Album Reviews

The Knickerbockers

The Challenge Recordings

Artist:     The Knickerbockers

Album:     The Challenge Recordings

Label:     Sundazed

Release Date:     10/13/2015


Four CD’s representing a band that only managed one bonafide hit single over the course of their career might seem to some a bit superfluous, and indeed it’s hard to argue otherwise. Nevertheless, for those archivists and enthusiasts for whom a perfunctory glance is not nearly enough, there’s plenty to be said for a collection as exhaustive as this. The booklet itself is worth the price of admission all on its own, offering every finite detail about a group whose humble every man origins (in Bergenfield, New Jersey circa 1962) offered little hint of future success, despite being part of an era where everything seemed possible. Spurred on by the Beatles, just like a thousand other outfits at the time, the aforementioned major hit “Lies” was even thought by some to be the Fab Four operating under another guise. Sure enough, it propelled the Kickerbockers to the top of the charts and made them momentary contenders, even though that brief moment in the spotlight ended all too soon.

Still, the Knickerbockers were apparently destined to be more than merely a musical footnote. “Lies” won its way onto the first Nuggets compilation, which assured some kind of immortality in and of itself. Yet, there’s no lingering legacy, no singular contribution that could qualify them for anything more. Here again, the inevitable question arises. Why a box set? Why now? Why ever?

That question largely goes unanswered here. Indeed, given the fact they were part Beatles knock-offs, part cover band cynics would have reason to wonder why they were given any additional attention at all. Truth be told, their takes on songs by the Beatles, the Zombies, the Kinks, Chuck Berry and… Petula Clark say more about the strength of their sources than about their ability to replicate them, Still, there’s something to be said of a collection that gleans every known essence of the band’s back story, demos and rarities included, and documents it with such thoroughness and precision as to makes its producers subject to charges of overkill. Likewise, the energy and exuberance reflected herein offers testament to an innocent age where every local garage band had opportunity — real or imagined — to be a star and succeed in ways otherwise unimaginable.

That the Knickerbockers managed to achieve some small measure of that dream is admirable in itself. And besides, being able to inspire a box like this, some 50 years later, must mean they still have something significant left to offer. That’s a triumph in itself. Avowed enthusiasts will find a treasure trove here. The rest of us will still be left to shake our heads and wonder… why all the fuss?

– Lee Zimmerman

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