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Groundbreaking garage rock compilation 'Nuggets' turns 50

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

It's October 1972. You're in a record store because that's how you chose your own music back then, and you're browsing the newest stuff. Stevie Wonder and Elton John and Carole King all have new albums out - and Miles Davis and Al Green and Dolly Parton. That was a good year. But maybe you're feeling edgy.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ELECTRIC PRUNES SONG, "I HAD TOO MUCH TO DREAM (LAST NIGHT)")

RASCOE: Lenny Kaye to the rescue - Kaye was a record store clerk in New York City's West Village, a rock writer and a scout for Elektra Records. He had been with the label for a few months in 1972 when Jac Holzman, the boss, called him into his office with a proposition.

LENNY KAYE: Would you assemble a list of songs for me?

RASCOE: So Kaye created a list of about 60 psychedelic rock tracks he loved from off the beaten path. Holzman called them nuggets.

KAYE: Which would be those kind of songs that were rapidly vanishing under the radar or an album track that had been overlooked.

RASCOE: And the result was one of the most influential compilation albums of all time. It was called "Nuggets: Original Artyfacts" - that's arty, with a Y - "From The First Psychedelic Era." Its cover was an explosion of color appropriate for the tracks on the vinyl inside, created by musicians who were sometimes just teens in their parents' garages.

(SOUNDBITE OF NAZZ SONG, "OPEN MY EYES")

RASCOE: This is "Open My Eyes" by Nazz. It didn't chart when it was released, four years before it landed on "Nuggets." Todd Rundgren was 19 when he recorded it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OPEN MY EYES")

NAZZ: (Singing) Underneath your gaze I was found in the haze I'm wandering around in.

RASCOE: Lenny Kaye wanted to spotlight music like this and also to highlight the different sounds being created in different parts of the country.

KAYE: These local scenes coalesce and have their own personality. Los Angeles certainly had a higher level of technical quality. Bands out of the San Francisco area were starting to partake of psychedelics. You know, there were teen scenes throughout the Midwest.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH YEAH")

THE SHADOWS OF KNIGHT: (Singing) Whoa, yeah. Everything going to be all right this morning.

RASCOE: This one is "Oh Yeah" by The Shadows Of Knight out of Chicago.

KAYE: It was a moment. And I have to say, it was my moment because I was in a band in New Jersey in the mid-'60s called The Zoo where you felt an opening of definition. And that to me is the most interesting thing of music's evolution, when all of a sudden, you know, you don't know what's happening. And so everybody is taking chances. "Nuggets," really - it's all over the place. You have the orchestral rock of Sagittarius. You have the kind of proto-punkiness of The Seeds.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PUSHIN' TOO HARD")

THE SEEDS: (Singing) You're pushing too hard - pushing on me. You're pushing too hard - what you want me to be.

RASCOE: "Nuggets" was created from what was at the time rock's recent past. It also anticipated the future. Those garage rock sounds influenced the punk scene, something Lenny Kaye witnessed firsthand when he played alongside Patti Smith. Kaye always intended to make a follow-up. It's finally coming out next year. But he stresses that what he did and continues to do for psychedelic proto-punk rock is something you can do for the music you love and think others should love as well.

KAYE: That's what "Nuggets" is about - to keep records alive in this world. And maybe who knows who's going to listen to one and be inspired to carry on the tradition - to become that person that they admire and then become themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE GONNA MISS ME")

THE 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS: (Singing) Oh, yeah.

RASCOE: So start thinking about that playlist. Maybe we'll be talking about it 50 years from now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE GONNA MISS ME")

THE 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS: (Singing) You're going to wake up one morning as the sun greets the dawn. You're going to wake up one morning... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.