Various Artists: Where The Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968

RIYL: Byrds, Beach Boys, Love

One would think that it wouldn’t have taken six volumes before the renowned Nuggets series finally got around to the fertile music scene that dominated Los Angeles in the mid ‘60s. With ample sets devoted to London and San Francisco, and extensive treatment given New York and the Northeast, cynics might perceive Where the Action Is! almost as an afterthought, coming, as it does, this late in the Nuggets progression. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome addition to the canon, given that the ‘60s were practically defined by the folk rock, psychedelia and experimental sounds that echoed through the Southern California canyons, its sprawling suburbs, white, sunny beaches, and the haunts and hangouts on the Sunset Strip. And while the roll call of musicians birthed in those environs encompasses some of the more formidable figures of modern rock and pop, the L.A. scene was also responsible for would-be innovators who etched only a momentary foothold in that innovative era.

This, of course, is where Nuggets has always served its purpose, to bring to light the obscure and unlikely artists that have slipped through the cracks, both the one-hit wonders and early permutations of bands that would ultimately achieve stardom under some later aegis. And in the case of Where The Action Is!, that mission has never been better served. The obvious examples from that era are, of course, well-represented, from Captain Beefheart and the Byrds to the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield, while bands like Love, the Seeds and the Turtles, transient teen idols Dino, Desi & Billy, Kim Fowley and Keith Allison, and preposterous pretenders such as Peter Fonda and Noel Harrison also find a good fit. As befitting those heady, innocent days, there are plenty of band brands that give cause for chuckles, given that the psychedelic ‘60s propagated groups with names like the Everpresent Fullness, London Phogg, Farpardokly, Limey & the Yanks, Ken & the Fourth Dimension, the W.C. Fields Memorial Electric String Band and, of course, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy.

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Mika: The Boy Who Knew Too Much

RIYL: Queen, George Michael, Harry Nilsson

As anyone who’s ever tried to tell a story to a room full of people can tell you, it’s exceedingly difficult to entertain even one person, let alone several million – which is part of why it’s always so disappointing to see successful entertainers try and get serious on us. From Bill Murray in “The Razor’s Edge” to George Michael with Listen Without Prejudice, Volume One, artists are forever trying to show us that they can do more than make us laugh and/or dance – usually with disappointing results. Let’s give Mika credit, then, for not forgetting what moved six million copies of his 2007 debut, Life in Cartoon Motion – namely, the same gleefully layered Technicolor pop that forms the basis of its follow-up, The Boy Who Knew Too Much.

Mika makes no bones about sticking close to his roots, so to speak; as soon as you lay eyes on Boy’s artwork, which looks – at a glance, anyway – awfully similar to Cartoon Motion’s, you’ll know this isn’t going to be a major departure. In fact, it’s really just more of everything: more bright pop hooks, more production, and more wonderfully over-the-top arrangements. It takes less than a full minute before Mika’s leading what sounds like a cast of hundreds in a sing-along chant of “We are not what you think we are! We are golden!” and it’s off to the races from there, in one endless falsetto loop-de-loop of swirling harmonies, pounding pianos, and instantly memorable melodies.

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