The Sonics – Here Are The Sonics!!! (’64) and Boom (’66)
Two things I’ve been wanting to do are occasionally review records from way back when and do complete artist discography overviews—though the latter is longer and more time-consuming, as I spend quality time with albums I already like, hammering out just how I’d grade them. In the meantime, you might expect to see pieces like this—a random smattering of old albums I have something to say about. First up are The Sonics, a glorified bar band I first encountered while spending time at a record store I quite like. Smirking to myself as cover after cover I recognized streamed out the speakers, I went home, Googled ’em, fell in love—with their first album, anyway. After Boom I didn’t bother to check out anything else—the remainder of their catalog is mostly comps—and that’s why this is a review and not a survey of their output.
THE SONICS – Here Are The Sonics!!! (Etiquette Records/Norton ‘64): So immortal is their cover of “Have Love, Will Travel” that many of their originals sound similar—note the manic underlying riffs of “Psycho” in particular or the one where they ingest pesticide for kicks. And while most other covers work (proto-punk rendition of The Contours’ “Do You Love Me” or the only other worthy version of Barrett Strong’s “Money” I know), not everything is primo: “Roll Over Beethoven” is too tame to be any sort of alternative to Berry’s original, CCR outdoes them (albeit years later) on Charles’s “Night Time is the Right Time,” “Dirty Robber” is a practical throwaway, and while “Good Golly Miss Molly” is no dud, it doesn’t even have the edge over Mitch Ryder when Little Richard isn’t lying around. The bonus cuts? Forget ‘em; save for the hyperspeed “Keep A Knockin,’” we get two tacked-on Christmas tracks and the schlock-tacular “Village Idiot.” Seems like a lot of complaining for such a classic and celebrated album I happen to enjoy immensely—but that’s to dispel the mythos garage rockers attribute to the genre’s genesis; the rough, uneven, spontaneous aura that’s become so popular amongst revivalists wasn’t so much a conscious aesthetic choice on frontman Gerry Roslie’s part than a product of being rushed into the studio by Kearney Barton to capitalize on a few singles that had found an increasing audience in the northwestern US. What makes Here Are The Sonics!!! great isn’t the lo-fi recording apparatus, but its raw, energetic, irreverent performances that, as Lester Bang once observed, made punk rock the great triumph it was: that anybody could do it. And these guys were doing it, so why can’t you? A
THE SONICS – Boom (Etiquette Records ’66): Thirteen cuts not including reissue bonus tracks; five originals and eight covers. Hard to blame them for repeating themselves, but the results just aren’t as good. Opener “Cinderella” is killer, as is “He’s Waitin,’” and “Shot Down” recalls the spirit (especially the drums) of their first time out. And that does it for originals. Covers are a mixed bag, too: “Jenny, Jenny” was already frenzied so they only keep pace. “Hitch Hike” is fun and an unlikely choice. And though it seems that covering Richard Berry’s “Louie, Louie” would’ve been a natural extension given their success with “Have Love, Will Travel,” they missed their chance to change history by copying The Kingsmen’s definitive 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3-rhythm version cut the year prior. Everything else—get this—sounds dated. So yeah, while not everything on their debut has withstood the test of time, it doesn’t sound like a disposable and unsurprisingly forgotten footnote of music, which Boom definitely does. B PLUS