Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Garage Rock Battle of the Bands - The Seeds vs The Sonics

We're going to do things a tiny bit differently today. Shake it up a bit.

As many of you may know, in addition to our prides and joys, The Ripple Effect and Ripple Radio, we also run a site over at last.fm and a fun-filled, ball-of-fun group, From The Garage. Over at FTG, we celebrate all things garage rock, from the punky and scuzzy to the glammy and rocky. Most recently, in addition to our normal run of group discussions, we're in the final Round of our second annual Battle of the Bands. The finalists: The Cramps vs The Mummies in a heated battle, the winner of which will take on last year's champ, The Sonics.

In the spirit of that epic Battle, we're presenting a brief Battle of our own between two garage rock Giants. Sit on back at ringside, toss back your brew, place your bets and get ready to rumble.

And now folks, it’s time for our main event. Brought to you by The Ripple Effect and fully licensed in the state of California, tonight’s headline bout features a battle of the garage rock pioneers. In one corner, coming from L.A., featuring the heavy weight songwriting of Sky Saxon, we have the neo-psychedelic fuzz of The Seeds. In the other corner, from the rain-soaked garages of Tacoma, Washington, we got the five-piece underground legends, The Sonics. It’s time to bring these two Garage Heavyweights into the center of the ring, stand em up toe-to-toe and let ‘em have at it. Since production on all these early garage classics usually left a lot to be desired, it will be ignored for our fight tonight. Instead, our judges will rate the fight on a four point scale, giving one point each for: Creativity; Urgency, Musicianship, and Heaviness. May the best band win.

Stepping into the ring first is The Seeds and their classic 1966 release, The Seeds. Mixing a roughed up, raw garage appeal, a dash of early Stones and a flourish of trashy psychedelia, The Seeds may have been the prototypical Southern California underground band. A touch of punk energy infuses their fuzzed out pop, littered with some big washes of a clearly ragged, pre-Sgt. Pepper Beatles psychedelia. “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine,” sets the pace perfectly, Sky Saxon’s nasal voice wailing over a rudimentary beat and occasional guitar flourish. Songs like this and the album's hit, “Pushin’ Too Hard,” broke the band out of the pure LA underground and onto mainstream radio. But really it is songs like the amped up “No Escape,” with it’s menacing “Nowhere to run/ Nowhere to hide,” lyric, and the awesome fuzzed out organ tones of “Girl I Want You,” that reveals this albums unique appeal. Sky Saxon fashioned some intensely melodic songs, usually lined with a coat closet full of hooks. At times, the added psychedelic washes, like the feyness of “Try to Understand,” steal from the proto-punk urgency of the album. And you don’t have to look any farther than the frankly repetitive arrangements, primitive music skills, or the stolen riffs-- like the clearly swiped Buddy Holly guitar lines of “Evil Hoodoo,”-- to realize that the band had it’s limits. Still, it’s not mystery to see why bands like the Stooges and Alice Cooper all site The Seeds as a major influence.

Coming out of its corner next, and looking particularly pissed, we have The Sonics brandishing their 1965 fuzzed up, trashed up, beast of early raunch-and-roll, Here Are The Sonics. Gerry Roslie bears one of the world’s greatest underground vocals, belting it out with massive amounts of rough-throated, Little Richard-inspired soul and wailing screams. Behind him, we find a garage band raging at full fury, not afraid to drop guitar solos in amidst their proto-punk ravings or the soulful howling of a big saxophone. Original songs are few here, but back a vicious punch. Just check out the song titles, “The Witch,” “Psycho,” “Strychnine,” and “Boss Hoss.” This is hardly “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” stuff. These guys were clearly a bad influence, insidiously released upon the unsuspecting youth of the Northwest. And the music sounds like it. This isn’t pretty pop. This is full on, kick your nuts and stomp your face, prison pounding, juvenile delinquent rock. A constant driving rhythm section drives the big kicks of songs like “Boss Hoss,” right down your throat. Mix in some definitive versions of standards like “Have Love Will Travel,” “Dirty Robber,” and a performance of “Money,” that makes the Beatles version look like an outtake from American Idol, and you got serious reason to lock up your daughters and hide the keys. There’s a bad influence in town and there ain’t no way I want them spreading their seed in my house. Just give one listen to the roaring, menacing guitars, near-manic, screaming vocals, and relentless pounding of “Psycho,” and you’ll agree. This was punk long before anyone ever heard the word.

So, how do our judges call the match? For Creativity, the nod has to go to The Seeds. When The Sonics wanted to crush out an original, it was pretty fucking impressive, but with only 4 originals on the original version of the album, it hardly compares to the productivity of Sky Saxon’s 17 songs. True, not all Saxon’s songs were that original, recycling his own arrangements, but then, The Sonics were pretty simple themselves, straight-forward, 50’s soul-fired rock and roll. Edge; The Seeds.

For Urgency, there’s no dispute. The Sonics literally blow the doors off the garage with this beast. This was everything punk would become, minus the safety pins and Mohawks. Edge; The Sonics. As far as musicianship goes, we got another non-contest. Search hard for a drum fill on The Seeds album, really hard. You’ll find one, somewhere, but in the meantime, The Sonics will have pounded a battering of garbage cans down your throat, thrown in a couple of guitar solos and screamed like a wild man the whole time. Edge: The Sonics. And finally, I think the question of heaviness has already been answered. At times The Seeds can get a little dark and disquieting, like the nasty, tasty organ riff on “Girl I Want You,” but too much of the cutesiness of flower pop rears its head to make the album a plower. The Sonics, on the other hand, must have scared the shit out of every kid who’d mistakenly played their disc instead of Introducing Herman’s Hermits, or Sounds Like the Searchers. God bless em, the edge here goes to The Sonics

So as the ring announcer steps to the center of the ring, we get the final call of the judges’ tally. The Seeds put up a good fight, but in the end, The Sonics are still the undisputed champs.

This whole piece was written in the spirit of fun, with respect to both bands and musicians and a special nod of respect to the recently departed Sky Saxon. R.I.P. Sky. Thanks for all the great memories.

--Racer



2 comments:

Woody said...

Poor Sky Saxon had the bad luck to pass away the same day as Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett and got no media attention.

I have to agree with you and award the overall title to The Sonics. I always considered them the missing link between Link Wray and Motorhead.

tradtat said...

if you love the SONICS and THE SEEDS check out these fuzz freaks!!!--MECHANIQUE !! www.myspace.com/mechaniquemusic

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