The Best of the Kingsmen was the album that, in its mid-'80s vinyl and early-'90s CD versions, helped restore the group to modern record collections, as well as being one of the releases upon which Rhino Records built its reputation as a totally gonzo label when it came to exploring corners of the rock & roll world that the major U.S. labels were barely comfortable dipping their toes into. Even the fact that it was in mono (and announces it proudly in the cover art) was a poke directly in the eye of the A&R men at most labels. The original 12-song LP from the mid-'80s had such a cool cover -- a black-and-white photo of the Kingsmen placed in a color tableau straight from Animal House -- that it was irresistible, especially as it featured more than halfway decent sound, which put it a step above any reissue by the band's own label (Scepter/Wand) since the 1960s, and the 18-song CD is even better. Sundazed Records has plumbed the depths of the group's catalog in the decade since, and -- working with more advanced technology -- outstripped this disc for sound quality, but Rhino's CD is still competitive, offering 44 and a half minutes of some of the best frat rock ever to come out of the Pacific Northwest.
Audiences can be forgiven for forgetting that the Kingsmen actually charted some singles besides "Louie Louie," including a pair of smashes -- "Money" at number 16, "Jolly Green Giant" at number four -- and "Little Latin Lupe Lu" at number 46, "Death of an Angel" at number 42, and "Annie Fanny" at number 47, plus some lesser sides such as "Killer Joe" and "The Climb" in the mid-'60s on the sales listings. Those are all here, along with a cross section of excellent B-sides and album tracks, mostly dance instrumentals like "Little Green Thing" and "J.A.J." The other surprising element of this disc may be the respect one acquires for the band by the end -- contrary to what the ubiquitous nature of "Louie Louie" would lead one to expect, the Kingsmen never stood still musically; their repertoire grew over time, so that by the time they covered "Little Sally Tease" (a number originating with Don & the Goodtimes, formed by Kingsmen organist Don Gallucci) in early 1967, they'd added fuzztone guitar to their arsenal and were using a horn section similar to the Buckinghams, all while retaining that sharp edge that had made them a powerful on-stage force for years. And their version of the Resnick/Levine song "Trouble" was almost straight garage rock, and showed a band that could have crossed swords with the Standells. The sound could use an upgrade as of the early 2000s, but otherwise one couldn't do much better for a collection, and Peter Blecha's essay is still the definitive account of the band's history.