An Introduction to Mid-Atlantic Garage Rock

An Introduction To Garage Rock Summer The American Garage Rock Road Trip

On February 9, 1964, The Beatles made their first appearance on American television, as the star feature of The Ed Sullivan Show. Two days later, the band played their first concert in the United States at Washington Coliseum in the District of Columbia. This pair of legendary performances would initiate a takeover of the nation whose capital they now occupied; and consequently, the initial impact of the British Invasion was felt most directly in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The penultimate feature in our summer-long survey of American garage rock focuses on the Mid-Atlantic states. As both New York and Pennsylvania were each covered in earlier installments, this one finds us examining garage bands from New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and the should-be-state of Columbia – whose license plate motto (“taxation without representation”) says everything that needs to be said about a needlessly complicated, decades-long political debate.

Back to the garage rock though, the Mid-Atlantic region was no different from the rest of a nation that was caught up in the thrills of Beatlemania, and the subsequent British Invasion. Kids throughout the region rushed to record shops to buy the latest 45s, but they also procured Rickenbacker guitars, Farfisa organs, and Ludwig drum kits. Unsurprisingly, the music that they would create with these instruments occupies a similar aural space to that of their Pennsylvania and New York counterparts, with perhaps a little more twang, imported from the adjacent Upper South region.

Melody was of the utmost importance to Mid-Atlantic groups, but a handful of them would incorporate the wild abandon of proto-punk that was generally associated with bands from west of the Mississippi. As was also the case further afield, the influences of psychedelia and acid rock would begin to creep into the Mid-Atlantic sound in the latter half of the decade, though rarely to the point of saturation that it did on the West Coast. Put another way, the garage rock of the Mid-Atlantic region tended to maintain a moderate temperature, unlike the region’s sweltering summers and prolonged winters.

As for the requisite playlists, Spotify is exactly halfway-useful for this installment, with fifteen of the thirty songs currently available on the service. As always, you’ll find a better alternative with the YouTube link, which includes all thirty tracks. Enjoy!


The Knickerbockers

“Lies”

single A-side (1965)

Arguably the most convincing facsimile of the early-Beatle sound by an American group, “Lies” was more than just a cheap knock-off. The track’s infectious energy, winning melody, and Lennon-esque lead vocal landed Bergenfield, New Jersey’s The Knickerbockers in the Billboard top twenty, and that falsetto hook places it amongst the garage rock immortals.

The Beattle-Ettes

“Only Seventeen”

single A-side (1964)

Again, it’s tempting to peg this track from Camden, New Jersey’s tellingly-named The Beattle-Ettes as little more than a cash grab, but there’s some genuine cleverness to “Only Seventeen” – released just months after The Beatles’ arrival in the States. Give it half a chance, and it proves to be among the more charming American homages to the Fab Four.

The Newports

“Little Heart”

single A-side (1965)

Were still in immediate post-Beatlemania mode here, with a track from Bethesda, Maryland’s The Newports. “Little Heart” repurposes the Merseybeat sound with an appealing melody and bittersweet lyrics. It would be the group’s only single, but “Little Heart” is a winner.

The What-Nots

“Nobody Else But You”

single A-side (1965)

There is absolutely zero chance that this debut A-side from The What-Nots wasn’t directly inspired by The Beatles’ 1964 cover of “Mr. Moonlight.” While that track quickly falls into maudlin territory – and is often cited as the weakest song in The Beatles’ discography – “Nobody Else But You” turns the opening vocal hit into a strong verse melody, complete with a well-deployed minor-key change. At least on this track, the Hillsdale, New Jersey group bettered their source material.

The Henchmen

“She Still Loves You”

single A-side (1965)

Baltimore, Maryland makes its first appearance with this 1965 A-side to The Henchmen’s lone single. “She Still Loves You” utilizes a unique minor-key progression to craft a track that is catchy, but that holds a degree of tension as well. It’s something of a minor entry here, but one that reveals its depth with repeat spins.

The Stratfords

“Never Leave Me”

single A-side (1964)

Another track from a Baltimore group, “Never Leave Me” headed one of two singles from The Stratfords. A low-key arrangement keeps the focus on a compelling vocal duet between Jim Kelly and Sandy Mead, with the latter’s high harmonies providing a poignant counterpart to the song’s ethereal minimalism.

The Four Rogues

“I’ll Be Glad”

single B-side (1966)

The title of the YouTube video for this track from New Jersey’s The Four Rogues promises “moody garage” – placing it squarely in my admitted wheelhouse. “I’ll Be Glad” doesn’t disappoint, and though it was released as the flip side to the band’s only single, it’s the disc’s superior track.

The Bucaneer’s

“You’re Never Gonna Love Me Anymore”

single A-side (1966)

We stay in moody territory with this lone A-side from The Bucaneer’s; to paraphrase Nelson Muntz, I can think of at least two things wrong with the band’s name, though with these one-offs, spelling and grammar quirks were often the fault of record labels or other folks along the production chain. Anyway, “You’re Never Gonna Love Me Anymore” is a solid showing from the Barrington, New Jersey group, with its sad-sack lyrics offset by a catchy guitar figure.

The Dagenites

“I’m Gone Slide”

single A-side (1965)

The Discogs entry for this track has one review, which reads thusly: “I just sold my copy for $338.33 on ebay. Terrible garage rock record.” I’m guessing that its author didn’t use that sales pitch to move the record, but the joke’s on him. A subsequent Discogs transaction shows The Dagenites’ decidedly-not-terrible “I’m Gone Slide” selling for a cool $700. Hope it’s the same copy.

Attic Sounds

“Shadows”

single A-side (1966)

This is a great one from Silver Springs, Maryland’s Attic Sounds. The band released a pair of singles on the local Mike Records in 1966, and this jangly track with clever harmonies and a super-cool brief instrumental break stands as the peak of their small catalog.

The Barons

“Now You’re Mine”

single B-side (1966)

From Washington, D.C., The Barons were one of many excellent bands on a thriving garage scene in the nation’s capital. The group would release just one single during their time together, but its B-side, “Now You’re Mine,” is a solid, Kinks-esque raver.

State of Mind

“Move”

single A-side (1966)

Delaware makes its first appearance on the list with this track from Wilmington’s State of Mind. While their name might suggest something on the psych-ier end of the spectrum, “Move” is a pretty straight-up garage track, with its chugging rhythm guitar and call-and-response chorus providing an effective pair of hooks.

Richard and The Young Lions

“Open Up Your Door”

single A-side (1966)

While it sounds like a hit, the signature track from Richard and The Young Lions barely put a dent in the national charts, landing at #99 on Billboard in 1966. Still, the infectious fuzz bass, jangly lead guitar figure, and a spirited vocal performance from Howie “Richard” Tepp, all help to make “Open Up Your Door” a garage rock classic.

The Nobles

“Something Else”

single B-side (1966)

Back to Wilmington, Delaware for this 1966 track from The Nobles. While “Something Else” might sound like a flippant title for a throwaway B-side, the dense fuzz guitar and chirping organ make the song the preferable side from the group’s only single.

It’s Us

“Don’t Want Your Lovin'”

single A-side (1967)

Hailing from Kinnelon, New Jersey, the plainly-named It’s Us would release just one single prior to disbanding. There’s a distant quality to its A-side – “Don’t Want Your Lovin'” – that adds an air of mystery to a relatively straightforward garage track, and a homespun charm shared by some of the best garage recordings.

The Driving Stupid

“Horror Asparagus Stories”

single A-side (1966)

While it’s fair to characterize this lone A-side from The Driving Stupid as a novelty – in fact, the band’s entire existence seemed to have been something of a lark – there’s some genuine value to “Horror Asparagus Stories.” A proto-punk rager that could be part of a direct line to later smart-asses like The Dead Milkmen, “Horror Asparagus Stories” is a fun track that definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The Ascots

“Where I’m Goin'”

single A-side (1966)

From Fairlawn, New Jersey, The Ascots were yet another group with just one single to their credit. “Where I’m Goin'” makes a solid case for the band deserving another chance, as its melancholy, organ-led arrangement shows considerable instrumental skill and compositional nuance.

Something Else

“Let Me Say Now Love”

single A-side (1967)

A low-key, melancholic beauty, “Let Me Say Now Love” is a thoroughly impressive debut from Maryland’s Something Else. The band wisely rejects the urge to go for cheap thrills, keeping the song on a minimalist trajectory, and creating something powerful and evocative in the process.

Souls of Britton

“J-J (Come Back to Me)”

single A-side (1967)

Opening with a spy-theme guitar/organ riff, Souls of Britton’s “J-J (Come Back to Me)” quickly reveals itself to be another example of the “love gone wrong” trope that was so common amongst American garage bands. With that said, the song’s rich tremolo guitar and buzzing Farfisa organ keep it more mysterious than mopey.

The Trespassers

“Living Memories”

single A-side (1967)

Another Maryland group – from Ellicot City – The Trespassers turned in an impressive A-side to their only single. “Living Memories” straddles the fine line between garage and psych, with its production tricks pulling it towards the latter, but its undeniable energy keeping it in the former camp.

The Mad Hatters

“I’ll Come Running”

single A-side (1967)

From Annapolis, Maryland, The Mad Hatters released just two singles before disbanding. The A-side to their final release, “I’ll Come Running” matches a breakneck pacing with sharp instrumental performances, and a heaping serving of proto-punk snarl.

The Werps

“Love’s a Fire”

single A-side (1967)

The horn blasts that run throughout may suggest something more grandiose, but “Love’s a Fire” is a classic garage rager. From Highstown, New Jersey, The Werps would release just this lone single, but this track displays immense potential, making it an easy choice for inclusion, both here and on the sixth volume of the Back From the Grave series.

Ides’

“Psychedelic Ride”

single A-side (1967)

You might not believe it, but here’s another Maryland group with (you guessed it) just one single to their name. While it might suggest something a little trippier, “Psychedelic Ride” keeps the emphasis on its more garage-centric qualities: namely fuzzy guitars and a propulsive beat.

The Fallen Angels

“Your Mother’s Homesick Too”

from The Fallen Angels (1967)

One of a very small number of groups on this feature to actually record an LP, Washington, D.C.’s The Fallen Angels released a pair of albums in the late-sixties. A highlight from their self-titled debut, “Your Mother’s Homesick Too” incorporates eastern influences and a shape-shifting arrangement to push these veterans of previous garage bands into a more psychedelic realm.

The Hallmarks

“Paper Sky”

unreleased (recorded 1967)

A favorite of the folks at the Numero Group, The Hallmarks were first featured on the label’s Teen Expo: The Cleopatra Label, and then treated to a digital-only release of their entire catalog. The Oceanport, New Jersey group recorded several excellent tracks, but the previously-unreleased “Paper Sky” arguably stands as the best of the bunch.

The Second Hand Bitter-Sweet

“Please Don’t Go”

single B-side (1968)

Another one-and-done from a Maryland band (this time from Bainbridge), “Please Don’t Go” is a downbeat B-side from The Second Hand Bitter-Sweet. It’s a simple, melancholy song with an appropriately understated arrangement, but subtle touches – the wordless backing vocals and a tastefully-deployed glockenspiel – help to elevate it above similar tracks.

The Satyrs

“Yesterday’s Hero”

single A-side (1968)

From Haddon Heights, New Jersey, The Satyrs were a short-lived group that released just one single before disbanding in 1969. Their lone A-side, 1968’s “Yesterday’s Hero” is a darkly evocative track that attempts to deliver a social message, but whose music – headed by a lonesome electric organ – provides plenty of intrigue on its own.

The Piece Kor

“Words of the Raven”

single A-side (1968)

From Bel-Air, Maryland, The Piece Kor pay homage to the local legend Edgar Allan Poe on the A-side to their lone single. “Words of the Raven” provides commentary on contemporary American politics – unsurprising, given the volatile nature of its year of release – and the sense of foreboding is underscored by tremolo guitar and references to Poe’s most famous work.

The Lost Tribe

“Walk One Way”

single A-side (1968)

One last band from Maryland (Dundalk), The Lost Tribe were yet another one-single-wonder. The A-side to their lone release, “Walk One Way” skews toward the psych end of the spectrum, and it matches its sophisticated production elements with a compelling vocal melody and impressive musicianship. The backing of a major label couldn’t make it a hit, but this is an excellent one-off regardless.

The Clock-Work Orange

“What Am I Without You”

single B-side (1968)

Back to New Jersey, and the town of Elizabeth, for our last track. The B-side to their second-and-final single, “What Am I Without You” is an impressive showing from The Clock-Work Orange. The track’s heavily-treated production and rhythmic shifts place it firmly in the psychedelic camp, but it’s still delivered in the spirit of the Mid-Atlantic garage scene.

Author

  • Matt Ryan founded Strange Currencies Music in January 2020, and remains the site's editor-in-chief. The creator of the "A Century of Song" project and co-host of the "Strange Currencies Podcast," Matt enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has a particular affinity for 60s pop, 90s indie rock, and post-bop jazz. He is an avid collector of vinyl, and a multi-instrumentalist who has played/recorded with several different bands and projects.

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