again, they were from Iowa. Close your eyes and imagine that, Andy Warhol.

2. The Early Rock, Sunshine Sorrow (A Shakey Production)
Pop music had officially gone psychedelic by 1967. It doesn’t seem like the Early Rock set out to be psychedelic, but they wound up sounding that way. Their vision traded drums for tambourine, and embraced bright harmonies and a muffled guitar sound, all of which comes through in some fantastically harmonic drones.

An entity unknown to me, the Early Rock recorded this in California in 1967 or 1968, I’d say.

3. The Young Tigers, I Have Nothing (Foto-Fi)
Recorded in Los Angeles, circa 1964, this unique gem is also the earliest of this week’s batch.

With their squeaky clean harmonies, the Young Tigers teeter dangerously on a that fence that divides ’60s pop from white doo-wop. But “I Have Nothing” is easily redeemed by memorable patterns of chiming guitar notes and lyrics that reach for breathtaking levels of despondency.

** Big thanks this week to Steve Wynn, who recently mentioned Office Naps in his tour diary. Wynn is one of my guitar idols (during my brief years as a rock ‘n’ roller, which some say never happened). His early Dream Syndicate recordings especially are a highlight of post-Velvet Underground rock ‘n’ roll. **

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6 Responses to Odd pop

  1. Blanca says:

    Is it fair to call these achingly, gut wrenching pop melodies the precursor to emo? (And I mean that in the best sense possible.)

  2. These guys are pretty emo alright, Blanca. All 3 songs mention crying in them, in fact – I just checked.

    I think the bereft teenager was making light of his condition well before the 1960’s, though; I’m thinking of all the woebegone teen pop of the 50’s, specifically.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The poster boy for me of woe-is-me pop is Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” I’m pretty sure I went to bed crying to this at some point in my teenybopper days because So-and-So passed me by in the hall holding some other girl’s hand.

  4. D. says:

    A SHAKEY Production? Could this have Neil Young’s hand on it? Naaaah… probably just a coincidence. I think it’s well before he haunted Santa Cruz…

    I love the writing and *all* yer scratchy 45s!

  5. Thanks for your kind words Dan! It would have been a beautiful convergence if Neil Young and the Early Rock were conspirators, but, you’re right, probably just a coincidence.

    Don’t when Neil Young became “Shakey” (“Shaky”?), for that matter.

  6. Hans says:

    My cousin, Kynn McCafferty, was in the band, The Young Tigers – I believe he played bass and sang some of the back up vocals. Anyway it was fun being at their home when Dwayne Eddie or Dick Dale (can't remember) was there, and my mom says some of the Beach Boys were there one night when we were there – checking out the band. I was only 14. We lived less than 8 miles from The Beach Boys at the time, so it would be likely they were scouting for bands to sponsor. The Young Tigers only had the one single out (I believe).

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