Before I heard the rather amazing Back From The Grave comps, my understanding of rock n’ roll from the 1960’s was very limited. I thought rock in the 60’s comprised of mainly two periods: syrup-y safe Beatles and British Invasion-type stuff in the mid 60’s and then wanky psychedelic hippie shit between 1967 and 1969. And I thought that was about it. I liked the cool guitar noise on The Stones’ “Satisfaction”, I dug the rawness of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and I thought Hendrix could noodle the guitar pretty well (although he meandered on and on sometimes). And I had always liked Question Mark and The Mysterians’ “96 Tears”. But I thought that was the extent of raw, somewhat in-your-face, good 60’s music.
I thought raw and desperate did not happen in rock until the 1977 punk explosion. I had no idea that hundreds, if not thousands, of obscure-o garage bands released total stompers back in the dark ages of the mid-60’s. [Yes, you guessed it- my next sentence here is “…But that all changed when I heard Back From The Grave comps”]. Man, there were some pissed off, scorned teens recording some splendid fuckedness back in 1966! By “splendid fuckedness” (a term coined I think by Mr. Richardson to describe the 70’s KBD sound) I mean raw guitars, desperate vocals, pounding drums and- ah!- crummy production. Basically a general disregard for “playing it safe” and being commercially viable. ALTHOUGH- and this makes Back From The Grave ditties even MORE charming- some of these musical trainwrecks were good ol “happy accidents” and me thinks not an intentional shunning of commercial potential. Like the band intended to make “a hit” and ape The Stones or some other popular group but instead the song committed to vinyl came out sounding just fucked and a record that no one would dare buy or, if they did, it was promptly thrown into the trash. (Which of course explains in some cases why some of these 60’s punk discs are so painfully rare. But I digress…). I mean, Back From The Grave is basically a collection of love songs. Yeah, some of the scorchers are “woman-you-did-me-wrong” ditties but look at some of the others with their sappy “I love you!” lyrics.
[To get on a slight tangent (my specialty), I am always fascinated by “happy accidents”, whether they involves 60’s punk, 70’s punk, UK DIY or whatever. Regarding some of these happy accidents on a Back From The Grave comp, here’s how I picture it going down back in 1966 with some of these bands. Band plays lots of teen dances and has a growing following. Band attracts interest of record label, probably a shady one. Band is excited and goes to said label’s run-down basement “studio” that had bad mics, a bad mixing board and cheap equipment to record their single. Band feels happy after the recording session and feels like they will have a can’t miss “hit” on their hands and be the next big thing. Band listens to recording session and can’t believe how fucked the production sounds and how distorted their guitars came out. Label releases raw single anyway. Radio stations and the general public totally ignore band’s single. Most copies are thrown into the trash and band is forgotten. Which is where a 60’s addict like Tim Warren finds them nearly 20 years later and puts them on his Back From The Grave comps.]
What is really funny to me is how some of the bands with the corniest hairdos or straight-laced appearances (suits and ties, anyone?) produced some of the rawest memorable ditties of all on these comps.
Sad to say, I did not hear my a Back From The Grave LP until 1996. I clearly remember becoming interested in hearing them after reading a great long feature on bootlegs in an issue of MRR from the Summer of ’91. In that article, they interviewed Mr. Kugelberg (before everyone knew he was the culprit) about releasing KBD Volumes 1-4. He said that his inspiration came from the (I quote) “fuck-all amazing Back From The Grave series”. I thought, jeez, if those 60’s comps inspired him to do his great KBD volumes then they’re probably worth checking out. But that still didn’t happen for another 5 years as I was neck-deep in obsessing over late 70’s/early 80’s Killed By Death-type stuff.
All eight Back From The Grave volumes have great stuff on em. But that’s not to say all songs on all volumes are top-notch. There are some clunkers and out of place songs- but that’s ANY comp, from the 60’s or 70’s or whatever time period. I am not a big fan of tambourines and especially not harmonicas, and there are enough mediocre songs with those flavors spread across the eight volumes to make me sigh and press the “Next” button on my iPod (the modern day equivalent of picking up the record needle and going to the next song, I suppose). But taken as a whole, Back From The Grave is an amazing series filled with a lot of wild stuff that was thankfully documented and preserved by the fanatical Tim Warren. And the “revenge” artwork on all eight volumes totally rules and is hilarious.
Hopefully people bored with bad music in 20 or 30 more years will stumble upon Back To The Graves and be awestruck too. When they’re all grown in 20 years, hopefully my two sons will ask me “Hey Dad, have you ever heard those Back From The Graves? Wow, great stuff!” But hopefully they won’t ask me until I first get a chance to put in my hearing aids so I can hear properly hear them, har har…
A lot of great songs stick out in my head as being the best cuts, but I have tried to narrow it down to a Top 10, Next 10 and Honorable Mentions. What are yours?
MY TOP 10 (ALPHA ORDER O
1. One of the most high energy BFTG songs, especially on what sounds like bongo drums. For me, the drumming on this tune is the 60’s equivalent of The Maids’ “Back To Bataan” from more than a decade later.
2. (Volume 3)
Amazing pounding and thundering drums- damn! One of the best drum solos ever, as funny as that may sound since drum solos usually involve groups like Rush.
3. (Volume 5)
Very tense and organ-driven. Good guitar solo too. Second best use of an organ ever, right next to “96 Tears”.
4. (Volume 5)
Totally primitive and out of tune slop- a genre-defining song, I think. If there was ever to be a dictionary entry for Back From The Grave, it should say “See Keggs,The”. This song MUST have been a “happy accident”- there is no way the band intended for it to sound this primitive when they went into the studio that morning with a hangover to record this classic.
5. (Volume 2)
This stomper of a cover song, with its amazingly LOUD and raw guitar snarl, completely blows away the wimpy original.
6. (Volume 7)
The production on this raw and fast tune totally throws the great pounding drumming and loud guitar snarl right in the front of the mix. Listen closely and you’ll hear a juice harp in the background- how eccentric and odd!
7. (Volume 2)
Some pretty sappy lyrics but some raw, fast manic guitar playing makes you forget about that. Also cool is that this came out not in the usual Back From The Grave year of 1966 but rather 1967 when hippie shit and wanky psychedelic music was everywhere and rock n’ roll like this had mostly disappeared.
8. (Volume 3)
Totally mean and nasty guitar crunch and punchy drumming makes for a jaw-dropping combination. No other Back From The Grave song has guitar noise that sounds quite like this, me thinks.
9. (Volume 7)
A slow, mean grinder that is as primitive as The Keggs’ “To Find Out”. Probably the biggest and best musical trainwreck on Back From The Grave. Just amazing. The first guitar of many, er, “solos” at the :45 second mark makes me cringe and grit my teeth- beautiful! These guys (and their gal pals) had a big-ass party in the studio with hilarious results. I laugh every time sometime in the background drunkenly yells “Raaandy, baaaaby!” near the beginning. For some reason, the singer sounds to me like he’s preaching so I picture him singing behind a pulpit with dark shades on while the band plays behind him in some hot, run-down church while their gal pals and other friends get wasted in the pews and throw bottles and hamburger wrappers all over the place.
10. (Volume 5)
A more melodic, “feel good” track and not really raw and snarling like a lot of Back From The Grave songs, but extremely catchy and hummable.
MY NEXT 10 (ALPHA ONLY)
Botumles Pit- 13 Stories High (Volume 4)
Fugitives- You Can’t Blame That On Me (Volume 3)
Golden Catalinas- Varsity Club Song (Volume 6)
Half-Pint & The Fifths- Orphan Boy (Volume 7)
Illusions- City of People (Volume 5)
Intruders- Ain’t Coming Back (Volume 3)
Murphy and The Mob- Born Loser (Volume 3)
Outspoken Blues- Not Right Now (Volume 8)
Sloths- Makin’ Love (Volume 4)
Worlocks- I Love You (Volume 7)
HONORABLE MENTIONS (ALPHA ONLY, AGAIN)
Benders- Can’t Tame Me (Volume 8)
Bunker Hill- The Girl Can’t Dance (Volume 4)
Canadian Rogues- Keep In Touch (Volume 2)
Dave Myers & The Disciples- C’Mon Love (Volume 8)
Elite U.F.O.- Now Who’s Good Enough (Volume 8)
Few- Escape (Volume 5)
Gentrys- Wild (Volume 7)
Little Willie and The Adolescents- Get Out of My Life (Volume 3)
Moguls- Another Day (Volume 7)
Nightriders- With Friends Like You, Who Needs Friends (Volume 8)
Spiders- Don’t Blow Your Mind (Volume 7)
Tombstones- I Want You (Volume 7)
Travel Agency- Jailbait (Volume 7)
Triumphs- Surfside Date (Volume 2)