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Album review: 'Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968'

Rhino

Rhino's latest Nuggets set offers a comprehensive look at the mid-'60s music scene. Yes, the marquee names are here -- many performing rarities -- but so too are the long-forgotten acts.

The mid-'60s was a remarkably dynamic time in pop music, so it's no surprise that Rhino Records' latest edition of the Nuggets series, this one focusing on L.A., has a breathtaking range of recordings from the city's heavy hitters.

The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Doors, the Beach Boys, Randy Newman, the Mamas & the Papas, Arthur Lee & Love and, yes, the Monkees are all featured among the collection's 101 tracks, as are dozens of colorful acts that largely have been forgotten by just about everyone but the producers of this four-CD set, released last week.

It presents a comprehensive record of a period when the Brill Building pop of the early '60s was giving way to the British invasion, when folk had just become engaged to rock, when musicians who were experimenting with mind-altering substances started channeling those experiences into their music.

The tracks from the marquee acts included here tend toward rarities rather than greatest hits. But it's far more illuminating to hear the Byrds in an embryonic late-'64 recording of Gene Clark's "You Movin' " or the Turtles in '66 singing "Grim Reaper of Love" than to listen to "Mr. Tambourine Man" or "Happy Together" one more time.

The point of the set is to illustrate the musical dialogue in the region, which was fully in bloom at the time. There's plenty of marginal material and bands, but the collective effect of what it documents about Los Angeles' music history supersedes the varying merits of the individual songs.

The discs are thematically organized, with the first, "On the Strip," focusing on the bands that played the vibrant club scene of the Sunset Strip in Hollywood; the second, "Beyond the City," looks at acts that were chiming in from the Antelope Valley to Orange County and Riverside.

The third disc, "The Studio Scene," explores the rapid growth in recording techniques being pioneered by the Beatles and locally by Beach Boys' wunderkind Brian Wilson; the fourth disc, "New Directions," branches well beyond the prototypal rock that dominates the previous CDs into myriad possible musical futures.

In the first disc, the double-barreled influence of the Beatles and the Byrds on rock instrumentation is powerfully evident, at times making it sound as if every band in the land had been issued a Rickenbacker 12-string electric guitar as standard equipment. By '68, it seems half of those had been traded in for sitars.

At other times, you wonder if there was anyone in a band around here who didn't wind up as a somebody. The Rising Sons, who play the Gerry Goffin-Carole King song "Take a Giant Step" that the Monkees would later record, included Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. Cooder was also part of the Captain Beefheart's Magic Band lineup, represented here with the throttle-stomping "Zig Zag Wanderer," a song built on a surf-rock foundation that also shows up in the Peanut Butter Conspiracy's "Eventually."

At a record release event last week at Amoeba Music in Hollywood, Andrew Sandoval, who produced "Where the Action Is!" with Alec Palao and Cheryl Pawelski, said: "We got about 97% of our wish list. There were just a few things we wanted, like Johnny Rivers and the 5th Dimension, where we couldn't work out the terms."

The "Nuggets" box is laid out in an exceptionally user-friendly book-like design, with Rhino's usual comprehensive annotation: recording dates, studios and musicians for each track, along with a thumbnail profile of each act.

The 50-page booklet also is rich with details about the clubs that figured prominently, from such still-active stalwarts as the Troubadour and the Whisky a Go Go to the long-vanished likes of London Fog (the Doors were the house band) and the Hullabaloo/Kaleidoscope.

As Simon & Garfunkel, a decidedly non-L.A. duo, sang around the time this set draws to a close, "Time it was, oh what a time it was."

--Randy Lewis
 
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Omitted from this article is the sad coda that within days of this set's release, Rhino Records announced the layoffs of three to four dozen employees, including those involved in assembling this package. It's a sad irony that having, as an independent company, virtually created the product and the market for high-quality reissue compilations resurrecting and preserving forgotten artists, Rhino as a corporate division is now burying it, probably forever. This was a record label; we shall not see its like again.


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