Listening to the new Sonics Busy Body Live in Tacoma 1964 LP on Norton Records serves as a reminder that the band was easily one of the best Northwest bands of all time. The Sonics were still young and hadn’t quite broken out of the Wailers mold (especially on side A, which is mostly instrumental cover songs), but you can still sense the greatness that was about to happen. As far as original garage rock goes, the Sonics were one of the loudest, hardest-driving, and coolest punk bands in the land. Really, 40 years later, bands are still unsuccessfully trying to outdo the Sonics. As part of Norton’s brilliant Northwest garage rock series, the live LP--along with the Here Are the Sonics, Boom, and to a lesser extent, the Savage Young Sonics--are must-haves for thee garage rock sect.
It’s also common knowledge that great tribute records are hard as hell to pull off. Nonetheless, Bellingham’s Estrus Records and Conrad Uno’s Seattle-based, Popllama Records put in a valiant effort with the 1989 Here Ain’t the Sonics LP. The Northwest garage rock scene was pretty small at the time, so the labels searched across the US and World (well, at least, England and Sweden) and picked out some of the heavyweights. Unfortunately, the record is only so-so. While we are sure that nobody involved expected to accomplish the impossible and one-up the Sonics, we do wish that some of the bands tore it up a bit more.
The record starts off well enough with Sweden’s original garage punk rock revivalists, the Nomads, who were still a few years away from kick-starting the 90’s Swedish Punk and Roll scene with bands like the Hellacopters and Gluecifer. (The Nomads, who have impeccable taste in their cover songs, have also done the Sonics songs “Boss Hoss,” “He’s Waiting,” and “Psycho” on various other recordings.) Tacoma’s pride and joy Girl Trouble do a respectable version of “The Hustler,” but in my professional opinion, they don’t quite own the song like they do with their Elvis covers. The Mono Men also performed better Sonics covers in the later Mort-era of their career; their versions of “Boss Hoss” and “He’s Waiting” on numerous other records are looser, louder, and more in the Sonics spirit than this version of “The Witch.”
Brother JT’s phenomenal former band, The Original Sins, do a fairly good job with “Like No Other Man,” which then begs the question why this band wasn’t appreciated more. If there is ever a 90’s garage rock record that demands to be heard, it’s their Bedlam records release Turn You On, which you can finally now buy on CD here. (Ripping off the Mummies or Supercharger is old news, kids; try writing a song as good as “Just 14” or “O Misery” instead.) Brother JT also continues to make great records to this day.
Screaming Trees then take one of the punkest Sonics songs and somehow make it sound like a bummer. Obviously, Mark Lanegan wasn’t known as a screamer, but you shouldn’t cover “Psycho” unless you are willing to rip your throat out. Bellingham’s Game for Vultures featured Mort fresh out of the Dehumanizers, and Oregon’s long-running Surf Trio do a version of “Strychnine” that is missing some of the menacing quality of the Cramps’ earlier cover version.
Side two begins with Billy Childish’s legendary band Thee Headcoats, who released records on more Northwest labels than most Northwestern bands; besides this record, the band released records on Regal Select, Sub Pop, Estrus, Super Electro, and K Records, and amazingly, they are all great. Pittsburgh’s The Cynics, whose members split their time in band with running the very cool Get Hip Records, were also one first and longest running American garage rock revival bands. The Young Fresh Fellows, of course, deserve their own post someday, and this song features Kurt Bloch on shredding lead guitar.
It’s a mystery whether Pippi Eats Cherries were a one-off or a real band, but this band-featured ex-Gun Club and Pontiac Brother Ward Dotson before he formed the much better and sorely underrated Liquor Giants. (The Liquor Giants’ “Play Along” 45 on Seattle’s Lucky Records is a lost power pop gem.) The still-sounding-great Fall-Outs provide another album highlight and were able to make the song sound like their own. Marshmallow Overcoat proves that Black Sun Ensemble weren’t the only psychedelic band in Tucson in the mid-1980’s; they’re still around playing shows.
Former U-Man and part-time Drills drummer (uncovered here first, bubba!) Tom Price leads the Kings of Rock through “Boss Hoss.” (The band also covered “The Witch” on an early In the Red single.) The album then ends with San Diego’s Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, whose claim to fame in the 1980 was celebrity parody songs. A track by the Nights and Days, the Night Kings, or whatever Rob Vasquez was doing at the time would have been cooler and more fitting, but hey, the label has got to make some money someway.
This record was also not the only local Sonics tribute. In 2000, the Experience Music Project hosted a concert by the New Strychnines, which featured Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, Steve Turner, and Dan Peters; the aforementioned Tom Price; Girl Trouble’s Big Kahuna; Young Fresh Fellow and Minus 5 head-honcho Scott McCaughey; and Craig Florey. They later changed their name to the New Original Sonic Sound and recorded a CD for Munster Records.
Cinderella - Nomads
The Hustler - Girl Trouble
The Witch - Mono Men
Love No Other Man - The Original Sins
Psycho - Screaming Trees
He's Waiting - Game for Vultures
Strychnine - Surf Trio
You've Got Your Head on Backwards - Thee Headcoats
Shot Down - The Cynics
High Time - Young Fresh Fellows
Dirty Old Man - Pippi Eats Cherries
Going Home - Fallouts
Maintaining My Cool - Marshmallow Overcoat
Boss Hoss - Kings of Rock
Have Love Will Travel - Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper
Get them all through the zip file here.
-- MC Tom