Monday, August 3, 2015

The Top Three Greatest North American Garage Singles Ever Are...

You know the story by now. If not, it goes something like this. Back in October of 2014, On The Flip-Side innocently undertook a region by region Battle of the Garage Band singles. At that moment we failed to understand the scope of our endeavor.

Twelve regions in all. Generally 10 singles per region (more in So Cal, less in Canada). That means that roughly 120 singles got a digital spin on the turntable. Then each region winner went head to head with another region winner. A panel of 7 judges - from the Rockies to the PNW, to So Cal to NorCal to the South - each weighed in on the final 12 singles as they went into a bracket system against each other. The final votes have been tallied by On The Flip-Side's San Francisco accounting office and we can now announce the Top Three Podium winners of the North American Battle of the Garage Bands.

Coming in at No. 1 is The Chocolate Watchband's swan song of a single, Are You Gonna Be There on the A-side and No Way Out on the Flip-Side. The single was released in October of 1967 on the Tower Records label. The Chocolate Watchband represented the Northern California Region in the battle on their way to the Gold Medal.

Coming in at the number 2 spot is the winner of the hard fought Texas region, The 13th Floor Elevators. Their debut single, recorded in '65 and released in '66 for IA Records, of You're Gonna Miss Me on the A-side and Tried To Hide on the Flip-side was a very close 2nd. A slightly stronger flip probably would have put them at the number one spot overall. But the Silver Medal is not so shabby folks. 

And taking the bronze medal is the most controversial of them all. Some thought they shouldn't be considered in America since they recorded in the UK. Others thought they shouldn't be considered garage because they sounded so different. Others still thought that the record shouldn't be considered at all since it wasn't released until three years after the band broke up. But we hold the keys to the car, so we get to drive it as we see fit. The Misunderstood, from Riverside, California beat out Love and the Music Machine and The Grains of Sand to lay claim to the crown of what we consider the most competitive region, Southern California. Their 1966 recording (released in '69) for the UK version of Fontana Records is a mind blower. Children Of The Sun on one side and I Unseen on the Flip-Side. 

It's been fun. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Finals of the Battle of the Garage Bands

So here we are. After 10 months of 12 regional battle of the garage bands, we are down to only three singles. These three singles bested nine other kick-booty singles to become the 7" regional champions. Then they went head to head with the other regional winners in two rounds of cut-throat bracketeering (not a real word) to stand here on the stage with a little tiara precariously perched high atop their spindle hole. The image you see above shows their progression through these final rounds. They are listed in this final round in random order, not final order. That will happen today. At the bottom of this post are images which show the top five of their respective bracket.

When we started this bracket process back in October of 2014 we had very little understanding of how long this would take and how it would reform our understanding of these records. When scrutinized closely, when compared competitively next to another record from the same region, some records were, to be blunt, not as great as we may have once thought they were. Some had one wonderful side, but fell flat on the other side. Some are great rockers, but really didn't elevate to another level like their competition did. Some had youthful exuberance but didn't go much beyond that. And some records elevated to levels much higher than we had expected. Take, for example, The Bad Roads out of Louisiana. The South was a very competitive and unique region and The Bad Roads had to beat out records from We The People and The Tasmanians and Dr. Specs Optical Illusions. But when they were put head to head with these bands, and one really considered both sides of the record, it was very clear that their tiny production run of a record was the best of the region. In fact, one of the best of the whole genre.

And then we had the regions. In the image below you can see how the regions were mapped out. With two notable exceptions. California was split into two because of the wealth of music coming out of that state. We couldn't show that on our map. And, secondly, Canada, and that country's winner, The Ugly Ducklings, is not shown on the map. Sorry.
As we did this we really got a feel for how the different regions had different sounds and differing levels of intensity. The Pacific Northwest was very unique. In the early 60s, when rock-n-roll was being polished to a point that it no longer resembled rock-n-roll, The PNW held on to the pounding, keyboard heavy tradition started by Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. Screaming vocals from The Sonics, youthful exuberance from The Talsimen and, of course, the template set by The Kingsmen. As a result, when The Beatles came, The PNW bands had already established a sound and they held on to that uniqueness. Texas is legendary. Everyone knows that. But when stacking the records up it was evident that the bands in Texas were having an identity crisis. With a few notable exceptions, such as The Stoics, most bands had one killer side and one very lame side. Making for half a great record. The Great Lakes region put out a ton of great records thanks in large part to two labels, Dunwich and Fenton. The Rocky Mountain Region was definitely behind the others when it came to putting out great records. Denver and Phoenix had a few, but the lightly populated time zone didn't quite stack up. As a result, they were our only region with less than 10 entrants. Southern California on the other hand had something like 16 entrants. And we could have done more. Los Angeles, we would argue, was clearly the most prolific area in the United States between '64 and '67, the key garage years. Northern California was clearly a San Jose scene. The top records from the top part of the state seem to have all come out of that fine town.

So now we have three records. 21 inches of love to give you. Flip-sides and A-sides. We will spin all six sides of the three records and we will ask our hard working, celebrity judges to weigh in and rank each record from one through three. Then our San Francisco accounting office will secretly tally the results and we will crown, in order, the top three garage records ever.

Will it be The Misunderstood? The Southern California band that had to travel to the UK (and add a Brit member) to finally record a few of their own songs? Will they be able to take their 1966 recording of Children Of The Sun/I Unseen and bring it back to the US as the champ? A record that wouldn't even get released in the US! A record that only got released in the UK three years after they had recorded the numbers. A long, convoluted trip to the top three, no doubt.

Will it be The 13th Floor Elevators? The band whose recording of I Had To Tell You was in fact the inspiration for creating this fine blog some eight years ago. Will the Texas sized champions be able to take their unique little release for IA Records of You're Gonna Miss Me/Tried To Hide and put Texas at the top spot? The band that helped define the psychedelic movement and influenced countless acts from Janis Joplin to The Grateful Dead.

Will it be The Chocolate Watchband. A real band out of San Jose who was taken under the gossamer wing of producer and writer Ed Cobb to rise to new but obscure heights. A band whose name would routinely be used by others for projects that had little to nothing to do with them. Will it be their swan song of a single, released on the legendary LA label, Tower Records, in 1967, that takes the top spot? Are the two songs of bleakness and doom, Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love In) and the flip-side, No Way Out the number one record of all garage times?

Regardless, these three records are firmly ensconced now on Mount Garagemore. Even if you are not one of our celebrity judges, please take this moment to chime in below to let us know what you think. After all, the idea of the blog, started some eight years ago, was to build a community around the obscure music we love so much.

Thank you. The Flip-Side!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Round 2 of the Battle of the Garage Bands Bracket: The Chocolate Watchband v The Ugly Ducklings

Round 8 is in the books. The representatives from Texas, The 13th Floor Elevators, bested the kings of the Pacific Northwest, The Sonics. It was hard for all of us to send a band like The Sonics packing, but that is the nature of the competition, isn't it?

Today one more band will be voted off the turntable while another gets a patch on their shoulder and matriculates to the finals, which we call the Thrilling Three. So without further hesitation...

On turntable 1 we have the Northern California champions, The Chocolate Watchband. They put forth with their final single, released in October of 1967 on Tower Records, Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love In) with a flip-side of No Way Out. The single has already bested the likes of The Mourning Reign, The Brogues and The Shadows of Knight just to have the opportunity to spin at 45rpm on this fine morning.

On Turntable 2 we have the champions of Canada. The entire hopes and dreams of the great white north now rest on the dusty grooves of The Ugly Ducklings and their third release, from 1966, on Yorktown Records: Just In Case You Wonder with a flip-side of That's Just A Thought I Had In My Mind. This Canuck of a single has bested the likes of The Painted Ship, The Haunted and America's The Enfields as it now starts spinning with the 7-inch white hot fury that can only come from a homely water fowl.

Until tomorrow, we'll see you On The Flip-Side!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Round 2 of the Battle of the Garage Bands Bracket: The 13th Floor Elevators v. The Sonics

In our first day of Round 2, The Misunderstood of the So Cal Region went through New York champions, The Blues Magoos, like a hot knife through butter. The Misunderstand now move on to the top three and await their next opponent. Misunderstood no more. 

Day 2 of the second round pits two epic records against each other (after 10 months of doing this, they better all be epic at this point!). 

From the highly competitive Texas region we have The 13th Floor Elevators with their debut single, You're Gonna Miss Me c/w Tried To Hide. The single was released, first on the local label, Contact and then on International Artist records in early 1966. 

The Sonics are representing the birthplace of American garage records, The Pacific Northwest. They are putting forth with their 5th single, released in the Fall of 1965 on Etiquette Records. We have the original Cinderella on the a-side and Louie Louie on the flip-side.  

Go forth judges. Look at both sides of the single and make your call. We don't envy your task. 

Until next time, we'll see you On The Flip-Side!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Round 2 of the Battle of the Garage Bands: The Blues Magoos v The Misunderstood

Round 2 is officially underway in our 10-month long Battle of the Garage Bands to determine (very subjectively) the greatest US garage band single ever. This round kicks off with The Blues Magoos of New York going head to head with The Misunderstood of Riverside, California. 

On one side of the ring we have The Blues Magoos who landed a major record deal and put out multiple singles and multiple albums, performed on national TV shows and shared the stage with the likes of The Who. On the other side of the ring we have The Misunderstood who had to leave their Sun drenched Southern California homes to travel to the rainy UK to record a song called Children of The Sun. The single was shelved until well after the band had succumbed to the unbearable heaviness of obscurity and the boys never even saw a release of their material in their homeland. Two very different paths to this moment. Both deserving of it. 

Until next time, we'll see you On The Flip-Side!