MELTS IN YOUR BRAIN ... NOT ON YOUR WRIST! - The Chocolate Watchband (Ace/Big Beat)
For their moptops and hip mod threads as much as their slightly psychedelic, Stonesy sound, the Chocolate Watchband are garage punk icons - known as much for what they did on their singles and LPs from 1966 to 1968 as for what session men did for them to fill the albums out. But as confusing and incongruous as their recorded legacy is, it’s mostly quite impressive, and "Melts In Your Brain...Not On Your Wrist!" packs it all onto two discs.

Containing the complete works of the classic 1966-67 lineup, disc one is unquestionably the best, showcasing the suburban stalwarts as they reshape everything from Chuck Berry (“Come On”) to the Kinks (“I’m Not Like Everybody Else”), with occasional originals like the stunning, Diddley-esque “Gone and Passes By” keeping pace. But in spite of the preponderance of covers, there’s nothing typical about the Watchband, who managed to take their covers a step further than the typical fare by injecting a personality that producer Ed Cobb accurately termed “a sloppiness that was together.”

Though firmly rooted in British R&B, their sound had just enough West Coast psych to make it unique, whether the uncredited original “No Way Out” to versions of the Tongues of Truth’s “Let’s Talk About Girls” and the Brogues “I Ain’t No Miracle Worker” that better the originals.

Alas, the best lineup was short-lived, and when it came time to fulfill contractual obligations for the first two albums, Cobb completed them with outside material played by session musicians. In the case of instros like “Dark Side of the Mushroom” and “Expo 2000,” it worked beautifully. Other times, particularly when soul crooner Don Bennett was called upon to sing Aguilar’s vocal tracks, the results were mixed. But in a welcome tweak of history, newly recorded Aguilar vocals are found on “’Til the End of the Day,” “Medication” and “Let’s Talk About Girls,” which retain the integrity of the originals without compromising quality. (Don’t worry, the original Bennett takes of the latter two are on disc two.)

Disc two is rounded out by the aforementioned session cuts, two demos from the original 1965 band, and their mostly forgettable third album from 1969, One Step Beyond. Which makes this set inconsistent, but with the brilliance of the first CD, a succinct retelling of the Watchband story in the liners, and beautifully remastered sound, it’s hard to give Melts In Your Brain anything less than the strongest recommendation. -Doug Sheppard