"There's nothing ... nothing," says Tim Warren, president of Germany-based Crypt Records, lamenting the absence of good music. "There was this one good record I heard from a band doing the Stooges thing, but then I found out that the drummer had died."
Dispirited by the current independent-rock scene, Warren has turned to the past and raised long-lost tunes from the dead on Teenage Shutdown, a 10-CD/LP (and counting) series out now on Crypt Records. Over the last few years, the label has focused on releasing brand-new punk from bands like the Oblivians, the Devil Dogs and the New Bomb Turks. Recently, however, Warren made the decision to return to his roots -- to focus on the old rather than the new -- because of difficulties finding bands he liked and selling to the public those that did receive the Crypt stamp of approval.
No one is better qualified to save the rock & roll of the past than Warren. Since Crypt's auspicious beginnings in New York in 1983, Warren has reissued a deluge of primal 45s on his Back from the Grave and Garage Punk Unknowns compilations. The new Shutdown series is something Warren is proud of: Both the sound quality and well-researched liner notes of these compilations are a far cry from the cavalcade of garage comps released in the late '80s and early '90s; they were, with few exceptions, shoddily manufactured and marred by third- and-fourth generation recording techniques (as were the later volumes of the Pebbles series). Warren explains that only fairly recently has the technology become available to clean up old vinyl singles in order to render them listenable and enjoyable while remaining loyal to the original sound. The tunes are transferred from the original vinyl copy "onto analog reels via a $30,000 turntable sporting a $3,500 needle," Warren says. The results are exceptional, and the singles are gloriously presented in mono sound.
The first five volumes of Shutdown were compiled from Warren's extensive collection of rare singles, and the second set included unknown treasures from the stock of Mike Markesich, the man responsible for penning Shutdown's liner notes. "I wanted someone who was concise, not obnoxious or opinionated (to write the notes)," Warren laughs. Indeed, anyone who has purchased Crypt releases over the years should be familiar with Warren's rants. He tends to write in a refreshingly unacademic and amusing manner, either roaring about the bands he hates (all manner of electronica, drum & bass, indie college rock or pop) or raving about the styles he loves (early R&B, country, rockabilly, punk). You can't blame him for feeling too strongly about good music. Warren might be seen as a savior of rock & roll, and if he's not -- well, he really wants to be.
In addition to the excellent sound quality and admirable depth of research, one of the most intriguing aspects of the Shutdown series is that it combines what listeners expect from Crypt Records -- primarily raw, screamin' rock -- with an unexpected twist: Included are a few volumes -- Teen Jangler Blowout, Nobody to Love and I'm Down Today -- of jangly pop, folk-punk and altogether slower, quieter tunes. "(On Nobody and Teen) it's all wimpy stuff, but it's better than a kick-ass song followed by a wimpy song. I do like the songs, but I've gone out of my way to separate the stuff, to say, 'OK, this is wimpy; it's quiet,'" he explains. "And of course (I) get garage clowns saying, 'Oh well, that's not kicking my ass!' So I'm going out of my way to say, 'This is not going to kick your ass!'" Of course, this doesn't mean Crypt will be pulling away from releasing snarling rockers anytime soon; however, Warren now has the option of taking the series in previously unexplored directions.
Some of the best bands included in the Shutdown series appear on renegade volumes such as I'm Down Today. These cover, as one might assume, "she done me wrong" territory. When Milwaukee band the Zoo wail, "I had her love, but now she's gone/I been chasing a dream all along," they remind us that everything -- love in particular -- hurts the teenage soul more and that even cool guys in bands cry when their girlfriends dump them. The fellows in the Iron Gate, their voices straining, overwrought with deep misery, sing without a hint of irony, "Don't feel bad about the Vietnam War/Don't feel bad about the civil-rights bill/Don't feel bad about the sick and poor/Don't feel bad 'cause I'm missin' my thrill/ But I do feel bad about losing you." Even the depth of the Iron Gate's sadness can't match the utter desperation of the Specters' bluesy "Depression," the ultimate downer.
Those more interested in the faster, cheerful and altogether sillier side of garage rock will be better pleased with the volumes Jump, Jive and Harmonize and The World Ain't Round, It's Square, Warren's favorites; and Things Been Bad. Jump has, curiously enough, an unusual number of tunes about alligators and monkeys. In the Shandells showstopper "Gorilla," the boys grunt and groan, chanting, "Go, go, go, go gorilla," to a bouncy rhythm. But the Shandells' chorus is second only to the Pilgrimage's, a harmonic howl of "bad apple ... bad apple" backed with wildly swinging organ and guitar. One of the best of the bunch is the Jolly Green Giants' "Busy Body," a slab of bold, roaring rock and tumble (later covered by the Lyres).
Other volumes continue the fine Crypt tradition of foot-stompin', ass-shakin' garage classics, songs that would fit well on Crypt's prior reissue series, Back from the Grave. It made me wonder why Warren didn't just compile a new volume of that series. "I wanted to retire the name of the series before it went down the toilet," he says. "The first two tracks on It Ain't Round have never, ever been out anywhere and would have been perfect for a Grave 9, but how am I ever going to follow Grave 8, to find 16 more records of the caliber of the Shephard's Heard and Paul Bearer and the Hearsemen?' he adds. "I've got plenty of teen rockers, but I figured I'd just let it (Back from the Grave) end."
If, like Warren, new music disappoints you, your best bet is to travel back in time, using Teenage Shutdown as a guide. The Shutdown series will be available in unlimited quantities, and the volumes will just keep coming until Warren runs out of good records to reissue.