Various Artists
Where the Action Is!
Los Angeles Nuggets 1965–1968


When Rhino sets out to excavate another ’60s scene to add to the already massive catalog of forgotten hits in their Nuggets series, one should never expect a survey. There’s nothing pedantic about these collections, nothing exhaustive. Instead the curators hope to encapsulate the essence of what it was like to congregate among, in the case of Where the Action Is!, the “freaks of the Sunset Strip,” and even if you are familiar with many of the bands found here, there’s a cultural significance to the earliest singles of the Byrds and the Doors being included with one-offs by the Velvet Illusions and Fapardokly. After scouring through the extensive liner notes and essays, pictures and posters of the era, it can be sensed that the Los Angeles scene that blossomed in 1965 was more a social revolution of youth than it was reactionary or protest. Of course, there was a distinctive evolution and eventual commodification of the Los Angeles sound (see the Monkees), but in the beginning, the sheer variety of the music and bands concentrated along the coast bred a healthy boom in the club scene along the Sunset Strip. That’s where this collection starts.

The first disc, titled “On the Strip,” captures that boom in its infancy, with heavy hitters like Love and Buffalo Springfield displaying the varying colors of the scene. On one hand LA was heavily influenced by the orchestral pop and day-glo baroque of swinging London. On the other, the Byrds were almost single-handedly responsible for indoctrinating folk and country into the psychedelic zeitgeist. Some comments here even surmise that the Byrds invented psychedelic. Around those established, and by now major label, artists emerged the first class of Southern California garage bands, many of whom, such as the Leaves, the Seeds, the Electric Prunes, the Music Machine (a personal favorite), have already been immortalized on the original Nuggets compilation. But digging further into the set, songs like “If You Want This Love” by the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and “Girl in Your Eye” by Spirit reveal that though they were indebted to the free love and pot smoke pouring down from San Francisco, in LA a stylized mysticism abound, as well as a lackadaisical beach culture and a knowing wink that the manufactured paradise of Hollywood was right down the street.

The set’s most exclusive disc achieves in documenting the bands “Beyond the City.” With names like the Yellow Payges and the Chymes, they may have been lesser in the eyes of the studios, but established their own cottage industry of radio wonders in LA’s surrounding neighborhoods removed from the bacchanalia of the Strip. Because of that separation, there’s a stronger stench of teenage innocence and experimentation in the grit of the Spats’ shimmy “She Done Moved” or the darker fuzz tones and added brass on the Others’ “Revenge.” By this time, groups were heavily employing organ players, string sections and background dancers, weaving a heightened sense of drama into the standard three minutes of psychedelic teenage rebellion.

Disc three, titled “The Studio Scene,” explores the renaissance and sophisticated evolution of the LA sound, highlighting the achievements of choice producers beyond Phil Spector and Terry Melcher, who were using the technology of the day to make the studio as much an instrument as the guitar. It’s here the music got a glossy sheen, and the suits at Columbia and A&M saw the potential of their stock bubblegum and the burgeoning counterculture of the thriving rock clubs. Sonically, a lot of the material was sickly sweet and indicative of the increasingly popularity of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album. With eight tracks now available to any “freak” with the right look, dense, and many time campy, tracks like “Little Girl Lost-and-Found” by the Garden Club and the aforementioned Monkees’ “Daily Nightly” were battling for the public’s attention. Meanwhile, though, there were visionaries, including Lee Hazlewood, Kim Fowley and Curt Boettcher, stretching the ’60s to their psychedelic pop extremes, right about the time the Beach Boys were recording Pet Sounds, from which an alternate, trippier take of “Heroes and Villains” is included here.

“New Directions,” the fourth and final disc, attempts to show the slow decline of the scene as the clubs started shutting down, the Monkees and the Brady Bunch became the face of the Southern California lifestyle, and everyone from Rick Nelson to Peter Fonda were aiming towards the dwindling freaks with psychedelic anomalies of their own. But in this dusk came a revived camp of singer-songwriters, from Van Dyke Parks to Nilsson and Newman, embracing the lessons learned at the psychedelic dawn and ushering in a new era where the lines of folk, country and studio experiments crossed. In cyclical fashion, the set ends at a time when the Byrds, again, with “Change Is Now,” were finishing up their doomed, but seminal The Notorious Byrd Brothers album. It’s a fitting conclusion to the giddy, colorful and tumultuous riot on the Strip, and if you take one thing away from the history learned, you’ll realize that, in retrospect, due to their influence and legacy, the Byrds were the greatest American band ever laid to wax. Like all of Rhino’s Nuggets collections, this is essential listening, but for some reason, perhaps the kaleidoscope of riches found within, this trip has been my favorite thus far.
Kevin J. Elliott