Psychorama - The Fuzztones (Easy Action)
Finally, here’s the definitive collection that does the Fuzztones justice.
There have been numerous re-issues, the odd compilation and a tribute record. There’s even a 2CD set of rarities. But packaging the first three of their seven studio albums - plus their debut live EP bulked-out to album length - in a box set, with bonus vinyl and a DVD tossed in - was an inspired idea.
The Fuzztones sprung up in New York City in 1980 and were the vanguard of the garage rock revival wave. Along with the California-based Bomp label, the Cramps and Lenny Kaye’s seminal “Nuggets” compilation, the Fuzztones opened ears to a whole new (old) world of Farfisa organs and distorted Vox guitars.
The Fuzztones’ schtick was a perfect collision of sex, horror and trash, cooked up in a still in a basement of a Lower East Side flophouse and adorned with human bone necklaces. Co-founders Rudy Protudi (vocals and guitar) and Deb O’Nair (organ) folded their former band Tina Peel after their new part-time group started packing out NYC’s finest toilets like Max’s and The Mudd Club.
It took the Fuzztones four years to put out their first single and five to issue an LP. Since then there’s been an endlessly shifting cast involved and re-locations to California and then Europe. At last count, there were 26 past members of the Fuzztones, and Rudi Protudi was the last original man (or woman) standing.
Their derivative nature might have attracted critics but who cares? If you liked the ‘60s punk revival or missed it and want to dive in retrospectively, “Psychorama” is the perfect place to start. The band’s configuration of one or two guitars, bass drums and organ was conventional compared to the bass-less early Cramps or the No-Wave bands but the Fuzztones had few equals tilling the fertile acid punk ground.
Fans will have own favourite album and probably own the originals on vinyl. If not, Easy Action has LP re-issues of each of these four plus “Salt for Zombies” in the pipeline. As far as the box set CDs are concerned, there’s the attraction of bonus tracks on each of these to boost its appeal. The seven-inch, four-song live EP of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the ‘Tones that rounds out the package is a keeper.
The live EP “Leave Your Mind At Home” kicks things off and weighs in at seven tracks plus a hefty 11 bonuses of single tracks and demoes. It’s the Fuzztones in their original, raw state and quite a contrast to the sound they produced when they eventually landed on major label offshoot Beggars Banquet. I have a personal bias towards the Wet Taxis’ take on “You Burn Me Up And Down” where Simon Knuckey‘s psyched-out guitar seared like a soldering iron on skin, but the Fuzztones’ wild version here has its own uncultured charm.
“Lysergic Emanations” is one of the best records of 1985 or any other year and kicks off with The Haunted’s classic “1-2-5”. It doesn’t match the Lime Spiders’ cover but it doesn’t fall far short. The Fuzztones’ “Cinderella” is arguably the greatest Sonics cover ever, but the band was starting to chart its own course by now. Their “Journey To Thyme” is a peak among many on this one.
“Live In Europe” was the record that brought the band prominence on The Continent and is outside the scope of this box set. The studio follow-up “In Heat” (1989) brought legendary producer Shel Talmy into the picture and failed to make a mainstream mark in Europe, showing off yet another line-up and Protudi’s blossoming songwriting skills. The dense production didn’t do it for me last time I listened but stands OK with hindsight. The fabulous “Actions Speak Louder Than Words” EP cut is one of the four bonuses.
“Braindrops” finds the Fuzztones sounding like they badly want to cross-over into mainstream musical consciousness with close-mic’ed vocals and carefully layered production. It’s not a sell-out - not when there’s an ode to cough mixture (“Romilar D”) that was never going to be a hit with anyone but street people on The Bowery and Lester Bangs. “Third Time's The Charm” is one of the best songs here and the cover of “7 And 7 Is” pre-empts - and outdoes - the version the Ramones put to tape on “Acid Eaters.” Still on covers and the live “Little Red Book” is also a killer (obne of five bonus cuts). Arthur Lee and Sean Boniwell are guests on the studio recording.
“Monster A Go Go” (1991) came out in the same year and is a tribute to Halloween. It's 15 tracks of kooky, spooky goodness (including a re-recorded “Charlotte’s Remains” from “In Heat”) do the business big-time, with the likes of “Jack The Ripper” and “Dinner With Drac” playing up the creepy/fun angle.
The early Fuzztones had a charismatic frontman in Protudi, a platinum blonde sex symbol in Deb O’Nair and a collective and undeniable swagger in the way they put their songs across. Line-ups that followed had the same qualities to varying degrees, with Rudy the one constant to this day, with him continuing the legacy with a new, European line-up..
If you don’t believe they had star quality, slip the “Elixir” DVD into your player and watch Protudi’s interaction with the crowd and bandmates at the tail-end of a long Eurotour. The transfer from videotape is so-so with no fancy menus or bonuses but it’s all about the music and performance. As it should be.
Easy Action has gone in boots and all with the Fuzztones and you should as well.