September 18, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

They came armed with guitars, shag haircuts, and bad attitudes, flaunting a familiarity with black vernacular music gleaned from Rolling Stones and Yardbirds records. They had no idea they were starting a canon, but the bands featured on Rhino’s just-released four-CD box ed set, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 — a vastly expanded version of the 1972 double LP of the same title — were among the very first colonizers of Garageland, where the only requirements for citizenship are rudimentary musical ability and tons of teen spirit.

Rhino is hoping that this lavish package of rough-hewn gems by the likes of the Standells, New Colony Six, and the Seeds will rekindle interest in the scruffy American bands that presaged the ’70s punk revolution. And make no mistake: Their influence was enormous. ”I was in England in 1977 hanging out with people like the Sex Pistols, and everybody had [the first Nuggets album],” recalls garage-rock booster Greg Shaw, who served as a consultant for the new Nuggets.

Producer-guitarist Lenny Kaye, who compiled the original Nuggets, acknowledges that the definition of a ”nugget” has hardened into a cliche of hopped-up kids rewriting ”Gloria” and ”Louie Louie.” But he maintains that the Rhino set largely upholds his original vision, which was to present a diverse collection of great tunes by little-known bands that transcend genre: ”This is rock at its most immediate; the same attitudes were in place here that would birth Nirvana in the early ’90s.”

Of course, few of the original garage groups ever attained Nirvana-level success. Barry Tashian, whose former band, the Remains, came close to grabbing the brass ring by opening for the Beatles on that group’s 1966 American tour, is suitably wistful about the past: ”[The Remains] were kind of like a fire that was too hot to burn for very long. At the time, though, I was completely convinced that we were going to be as big as the Rolling Stones or the Kinks.”

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