Music Features

Overlooked Albums #34: The Sonics - Here Are The Sonics

Here Are The Sonics is ground zero for punk rock. It was released in the wake of three 1964 singles that were uncompromisingly raw. This came as British bands swept over America, their success used as a litmus test by business leaders. Radio programmers and DJs were decidedly confounded by the rattling onslaught of The Sonics, who reigned supreme in the rowdy ballrooms of the Pacific Northwest. This group didn’t bow to pop conventions – no ballads or love songs – and the lyrics were frightfully controversial. The Fab Four had their rough edges sanded by Brian Epstein and George Martin; The Sonics had no bottom-line minders holding them back. Their first album was twelve jolts of adrenaline-fueled noise with no frills. It didn’t get much chart action back then, but it kicked the doors open for future bands like The Stooges and The Ramones.

The Tacoma, Washington group was formed by brothers Andy and Larry Parypa (bass and lead guitar), whose rock music-loving mother encouraged them to play for live audiences. The Sonics’ booming sound came together in 1963, when they were joined by Bob Bennett (drums), Gerry Roslie (keyboards and lead guitar), and Rob Lind (sax and miscellany).

In a recent interview, Rob Lind said that their goal was “to move the floor and break windows.” The group has held on to this jet-plane vision, initially captured with stubborn purity on Here Are The Sonics

The album opens with The Witch, a belated hit that distills the group’s signature sound: madman vocals, explosive drums, nimble-fingered bass, a riff played on guitar, and sax. It’s all there in this tale of a new girl in town who doesn’t put out. Sexual frustration aside, the song takes a Roger Corman turn when the girl creeps into people’s bedrooms as they sleep tight. The horror connection continues with Psycho. Gerry Roslie, the group’s main singer and songwriter, is one of rock’s great screamers, and this is his showcase. Tight drum fills by Bob Bennett add to the insanity, turning the song into a garage/punk classic. Boss Hoss is a delight for gear-heads. It rumbles like a fine-tuned engine, climaxing with a nasty sax solo. Play this in your puny Fiat, and it will feel like you’re driving a badass GTO.

The album is a lo-fi wonder. It came out on Etiquette Records, a label owned by members of The Fabulous Wailers. John “Buck” Ormsby, who played bass for that group, produced the album, giving considerable leeway to The Sonics’ penchant for drama and aggression. The songs were recorded with a limited number of mics, approximating the sound of the halls they played in. This gives a live feel to their covers of Do You Love Me?, Money, and Roll Over Beethoven. Many groups played these songs during the era, but The Sonics double the intensity to make them their own. 

The covers play tribute to black performers like Ray Charles, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry. The exception is Dirty Robber, which tips the hat to The Wailers’ original.  One familiar tune is Richard Berry’s Have Love Will Travel, which was used in a TV ad some years ago, putting the group back in the spotlight. The Sonics’ version wakes the neighbors with a hard-driving beat and a lung-busting sax break.

Strychnine is one original that have been covered by a number of bands like The Cramps and L7. The lyrics are hard to resist: “You may think it’s funny that I like the stuff / But once you’ve tried it you can’t get enough”. The Sonics weren’t afraid of stepping out of the love-song rut, but that kind of bravery kept them off many radio stations while other garage groups got national hits. They still managed to build an immense following where they played live and their records could be heard.

Boom, released in 1966, was another great album, but their third would lead to a dead end. The group moved to Jerden Records, an indie label that had a distribution deal with ABC-Paramount. Introducing The Sonics (1966) was an attempt to secure a wider audience for the group, but its slick production damped their crackle. Not surprisingly, it didn’t sell, and the band dissolved. By that time the music scene was changing, and the band members moved to mostly non-musical pursuits. They became fathers, professionals, business owners – never seeking the respect of the music community. They got it anyway. 

The group rejoined briefly in 1972, but the great surge in popularity would come with punk rock and the indie scene. The world has gone full circle, and The Sonics are now getting their well-deserved dues. Larry Parypa, Gerry Roslie and Rob Lind have been playing steadily since 2007. These proto-punk veterans haven’t mellowed out; their music continues to be loud, hard-edged, and mean – still kicking ass after all these years.