THE GREAT NIGHTSHADOW EXCAVATION
by Patrick Lundborg
"My folks still think psych is a drag, y'know?"
- Little Phil Jackson, 1968
As I look around in 2004 it seems the late, great LITTLE PHIL & THE NIGHTSHADOWS are still not properly understood, still relegated to some sort of genreless 1960s vacuum while bland producer pop from LA is celebrated with 10-page essays. So let me make this very clear: in addition to all the inflated Yellow Balloons and Cyrkles you can throw at me, I would take "Square Root Of Two" over any Chocolate Watchband LP any time. Got that? There is a teenage acid psych fuzz monster lurking in yer own backyard, and you don't even know it.
That "backyard" aspect probably plays a vital part in this oversight, as Atlanta, Georgia is just too damn far away for lazy coastal folks to ever take seriously, especially if it's a bunch of white kids dressing up like fools and doing "dirty" songs. Probably some sort of local frat thing they got goin' down there, right?
While the Nightshadows' superb pre-LP 45s "So Much"/"The Way It Used To Be" (Dot 16912, 1966) and "60 Second Swinger"/"In The Air" (Gaye 3031, 1967) have garnered deserved respect among garage fans, the band's crowning achievement, the privately released 1968 LP "Square Root Of Two" (Spectrum 2001), remains in limbo. You would imagine that an album that appeared on the radar screens of 60s fans as early as 1977-1978 now resides in the permanent collection of the Museum Of Modern Art, but after that initial burst of interest the appreciation curve more or less flatlined.
One of several peculiar traits of the Nightshadows is their very complex discography. Despite many years of regional popularity the band essentially managed themselves, and the record releases often seem like spur of the moment ideas, connected to wild PR stunts and whatever appeared like a bright idea that particular week. This seat of the pants, down-home resourcefulness is part of what makes them such an appealing act, far removed from anything slick or contrived. It also makes trying to round up their recordings a bit of a nightmare.
The same tracks were recorded and re-recorded, some appeared under pseudonyms, others were withdrawn, and the later reissues tended to increase rather than resolve the confusion. After years of mental preparation I finally felt ready to tackle the Nightshadows' "freak-out mass confusion" (thanks, Phil), and hopefully establish some sort of "e-qui-li-bri-uhm" (thanks again, Phil) for what may have been the best 1960s band out of the entire Deep South.
1966-67: Early versions of LP tracks
1. "So Much" 45 version (Dot 16912, 1966) 2:18
- the basic recording of "So Much" is the same on all versions, while the mixes differ markedly. This first, "hit" 45 mix has a clean, well-balanced "British" sound typical for a 1966 recording by a US teen-beat band. The 45 was released 1966-July.
2. "The Way It Used To Be" (Dot 16912, 1966) 2:04
- this 45 B-side does not appear on the 1968 Spectrum LP, but was inserted as a bonus track on a later bootleg CD, and also reissued on Pebbles vol 5.
3. "Hot Rod Song" 45 version (Banned 6T9, 1967) 3:10 [listed on 45 label as 2:50]
- the same version that would appear on the Spectrum LP, although the 45 sound is cleaner and less garagey. The Banned 45 was released in 1967-Sep under the band name Nightshadow, and remaining copies were inserted as a bonus with the Spectrum LP in 1968. The liner notes to the "Nightshadows vol 2" CD claim the 45 came out in 1966-Feb, but this appears to be incorrect and the psychedelic lettering on the label makes it unlikely.
4. "Hot Dog Man" 45 version (Banned 6T9, 1967) 3:20
- live-recorded update of a "risqué" song first released back in 1961 by the Nightshadows in their pre-Little Phil era. The version that appears on the Spectrum LP is completely psychedelicized; the source track is probably this recording.
5. "Sixty Second Swinger" 45 version (Gaye 3031, 1967) 2:27
- this 45 version is a completely different recording from the one on the Spectrum LP and subsequent reissues; uptempo teenbeat with a typical "garage" organ riff and a clean studio mix. The 45 was released in 1967, month unknown, and came with a rare picture sleeve. It remained unreissued for decades, but can be found on a 1990s reissue 45, as well as the 1997 "Nightshadows vol 2" CD.
6. "In The Air" 45 version (Gaye 3031, 1967) 2:41
- like "So Much", the basic recording is the same on all different versions, while the mixes differ. This first, 45 B-side mix is cleaner in sound and less psychedelicized than what would appear on the Spectrum LP.
7. "Turned On" 45 version (Baja 4504, 1968) 2:24
- released under the band name Square Root Of Two due to the band's legal tangle with Dot records, with whom they were on a 5-year contract. The recording is the same as used on the Spectrum LP, where a 1-minute spoken intro was added. The 45 was released in January 1968, shortly before the LP. The B-side was "Don't Hold Your Breath", not included on the LP and not reissued until the 2003 CD.
Introduction to "The Square Root Of Two"
It bears repetition: the "Square Root Of Two" LP in its original 1968 format has NEVER been reissued, to this day. The difference in sound and mix to both the 1979 vinyl reissue (which was bootlegged in the 1990s) and the 2003 CD is so pronounced that you can determine which is which after only 15-20 seconds into any track.
The key areas for comparison are:
- different mixes of "So Much" and "60 Second Swinger" with whole guitar tracks added
- clarity of vocals, in terms of separation from the backing track
- overall clarity of sound
- degree of stereo separation
- running times altered due to fadeouts and edits
- track sequencing
The 1979 remix is so different from the 1968 original that it should be regarded as a wholly separate work, and in certain spots may actually be superior to the earlier Spectrum release.
The 1980s-1990s bootlegs are based on the 1979 remix, something which not many people realized at the time. They also add a couple of bonus tracks.
The 2003 CD reissue on Hottrax is a lot closer to the 1968 original than the 1979 remix yet differs in important areas, both in terms of mixing and overall sound.
1968: the Spectrum LP
After hearing about the new psychedelic scene from some Berkeley students the band met during Spring Break '67 in Fort Lauderdale, Nightshadows leader Aleck Janoulis began preparing an album that would match the emerging freak scene. Older recordings were reused and processed through various devices for a psychedelicized sound, and a string of excellent new originals were composed by Janoulis and Little Phil. Much of the work took place in a Vox Equipment warehouse using an Ampex 2-track. 1000 copies were custom pressed at the RCA plant in Indianapolis in early 1968, and released on the band's own Spectrum label. A promo poster showing the band on motorcycles was inserted into 100 copies of the LP, while the other 900 copies had the risqué Banned label 45 added as a bonus.
"The Square Root Of Two" (Spectrum 2001, 1968)
- the original mix
1. Prologue 3:36
2. I Can't Believe 9:28
3. Plenty Of Trouble 1:49
4. So Much 2:13
5. In The Air 2:49
1. 60 Second Swinger (w/ spoken intro) 3:07
2. Illusion 3:02
3. Anything But Lies 3:37
4. Turned On (w/ spoken intro) 3:42
5. Hot Rod Song 3:05
6. Hot Dog Man 2:23
All track times are confirmed (several differ from the LP label). The overall sound is compressed and somewhat bass-heavy, compared to the average LP from 1968.
a) "Prologue" features the voice of "Electric Bob", a local acid freak who the band discovered lying face down on the floor of a sleazy hippie club and thus immediately recognized as Nightshadows material.
b) "So Much" is the same recording as on the Dot 45, but in a more compressed, garagey sound.
c) "In The Air" is the same recording as on the Gaye 45, but in a different mix with a more psychedelic sound and vocal effects.
d) "60 Second Swinger" is a completely different recording from the earlier 45, slower, less teen-beat and heavier, with a Memphis soul feel. The track has a spoken MC intro from a WBAD-sponsored concert, but the actual tune may be studio.
e) "Turned On" is the same recording as the Baja label 45, but has a 70-second intro added with studio chatter between Little Phil and Aleck Janoulis, explaining the rationale for doing a "Charleston" tune.
f) "Hot Rod Song" and "Hot Dog Man" are the same recordings as on the Banned label 45, but the latter has been completely psychedelicized, with sections drastically speeded up, sound effects applied, etc.
1979: the Hottrax remix LP
The Nightshadows broke up in 1969, and the members went on to various lower profile projects. After hundreds of shows throughout the 1960s the band had good brand name recognition in the Deep South, but were virtually unknown elsewhere. But sometime in the late 1970s, word about "Square Root Of Two" started getting around among fans of obscure psychedelia, particularly in Europe. Aleck Janoulis responded with a reissue of the LP on his Hottrax label, housed in an "updated" front sleeve design and an altered back cover. The LP is accurately presented as an "Acid-Punk Classic", an indication of Janoulis' ability to understand musical trends, "acid punk" being a term coined the year before by Greg Shaw in Bomp Magazine to describe just the type of wild teenage hallucinogenic 1960s sound the album contains.
According to some sources, only 200 copies were pressed, but this is unlikely. Nevertheless, the album is somewhat difficult to find today. Apart from the altered packaging, the tracks were remixed and edited to create something quite different from the original Spectrum LP.
"The Square Root Of Two" (Hottrax 1414, 1979)
- remixed by band member Aleck Janoulis for the reissue
1. Prologue 3:27
2. So Much 2:12
3. In The Air 2:50
4. Plenty Of Trouble 1:48
5. I Can't Believe 9:31
1. 60 Second Swinger 3:08
2. Illusion 3:00
3. Anything But Lies 2:37
4. Turned On 3:44
5. The Hot Rod Song 3:03
6. The Hot Dog Man 2:25
The overall sound is clearly different from the 1968 original mix, more compressed and "garagey". The vocals blend into the backing tracks and there is overall less separation between the instruments. It makes the recordings sound more primitive and muddy than they actually were.
The track order has also been changed, with the extended "I Can't Believe" placed at the end of side 1, and "So Much" following the freaky prologue. At least to me this is a superior running order to the 1968 original.
a) the "Prologue" is now almost 10 seconds shorter due to an earlier fadeout.
b) "So Much" has an excellent guitar lead that enters for about 10 seconds at the 1:10 mark, playing a figure somewhat like "Born To Be Wild". On the 1968 version there was no lead instrument in this break, just the rhythm section.
c) "60 Second Swinger" has seen even more drastic changes, as a loud fuzz guitar overdub plays the basic riff throughout the song; on the 1968 version the organ was the lead instrument, with no fuzz in sight. Just as on "So Much" this could be seen as an improvement.
d) "Anything But Lies" is drastically altered with a whole minute (almost exactly 60 seconds) of fuzz/organ rave-up removed vs the original 1968 version; the remix also downplays the psych-effect backing vocals somewhat.
The Hottrax reissue met with enough interest for Janoulis to embark on two other Nightshadows-related projects; the first official release of the "Live At The Spot" album of 1967/1969 live recordings (Hottrax 1430, 1981), and a reunion LP with 1 side of more old live recordings titled "Invasion Of The Acid Eaters" (Hottrax 1450, 1982). Details on these LPs can be found in the Acid Archives Of Underground Sounds.
1980s-1990s: Bootleg Reissues
After a flurry of activities in 1979-1982, the Nightshadows stepped back into darkness once more. Elsewhere interest was on the rise with the inclusion of "The Way It Used To Be" on vol 5 in Greg Shaw's Pebbles series of 1960s garage. Another early supporter was Greg Prevost who recruited Aleck Janoulis to produce the 1982 debut LP by his neo-garage outfit, the Chesterfield Kings. Many years later Prevost published a massive piece and interview on the Nightshadows in his Outasite fanzine (issue #3). Word on the great "So Much" and "60 Second Swinger" 45s was getting around, but their rarity and the lack of reissues and compilation appearances (probably due to Janoulis' known presence on the scene) meant that the band was left behind in the huge race for all things "garage" in the mid-1980s.
Sometime in the early 1990s, "The Square Root Of Two" album was bootlegged in Europe, probably Italy. A blue vinyl pressing appeared first, followed by a CD a year or so later. The source is likely the same for these; at least the contents are identical.
Although few people realized it at the time, these vinyl-sourced bootleg reissues were not based on a 1968 Spectrum original, but rather the 1979 Hottrax remix. The 1968 cover design had been reinstated which may account for the confusion, but the actual contents are instantly recognizable as the 1979 variation.
"Square Root Of Two" 199 (no label, Europe, 1992?)
"Square Root Of Two" 199 (CD Cosmic Mind, Italy, 1993?)
-- bootleg reissues of the 1979 remix with 2 bonus tracks added
a) the running order for both these bootlegs is identical to the 1979 Hottrax release, but with two tracks added: the 45-only "The Way It Used To Be" and a promo snip for something never realized called the "Son Of Root", which probably derives from the early 1980s.
b) the sound quality is comparable to the 1979 release.
2003: Official CD reissue
Aleck Janoulis still carries the Nightshadows torch that was first lit back in 1959. Beginning in the mid-1990s the band's whole story and recordings have been rounded up and presented in digital format via the "Legendary Nightshadows" CD series on Hottrax Records. Vol 1 covered the band's earliest, pre-Phil and pre-British Invasion days, while vol 2 has the 1964-1967 "Little Phil" era with all the great 45 tracks and more.
After a long wait "Vol 3" appeared in early 2003, detailing the band's psychedelic era up until the final days in 1969. Vol 3 includes "Square Root Of Two" in its entirety (except for one track), and also has some truly great additional material.
"Vol 3: The Psychedelic Years 1967-1969" (CD Hottrax 5125-60012-2, 2003)
-- includes all tracks from the Spectrum LP except "Hot Rod Song" which is on vol 2
1. Prologue 3:38
2. So Much 2:14
3. I Can't Believe 9:35
4. Plenty Of Trouble 1:51
5. In The Air 2:50
6. Anything But Lies 3:44
11. 60 Second Swinger 3:10
12. Illusion 3:00
15. Turned On 3:44
16. The Hot Dog Man 2:27
Unlike the 1979 remix, this CD is an attempt to recreate the original 1968 Spectrum LP. The original tracks are used, with a less compressed and muddy sound than on the 1979 remix, although the digital format and the modern mastering techniques still makes for an audible difference visavi the 1968 pressing. There is somewhat better separation and a soundscape more evenly divided over the bass-treble spectrum. Keeping in mind the lo-fi nature of the two-track recordings as well as the desire not to deviate too much from the 1968 LP sound, this CD is undoubtedly a successful achievement.
The running order has been altered once more, but for that the 1979 version remains the best in my opinion. Tracks #7-10, #13-14 and #17-19 on the CD are additional tracks of various origins, some of which are truly great. "Gimme, Gimme" is a ballsy late 60s rocker that sounds like it could have sold a million copies if released as a 45, while the 6-minute "Fly High" highlights the band's Hendrixy acid-blues side. There is also an alternate (supposedly live) version of "Anything But Lies" in excellent sound.
a) "So Much" is again presented with the lead guitar overdub from the 1979 remix.
b) "Sixty Second Swinger" on the other hand now reverts to the 1968 LP version, with organ upfront and no fuzz rhythm.
c) "Hot Rod Song" from the 1968 LP is missing, but can be found on vol 2 in the CD series.
The Lama Workshop
© Patrick Lundborg 2004-2010