Nazz: Nazz III (1969/1971)

The short-lived Nazz are one of my favorite 60s bands. Best known for a couple singles and as the original home of legendary power pop/experimental rock performer and production wunderkind Todd Rundgren (who wrote most their songs but was not the band's singer), their 3 albums are all flawed yet fascinating, largely given the tension between the band's post-psychedelic, harder rocking garage band sound and Rundgren's growing fascination with kitschy soft pop.

1968's self-titled debut, while largely Who/Cream/Yardbirds-styled blues-tinged rock, already shows that tension, highlighted by two of their best (yet dramatically different) songs -- the stunning, timeless single "Open My Eyes," with its psychedelic phased guitar built off the "Can't Explain" riff; and the gentle ballad "Hello, It's Me" (later re-recorded by Rundgren for his triumphant Something/Anything double album tour de force). The next year's follow-up, Nazz Nazz, is an even better album, with both sides of Rundgren's songwriting on full display.

But I'm most fascinated by their final release. It's not a "real" album, but rather a collection of outtakes from the second LP, released without Rundgren's authorization in 1971 after he'd started on his solo career. The harder rock is toned down, with more focus on Rundgren's piano-driven ballads (he had apparently become smitten by the work of singer-songwriter Laura Nyro); indeed, it was the rejection of these ballads by the band and the record company that precipitated the breakup. While the original release of the album featured vocals by the band's lead singer, Robert "Stewkey" Antoni, subsequent reissues also include the original recordings of most songs with Rundgren singing lead. Songs like "Only One Winner," "Take The Hand," "Letters Don't Count," and "It's Not That Easy," all terrific, preview the melodic soft pop sound of Rundgren's early solo albums; there are also flashes of the more upbeat rock of prior albums (i.e. "Forget All About It").

While I'm partial to the Rundgren vocal versions, which grouped together sound like the "real" first Rundgren solo album, I also enjoy the original Stewkey version of the album (including a few additional tracks that Rundgren doesn't sing), which provide a more direct bridge to the band's earlier work.

You can't go wrong with any of the Nazz's albums; their complete output (including the alternate Rundgren versions) were compiled last year on a massive box set, definitely worth grabbing.

Here's an audio rip of the Rundgren-sung "Only One Winner":
...and a rip of Todd's version of "It's Not That Easy":

Comments

  1. A band I need to sit down to better understand. I have all three of these LPs in my digital library but rarely focus on them. In what I suspect is a similar vein, I have been reading quite a few positive mentions of The Move recently.

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    1. I think the Nazz and the Move have similar impediments, with very divergent pop and harder rocking sounds. While the variety makes the bands interesting, it can also make it kinda jarring to sit through an entire album. With the Nazz, I think the harder-rocking stuff works better in small bites, on a Nuggets-like mix, while you can batch the softer stuff together into a pleasant playlist. I'm less partial to the Move; some fantastic psyche-pop songs, but some of their albums veer into harder rock & prog territory that hasn't gelled for me.

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