Listeners can be forgiven for thinking they’ve heard the four-disc psychedelic-pop collection Where The Action Is! before. Not because the box set includes familiar songs; recognizable names like The Turtles, The Byrds, and The Monkees show up, but never with hits. The sound, however, is anything but obscure. A spin-off of the great Nuggets compilations, Action focuses on the music of high-’60s Los Angeles, a sound heard in every ’60s movie and Saturday-morning cartoon that added music to provide with-it authenticity. It’s the music of the British Invasion as dragged through smoke-filled Midwestern garages, given a Hollywood sheen, and transformed into cuts at once odder and more radio-friendly than its sources.
Hollywood devours new talent and fresh ideas and nobody moves there without at least half a mind toward being consumed. Consequently, Action’s 101 tracks mix ascending rock stars (Buffalo Springfield, Sonny & Cher), area favorites who never made it much further (The Palace Guard, The Merry-Go-Round), studio creations and session vets trying their hands at the styles of the day (The Lamp Of Childhood, October Country), psych rock-daytrippers (Peter Fonda, Rick Nelson), simpatico sunshine-pop proponents (The Association), and visitors from a future era (Randy Newman, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). Together, they sound like voices trying to get a grip on the times, whether for profit or more philosophical reasons.
This lovingly assembled, thoughtfully annotated collection lets a post-peak Monkees track share space with a Curt Boettcher rarity and a fuzzed-out garage gem by suburbanites The Bush without trying too hard to make sense of it all. Where The Action Is! delivers more curiosities than transcendent moments, but it succeeds brilliantly as a survey of a noisy, confusing place where creativity and commerce wore the same paisley threads as they hung out in clubs and studio, listening late into the night for the sound that captured the moment.