As I’ve been writing up a few essays and thoughts for the blog, it has occurred to me that I do not post enough actual material on garage rock. This has always been a labor of love for ALL rock and roll, in all of its good forms, but at the heart, it’s always been about garage rock. So, to amend this great disparity, I would like to share the song that made me love garage rock in the first place.
More after the jump.
My first concert experience was seeing the Who in June of 2003. Like most people, I’m sure that dates me in the relative experience of how familiar a person should be with a band, let alone how much they should “understand” rock and roll. In the eyes of most people, I’m rather audacious to be wet behind the years and discussing the merits of the greatest live records of all time, or why Big Brother and the Holding Company’s first record should still matter despite the overwhelming emphasis modern radio places on Janis Joplin alone. Et cetera.
Still, I consider it a badge of honor for my first rock concert experience to be to see the Who, even when the band has slimmed down to being just Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend by the time, John Entwhistle having died the night before the tour was to begin. On this particular night, I enjoyed a mostly hits-show, with a hastly-but-lovingly put together tribute to John Entwhistle, and the opening act was Robert Plant. All of whom at this point in time were either the heroes of white-haired bikers, or their 14-year old grandsons who wanted to live like the 70s never ended. I was somewhere closer to that latter group.
When I was in a band, we were all a little more impressed with the giant, theatrical sound of Led Zeppelin, and this is something that I’ve grown to become a little embarrassed about, despite that classic rock, in the later part of the 2000s, somehow gained more importance and respect from it’s earlier perception. In discovering the earliest records of the Who, The Who Sings My Generation, and more importantly, The Who Sell Out, I wanted to go even deeper than just the lost forgotten non-hits of these bands. And despite what Lester Bangs might say (whose Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung is essential reading, regardless of opinion), or that even a lot of the online communities with their purists for what constitutes as ‘garage rock,’ as the best and only form of rock and roll, I do firmly believe that there is room for everybody on this list. But that’s an entire digression for another night.
Between Led Zeppelin and the neo-garage stuff coming out at the time, of whom, I felt only the White Stripes and the Hives mattered — I went deeper for that purist garage stuff I heard so much about. And out of all of it, the Back from the Grave series was the most essential, aside from Nuggets. Despite the purist stance that it took (y’know, going as far as to be glad that Jimi and Janis were dead, or so the cover art and liner notes suggest), it was the most open in terms of the community. It may have browbeaten psychedelia and hard rock, but let’s face it, there was room for what would later become stoner rock (“We All Love Peanut Butter” by the One Way Streets) or psych-pop (the Legends’ “I’ll Come Again”) and going a little bit beyond the barebones aesthetic it wished to stick to.
Still, there was one song in particular that had me right there, deep and in love with this music. The one song that made me say, ‘this is for me.’ That song is “That’s the Bag I’m In” by the Fabs.
It isn’t quite the ‘I don’t know what makes me love it so much’ feeling I first got, but just the fact that even from the comparison of other ‘outsider music’ on this very disc, this was the one who typified everything about it, yet still stood out in such a way that it became a force for me. It opens with a bass riff, and not a standard blues-rock progression, or a short Stones-y riff either. It gave me hope as a bass player, that’s for damn sure. But the punctuating guitar blasts in between the riffs during the rest of the intro? It just backs up and builds this masterpiece, only to let itself down with the most myopic lyrics about how shitty a day the lead is having.
“Every morning when I get up /
I burn my fingers on the coffee pot /
my toast is cold and my orange juice hot /
I could start over but I’d really rather not /
‘Cause it would only happen over again, well. . .”
Not very insightful. It’s just a shitty breakfast. Not that the second verse fares any better, trying to squeeze in not-too-cool-for-school-references like Chinese yen and the atomic bomb. And the third verse, same as the first.
But this is the one song that said that this is what rock is about: what the hell ever. It don’t matter. We all in a blues, baby, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put to a sickeningly simple guitar riff while we’re at it. And as goofy and misplaced as that atomic bomb reference is, it’s still cool to talk about A-Bombs. All because breakfast was shit. But that’s teenagers, am I right, kids?
Unfortunately, like most bands represented by the Crypt Records series, or any garage rock comp (with the exception of Nuggets), the Fabs did not go very far back when each city had its own top 10 record charts. But, thankfully, it’s why I’m glad that I did eventually land my hands on the Back to the Grave series, which even though the output has slowed down to a crawl, or to nothing at all, it’s still one of the best damn series you can get to catch up.
And even as new collections are released all the time — sometimes overlapping with stuff that’s already out, but still placed in a better informed collection or something — I always come back to “That’s the Bag I’m In” as the song to which all others must be judged. It walks that perfect fine line that garage has defined for itself: dumb, inept, yet mysterious, and loaded with teenage angst and sex. It comes from no where, talks about nothing, and leaves just as fast as it came.
What was the song that made you fall in love with garage rock? Psych rock? Classic rock? Sound off in the comments.