You might guess that a four-CD box set of 1960s Fugs recordings would almost by definition have to sample from most or all of their recording career during that decade. Fugs fans and collectors, however, should be aware that while this compilation has a lot of noteworthy music, its focus is somewhat selective. Basically, the first two discs are expanded versions of what remain their most famous recordings, The Fugs First Album
and The Fugs Second Album
; in fact, they're identical to the CD reissues of these albums that came out through Ace Records in 1993, containing the exact same wealth of bonus tracks. Discs three and four are the ones that will excite collectors the most, as they're entirely devoted to previously unreleased recordings from 1965-1969. That does mean, however, that there's nothing from their numerous releases on Reprise in the late '60s (though those have admittedly been well represented on the Rhino Handmade box set Electromagnetic Steamboat: The Reprise Recordings
), or some of their peripheral pre-Reprise efforts.
While the two discs (and approximately two hours) of unissued live/studio/miscellaneous material on the final two CDs are a boon to Fugs collectors/completists, these are, like much of the other live material and outtakes by the group that saw belated release, pretty uneven listening as regards the quality of both the sound and material. Some of the fidelity alone is funky enough to relegate some performances to the "of historical interest only" category, as are the less disciplined, more spoken word-oriented, determinedly humorously wacky items. It's also true that while the five consecutive versions of "Nothing" (all taken from different times and places) illustrate the different approaches the band took to one of its more noteworthy early songs, they will test the patience of all but the most committed Fugs lover, as will a 12-minute compilation of snippets from a cappella Tuli Kupferberg
Nonetheless, if little of this is anywhere near on par with their better studio recordings, there are occasional cuts that hold their own as decent auxiliary additions to the Fugs library, like most of the alternate takes from their first Folkways session in April 1965; the 1969 effort "As My Moog Weeps," which does indeed include some early spooky Moog; and an exhilarating, if not quite wonderfully recorded, version of one of their best psychedelic songs, "Crystal Liaison," cut live at the Fillmore East. Quite a few of the tunes illustrate Ed Sanders' exploration of what he terms, in his liner notes, "country & western beatnik," and while these didn't represent his most satisfying excursions, they did point the way toward much of the music he would make on his solo debut album, Sanders' Truckstop
; in fact, one of them, "Jimmy Joe, the Hippybilly Boy," would become that LP's leadoff song. "Elegy for Robert Kennedy," on which Sanders' singing is accompanied only by Dan Hamburg
's acoustic guitar, also proves he could write moving, fairly straight melodic folk music on occasion.
But the first two discs have the music upon which the Fugs' foundation was built, even if many of the fans likely to investigate a box such as this will already have those tracks. The Fugs First Album
is featured on disc one, and while ramshackle in its amateurish jug-band-cum-rock-band way, it looks forward to punk and folk-rock while busting numerous lyrical taboos. The 11 additional studio outtakes and live cuts on that CD are largely on a lower and less original level, but do include a few worthy compositions, such as "We're the Fugs," "The Ten Commandments," "CIA Man," and "I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Rock." The Fugs Second Album
, featured on disc two, remains their best record, the band tightening immensely into a full-fledged rock group and offering some of its signature sex/protest/satirical tunes in "Frenzy," "Dirty Old Man," "Kill for Peace," and "Doin' All Right," along with some surprisingly tender folk-rock. The five bonus cuts on that disc include two live songs from 1967 and three pretty appealing tracks from an unreleased 1967 Atlantic LP that make one lament the failure of the entire album to appear.
Unfortunately, while the dates and locations of some of the previously unreleased tracks are included, in many cases they're not noted; perhaps the precise information is no longer available, the unissued stuff having been compiled by Sanders himself after listening to about 100 hours of material. As some compensation for that missing info, Sanders supplies a lengthy and entertaining history of the Fugs in the 1960s in the sizable liner note booklet, which also includes a wealth of period photos and memorabilia. In all, Don't Stop! Don't Stop!
isn't a definitive box set retrospective, but if you know you want their first two albums in their most definitive versions plus a wealth of marginalia impossible to find anywhere else, it's a very well-done package.