Nuggets: Psychotic Reaction by Count Five

Before he became Patti Smith’s lead guitarist, Lenny Kaye compiled Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era. Released in 1972, the two-LP set covered American garage rock and psychedelia from the years 1965-1968 and was a major influence on punk rock. Rhino Records reissued an expanded version of the set in 1998, with 118 tracks in total. I’m profiling and rating each of these 118 tracks, working backwards.

Track 15: Psychotic Reaction by The Count Five
From: San Jose, California
Rating: 10/10

PSYCHOTIC REACTION – Count Five [2:56]
(Kenn Ellner/Roy Chaney/Byron Atkinson/John Byrne/John Michalski)
Personnel/SEAN BYRNE: vocals, guitar * JOHN “MOUSE” MICHALSKI: lead guitar * RON CHANEY: bass * CRAIG “BUTCH” ATKINSON: drums * KENN ELLNER: harmonica, vocals
Recorded in Los Angeles, CA
Double Shot single #104 (6/66); Pop #5

‘Psychotic Reaction’ is among the most beloved garage rock songs of the 1960s. It was commemorated in Lester Bangs’ 1971 essay “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung”, notable for using the word “punk” to describe garage rock. Punk dates back to Shakespeare, but hadn’t been used to refer to music.

The Count Five formed in San Jose California. Friends John Michalski and Ron Chaney had previously played together in bands like the surf-rock outfit The Citations. They recruited Irish-born vocalist Sean Byrne. They were notable for wearing Count Dracula-style capes on stage.

The band devised ‘Psychotic Reaction’ as an instrumental. Their manager, Sol Ellner (the harmonica player’s father) suggested that Byrne write lyrics for it. Byrne was inspired by a college health education lecture, filching the name ‘Psychotic Reaction’ for the song.

It’s a garage rock classic, with a great hook and fuzzy guitar riff. It’s unusual for a band to have a full-time harmonica player, but it works here, adding some tunefulness to offset the distorted guitar.

The Count Five made an album, also titled Psychotic Reaction. But they never recaptured the same success and broke up in 1969.

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  1. This is one of my favorites off of the Nuggets collection. This song could be a definition of what a garage band is/was. I love the video as well. I have to wonder where those girls are at now.

    • Second Nuggets band from San Jose right – also Syndicate of Sound.

      I don’t know if you’re an NBA fan, but Aaron Gordon of the Denver Nuggets is also from San Jose.

  2. Cool track. Don’t know if I’m sold on that harmonica part, but I like most everything else. Especially the hyponotic bassline. So many songs on the Nuggets collection have good bass parts. They used to give it more space in the mix back in the 60s. Maybe because it was harder to record it in that era? Most places didn’t have or use DIs back then.

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