I consider the two original volumes of Rhino’s Nuggets box-sets cornerstones of my music collection and I can’t help but compare all subsequent garage and psychedelic rock compilations to them. Let’s Go Down and Blow Our Minds often sound like a companion piece to the second Nuggets box-set, covering five years of great mod/psych/garage singles made outside America. They share four songs and even more groups between them, which furthers the need for comparison, but by focusing in on music from one country (England) and just one year (1967) this 3-disc set ends up telling a very different story. The bands you’ll meet were mostly unknowns (The Pretty Things and The Move are the biggest names here) influenced by the way The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks…etc. opened music up to a new world of possibilities with each successive release, starting around 1965. By the time 1967 rolled around, you’ve got Pink Floyd, Cream and Jimi Hendrix added into the LSD-drenched mix, creating one those rare moments when bands could find massive chart success while still being boldly experimental. With fame and fortune a real possibility, there was a lot of money being poured into the British psychedelic scene, which is why even bands you’ve never heard of sound phenomenal here, with expensive orchestration, exotic instrumentation and studio trickery all fleshing out their ideas in hopes of scoring a hit. For example – who the hell were Neo Maya, and how did they get to record their only single, “I Won’t Hurt You”, with a huge orchestra and backup vocalists? Actually, the informative track-by-track liner notes tell me they were a one-off group created around Episode Six guitarist Graham Carter-Dimmock, but that’s beside the point, which is: these aren’t lo-fi amateur leftovers. These were, for the most part, well-constructed tracks, by serious musicians, meant to land on the charts.
These songs, usually fall into one of two camps. There’s fey fairy-tale psych, with posh instrumentation, and stories of toy shops, flowers, colored clouds, and such. I usually find that kind of stuff pretentious, but there’s actually some pretty strong genre examples here. “Give Him A Flower” by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and “Granny Takes a Trip” by The Purple Gang are both insanely catchy, and have a slightly deranged air about them, allowing you to overlook the campy lyrics. “Toy Soldier”, an unissued single by The Riot Squad, is merely decent, but historically fascinating, because their singer was a young David Bowie and the lyrics include a full verse lifted from The Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs”, which had just come out a few months prior.
The other prevalent style is heavy mod/freakbeat songs, with violently loud guitars and crashing drums, but still augmented by all matter of psychedelic sounds/instrumentation. You can hear it in songs from The Sorrows (“Pink, Purple Yellow & Red”), John’s Children (“Desdemona”), and The Attack, who deliver a killer slice of proto-metal/punk on “Magic in the Air”. This wild-sounding scene gives the compilation its strongest tracks, and accounts for a good percentage of its’ 80 songs. Also worth mentioning are the absurdly named Crocheted Doughnut Ring, whose proto-ambient instrumental “Nice” has more in common with Brian Eno’s Another Green World than anything else here.
As with any compilation, Let’s Go Down and Blow Our Minds has its share of highlights and duds, but the former outweighs the latter by a healthy margin and there’s enough hard-to-find musical gold here to recommend it to all fans of 1960’s British psychedelia.