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!


  1. My choices are:

    1. The Chocolate Watchband. I love the flip-side of No Way Out the most.
    2. The 13th Floor Elevators.
    3. The Misunderstood.

  2. No. 1 The 13th Floor Elevators.
    No. 2 The Chocolate Watchband
    No. 3 The Misunderstood.

  3. 1. Elevators
    2. Misunderstood
    3. Watchband

  4. Really tough for me to decide, like comparing apples, oranges and bananas. Or a 1968 Dodge Charger, '68 Corvette Stingray, and a '68 Ford Mustang. So I'm going to rank these by which I've played the most over the years.

    1. The Chocolate Watchband
    2. The 13th Floor Elevators
    3. The Misunderstood

    All phenomenal singles, but something drew me to the Watchband 45 more oftener than the others.
    This has been a very fun and interesting project, thank you Morgan!

  5. #1 - The Chocolate Watchband. I thought long and hard about if they deserve this. According to the credits they wrote neither song. Though intuition and claims by band members suggest they wrote the flip-side, No Way Out, as part of an in-studio jam. I also wonder if the members of the Chocolate Watchband are actually playing on the Are You Gonna Be There. I doubt it. But at the end of the day, I will judge the product for the music alone. The final product is superb. The Byrds aren't playing on Mr. Tambourine Man. The Beach Boys don't play on God Only Knows. The Mamas and Papas are nowhere to be found on any instrument in California Dreamin'. But the product shouldn't be judged different if Carol Kaye is playing bass or if Bill Flores is playing. On top of that, Richie Podolor's engineering is so incredibly clean, deep and creative. The tone of the guitar lead on Are You Gonna Be There. The Clean, hollow sound of the bass on No Way Out. The backwards tracking at the end of No Way Out isn't gimmicky, it's crucial. And of course David Aguilar's vocals are perfect. A mix of machismo, bravado and threats. At the end of the day, both sides are perfection.

    #2 - The Misunderstood. So sonically unique. The blistering pedal steel guitar leads that fill every second of Children Of The Sun. Treadway's pounding bass lines that descends when you expect them to ascend. Brown's guttaral vocal approach. Such wonderful production. It's like they caught lightning in a bottle.

    #3 - The 13th Floor Elevators. In so many ways the most organic of the three releases. Both songs composed by band members. The A-side by the 17 year old Roky Erickson. The flip-side by Tommy Hall and Stacy Sutherland. The two fit so beautifully together. And so unique. A jug. You're Gonna Miss Me never fails to send me to the guitar room to start strumming along.

    1. According to bassist Bill Flores in the magazine Cream Puff War #2, the CWB *did* play the instruments on Are You Gonna Be There. Apparently they learned the song, worked it out and recorded it all on the same day, a rush job for the movie "The Love-Ins." Pretty remarkable that it can stand up to a road-tested classic like You're Gonna Miss Me.

  6. The Chocolate Watchband
    The Misunderstood
    The 13th Floor Elevators

    It seems improbable that I’m going with the single that features both songs ostensibly not written by the band. (I say ostensibly because No Way Out has all the earmarks of being an in-studio band creation of which the producer, while he may have been a vital part, takes all the songwriting credit. If I’m wrong, please let me know.) But, it so incisively reflects the shortcomings, perils and cultural blowback of it’s own immediate time that it, in particular Are You Gonna Be There, has acquired an anthemic quality to it, as Mike Stax pointed out yesterday. This content coupled with a sound, song craft and production of the highest quality (all of which, it should be noted, are present in spades in the other contenders), earns it the top spot for this listener.

  7. Well, this is really, really difficult. All three records are outstanding and among my top favorite records of all-time -- so the voting system obviously did its job right. Skewing my vote slightly is an issue I have with the Misunderstood single. Should it even qualify as a US garage record? Although it was made by a band from Southern California, it was recorded in London and they had added one English member, Tony Hill, who also co-wrote the song. In many ways it FEELS to me like an English record -- a product of that environment. But it's a bit late to split hairs now, isn't it? So I'll just vote:

    1) The Misunderstood - It's a work of pure genius. Inspired and inspirational. I also have strong personal connections with the band members and their music. It's printed in my DNA now. It has to be #1.

    2) 13th Floor Elevators - This could easily have been #1. The intensity level is equal to the Misunderstood. It's also an archetypal garage band song, but just opening up into psychedelia. A beautiful tipping point there.

    3) The Chocolate Watchband - Love it, but it's clearly a distant 3rd in this particular match-up -- at least to my ears. I think it had an easier path to the finals than the other two songs. Had it gone up against the Elevators or the Misunderstood earlier, or the Sonics or even the Litter, I would've voted it down even sooner.

    1. I respect your opinion here, Mike. Big UT fan. But 4/5 of the band are from California. And they were only in England for a few months. At least that is what I remember from some great article in some great magazine that I once read. It's a thought provoker to have it here. But I think it is right.

    2. Oh, and I agree with your order of things.

  8. #1 The Chocolate Watchband
    #2 The 13th Flood Elevators
    #3 The Misunderstood

    My real choice for #1 didn't even make the cut, The Sonics. That being said, I can't get away from the flip-side "No Way Out" and how I am completely in awe of that song. That's what made the Watchband the clear winner out of the 3 finalists for me. Hey hey, My my, Rock and roll can never die!

  9. I'm not going to vote here. I LOVE them all and don't feel that I can really add to what has been said. I just loved all of this. I didn't catch every song but I loved most of what I did. It's been an education and it's been entertaining.

  10. misunderstood....need i sing it again?

  11. Thieren GallopinJuly 30, 2015 at 6:13 PM

    1. Elevators
    2. Misunderstood
    3. Chocolate

    But how can it be wrong to pick one or the other?

  12. Choc watchband

  13. 1) The Misunderstood
    2) 13th Floor Elevators
    3) The Chocolate Watchband

  14. I'm with danagnst. I would have the Sonics #1 on my list. But since that is not my choice.

    1) Thirtheenth Floor Elevators
    2) Chocolate Watchband
    3) Misunderstood.

  15. This whole series was/is absolutely brilliant! I am out of my league here, but I will endeavor to give a real listen to these. My initial thought is to go with the Elevators because I not only love the music/performance, but how can you ever vote against a psychedelic band that utilizes a jug and allows it to solo from time to time?

    But then the Chocolate Watch Band had such a perfect name and the title of Are You gonna Be There (at the Love In)? is easily the best song title of the group and one of the best of all time.

    I also think that the Sonics were robbed. Having them face off with the Elevators before the finals is simply wrong. That's like having the #1 and #2 seeds face off in the second round. I also believe the Sonics should have received extra points for still rocking harder than bands 1/3 their age. Anyway, great work! Keep it coming!

  16. Great stuff Morgan.

    I would have to go with the Elevators as number one. It is pretty much the quintessential garage song for me. It has the snarly vocal, snotty boy-done-wrong subject matter, and chordal riff. I've never been a fan of the jug, but at least it is unique.

    The other two are brilliant too of course, but the Misunderstood song is almost too good to be considered a garage song. It's really only garage in the sense of not being a hit. In other words, it seems like the product of a real studio and really good musicians- it would be hard to even think of trying to do it any justice without being a really proficient band. Whereas, the Elevators song at least seems simple enough to try to tackle.

    The Watchband song is great and has the perfect Jaggeresque vocal, but the title has a hint of exploitation that makes it seem like an attempt by "management" to cash in and keeps it from being number one for me.

    1. ahh, but have you listened closely to the words?

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  18. 1 - Elevators
    2 - Chocolate Watchband
    3 - Misunderstood (only because I don't understand them)