Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Remains of their Day

Somehow I missed this, but the good folks at Legacy Recordings, as part of their Summer of Love reissue program (tip o' the hat to Steve who reviewed the Moby Grape disc here) finally re-released The Remains' indispensable 1966 eponymous LP last month. This is exciting news for fans of primo 60s American beat/garage as Legacy's previous collection had unfairly gone out of print for several years.

The Remains, lead by lead vocalist/lead guitarist Barry Tashian were the band on the Boston music scene from'64-'66. House band at the storied Ratskeller club, their scorching live act was legendary among rock's cognoscenti. They appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and were the opening act for the Beatles on their 1966 summer tour. Tragically, the band disintegrated just prior to the release of The Remains and the band faded into obscurity. I lived in Boston for several years back in the 1980s and every single person I had ever spoken to who were lucky enough to see the Remains at the height of their powers said, without hesitation, that they were the greatest live act ever. Indeed, after giving The Remains a fresh listen it's not difficult to understand why.

My introduction to the group came from the inclusion of the cut Don't Look Back on Lenny Kaye's seminal compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968. Don't Look Back showcases everything that made the Remains great: a loose but assertive rough and tumble R&B sound tied together with a thrilling gospel call and response middle eight that gives the listener a good glimpse of what a raucous affair their live shows must have been. Later, when I finally got my mitts on their long player I realized that this knockout track was just one of many stellar cuts in the Remains' small but uniformly excellent back catalog.

Getting back to the reissue at hand, sure, I already have the 1991 Barry & the Remains disc as well as Sundazed's great A Session with the Remains , so did I really need to shell out for this music again? The answer is a resounding yes! The new edition restores the original LP cover art, liner notes and running order and also includes 10 bonus tracks which pick up important non-LP singles and outtakes. Unfortunately for completists, the new version omits an alternate take of Say You're Sorry and an extended version of All Good Things that appeared on the previous CD release.

Listening to the music again, I am struck by how versatile a band they really were. Unlike many of the American bands of the era, the Remains didn't traffic in simple British invasion mimicry, but rather, they took their contemporaries' inspiration and created an unique and exciting American amalgam. The Remains were clearly more I Wanna Be Your Man than I Want to Hold Your Hand on the Richter scale of Beatles songcraft and their stock in trade were tough R&B ravers like You Got a Hard Time Comin', the aforementioned Don't Look Back, and Say You're Sorry. Nonetheless, they could also pen pretty Merseyesque tunes like When I Want to Know, Ain't That Her and Once Before. Their taste in covers was also impeccable and a version of Charlie Rich's Lonely Weekend is a musical highpoint that nicely showcases Barry Tashian's soulful voice. Another standout track, LP opener Heart, is a cover of a Pet Clark tune that features a slow burn opening that morphs into an intense Yardbirds raveup by song's end. Finally, solid readings of Diddy Wah Diddy, My Babe, and Don Covay's Mercy, Mercy, Mercy round out their classic electric blues repetoire.

As a true aficionado and collector of 60s garage and psych, I cannot more highly recommend this disc. The Remains were one of the giants of the genre and one of the finest American bands of the era. To give you a little taste of their God-like power, here's the band's appearance on Ed Sullivan performing Let Me Through. This gives you a really nice taste of what a Remains "rave up" sounds like! Freak Out!

[Steve Simels adds: Kid C nails this exactly; and he's so right about everybody in the Boston area who ever saw them. To this day, I run into people who were there at the time and to a person they get more excited reminiscing about it than Springsteen fans who caught the perfect gig at the shore.

We should also mention that Barry Tashian went on to a long and fruitful career, including a several year stint as lead guitarist/musical director for the divine Emmylou Harris.

Bottom line: these guys were great. Go to Amazon and buy the record already.]


Anonymous said...

Barry still turns up in Beantown on occasion, usually playing country music with his wife. And RIP The Rat - smelly old shithole that it was. (I loved Mitch The Doorman at that club - old cat who had been a sax player during the big band era. He spoke through a voice box, and everyone was terrified of getting on his bad side...)
- Bill Buckner

ms. rosa said...

that just made my heartrate shoot through the roof... i could just imagine how those dancers musta felt trying to keep up!

the remains opening for the beatles. ha! brings to mind the mc5 opening for cream. no contest.

Jonathan King said...

I saw them when the Beatles came to L.A. in '66 ... they didn't make much of an impression there, but who could? The one thing I remember best was a line in the next day's "human interest" feature in the L.A. Times about the show ... the grownup who attended the event said, simply, "They did look a little left over."