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Monday, March 10, 2008

Golden Greats (Liberty, 1967)

Congratulations to the Ventures, the instrumental rock and roll quartet from Tacoma, WA, for being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame among legends like Madonna and John Mellencamp. We are reprinting this article about our favorite compilation of theirs.

Way before Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and whoever you want to name in the Guitar Hall of Fame, there was an instrumental band called The Ventures from Tacoma, Washington. Their sound featured the most amazing electric guitar playing ever put on rock and roll records up to 1961 (with the exception of Chet Atkins if you don’t consider his style rockabilly). The Ventures created the surf tribute to song and inspired a whole new generation of guitar players into putting energy and raunchiness in their solos. Don Wilson & Bob Bogle played the axes with Nokie Edwards on Bass and the late Mel Taylor on drums.

Way more popular in the U.K. and in Japan than in the U.S. -they really know what is to not to have good weather-, The Ventures have an immense discography, and EMI America hasn’t reissued all of their U.S. releases on CD yet; maybe because it would take at least 100 CDs more to do so and to invest in forgotten bands is non profitable. It is expensive to put out the full catalog of the Ventures on the shelves, so EMI might as well leave them out of the game as they did with Les Baxter (having his material out of print is just a plain crime.)

But one thing is for sure: The Ventures sound way better on LP than on CD, like the digital era wasn’t exactly created for their brilliant, crude, loud analog sound. Maybe not having albums like Golden Greats on CD is a blessing disguised as a curse. Hear what I mean:

Honky Tonk

Golden Greats is 29 minutes of pure surf instrumental rock and roll, no questions asked and no bullshit included. Maybe it’s played too perfectly and that might sound "outdated" for some listeners who aren’t used to simple and right-to-the-point rock music. Don't expect any complicated solo guitar work, but beautiful, whistable melodies made by exceptional craftsmen. You could feel the serious guitar playing on their tongue-in-cheek attitude. They were playing hits of the day with amazing skill and gusto. Copying? No, celebrating. In 1960 the Tornadoes released a song called “Telstar” and the Ventures improved it, added a Moog organ played by Leon Russell and put it on an album called The Ventures Play Telstar, The Lonely Bull And Others. Not only that, they accelerated Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser” and turned The Champs’ “Tequila” into another guitar-driven beach party tune. “Honky Tonk” is nothing more than 12 bar blues but it can give the goosebumps to anybody with ears (listen to it here), and “Let’s Go” is a crowd chant guided by a rock band that wants more and more from the listener, inviting them to dance. One of the best surf tunes ever written, "Pipeline" gets the Ventures treatment and the end of side A leaves us wondering what did just hit us.

The Ventures’ greatest hit ever was “Walk, Don’t Run”, a song they recorded in 1959 before any record deals, and in this Liberty LP we find their 1964 version. Here it's surfier, faster, cooler and more exploratory, boosted on bass by Edwards. “Wipe Out” trashes the original version of the Surfaris and puts the listener right there in Maui. “Out Of Limits”, originally from Ventures In Space, pushes the sound of their Mosrite guitars to unsuspected limits, linking their sound with Sci-Fi experimentation a-la "Twilight Zone."

The band's sound was big on record as it was on stage, but they never reached the kind of popularity they truly deserved as an influential instrumental rock band. Unfortunately, singers are more appealing to the general public, especially in an industry where voices (and looks in the last 25 years) are the prime reason to buy a record. It didn't matter to The Ventures, having guitar players like George Harrison, Joe Walsh and Jeff Baxter citing them as major influences. Their sound never compromised to any trends and kept a sincerity and strenght their big fans felt identified with.

The Ventures knew how to sell a record and Golden Greats, just like some of their other albums, features on the cover a beautiful blonde girl on a gold bikini, right out of a James Bond flick and one of the sexiests album cover ever. There was a time when having a hottie on your record wasn't sexist, or bold or raunchy, just natural.

This LP is the perfect compilation for those who have a portable record player to take to a beach party, and it’s a brief crash-course of sixties guitar playing: an introduction of way more interesting sounds than the ones we listen to nowadays. There was a time when The Ventures were on the top of the charts with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass and many others now forgotten. May this record be a gate for a new playground of old sounds for our ears.

Golden Greats is out of print. Fortunately, there's so much of the Ventures out there to listen to, we can't waste our time mourning the absenty of this masterpiece on CD. The only thing we can do is get the LP and enjoy it. With luck, somebody from this current generation will be amazed of those amazing, incredible, excellent sounds of the past on vinyl.




Javier Lishner said...


Buen tributo a tan legendarios músicos. Vivan los Ventures.

Un abrazo,


Javier Moreno-Pollarolo said...

Hola Javier. Gracias por tu comentario. Efectivamente los Ventures son grandes!

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