Review by Richie Unterberger
From 1965 to 1967, hitmaking Los Angeles producer Snuff Garrett's short-lived Viva Records label recorded some interesting garage rock and psychedelia, though none of them met with even the merest commercial success. In fact, the company's releases are rare even by the standards of the garage-psych collecting world, despite the presence of some industry heavyweights in the productions. Ain't It Hard! Sunset Strip '60s Sounds: Garage & Psych from Viva Records presents 16 of these tracks, and while they aren't in garage psychedelia's very top drawer, it's an above average compilation as such obscurities go. For one thing, the material really is produced better than the average small-label garage-psych output; even though Garrett himself didn't produce any of these sides, some pretty notable talents on the L.A. scene were delegated to do so, including J.J. Cale, Leon Russell, and Dave Hassinger. Also, these cuts do have a more varied, at times pop-oriented sound than many single-label garage-psych anthologies, again likely due at least in part to the presence of some of those L.A. heavyweights.
There's some pretty fair, mildly deranged garage-psychedelia here, like Apothecary Dream's "The Sound Sandwich," which sounds something like a mating of the Electric Prunes and the Grass Roots. Second Helping's "Let Me In" is first-rate snarling, manic garage punk, written -- unbelievably considering what he became famous for in the '70s -- by the group's lead singer, a young Kenny Loggins. Loggins also penned another Second Helping track here, "Floating Downstream on an Inflatable Rubber Raft," which despite the contrived title ain't a half-bad piece of garage-pop-psychedelia. Other standouts on the CD include the pounding male-female harmonized folk-rock of the Gypsy Trips' "Ain't It Hard," covered by the Electric Prunes (and one of the few cuts here that could have been a chart single given the right exposure); the Shindogs' fairly catchy "Who Do You Think You Are," performed by the house band of the Shindig television program, and co-written by bassist Delaney Bramlett; and the Leather Coated Minds' instrumental "Non-Stop," whose closely intertwined guitar lines sound a bit like garage-psych precursors to the Allman Brothers. True, some of this disc verges on L.A. psychsploitation. But at a time when so much '60s garage rock has been exhumed on countless compilations, this is a notable excavation of largely worthwhile material that reissues have usually passed by, complemented by excellent historical liner notes.