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Rhino Records four CD set highlights L.A. music and influences of the 60s, including The Doors, Bob Dylan, The Monkees and more

Posted By Karen Young On September 20, 2009 @ 11:23 pm In Arts & Culture,Featured,Music,spotlight | 2 Comments

tomwaldman90BY TOM WALDMAN

Los Angeles took several years to emerge as a prime center for rock and roll. During the 1950s and early 1960s, the city featured some performers of note, including Ricky Nelson and Eddie Cochran, as well as the Penguins, the black Doo Wop group whose song “Earth Angel” was among the first of its kind. The one rocker from the area who might have equaled the accomplishments of the great stars of the 50s’ – Pacoima’s Ritchie Valens – died in a plane crash in 1959 at the age of 17.

From 1960 to 1963, Southern California created, promoted, and packaged surf music, one of several sub-genres of American rock and roll and pop quashed by the arrival of the Beatles in 1964. But other than the Beach Boys – who due to Brian Wilson’s songwriting skills were soon regarded as not just another group of tanned guys with guitars – plus Jan and Dean and Dick Dale, surf music was essentially several performers that recorded a catchy song or two.

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No American city was as profoundly affected by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan circa 1964-65 as much as Los Angeles. Their collective influence – musical, cultural, and to some extent political – made LA home to the most creative, energetic, and diverse rock and roll scene this side of London between 1965 and 1970.

Deadheads, ex-Rolling Stone writers, and Summer of Love historians will argue on behalf of San Francisco — but they’re wrong. I would take the Byrds, the Doors, Love, Thee Midniters, Frank Zappa, the Buffalo Springfield, and “Pet Sounds” any day over the Dead, the Airplane, Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Service.

The splendid new collection from Rhino Records entitled “Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968” ($64.98) should establish the city’s supremacy in the minds of all but the most ardent of the “Garcia is God” crowd, not to mention the New Yorkers who maintain the Velvet Underground is vastly superior to any 50 LA-based groups.

You won’t have to delve far into this boxed set – four CDs, 101 songs, superbly- researched liner notes – to get the message. The second track on Disc 1, a demo the Byrds recorded in late 1964 called “You Movin,’” displays the self-assurance of a band that even as virtual nobodies knew precisely the sound they wanted. We hear not only the familiar soaring harmonies, which groups through history have emulated but never equaled, but a choppy guitar break from Roger McGuinn that anticipates his famous solo on “Eight Miles High.”

The other best-known LA bands of the era have one or in some cases two songs on “Where the Action Is” —  the Doors, the Monkees, Love, the Buffalo Springfield, the Turtles, the Association. Among the high points is an acid rock-like demo from Randy Newman and a never-before released version of the Buffalo Springfield’s “Sit Down I Think I Love You,” performed in a bluesy style on acoustic guitars by Stephen Stills and Richie Furay.

Among the low points, but perversely entertaining, is a 1967 song by Rick Nelson (he dropped “Ricky” as he matured) called “Marshmallow Skies,” which features the cheesiest sitar this side of a 1960s AIP film about hippies and drugs.

Of course, this set would not bear the Rhino stamp without including a slew of groups that probably die-hard rock collectors never knew existed. I defy anyone not affiliated with the label or related to the band members to name a song by the Moon, the Joint Effort, or Ken & The Fourth Dimension.

Yet many of the contributions of the heretofore “unknown” bands on the collection are good if not exceptional; definitive proof that the mid-to-late 1960s was an extraordinary period for rock in and around Los Angeles. Out of riots, smog, freeways, heat waves, drugs, and suburban angst came many great songs.

WHERE THE ACTION IS! LOS ANGELES NUGGETS 1965-1968, FOUR-CD SET, RHINO RECORDS $64.98

Tom Waldman is co-author of “Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock and Roll From Southern California”, which had its second printing in 2009, and author of “the Best Guide to American Politics, “We All Want to Change the World: Rock and Politics From Elvis to Eminem” and “Not Much Left: The Decline of Liberalism in America”. He currently serves as chief of staff to LAUSD Board Member Tamar Galatzan.

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