An Introduction to New England Garage Rock

An Introduction To Garage Rock Summer

Last week, we explored the garage rock sounds of the Pacific Northwest. This time out, we turn our attention to the other upper corner of the United States. The six states of New England may not have produced a cohesive regional scene in quite the same way that the Pacific Northwest did, but several smaller vibrant local scenes emerged, each with their own unique flavor, but ultimately united by some important shared elements.

So, how did the garage rock of New England differ from what we heard last week? First off, the sound is arguably a bit harder to pin down. Pacific Northwest bands tended to maximize volume; in contrast, the thirty tracks featured here generally have a stronger emphasis on melody. Whereas the guitarists of the PNW bands often opted for slashing power chords, their New England counterparts embraced jangly open chords, often in minor-key progressions. While singers from both northern corners of the United States could play the “sad sack” role with the best of them, those in New England were more likely to layer vocal harmonies than their PNW rivals.

There were structural differences to these regional scenes as well. Sure, the relative population density of the Northeast meant more competing groups, but it also meant more places to play gigs, more radio stations, and more fans to divide and conquer. The expanded opportunities to gig in the Northeast may have been a contributing factor to the relative deemphasis on recording displayed by New England bands. Only a handful of the thirty groups represented here were afforded the opportunity to record albums, and none recorded more than one LP. In fact, a surprising number of the acts featured here only recorded one A/B single. In contrast, several of the bands that we covered in the PNW feature built discographies of multiple albums.

The minuscule catalogs of the groups featured here means that important biographical details have often been lost in the decades since their respective demises. Accordingly, I’ve included relevant background information where possible. The websites The Basement Walls and Rip It Up R.I. provided invaluable context and insight into several of these bands, particularly those from Rhode Island. More than anything else, searching through the pictures, set lists, and other ephemera from these groups – and the sites that they are collected on – was a heartening and human reminder of the labor of love that is part and parcel with both the experience of being in a teenage garage band, and of being a fan of obscure music.

One final note: there is a significant change in the approach to this week’s playlist. The rarity of many of these songs means that several are simply not available on any streaming service. Thus, there are two separate playlists linked below. The first is a YouTube link that includes all thirty tracks covered in this feature. Those that were only available in video form can still be streamed, in proper sequence, on the YouTube Music app. The second playlist is an abbreviated “sampler” of the tracks that are presently available on Spotify. While it contains eighteen excellent songs, believe me when I say that several of the very best ones are only available on the full-length playlist. Enjoy!


The Malibu’s

“Cry (Over Her)”

single A-side (1966)

Formed during their middle school years in Cranston, Rhode Island, The Malibu’s would remain together through their years at the University of Rhode Island. Somewhere in the middle, they recorded one of the great double-sided New England garage singles. While the contemplative B-side “Leave Me Alone” is also a winner, it’s the ripping A-side that gets the call here. “Cry (Over Her)” mixes a relentless fuzz guitar lead with excellent group vocals – plus an appropriate dose of teenage melancholy – on a fantastic exemplar of the classic garage rock sound.

Satan’s Breed

“Laugh Myself to the Grave”

single B-side (1966)

Hailing from West Warwick, Rhode Island, the menacingly-named Satan’s Breed recorded just one single before disbanding in 1968, but its B-side was a knockout. “Laugh Myself to the Grave” hits, largely due to its prominent organ and a strong vocal performance from bassist Ronald Lemme. It’s Lemme’s last initial, alongside those of saxophonist Dennis Moretti and local schoolteacher/manager Al Aubin, that make up the “A-L-M” on their lone release’s label.

The Remains

“Don’t Look Back”

single A-side (1966)

Among the absolute highlights of the original 1972 Nuggets compilation, “Don’t Look Back” captures one of the finest – and most successful – of New England’s garage rock bands at their peak. Formed in Boston in 1964, The Remains were led by vocalist/guitarist Barry Tashian, who delivers a scintillating performance on this single – which also appeared on the group’s legitimately excellent 1966 self-titled LP. The fact that said album was released by Epic, and that The Remains once opened for The Beatles, indicates that their story was not common for New England garage groups, but “Don’t Look Back” proves that they had the talent to rise to the top of the pack.

The Barbarians

“Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl”

single A-side (1965)

Like The Remains, The Barbarians also appeared on the original Nuggets, albeit not with the track presented here. Similarly, they were one of the few bands on this list that had the opportunity to record a full-length record. The title track to that album, “Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl” presents an interesting case in analyzing perspective. One read of the track might see it as mocking androgyny, but take a look at the sleeve of the record that it appears on, and consider that the long-haired, unconventionally-dressed quartet on its cover were likely themselves mocked for challenging the gender conventions of the mid-sixties. It’s not a great song per se – neither is their Nuggets contribution, “Moulty” – but it’s compelling nonetheless.

The Rockin’ Ramrods

“Bright Lit Blue Skies”

single A-side (1966)

Even before he was revealed to be an all-around creep, I never really got the appeal of Ariel Pink’s music. I purchased his 2010 album, Before Today, based on glowing reviews, but only one track really stood out to me – and it wasn’t the acclaimed single, “Round and Round.” That song, “Bright Lit Blue Skies,” was originally recorded by the Newton, Massachusetts group, The Ramrods (aka The Rockin’ Ramrods), who released eight singles between 1963-67. Written by bassist Ronn Campisi, “Bright Lit Blue Skies” abandons the straight-ahead garage rock sound to adopt something befitting of the atmospheric backdrop of its title.

The Others

“I Can’t Stand This Love, Goodbye”

single A-side (1965)

Among the more successful garage bands from New England, The Others formed in the fall of 1964 while its members were attending the University of Rhode Island. Quickly inking a deal with RCA Victor, the group would release three singles prior to breaking up in 1968. Of their body of work, it’s the A-side to their first release that gained the most attention. Written by group members Mike Brand (guitar) and Pete Shepley (vocals), “I Can’t Stand This Love, Goodbye” rides a surf-like guitar riff and brisk tempo to great effect.

The Blue Beats

“Born in Chicago”

single A-side (1967)

A revved-up take on the electric blues, the A-side to the second single from Danbury, Connecticut’s The Blue Beats leaves little on the table after its scorching two-and-a-quarter-minute run-time. Injecting new life into a time-tested genre is no simple task, but with its ripping pace and waiting harmonica, The Blue Beats make it sound easy on “Born in Chicago.”

Beep Beep and The Road Runners

“True Love Knows”

single B-side (1966)

The landlocked Worcester, Massachusetts isn’t exactly a surf city, but the local group Beep Beep and The Road Runners managed to incorporate a decidedly coastal sound into their own brand of garage rock. The B-side to the surf-styled instrumental “Shiftin’ Gears,” “True Love Knows” retains the hurried drums and active fretboard work of its A-side, while spinning the kind of melancholy heartbreak tale that was common to teenage rock of the era.

The Rising Storm

“Frozen Laughter”

from Calm Before… (1967)

Andover, Massachusetts’ The Rising Storm had true garage rock credentials – they covered the aforementioned songs by The Remains and The Ramrods on their debut LP – but this track from 1967’s Calm Before demonstrates a softer, more reflective side of their sound. “Frozen Laughter” is the centerpiece of a genuinely fantastic album – one now considered the “holy grail” for many garage rock fans, and whose reissues are even sought-after collector’s items – and it’s a particular standout amongst the LP’s original material. The Rising Storm have one of the most fascinating and heartwarming stories of any American garage band – as evidenced by a 2018 documentary about the group – and this is arguably their finest moment.

The Squires

“Going All the Way”

single A-side (1966)

One of the great garage singles, The Squires’ 1966 A-side “Going All the Way” is the perfect exemplar of the classic New England sound. Its minor-key jangle, distantly echoing organ, and insistent build make for a mesmerizing track that packs a world of atmosphere into just over two minutes. The Bristol, Connecticut group would release just this one single – plus one more as The Rogues – but “Going All the Way” constitutes an impressive legacy on its own.

The Eastern Alliance

“Love Fades Away”

single A-side (1966)

The title to the lone A-side by New Haven, Connecticut’s The Eastern Alliance promises melancholy, and on that it delivers. “Love Fades Away” is a sparse, downbeat track – one that trades in the homespun charms of the classic garage sound, but with a dour sensibility that meshes well with its minimalistic production and arrangement.

The Plagues

“To Wander”

single A-side (1966)

Taunton, Massachusetts’ The Plagues released just one single, and its A-side is a stunner. The jangly 12-string guitar chords and swirling electric organ are enough to spike the senses, but it’s the wistful melody and vocal harmonies that drive “To Wander” home. Though biographical information for the band is scarce online – they were apparently the house group at Taunton’s Cotillion Ballroom for a time – I was at least able to confirm that “To Wander” is an original track; and it’s a true lost classic.

The Fabulous Frauliens

“Practice of Evil”

single A-side (1967)

A rarity among garage bands, the Methuen, Massachusetts quintet The Fabulous Frauliens were an all-girl group. The A-side to their only single, “Practice of Evil” is a jaunty number about – of all things – the Salem witch trials. An original composition to boot – written by sisters Linda and Ann Duquette – one wonders what would have led the group to write a song about the local historical oddity, but it makes for a charming and thoroughly unique track.

The Shags

“Don’t Press Your Luck”

single A-side (1966)

No, it’s not The Shaggs. These Shags hailed from New Haven, and turned in a classic garage stomper with their third A-side, “Don’t Press Your Luck.” Downright prolific by the standards of this playlist, The Shags recorded twelve songs in total, spread out over six singles. While several of these have appeared on a variety of garage collections, “Don’t Press Your Luck” – which lent its name to one such 2006 compilation from the Sundazed label – stands as their peak.

The Buck Rogers Movement

“Baby Come On”

single B-side (1967)

Appearing as the B-side to their first single, “Baby Come On” is an exhilarating blast of rock from Chicopee, Massachusetts’ The Buck Rogers Movement. While elements of psychedelia seep into the track, its rave-up pace keeps it firmly in the garage rock wheelhouse. There’s some impressive musicianship as well – not always a given in these kind of recordings – particularly in the wildly fluid bass line that runs throughout.

The Lost

“Violet Gown”

single A-side (1966)

One of the less garage-y recordings on this playlist, “Violet Gown” was still the product of a band with the required pedigree, even if it ultimately appeared on Capitol Records. From Burlington, The Lost were one of Vermont’s most successful bands of the era, as evidenced by their affiliation with a major label – a connection that allowed them to pursue a more lush production on this track.

The Lively Ones

“Too Many Lies”

release information unknown

You’re not likely to find much info about these guys online. My efforts have turned up very little, but their appearance on the aforementioned Sundazed compilation Don’t Press Your Luck seems to confirm that they were in fact a Connecticut-based band; the usually-reliable RateYourMusic erroneously redirects to the Los Angeles surf band of the same name. Either way, “Too Many Lies” is a roaring, fuzz-infused rocker – one well worthy of inclusion, despite its murky backstory.

Bram Rigg Set

“I Can Only Give You Everything”

single A-side (1967)

Speaking of fuzz, this lone A-side by North Haven, Connecticut’s Bram Rigg Set brings it on a faithful cover of Them’s 1966 single, “I Can Only Give You Everything.” While the vocal take doesn’t quite match Van Morrison’s work in the original recording, this is still an excellent version of a track that has since become a garage rock standard.

The Fumin’ Humins

“Queen”

single A-side (1967)

Marion, Massachusetts’ The Fumin’ Humins are another group for whom biographical details are scarce. Both sides of their lone single are credited to the same “B. Cardoza”; therefore, it’s reasonable to speculate that the two tracks the band released were original compositions. Of them, the low-key “Queen” is the winner with its minimalistic arrangement, which is highlighted by the appearance of either a flute or recorder.

The Landlords

“I’ll Return”

single A-side (1967)

And another Massachusetts band with just one single to their name. Hailing from Winchester, The Landlords crafted one of those classic mournful New England minor-key gems with their sole A-side. One can assume that “I’ll Return” is among the plethora of garage band singles that were pressed in the minimum quantity of 500, and – given that the few that have popped up on Discogs have sold in the neighborhood of $200 – they are a particularly rare find today.

The North Atlantic Invasion Force

“Black on White”

single A-side (1968)

A Derby, Connecticut combo with a half-dozen released singles, The North Atlantic Invasion Force’s compact catalog hit a peak on this 1968 A-side. Reportedly something of a hit on local radio, “Black on White” matched a twin keyboard attack – one piano and one electric organ – to solid effect. With a strong performance from singer George Morgio, it’s a standout from the more polished side of the garage rock spectrum.

The Insane

“Someone Like You”

single B-side (1967)

Formed on New Years Day 1967, the Southington, Connecticut quintet The Insane would gig regularly throughout New England and New York during their brief existence. Though they would enter a recording studio twice, only the fruits of their first session were ever released. The B-side to “I Can’t Prove It,” “Someone Like You” was written and sung by keyboardist Peter Brown, and the group’s energy is palpable. Captured in a high school gymnasium by a mobile recording unit, the track has a spaciousness that is rare for a garage single of the era, but it suits the jangly guitars and group harmonies well.

The Morning After

“Things You Do”

single A-side (1967)

Not to sound like a broken record, but here’s yet another mid-tempo, minor-key A-side from another Massachusetts band with just one single. The Morning After emerged from the small town of Franklin, roughly an hour outside of Boston. Written by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jay Enos, “Things You Do” does all the things that a classic New England garage track is expected to. Its mournful melody, crisp chords, and bass runs epitomize the local sound of the era.

The New Breed

“Wasting My Time”

single A-side (1966)

A Worcester, Mass band with – you guessed it – just one released single, The New Breed should have made quite the impression with 1966’s “Wasting My Time.” Pushing the tempo to an animated pace, the track gains intensity through its brief run-time, with its double-time drums, lively bass line, and a searing fuzz guitar solo. It perfectly mixes “raw” and “refined,” landing in an appealing middle ground.

Tyme

“Cry for the Trees”

single A-side (1966)

Recorded in 1966, but remaining unreleased for nearly half a century, Tyme’s “Cry for the Trees” survived on a lone acetate disc before being reissued by the Crypt label in 2015. A true garage classic, “Cry” finds the Winsted, Connecticut quintet matching an ominous instrumental background with lyrics that seem to foretell some kind of ecological calamity. Or maybe it’s just about the seasons changing. Either way, this one is a definite keeper.

The Summer Sounds

“The Leaves Are Turning Brown”

from Up Down (1969)

A rare group featured on this list that actually managed to record an LP, The Summer Sounds formed in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and released the ten-song Up Down in 1969. Incorporating elements of psych and baroque pop (note the vaguely harpsichord-like sound of the electric organ), “The Leaves Are Turning Brown” is one of the album’s most immediately-appealing tracks, with its strong group harmonies fleshing out an inventive arrangement.

Crystal Chandelier

“Suicidal Flowers”

single B-side (1969)

First gaining attention after their inclusion on the third volume of the Pebbles series – where they were incorrectly cited as a Texas band – Providence, Rhode Island’s Crystal Chandelier lean toward the psychier end of the garage rock spectrum on their signature track, “Suicidal Flowers.” The vocals of Arnie Micarelli have been compared to those of Jim Morrison – though the lyrics are less embarrassing than the typical Doors fare – and it’s an apt reference point. This may be stylistically removed from the rest of the songs on this playlist, but it displays how the region’s bands were adapting their garage sounds to fit the changing rock trends of the late-sixties.

The Outside In

“You Ain’t Gonna Bring Me Down to My Knees”

single A-side (1966)

Maine finally checks in on this aggressive stomper from York’s The Outside In. While it wasn’t quite the rock and roll hotbed of Massachusetts, the Pine Tree State produced its own wave of groups throughout the sixties. And judging by the small sample size of “You Ain’t Gonna Bring Me Down to My Knees,” Maine bands didn’t seem averse to bringing the volume. Like many of their counterparts from regions south, The Outside In issued just one single before disbanding, but they definitely made it count.

The What

“Escape”

single A-side (1968)

Our lone representative from New Hampshire is this fiery partial rewrite of Bob Dylan’s epochal “All Along the Watchtower.” Ripping through the basic structure of the song, the group replaces most of Dylan’s original nouns, making “Escape” come off as something of a cross between a Mad Lib and the birth of punk rock. It’s a dizzying whirlwind of a song, a rare example of a successful interpolation, and one of the best things on this entire playlist.

Children of the Night

“World of Tears”

single A-side (1967)

Our exploration of New England garage rock ends with another group for which little biographical info is available. Given that the Bella Records label that released Children of the Night’s lone single was based in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, it’s likely that the group was also from the state. There’s a reckless abandon to “World of Tears” that contrasts with many of the songs in this feature, but it meshes well with the sense of bitter resignation that marks the track’s lyrics. Sorry to end on a downer, but this just seems like a great closer.

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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