Various Artists – How Is The Air Up There? 80 Mod, Soul, RNB & Freakbeat Nuggets From Down Under (RPM)

Unlike their next door neighbors Australia, New Zealand bands never made a big impact beyond the island in the 1960s. However, it makes sense that New Zealand, an English-speaking country with a large UK immigrant population, would have a thriving rock scene in the wake of Beatlemania. That scene is celebrated on this three-disc set named after the killer garage-rock song by The La De Da’s that opens disc one. While there’s no sonic indicators of a New Zealand-specific take on mid-’60s music – these songs could all easily pass as the work of British groups – the unifying factor here is how hard these bands play it. Their guitar fuzz stings a little harder, the rave-ups get a little louder and the vocals screams are a bit more unhinged than the kind you’ll find on the average comp of mid-’60s British unknowns. To get an understanding of the kind of raw no-frill rock these guys and girls were laying down, you only need to look as far as the bands they covered – The Pretty Things, The Kinks, The Creation, The Yardbirds, Small Faces, Them and The Who. Five of these songs already appeared on the second Nuggets boxset (and they’re all front-loaded early on disc one here), but a ton of impressive lesser-known material gets aired out too. The first two discs are great from start to finish, but I find myself coming back to the thumping beat of Tom Thumb’s “I Need You,” the lethal fuzz overdose on “Hurtin’ All Over” by The Pleazers, and the Pretty Things-esque savagery of the previously unreleased 1966 song, “Ugly Thing,” by the Coassacks. If you love the harder end of mid-’60s rock, then there’s plenty of it to be had here, with detailed liner notes bringing you the stories behind each of these bands. My only beef is with the third disc which features a lot of the same bands as the first two discs, but covers their forays into weaker blue-eyed soul. All the cheesy horns and Motown-lite affectations sound real toothless following the high energy attack of the first two discs.