WHAT?!? I’m drumming here!
Any seasoned record collector/digger will attest that pretty much every heap of old records in the US (and probably everywhere else, too) probably contains at least one Sandy Nelson album.
Nelson was a presence on the charts in the late 50s and early 60s with numbers like ‘Teen Beat’ and ‘Let There Be Drums’, but aside from a minor hit in 1964, that was about it.
However, like the Ventures, and the Marketts, and the T-Bones and any number of instrumental groups, Sandy Nelson didn’t let a little thing like an absence from the charts keep him from making music.
Between 1960 and 1975 Nelson recorded a string of more than two dozen albums for Imperial, Liberty and United Artists, covering pretty much all the styles gracing the pop charts.
One might be forgiven for dismissing Nelson at first glance. The garage sales of America are filled with all kinds of instrumental pop albums,most of which look like shameless cash-ins predestined for the cut-out bin.
However, I’m here to tell you that you pass over Sandy Nelson at your peril.
Though Nelson was a drummer, and most of his albums contain a few drum-heavy features (not necessarily a bad thing, but not always a good thing either…) he surrounded himself with solid players, and he (or whoever was running the show) had pretty interesting taste in music.
My first real doorway into Nelson’s discography was via his soul covers, of which there are a number of excellent ones (watch the Funky16Corners Radio Show for more on that).
Fortunately yours truly also has a taste for garage, psych and pop, and there’s plenty of that, too.
The two tracks I bring you today hail from Nelson’s 1967 LP ‘Cheetah Beat’.
When I first picked up the record, I was shocked to see Nelson covering the Yardbirds ‘Happenings Ten Years Time Ago’. Interestingly enough, while their last big hit was ‘Over Under Sideways Down’ in 1966, the Yardbirds continued to have regional hits (‘Happenings Ten Years Time Ago’, ‘Little Games’ and ‘Ha Ha Said the Clown’ were all minor hits in 1966 and 1967) in markets like the Northeast, Texas and Southern California.
Nelson’s version of ‘Happenings…’ is nice and tight, with lots of fuzz guitar, organ and (of course) percussion.
The song works well as an instrumental, with a very groovy au-go-go feel, sounding exactly like the kind of thing you’d hear in a TV or movie discotheque scene any time in the mid-to-late 60s.
The second selection is a cover of the Association’s 1966 ‘Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies’. The Associations best/best-known psychedelic number, ‘Pandora’s…’ was also a minor hit in 1966, hitting in a lot of the same California markets (right in between the mega-hits ‘Cherish’ and ‘Windy’) as the Yardbirds tune.
Where the original has kind of a wistful, airy psychedelia, the Sandy Nelson version lays on the guitars, making the song sound more like a Chocolate Watchband outtake.
They’re both very cool, and there’s a lot more out there like them.
So the next time you’re flipping through a carton of LPs on someone’s front lawn, and you see Sandy Nelson, spend that quarter. You will not regret it.
See you next week.