The Sonics- !!!Here Are The Sonics!!! (1965)
The Sonics- !!!Here Are The Sonics!!!
Recorded In 1964
Released Etiquette Records March 1965
Unlike many of the bands or artists featured on the podcast, the Sonics are not as well known to the general public, but they are more influential in concept than as a band. When you think of ‘the Seattle sound,” the first bands that often come to mind are Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains. If you are older, the names Jimi Hendrix or Heart may come to mind, but before any of these groups existed, the Sonics emerged. The band can be best described as a garage rock or proto-punk act. Their sound was raw, their guitarist played distorted, their playing was rough, the vocals were aggressive and edgy, and they played really loud. All characteristics filtered into punk and grunge music.
A History of the Sonics
The Sonics was formed in 1960 in Bremerton, Washington, by teenage guitarist Larry Parypa. Like all bands, the lineup changed a few times before the group settled on Gerry Roslie on lead vocals, organ, and piano, Larry Parypa on lead guitar and vocals, Andy Parypa on bass, Rob Lind on vocals and saxophone and Bob Bennett on drums. In 1964 the group released their first single, “The Witch,” on Etiquette Records, which became a regional underground hit. In 1965 they released their first LP, !!!Here Are The Sonics!!!, which was crudely recorded on a two-track recorder using only one microphone to capture the drum sound. The album is considered their best. Their follow-up record Boom was released in 1966, and the group continued to record using crude and less refined techniques. In 1966 they began opening for major acts such as The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, Jay & the Americans, Herman's Hermits, the Righteous Brothers, the Kinks, Lovin' Spoonful, Mamas & Papas, the Liverpool 5, and the Shangri-Las.
Breakup and Reunions
The group was then convinced to try to record using a more polished sound in late 1966 and headed to Hollywood to record in a more proper studio with better equipment. The result was Introducing the Sonics which sold poorly and angered their core audience, who preferred the band's more rough sound. In the late seventies, the record was rereleased as The Sonics- Original Northwest Punk. The band began to fall apart in the late 60s; saxophonist Rob Lind left to become a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War, and eventually, each member began to peel off, except for Gerry Roslie who remained in music and as a Sonic. The classic lineup reunited in 1972 for a show at Seattle’s Paramount Theater and the album Live Fanz Only. In 1980 Gerry Roslie fronted an all-new lineup playing songs from their classic albums. In 2007 Roslie, Larry Parypa, and Rob Lind reunited with newer members Ricky Lynn Johnson on drums and Don Wilhelm on bass and recorded a live session for BBC radio.
The Sonics Impact
Despite limited success, the Sonics influenced many famous acts. In a radio interview, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana discussed the group saying, "I, I have to admit...The Sonics recorded very, very cheaply on a two-track, you know, and they just used one microphone over the drums, and they got the most amazing drum sound I've ever heard. Still to this day, it's still my favorite drum sound. It sounds like he's hitting harder than anyone I've ever known." The White Stripes named The Sonics as one of the bands that influenced them the most, calling them "the epitome of '60s punk" and claiming they were "harder than the Kinks, and punk long before punk." LCD Soundsystems and the Hives have also named the group as an influence. In 2018 Jorden Albertson released the film BOOM! A Film About The Sonics with some help from Mike McCready of Pearl Jam. The film created more interest in the group.
(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)
Track 1- “The Witch” was written by Gerry Roslie and was the group's first single. It is considered possibly the era's most edgy and heavy recording and an example of early punk. The song was recorded in Seattle, and according to sound engineers, the Sonics were only happy when the studio's VU meters, which measure over modulation, were continuously in the red. Too edgy for most major markets, the single was played on smaller Seattle stations. Although “The Witch” never charted nationally, it is considered an essential early rock recording. It’s both terrible and great at the same time. “It's going to make you itch because she’s the witch” (*+)
Track 2- “Do You Love Me” is the Sonics' take on the often-covered R&B classic written by Motown founder and owner Berry Gordy for the Contours. The Sonics don't change the song much from the original- it's just more raw. Take notice of the call and response between Roslie and the band and the screams that the vocalists often used.
Track 3- “Roll Over Beethoven” comes from Chuck Berry, and we had already discussed it in season one when we reviewed the Beatles' Second Album. Larry Parypa is nowhere near as polished a guitarist as Berry, but he does a reasonably solid job on this one. The group really amps up the volume and the energy. Rosalie goes a little bonkers on the piano—no chance Beethoven doesn't roll over if he heard this. The German master was a pretty angry guy and would have likely threatened to kick their asses if he heard his name mentioned on this recording.
Track 4- “Boss Hoss” is another track written by Roslie. It was released as a single In May of 1965. The song is about a car. The tune is hard driving and includes a pretty solid sax solo by Rob Lind. It is pure rock, simple and edgy. (*+)
Track 5- “Dirty Robber” is a cover of a song by The Fabulous Wailers, who were another rock band from Seattle from the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Fabulous Wailers bassist Buck Ormsby was the one who signed the Sonics to his label Etiquette Records. They remained with Etiquette for only two albums before moving to Jerden Records later in 1966. The song is a fast shuffle blues. Bob Bennett is bashing the drums pretty hard on this one. Rob Lind takes a sax solo, and Larry Parypa plays an early distorted guitar solo.
Track 6- “Have Love Will Travel'' was written and recorded in 1959 by singer Richard Berry who also wrote “Louie, Louie.” This is early riff rock at its best. Possibly my favorite track on the album. It's basically about how a dude will travel anywhere to hook up. The drum sound is pretty full, considering how it was recorded. (+)
Track 1- “Psycho” is another Roslie original released as a single in 1967 that sounds an awful lot like “Have Love Will Travel.” It's basically the same riff. Lyrically the song is about an overstimulated guy whose “baby” (girlfriend) is driving him “crazy.” There’s a poorly handled key modulation towards the end of the piece. Within the track, we get some screams from Roslie, A drum break from Bennett, and a perfect example of the unpolished energy that makes the sonics “boom.” (*)
Track 2- “Money (That’s What I Want)” is the second album track written by Motown’s Berry Gordy and money he did receive. The song was initially issued by Barrett Strong in 1959. Then the Beatles, who seemed to have some influence on the Sonics, recorded the tune in 1963. Then many others jumped on the song about cash to make cash, including The Kingsmen, Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, and the Flying Lizards. The deeper into the album you get, you start to realize that, for the time, Larry Parypa was a pretty good rock guitar soloist—the drum sounds like a cannon on this one.
Track 3- “Walking The Dog” is the Sonics attempt at R&B and it works pretty well. The song was a signature hit for Rufus Thomas in 1963. Parypa is impressive again on this one, and the song compares well against other white 1960s bans like the Rolling Stones, Animals, and Kinks, who also favored similar material. (+)
Track 4- “Night Time Is The Right Time” is another popular R&B classic initially recorded by blues pianist Roosevelt Sykes in 1937; Big Bill Broonzy then recorded a version in 1938. In 1957, Nappy Brown recorded a version that gained some more attention. It was Ray Charle’s 1958 version that made the song a signature piece for the blind singer and pianist and a minor hit. In 1963 James Brown also had a notable release with the song. Listening to the Sonics version of the track against the others makes some good comparisons. Not sure if he sat on a mic stand a few times during the recording, but Roslie screams a lot on this one. Enjoy this track anytime, “night and day.”
Track 5- “Strychnine” is a pesticide that kills small animals like birds and rodents. If ingested, it causes muscular convulsions and then death through asphyxiation. Gerry Roslie wrote a song about it, telling the listeners that “some folks like water and some folks like wine, but he likes the taste of straight Strychnine.” I’ll stick to water and wine. He encourages the listeners to try it as it “will make you tough and make you shout. It will even knock you out.” This is the most punkish song on the album. (+)
Track 6- “Good Golly Miss Molly” is an extreme uptempo remake of the 1956 Little Richard classic showing off the band's raw energy and Rosalie's piano playing and strong vocals. It's a great album closer and is “a ball.”
The Sonics - !!!Here Are The Sonics!!! is a showcase of pure rock and roll. The group and the record offered an alternative to the thoroughness in terms of the writing, arranging, and production of other 1965 albums like The Beach Boys- Today! and The Beatles Rubber Soul. For the Sonics, the elements were simple: catchy tunes, unrestricted energy, hard-driving beats, overdriven guitar solos, and the more than occasional lead singer scream. All of this was recorded in one room with a few microphones by energetic young men.