Album Review: Various Artists — Los Nuggetz: ’60s Garage & Psych from Latin America

During the first four or five years of this new century, there existed online a thriving collector/trading community, dedicated to sharing and disseminating obscure, forgotten and occasionally never-known-about-in-the-first place music from the 1960s. Operating right on the edge of copyright law (well, on the wrong side of it, if truth be told), these collectors shared music you simply couldn’t find anywhere else.

If you’ve heard of Nuggets, you know what I’m talking about, sorta. But go a few degrees farther on the obscuro-meter, past Pebbles, past Back From the Grave. Now…keep going. Now you’re getting close. One example was an eleven-CD set that circulated among hardcore psych/garage fans and serious aficionados. That set was winnowed down to four CDs, proper licensing was done, and the results were released as the infinitely more commercial (but only in a relative sense) Rhino set Nuggets II: British Empire and Beyond, 1964-1969. It was really, really good, and remains an essential purchase for anyone whose tastes in 60s music extends far beyond The Beatles and Rolling Stones.

A couple of tracks on that 2001 set featured bands from Spanish-speaking countries. Previously unknown (in the USA, at least) bands like Os Mutantes (Brazil), We All Together (Peru) and Los Shakers (Uruguay) were featured, and their music was extremely appealing.

So perhaps that set’s success was part of what gave inspiration to an especially intrepid collector in Switzerland who went by the online pseudonym Sylvain. He put together what was initially a 6CD series called Psychodelicias, focusing on pop, beat, pop-sike, garage and psych of the late 60s (and sometimes early 70s) from those Latin American countries plus Spain and Portugal. The sets were designed with lovely artwork, and (according to the closest thing we have to official word on this unofficial, unlicensed set) only about 35 copies of each volume were produced.

As luck would have it (and this explains how I come to know all this) I have all six volumes, each hand-numbered by Sylvain himself (my copy of Volume One is #11 of 35). Moreover, I was involved in the “vining” of this set (with Sylvain’s consent and cooperation) to members of a Stateside collector/fanatic group, and the set was extremely well-received. These days the whole trading/collector scene has pretty much faded, owing to Bittorent sites and – one surmises with a tinge of sadness – the drying-up of the well of undiscovered material.

But wait! Those with an interest in all this – and you know you’re out there – who would prefer a legitimate release, one with detailed discographical and historical information, plus higher fidelity (as opposed to the nth-generation dubs of needle drops we pioneering collector/traders had to settle for)…well, you’re in luck. Rock Beat has put together an amazing set called Los Nuggetz: ’60s Garage & Psych from Latin America. Lovingly assembled from the best sources available, and packaged in a stunning hardcover book, Los Nuggetz is the real deal. 101 tracks across four discs (all music save a few must-hear nutty period-piece radio commercials and station identifications) explore this heretofore all-but-undocumented genre.

Now, before you go having any chauvinistic, Anglophone thoughts, let me point out something out for you. Yes, a goodly chunk of Los Nuggetz is given over to Spanish-language versions (and semi-versions) of the English-language pop hits of the day. And you might get a chuckle or two out of hearing “Bule Bule” by Los Shain’s, and comparing it to a certain similarly-named song by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. Or Los Salvajes‘ “Todo Negro,” a reading of a certain sitar-laden Rolling Stones tune. Or even “Yo Crei (Reach Out I’ll Be There)” by Los 4 Crickets. And you might look down your nose at these sometimes (technically speaking) inferior versions.

But it’s worth remembering that covering the hits of the day was a common approach for American acts of the era, as well. To wit, consider many of the tracks on Sundazed’s 2131 South Michigan Avenue. Yep, lots of Yardbirds, Kinks, Stones and Beatles covers there. That’s what the local markets wanted, and even more so in Spanish-speaking countries. So their local heroes (or neighbors!) would march into the local studio and lay down a cover or six, inevitably imbuing the tunes with some local or regional flavor. Sometimes they’d pen wholly new lyrics to fit the songs’ meter, and sometimes they’d attempt a sort of pidgin English. The results as collected on Los Nuggetz are quite enjoyable in their own right.

And there are plenty of original songs on the set too. Los Nuggetz is a little light on the psych side, possibly owing to the fact that many of the home countries of the featured acts were ruled by relatively authoritarian regimes not given to the excesses of songs about mind-altering drugs (much less the drugs themselves). But it certainly rocks and pops with the best of ’em.

But the overall quality (and surprising variation) among these tunes makes Los Nuggetz essential listening. The set’s packaging is on a par with Rhino’s Where the Action Is! and Love is the Song We Sing collections, and while Randal Wood‘s liner notes have the odd typo or two, the research itself is impressively solid and thoughtful. In fact, there’s really little or nothing that could have been done to better feature the music in this set. Los Nuggetz is even more well put together than Rock Beat’s last related compilation, Surf Age Nuggets. And that’s a high standard indeed. Even those lucky few who have that underground Psychodelicias set (now up to some ten volumes) won’t have more than a few of the tracks on Los Nuggetz. Get this.

Note: The cover artwork was changed a bit between distribution of the image above and actual production. But — other than what’s noted in the accompanying book —  the songs remain the same.

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