Opal – Happy Nightmare Baby (SST)
In the annals of rock history, there are moments when record labels—particularly independent ones—had incredible runs of creative peaks and consistency in the output of their roster.
SST Records‘ run ended around 1988, right at the moment they began clogging up their release schedule with Zoogz Rift albums and other records of dubious relevance. But prior to the company’s stoned disregard of consumer appeal and accurate bookkeeping, the label had a far-reaching roster that touched on many different subgenres and musical styles.
Formed out of the ashes of the Dream Syndicate and the Rain Parade, guitarist David Roback and vocalist Kendra Smith brought the Paisley Underground to the SST catalogue, and they managed to provide the label with one of the best examples of SoCal dark psychedelic since the Doors walked on down the hall.
Happy Nightmare Baby is subdued acid-eating, forged heavily from the pair’s previous bands while using little more than slow-blues licks and reverb to conjure up the darker side of recreational hallucinogens. Kendra Smith‘s understated combines perfectly with Roback’s slide guitar in creating a brooding atmosphere. She mines themes from the Marc Bolan School of song titles and sounds like she’s halfway nodding off even when she’s singing about inter-planetary space travel and vampires.
Happy Nightmare Baby was released in early 1987. Within twelve-months, the band faced the buzzkill of Kendra walking off stage mid-performance, forcing Roback to examine the future of the band and who would be fronting it.
Coincidentally, Smith had placed the demo of a band called Going Home into David’s hands, a band that featured Hope Sandoval on lead vocals. Having just produced a session with Going Home, Roback tapped Sandoval as the new vocalist of Opal, changing the name to Mazzy Star to distinguish the two phases.
Mazzy Star gained substantial commercial success, which, thanks to SST’s poor business acumen, did not translate into increased interest in Opal, even though both bands are cut from very similar cloth. Happy Nightmare Baby has fallen in and out of print over the years and the band’s first two e.p.’s—compiled on Rough Trade Records as Early Recordings—is even harder to come by.
There’s still a place for music like this, but more importantly, music this good should at the very least have a place to begin with. Any fan of Mazzy Star or dirty humbucker fueled psychedelic rock should seek out this gem or grow in the chorus to try to get Happy Nightmare Baby reissued. This is mind-altering stuff that you’ll never build up a tolerance to.
Video: Opal – “Happy Nightmare Baby”
Fan video: Opal – “Magick Power”
Audio: Opal – “She’s a Diamond”
2 thoughts on “Lost Classic: Opal – Happy Nightmare Baby”
I had that album on cassette and played it so much the tape stretched. Happy to see you writing it up.
Used to have on cassette as well. Love everything about it.