The Chocolate Watchband's debut album, No Way Out was also their most heavily Rolling Stones-influenced album, but appreciating the album and what's on it (and what's not) requires some explanation. Released in September of 1967, No Way Out came at the end of the band's first 15 months of existence, a period that encompassed the recording and release of four singles of generally extraordinary quality, and as good as anything heard from any garage band anywhere during that period.
Just two of those single tracks, "Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-In)" and "No Way Out," ended up on the original ten-track LP, but even they could (and should) have been the core of an immensely powerful LP. Instead, out of the remaining songs, only two -- the group's nicely cranked-up version of Chuck Berry's "Come On" and the psychedelic Bo Diddley-based "Gone and Passes By" -- were recorded by the entire group and released in the form intended.
The other six tracks included Watchband recordings, such as "Let's Talk About Girls," "In the Midnight Hour," and "Hot Dusty Road," on which lead singer David Aguilar's vocals had been replaced by those of session singer Don Bennett (co-author of the band's single "Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-In)") and also embellished with extra instrumental overdubs; two instrumentals, "Expo 2000" and "Dark Side of the Mushroom," recorded by a group of studio musicians put together by engineer Richie Podolor; and, finally, the bizarre "Gossamer Wings," a psychedelic digression by Bennett and company that used the band's basic track from the 1966 single B-side "Loose Lip Sync Ship" as its jumping-off point.
So what's here is not really representative of the Chocolate Watchband that was seen in the movie Riot on Sunset Strip, or heard on those four killer singles in 1966 and early 1967. All of that said, No Way Out is still an extremely impressive and enduring album that nicely straddles the garage punk and psychedelic genres; the four tracks cut by the band themselves are all highly potent, slashing, exciting, clever pieces of music. "Gone and Passes By" and "No Way Out" are sharp works of psychedelic punk music, the former mixing sitar music with a shimmering Bo Diddley beat to superbly seductive effect, while the latter is built on a twisting, jagged blues- and raga-based lead guitar line that recalls the late-1966 vintage Jefferson Airplane's work.
And "Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-In)" is a stirring, even threatening anthem to youthful defiance. Of the rest, "Let's Talk About Girls" is still a very good track and a killer opener for the album, despite the tampering by the producers, and "In the Midnight Hour" and "Hot Dusty Road" are not too far behind. As for the instrumentals, "Dark Side of the Mushroom" and "Expo 2000" are decent filler, even if they have nothing to do with the band. So the record, though flawed from day one of its release history, is still an essential '60s album in any collection..