tue 05/12/2023

Music Reissues Weekly: Lenny Kaye Presents Lightning Striking | reviews, news & interviews

Music Reissues Weekly: Lenny Kaye Presents Lightning Striking

Music Reissues Weekly: Lenny Kaye Presents Lightning Striking

Eras and geography combine to generate a compilation as erudite as 1972’s ‘Nuggets’

Lenny Kaye, seen on stage with Patti Smith in 1974Ace Records/Lenny Kaye

The premise driving Lenny Kaye Presents Lightning Striking is the idea that, as it’s put here, “transformative moments in rock ’n’ roll” not only happen at a particular time but in particular places too. Somewhere struck by that lightning at a certain point becomes pivotal, influential and a node from which influences ripple outward – impacting on the next such strike.

It might take a little while for this to be seen – early rumblings precede the lightning, but there’s usually a year which becomes fundamental.

Lenny Kaye may be best known as Patti Smith’s foil, but there’s a whole lot more – all of which adds up to his unique perspective on the history of rock, a perception as acute as it’s engaging. In 1972, he compiled the double album Nuggets, which changed how the music of a then-recent past was seen. Garage rock, psychedelia, Sixties punk rock were systemised. Entertainingly so. Trail now blazed, masses of analogous compilations followed. Definition of another kind came with the Patti Smith Group, who helped characterise a version of New York. Furthermore, Kaye saw the Sex Pistols and The Clash in London in 1976.

Lenny Kaye Presents Lightning StrikingBefore all this, he issued the “Crazy Like a Fox” single in 1966 under the name Link Cromwell. A folk-rock nugget, it was touted as a potential hit by trade paper Cashbox but didn’t click. He began writing. Circus, Fusion and Rolling Stone carried his by-line. Over 1969 to 1972, he reviewed albums by Bread, Fanny, Lothar and the Hand People, Graham Nash, The Rolling Stones, Santana and much more. The Stooges and the MC5 too. There were live reviews: he saw David Bowie in the UK in 1973. Also, he wrote considerations of doo wop and the cycle of fame in the Sixties. In February 1971, Kaye played live with Patti Smith for the first time but their next appearance together was in November 1973. After that...well.

Lenny Kaye Presents Lightning Striking is a double CD set issued to accompany the release of his book Lightning Striking: Ten Transformative Moments in Rock & Roll. This is its soundtrack. Kaye and music historian Alec Palao have worked in partnership to bring the 48 tracks together. The former has written the booklet’s introduction; the latter the pithy, robustly opinionated track-by track commentary. “Crazy Like a Fox” is included, as is the Patti Smith Group’s 1979 version of The Byrds’s “So You Want to be (A Rock ’n’ Roll Star)”. Aptly, the set begins with Lou Christie’s ever-extraordinary “Lightnin’ Strikes”. Other than these three tracks (each annotated as Opening Credits, Footnote/Interlude and End Title), the sequencing is chronological with tracks grouped for each location, as per the book: Cleveland 1952, Memphis 1954, New Orleans 1957, Philadelphia 1959 and so on.

Lenny Kaye Presents Lightning Striking_Lenny Kaye 1968Nothing is obvious. Take the Liverpool 1962 section: Cliff Richard & The Drifters’s “Move It!” (1958), Joe Meek & The Blue Men’s “I Hear a New World” (recorded in 1959, issued 1960), The Big Three’s “Cavern Stomp” (1963), The Undertakers's “Stupidity” (1964) and Gerry & The Pacemakers’s “Ferry Cross the Mersey” (1964). The Big Three and Undertakers cuts represent a couple of the very few unfiltered moments when the actual sound of Merseybeat was caught on record as per what was played on stage. But also inherent with these selections is the lead-up to the Beatles dam-burst and what immediately ensued. Each year has its lead up and aftermath. (pictured left, Lenny Kaye in 1968)

It’s the same with the New York City 1975 entrants: Patti Smith’s “Piss Factory” (1974), Startoon’s “Rockin’ on the Bowery” (1977), The Ramones’s “Beat on the Brat” (1976), Richard Hell & The Voidoids “Down at the Rock and Roll Club” (1977 – a contemporaneous alternate version to what was issued) and Blondie’s “Once I Had a Love” aka “The Disco Song” (a 1975 recording of what later became “Heart of Glass”). Herewith what paved the way for the thick of it, and the response: in this case, the fantastic, glam-ish “Rockin’ on the Bowery” (Wayne County’s “Max's Kansas City” could have fit the bill – choosing Startoon is another case of not going for the obvious).

Scattered across the two discs are tracks to ponder. From 1934, there’s “Rock and Roll” by The Boswell Sisters with Jimmy Grier & His Orchestra (1934). Fabian’s "Tiger" (1959) and Frankie Avalon’s "A Boy Without a Girl" (1959) are recontextualised. Then, there are lesser-known cuts as good as and usually better than acknowledged classics: The Grateful Dead’s “Cream Puff War” (1967) and SRC’s “Black Sheep” (1968). The take on heavy metal is particularly interesting.

Where Lenny Kaye Presents Lightning Striking wins is not through its tie-in with the book – though, of course, that’s a big bonus – or the pin-sharp, from the master tape sound and the use of right versions, but that it forces a re-examination of what seems familiar. Deftness is fundamental, as is the knowledge making this what it is. All of which is worn lightly, and with humour. It’s a fun listen too – and as erudite as Nuggets.


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