The rare psychedelic-music compilation has become a genre of its own, flooding a niche market of record collectors and die-hards with so much unheard music to cause a collective headache. Nuggets is the obvious king of this category; it did for underground rock ‘n’ roll what Harry Smith and his Anthology of American Folk Music did for folk, country, and blues. Nuggets provided a panoramic view of regional rock that was blasting out of garages all across America. Although now considered a crucial document of music history, Nuggets, at the time of its creation, was too temporally close to its material to have much effect. Only recently has the album achieved the legendary status it deserves, and in the process it has laid down the foundation for thousands of imitators. Curatorial insight has gone out the window; collectors are now scrambling to put everything that was never released from the period out on record. Once in a while something truly amazing pops up, but most of the time, we’re left sifting through piles of duds.
The Psychedelic Salvage Company, one of the more well-known compilations in the wake of Nuggets, focuses on mainly British weirdo-psych from the early 1970s. Through two volumes, the organizers mapped out a fair representation of what was happening in underground music of the period. Bands were pulling in as many references as ever, as is evident on many of the tracks here: heavy-blues reminiscent of Cream, acid-folk, avant-jazz, and Indian music, to name a few. As the soundscape expanded (in a parallel movement with consciousness), so did the structure: Jams got longer, more complex, and further off the grid.
The problem is this: The widening of the musical spectrum within rock music, although accurate, now seems not as groundbreaking or even terribly interesting. Sam Gopal, one of the bands featured here with two tracks, “Back Door Man” and “Horse,” comes off as utterly conventional and derivative of blues-rock of the time, adding nothing new to the stew. The only reason the recordings are of any value now is because of the appearance of pre-Hawkwind and Motorhead Lemmy on vocals and guitar.
“Toke Joke,” a straight-from-the-acetate barn-burning solo from a mysterious artist named Oswald Slagge, is said to be inspired by Jimi Hendrix in the liner notes. “Inspired” is the key word here, and the most dishonest, as there is nothing separating this track from a lackluster recording of Jimi playing a half-assed solo. The worst here is the laughably overindulgent Roland Kovac Set, who manage to suck up almost a third of the running time of this double album with three long concept tracks: “Genesis,” “Birth of a Saint,” and “The Master Said (Parts 1 & 2).” These three tracks form a trifecta of the worst cliches in psychedelic music. I can’t even imagine somebody stoned off the hardest drugs sitting through this.
It’s not all boredom-inducing, though. As per usual with these compilations, one or two tracks stand out. Fisrt is “Agape,” by Narnia, a Christian-themed band that formed out a musical course on the Isle of Wright leading up to the first festival there in 1969. Pauline Filby, the singer, has a voice comparable to that of Ann Wilson of Heart. She’s obviously meant to be the showcase, but the band manages to outshine her here. The group — whose members went on to form After the Fire, a prog-rock band that managed to stay under the rader for much of its career in this country (although it did score a few minor hits in Europe) — manages to stay tight moving through the many different changes of the song, weaving church hymns and psychedelic flourishes (one and the same here) into the fabric of the song without ever losing its pop edge.
“Mascot,” a driving blues-rock number by Castle Farm is the hidden pop gem here, reminiscent of the best tracks from the more popular Guess Who or Deep Purple. After a short career supporting some of the biggest British rock acts of the period (including Black Sabbath and Soft Machine), the band dissolved and was never heard of again. This is the only recording of the group known to exist.
Is the whole thing worth it? If you’re a completest, you’ll be happy enough sifting through the dead weight because of its once obscurity. For everyone else, it would be nice to receive some kind of curated volume at some point. We could call it The Best of All These Damn Psych Comps. Because let’s face it: Even the best material here is buried and, clouded by imitators, will soon be forgotten. Right back where it started.