Before I had set my hands on the Northwest Battle of the Bands series (Volume 3 being reviewed here), of the bands compiled here I had only heard of the Sonics (one of my all-time favorite bands) and Don and the Goodtimes (and I have one of their later more poppy albums). Truth be told, I had a small inkling that both these bands came from an explosive scene of garage rock bands, but for all I knew most of these bands hadn't recorded; far from the truth was I - once I heard these series of compilations, I not only was re-educated on the Northwest USA garage rock scene of the 60s, I also had a bevy of killer garage rock bands to delve into.
Northwest Battle of the Bands, Vol. 3 is not just a simple document of some pedestrian garage rock - this is yet another instance of digging into the vaults (in this case that of Jerden Records and its subsidiaries) and pulling out some mighty fine slabs of the devil's music. 30 tracks in all and 11 of these songs were previously unreleased demos and rehearsal tapes (some of which are the reason to pick this volume up). If you know the Sonics than you already have a good start on how this compilation sounds. If you know the other two volumes in this series, than it's good to know that this continues the scouring of the vaults by including the singles and their b- sides - which often the respective flipsides were included in the earlier sets.
Favorites of mine include the set starting pounder Flash & Crash by Rocky & the Riddlers, the Sonics-inspired (on speed) No Name by the Raymarks (which was previously unissued), and I'm Real by Don & The Goodtimes (with a riff reminiscent of something the Headcoats might have used in the 90s). Sweet harmonica meet the Zombies on I Want Your Love by the Accents and the riffs (and snare drum!) are pounding while the background vocals howl on Ski Bum by the Moguls. This'll make you want to hit the slopes this winter for sure. Penny would be proud of the Dimensions when they sing about her years before bubblegummers thought to sing such sweet nothings to girls with names like Penny. Who knows why Hunose by the Live Five was not a hit, an interesting harpsichord coupled with an addicting riff send this one reeling.
The Sonics make their first appearance on this volume on an early take of Maintaining My Cool - this one must've made the dancers sweat on the dancefloor - killer track by this band. The Heirs bring a sweet Yardbirds rhythm and catchy chorus on Do You Want Me - a swift one with farfisa solo that can't be beat. One of the raunchiest riffs I have ever heard meets a sweet harmonica solo and a typerwriter...? Or is that a bell? well anyways Take a Look at Me by Mr Lucky & the Gamblers is a killer and sort of mysterious in its production. I love when songs do the extra long pause before kicking back in too and Take a Look at Me does that too.
Just Can't Go To Sleep originally done by the Kinks is actually done 10 times better by the Bandits. One of the Kinks sweeter moments translates well to the Northwest ballad stylings of the Bandits. If you want to hear a precursor to the Modern Lovers, check out Go Go Time by Tom Thumb and the Casuals, I swear the lead vocalist sounds just like Jonathan Richman. Especially note the wacky voice over at the conclusion where he says 'Everybody's going down to Go Go discoteque coffee houses, adults, they drink coffee and listen to 45 RPM records - it's a gas!'
Look Around by the Other Two is an interesting side project by members of the Kingsmen (of Louie, Louie fame) in a Zombies- influenced or folk rock more melodic mode. The Beachcombers bring us a faithfully rocking version of Farmer John - it's hard to outdo the version by the Premiers but they sure try. Next up is reason number one to own this disc - a completely brilliant version of Bo Diddley performed by the Juveniles which reminds me of Bobby Jameson ripping into this same riff (which he renamed, topically, Vietnam instead of about the writers namesake, as the Juveniles leave it). This rips apart any other garage version of this song I have ever heard.
Nice change of pace seguing into the next track, a lighter number by The Tempests called Our Loving Way, with a buzzing Rolling Stones inspired guitar sound. Members of the New Yorkers eventually went onto huge fame in the 70s as the Hudson Brothers (and one of them is the father of Kate Hudson) but here they are cutting their chops on a Beatlesque wimpfest that is still endearing enough. Rocky & His Friends have a fratrock thing going on You're Not Wrong - Rocky & His Friends also have a tune called Riot City, an instrumental, which another garage rock compilation gets its name from - this is the flipside. They also were known as Rocky and The Riddlers (track 1 on this compilation). If you want to hear a band that sounds something like the early Doors check out I'll Be There by the Page Boys.
A lesser known (its got some interesting changes) Sonics tune follows - Lost Love was the B-side to the last single they released (a cover of Frank Zappa's Any Way The Wind Blows) before lineup changes completely changed their sound. Incubatin' Middle of the Night Gyratin' Blues by the Bag is a fascinating combination of the Beatle's Love Me Do (the harmonica part played out of tune!) mixed with a desperate folk rock rant-melody a la Bob Dylan which makes for very interesting listening. Train Kept a Rollin' by the Brave New World is reason number two to own this compilation, a killer cover of this tune (best known by the Yardbirds or later by Aerosmith) which was only recorded as a demo but contains some nasty guitar sounds which reminds me of Blue Cheer, the Litter or Jimi Hendrix. An incredible find from within the vaults. Little John and the Monks bring us a rough but cool version of Too Many People (also done by the Leaves on the Hey Joe album).
All in all, I would say the Northwest Battle of the Bands series of compilations is definitely in the top tier of garage rock compilations. The Big Beat label has always been known for their incredible sound, the Northwest Battle of the Bands is no exception and that's no small feat with garage rock. I think this compilation is well worth checking out, especially for anyone with an interest in garage rock, the Northwest music scene, or bands like the Sonics.