It seems like every other new release these days is a re-issue of some kind. At WFMU, re-issues compete at a rate that seems almost neck-and-neck with new releases by current bands, making the prospects of actually staying on top of things an essentially impossible task—a game left only to the truly lionhearted. And Brian Turner. There is both an upside and a downside to this, and like a lot of my radio pals at WFMU and elsewhere, I try not to wade too deeply into the waters of musical archaeology, at least when trying to assemble an engaging three hour freeform program. There's no denying that the glut of re-ups from quality labels like Soul Jazz, Norton, and Munster have opened a lot of people's ears to sounds they might never have heard otherwise, but reveling strictly in the legacies of bygone art scenes is a fast ticket to musical burnout, if not straight up Wavy-Gravy land.
"Hey man, is that late 2002 minimal techno?"
"Well then turn it up!"
Regardless of which direction your musical compass points, there are probably enough genre-specific re-issues out there to fill your hard drive several times over. As with new releases, some of them are great, others utterly forgettable, and still others (the majority, one might argue) have fleeting moments of brilliance but are more or less disposable. Nowhere is this phenomenon more immediately apparent that in the case of of 60s garage and psychedelic comps, where exalting utterly pedestrian Rolling Stones or 13th Floor Elevators-wannabes has been transformed into something of an art form. This wasn't always the case, however.
When I first started doing radio at WPRB in 1992, the station's record library was carved up via a ridiculously genre-fied filing system that grouped almost all left-of-center music made after 1980 together, with exceptions for select kingpins from past eras like Faust, Iggy, Wire, Velvet Underground, etc. Compilations were filed similarly, and I quickly discovered an auxiliary section of them that interested me just as much as titles like They Pelted Us with Rocks and Garbage (80s Cleveland noise), Wanna Buy a Bridge? (UK Post-Punk), or Dry Lungs (proto headache music) did. These were the 60s psych and garage comps, spearheaded by the wholly brilliant Back from the Grave series on Crypt Records.
The original eight volumes of Grave looked uniformly amazing to me, and were scrawled with exaggerated praises from DJs who'd long since fled the station's regular programming rotation. Feeling like I was on the cusp of something important, I decided to start at the very beginning and cued up the first song on Volume 1—a track called "We All Love Peanut Butter" by some apparent hoodlums calling themselves The One Way Street.
It wasn't the savage filth hinted at by the Grave series' attention-grabbing album artwork, but it was amateurish, funny, and sounded like it had been recorded in a bunker on a malfunctioning reel-to-reel deck—just like everything else I liked in 1992. Not surprisingly, I was hooked immediately.
That song was more than enough to fuel my jones for all eight volumes of Back from the Grave, most of which I eventually tracked down in the cutout bin at the local Record Hut. Back on the radio, my interest further blossomed at the behest of two other re-issues of older sounds, not on Crypt, but which seemed equally menacing in some way. The What a Way to Die collection from 1983, and the more acid-drenched Beyond the Calico Wall from 1990. Just as "We All Love Peanut Butter" became the flagbearer of the entire Grave series in my mind, these comps also vaulted certain songs to a kind of iconic status, and no selections from the countless 60s comps which have come and gone in the 20 years since have ever threatened their security at the top of the trash heap.
From What a Way to Die, it's "Leave Me Alone" by The Knaves—a song that deploys a musical middle finger with impressive deliberacy and panache. And from Beyond the Calico Wall, it's "Up in My Mind" by Spontaneous Generation, which I like to think of as a musical version of pork cracklings. (That is, it tosses your brain into a deep-fryer for a few hours, and then re-fries whatever particulate matter remains.) One can never be too certain, after all.
Here are all three songs, for your critical consideration. God bless these electric freaks.
The One Way Street - "We All Love Peanut Butter"
The Knaves - "Leave me Alone"
Spontaneous Generation - "Up In My Mind"