With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see that 1985 was not one of the greatest years in musical history. It was a year of change; punk had morphed into hardcore, hair metal was on the rise, and the dulcet tones of Whitney Houston were everywhere. There also seemed to be a psychedelic revival of sorts just beginning. This would be fully explored a few years later by bands such as the Screaming Trees, but the first great shot was fired by the Fuzztones, with their album Lysergic Emanations (1985).
The record was not a hit by any means, but its influence was huge. Fuzztones looked back to the classic psych/garage rock of the '60s, some of the best of which had been collected on Lenny Kaye's Nuggets (1972) compilation. Bands such as The Seeds and the 13th Floor Elevators were their inspiration, and they sure brightened up college radio playlists that year. Being the first of the so-called "garage rock revival" groups to be signed to a major label was definitely a feather in their cap, but being first is often a thankless proposition.
Unfortunately, the Fuzztones kind of followed in the path of the forebears, with personnel problems and the like. They never broke big, but are actually still at it, under the benevolent dictatorship of founder Rudi Protrudi. It has been my experience in meeting fellow Fuzztones fans that they are a fairly rabid bunch. The new double-CD collection from Cleopatra titled Snake Oil is a set of rare, live, and unreleased Fuzztones material dating all the way back to 1981. For fans, it is a treasure trove.
With a total of 36 tracks to pick from, it is difficult to know where to start. The collection is not chronological, but one of my favorite songs is one of the earliest. Towards the end of the second disc there is a version of the Music Machine's "Talk Talk," recorded live at CBGBs in 1981 with the original lineup. There are a number of great covers on the set, and a couple of others include "96 Tears," and a killer "Gloria" with Rat Scabies of the Damned, both also recorded live.
Alternate versions of some of their more renowned tunes are here too, such as "Get Naked," and "Hallucination Generation" (with James Lowe of the Electric Prunes). Interspersed with all of this goodness are radio ads, interviews and other oddball detritus just to round out the fun.
While I would not necessarily recommend Snake Oil as the place to start for those who are unfamiliar with the group, it is a marvelous set for those of us who have been with them over the years. It also works as the perfect companion piece to the earlier Creatures That Time Forgot (1990) collection. This is a terrific band, and one that is recommended to everyone who is into classic psych/garage rock.