It wasn’t always a garage…sometimes it was a basement, a barn, a porch, or a backyard. Rock & Roll made kids want to play music, and they had to have someplace to practice.
Almost every band starts out as a “Garage Band”. Some make it big. Some have one hit. Most only play music for the fun of it…and maybe to dream a bit.
The peak of the Garage Band years came from 1963 to 1968. In 1963, “Louie Louie” (the three-chord #1 hit by The Kingsmen from Portland, Oregon) led the trend. Who couldn’t learn three chords? You could probably record it in your garage! The song was not sung clearly, and the recording wasn’t great, so there was a persistent rumor that the lyrics were “dirty”. Of course they weren’t, but that didn’t stop some radio stations from banning the song.
The British Invasion increased the desire of young people to play music. It’s estimated that nearly 200,000 local bands formed in the 1960’s.
Looking back, we can see what artists and songs might fit into the Garage Band label. Some of the bands had multiple hits, but most were one-hit-wonders who had a spark of creativity. The majority of Garage Rock songs sound like they could be performed with the classic lineup of guitars, bass, drums, and a keyboard.
In 1972, there was an album called Nuggets that gathered a lot of songs that fit the Garage Band feel. Some of the songs were national hits, but also included were some hard-to-find regional hits. I liked the concept, and made my own playlist (you’ll probably recognize most of the songs)…60’s Nuggets:
- Louie Louie…The Kingsmen (’63)
- Run Run Run…The Gestures (’64)
- Night Time…The Strangeloves (’65)
- She’s About A Mover…The Sir Douglas Quintet
- Wooly Bully…Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs
- Hang On Sloopy…The McCoys
- Keep On Dancing…The Gentrys
- I Want Candy…The Strangeloves
- Hanky Panky…Tommy James & The Shondells (’66)
- Dirty Water…The Standells
- Gloria…The Shadows of Knight
- Lies…The Knickerbockers
- Psychotic Reaction…Count Five
- Wild Thing…The Troggs
- Hey Little Girl…The Syndicate of Sound
- My Little Red Book…Love
- Time Won’t Let Me…The Outsiders
- 96 Tears…? & The Mysterions
- Mr. Moon…The Coachmen
- Harlem Shuffle…The Fabulous Flippers
- Jezebel…The Rumbles (’67)
- I Had Too Much To Dream…The Electric Prunes
- Pushin’ Too Hard…The Seeds
- Little Bit O’ Soul…The Music Explosion
- Talk Talk…The Music Machine
- Incense And Peppermints…Strawberry Alarm Clock
- We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet…The Blues Magoos
- Green Tambourine…The Lemon Pipers (’68)
- Journey To The Center Of The Mind…The Amboy Dukes
- Shapes Of Things To Come…Max Frost & The Troopers (Songs in chronological order by years…’63-’68)
The songs nearly every local band played are: “Louie Louie”, “Gloria” by The Shadows of Knight (by Them in the U.K.), “Hang On Sloopy” by The McCoys, and “Wild Thing” by The Troggs. Proving that “Wild Thing” was still a good starter song in the ’80’s, our young son chose to play it on his new electric guitar at a school talent show.
There are some great Psychedelic Rock songs that fit the list: “Psychotic Reaction” by Count Five, “I Had Too Much To Dream” by The Electric Prunes, “Incense & Peppermints” by Strawberry Alarm Clock, “Green Tambourine” by The Lemon Pipers and “Journey To The Center Of The Mind” by The Amboy Dukes. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers did a rocking live cover of “Psychotic Reaction”.
Some Garage Band songs showed signs of early Punk Rock: “My Little Red Book” by Love, “Hey Little Girl” by The Syndicate Of Sound, “Pushin’ Too Hard” by The Seeds, and “Talk Talk” by The Music Machine. Those last three all used a half-sung/half-spoken style for the lead vocals.
Since the Nuggets idea included some regional hits, I chose three from the area of my youth. “Mr. Moon”, by The Coachmen from Lincoln & Omaha, sounds a bit like “96 Tears”. It was a hit in the Midwest, and in various cities like San Francisco & Boston. “Harlem Shuffle” was a big regional hit for The Fabulous Flippers from Kansas, and “Jezebel” was a Midwestern hit for The Rumbles from Omaha. The Rumbles had excellent multi-part vocals. They could nail The Beach Boys’ intricate harmonies live on songs like “Sloop John B”…something out of reach for most local bands.
There are some mainstream hits on the playlist. “Lies” by The Knickerbockers is one of my favorites. “Dirty Water” is true Garage Rock by The Standells, and so is “Hanky Panky”, a #1 hit by Tommy James & The Shondells. “Time Won’t Let Me” hit #5 for The Outsiders,”Little Bit ‘O Soul made it to #2 for The Music Explosion, and “96 Tears” was a #1 hit for ? & The Mysterions.
The Byrds captured the Garage Band era with 1967’s “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star”:
So you want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star,
Then listen now, to what I say.
Just get an electric guitar,
Then take some time and learn how to play.
And when your hair’s combed right
And your pants too tight, it’s gonna be all right.
Then it’s time to go downtown
Where the agent man won’t let you down.
Sell your soul to the company
Who are waiting there to sell plastic ware.
And in a week or two if you make the charts
The girls will tear you apart.
What you paid for your riches and fame,
Was it all a strange game? You’re a little insane.
Play the game and the public acclaim,
Don’t forget what you are, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll star.
The Byrds knew how hard it actually was for bands, and that “making it” might not match a band’s dream.
Hopefully, all those Garage Bands enjoyed their time playing music. The ones that did have some success sure gave us a great playlist!