Finally, a comprehensive collection of the Nazz, the Philadelphia-based psychedelic rock outfit from the late ’60s, has seen the light of day. Sanctuary Records has released a 2-CD set entitled Open Our Eyes: The Anthology, comprised of the band’s three LP’s and a number previously unreleased on CD. All that for a price that’s reasonable, considering it’s a boxed set with flashy, detailed liner notes.
The Nazz’s first album, 1968’s Nazz, opens with their first US single, “Open my Eyes.” This song was revived on a couple of Rhino Records collections, as well as on the infamous late ’80s Nuggets compilations, which highlighted America’s unsung 1960s garage and psych outfits. The opener is a twisted musical play on the Who’s “I Can’t Explain.” Lead songwriter vocalist/guitarist Todd Rundgren considered himself a fan of the British sound at this time (Who wouldn’t be?) and reverently showcased his loyalty to it. It’s choppy, three-chord intro immediately explodes into an impressive guitar frenzy and grows even more interesting when the vocal harmonies, laden with flange effects, filter in. And the chorus is as flowery as their scarves in the liner note photos.
Like most American pop records at the time, the Nazz’s debut is too reliant on its overseas predecessors. In this album alone, one can spot ever-present blurbs of the Yardbirds (whose B-Side, “The Nazz are Blue,” is where the band nicked their name), the Move, Cream and the Who. These first-class Brit heroes are most easily spotted in the Nazz’s highlights “Wildwood Blues,” “When I Get My Plane,” “She’s Going Down” and “Crowded,” complete with soaring harmonies, fuzzy guitar and organ.
Quite honestly, the rest of the debut is clouded with the soon-to-be ’70s power ballads that Todd Rundgren would become famous for. And though the song order on the re-issue is not the same as it is on the original release, the production remains true to that of its often-muddled original sound, and the vocals are occasionally too loud in the mix. While this may work on Cream’s Disraeli Gears, it’s sometimes a bit intrusive on the Nazz’s debut.
The second album offers much improvement. Appropriately titled Nazz Nazz, the second LP, originally released in 1969, is consistently stronger than the first. “Forget All About It” flaunts interesting guitar flourishes and stop-start cymbal crashes right before a meandering bridge, and it seems the Nazz had by that point abandoned any traces of the Yardbirds to pursue their own sound. The production is notably more tasteful, allowing space for turbulent drums and louder Farfisa organ licks. British quirkiness creeps back in via lyrics and instrumentation in “Meridian Leeward,” an apparent ode to farm animals. “Under the Ice” and “Hang on Paul” are blasts of guitar and multi-layered harmonies, while “Letters Don’t Count” is an acoustic confessional with lyrics, like “you never knew me except for my name.” This number is fairly reminiscent of today’s indie-rock elite because of its refusal to follow a steady and structured melody.
The third album, Nazz III finds the band in scary 1970, shedding their edginess for warmer production and a sound oft found on AM radio. The most exciting work occurs on the band’s sophomore effort, Nazz Nazz. It strays far enough from their immediate influences but retains the important elements of their breakout garage anthem, “Open My Eyes.” The Open Our Eyes anthology is not for the ’60s enthusiast, but it’s great for the Nazz enthusiast. It’s a great-looking and inexpensive portrait of a band on their best and worst days.