Hmmm. Two Philadelphia groups in a row. This one’s a little different from yesterday’s, however.
As you can see on the label above, this song was written by a very young Todd Rundgren, who had been in a band called Woody’s Truck Stop with bassist Carson Van Osten. Rundgren wanted to take the band in a psychedelic direction, while fellow guitarist Alan Miller wanted to concentrate on blues. After a particularly bad gig in Boston, so bad the audience threw pies at them, Rundgren quit the band to go in his own direction, forming Nazz with Van Osten along with drummer Thom Mooney and lead singer Robert “Stewkey” Antoni. How about this for a first gig – they opened for the Doors in 1967. Pretty impressive.
Unfortunately, their management wanted to market the group as something it wasn’t – a teenybopper boy band akin to the Monkees, who had already broken out of that mold. They wouldn’t book them any live gigs because they believed that would make the group more in demand. They knew jack shit about managing a rock band, but they did get them a record deal with SGC, a small label partially owned by Atlantic and Screen Gems, in 1968. (I hope they didn’t pay anyone to create that logo.) This single was released in anticipation of the upcoming album – it wasn’t intended to be a double-sided release, but a Boston DJ accidentally played the flip side, “Hello It’s Me,” and it ended up making #71 on the Hot 100, but #1 on Boston’s WMEX, in the fall of 1968. Yes, this is the same song Rundgren later made famous as a solo artist, but it was far from the peppy pop arrangement we all know and love.
“Open My Eyes,” on the other hand, is a great piece of psychedelic garage rock that, unfortunately, stiffed nationally due to mismanagement, but actually did well here in Detroit on WKNR, Keener 13, which had taken a rock-based approach to Top 40 in contrast to CKLW’s soul-based approach. The intro sounds like a blatant ripoff of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain,” but the song soon goes off in a direction you may not anticipate. It was granted a second life when it was included in the famous “Nuggets” compilation of garage rock and psychedelia. Todd Rundgren left the band in 1969 over creative differences, and, of course, went on to real fame as a solo artist, with Utopia, and as a producer. As for Nazz, they called it quits in 1970, but lead singer Stewkey revived the band in 2006 and they are still active today.
All right, let’s hear the songs! First, here’s “Open My Eyes,” which is the A side as far as I’m concerned:
Now, the original, dirgelike version of “Hello It’s Me”:
I can see why he redid it.
There you go, a double-sided “oh, wow” song. Tune in again next time when we blow the dust off another forgotten favorite guaranteed to make you say “oh, wow!”