ALBUM REVIEWS: A SELECTION OF RECENT RELEASES, WINTER 2003-2004:
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The Beatles, The Four Complete Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring the Beatles [DVD] (Sofa Entertainment). If this only had all of the footage from the four appearances the Beatles made on The Ed Sullivan Show) in 1964 and 1965 -- including performances of 20 complete songs -- it would be more than enough to qualify as a vastly important (and entertaining) historical document. This two-DVD package goes yet one step further, however. It really does have the complete original episodes, as they were originally broadcast on February 9, 1964, February 16, 1964, February 23, 1964, and September 12, 1965 -- all four hours' worth, including the commercials. That means you not only see everything by the Beatles, but also all of the other comedians, acrobats, singers, and cameo celebrity spots that also appeared on the shows featuring the group. On the one hand, it's cool to have a complete historical record of the shows as they were actually experienced. On the other, it's striking, particularly to generations of viewers who weren't around for the first broadcasts, at how mediocre all of the surrounding entertainment is.
To focus on the portion that makes this worth buying in the first place, the Beatles' performances are magnificent (and entirely live, not lip-synced, with the exception of Paul McCartney singing and playing guitar live to an orchestral backing track for "Yesterday"). The 1964 shows in particular were the ones that, more than anything else, made them into superstars of an unprecedented scale in America, and include exciting versions of all of their biggest early singles, including "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "She Loves You," "Twist and Shout," "Please Please Me," "From Me to You," and "I Saw Her Standing There." Although they only appeared on one 1965 show, they played six songs on that broadcast, all of them memorable: "I Feel Fine," "I'm Down," "Yesterday," "Act Naturally," "Ticket to Ride," and "Help!" (on which John Lennon briefly messes up the lyrics).
Unfortunately, there's nothing else on the four episodes that you could call ageless entertainment, and some of it's downright excruciating. There's dated comedy from the likes of Myron Cohen, Dave Barry, and, twice, Marty Allen (as half of Allen and Rossi); stilted puppetry from Pinky & Perky: card tricks from Fred Kaps; variety-show singing from Mitzi Gaynor, Tessie O'Shea, and the cast of Oliver! (in which, if you watch out for it, you can spot a pre-Monkees Davy Jones); trad jazz from Acker Bilk; and pop-jazz from Cab Calloway. Comedian Soupy Sales does his minor hit single "The Mouse," and the only other fellow British Invader, Cilla Black, does disappointing versions of "September in the Rain" and "Goin' Out of My Head" on the 1965 broadcast. It's all the kind of entertainment the Beatles were instrumental in eventually making passe, and there's not another pure rock'n'roll act in sight. Of course, the DVD format means it's easy to skip right to the Beatles portions if you wish, and those will indefinitely endure as vital documents of popular culture. The image quality (all in black and white) is good despite occasional wavy lines and flickers; it's unfortunate, though, that the Beatles' 1965 performance was filmed only weeks before the show went to color.
Beatles, Let It Be...Naked
(Apple). When Let It Be was first issued in 1970, it had
controversial Phil Spector post-production, particularly in the
of strings to a few tracks. Let It Be...Naked remixes the
yet again, to keep it more in line with the live unadorned sound the
originally had in mind. This is not, however, the original version/mix
of Let It Be (then titled Get Back) that was prepared
release by Glyn Johns, and which has since circulated on bootleg. It's
newly mixed and mastered, so that there are yet more small variations
Beatlemaniacs to spot and nitpick
over. It does succeed, however, in making the album play as a tighter, coherent, more organic listening experience, though at first it's hard to get used to hearing the album differently than it played in the 33 years prior to the release of this retooled version.
The biggest difference is the removal of Spector's string overdubs from "Across the Universe," "I Me Mine," and "The Long and Winding Road." In every case, the new versions are improved, particularly "The Long and Winding Road," in which the Spector-dubbed orchestration and voices were excessive. In addition, all the somewhat forced-sounding between-song chatter has been removed; the track sequence has been totally re-ordered, pretty intelligently actually (especially now that "Get Back" is first and "Let It Be" last); the magnificent "Don't Let Me Down" (the first released version of which was only issued as "Get Back"'s B-side) added; and the two off-the-cuff jams, "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae," removed entirely. Yet there are more than enough additional differences sprinkled throughout the entire album to keep the Beatle chat groups busy for years. Billy Preston's electric keyboards are way more to the front at times, particularly on "Dig a Pony," where you hear lines in the intro entirely missing from the previous version. "Let It Be" is restored to a version much closer to the original 45 mix than the somewhat bloated, guitar-solo-laden one of the original LP, though even here you hear electric keyboard parts that were previously buried-to-nonexistent. On "Across the Universe"'s fadeout, John Lennon's vocal wafts into the distance in a bare-bones ghostly manner entirely befitting one of his most ethereal songs. And the charming spoken aside "yes I did!" at the beginning of the second verse of "One After 909," all but inaudible on the original LP, comes through loud and clearly on the new edition.
The rejigging's not all for the better, though. The ad-libbed-sounding fade verse of "Get Back" (as heard on the original 45 version) is unfortunately excised entirely. "The Long and Winding Road," though fixed up so that the playing's slicker and thankfully shorn of the orchestration, is actually inferior to the less ornate, more spontaneous-sounding Spector-less version that appeared on Anthology 3. Too, the 22-minute "Fly on the Wall" bonus disc montage of largely previously unofficially released rehearsals and conversations from the January 1969 Let It Be sessions is a disappointment. The juxtaposition of disjointed conversations and snippets of music makes it something you're unlikely to listen to for pleasure, and the musical excerpts of the 21 songs represented are exceedingly brief, only once running more than a minute, and in some cases lasting less than ten seconds. Of course the complete versions of those outtakes are available on bootlegs if you really want them, and some of the best outtakes are available in legit form on Anthology 3. But it certainly would have been nice to hear complete alternate versions of some of the songs on the album, as well as more complete excerpts of items that didn't make it onto the record at all, like "Child of Nature" or their early attempt at "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," the last of which is represented by a mere five-second soundbite here. Likewise, the extracts from the original Let It Be book (which accompanied the first pressing of the LP) that are reprinted in the CD booklet are nice, but why not go whole hog and reprint everything? Even with these considerable flaws, though, Let It Be...Naked does an interesting and worthwhile job of making the album truer to its original vision, and in some ways making it more listenable, powerful, and consistent -- not that it was ever hard to listen to in the first place.
The Bee Gees, Merchants of Dream (Polar Bear). Although much of this material had previously circulated on other bootlegs, this two-CD set is the most comprehensive package of unissued rarities from the Bee Gees' early (1966-68) career. Disc one alone takes in two 1966 demos; the fruity First outtake "Mr. Waller's Wailing Wall"; alternate mixes of several cuts from First (including three alone of "Turn of the Century"); "One Minute Woman" with an alternate vocal; and ten 1967 BBC tracks. Disc two is just as worthy, starting off with what sounds like a complete 1968 live concert in Bern, Switzerland, followed by an instrumental version of "Jumbo," two 1968 Coca Cola jingles, and five '67-'68 BBC performances. There are a few other stray items from this era that only show up on other bootlegs, but this will sate the appetite of almost any Bee Gees fan serious enough to consider finding bootlegs of the group in the first place. Naturally it's not nearly as vital as their studio recordings from the same era, particularly as the sound quality (especially of the live and BBC stuff) is usually well below official release standard. But it's virtually all of listenable fidelity, and there are some goodies, starting with the 1966 demos "Mrs. Gillespie's Refrigerator" (which was certainly worthy of inclusion on a bona fide album, and is also here in a BBC version) and the odd raga rock of "Deeply Deeply Me." The BBC tracks usually don't differ too notably from the studio arrangements, but as is par for BBC takes, offer some fresh spontaneity for those inured to the studio versions. The '68 Bern live gig is no less than fascinating for students of the group, as the band do some of the songs with orchestral accompaniment. Unfortunately, while the sound is fairly clear for a '68 live unreleased show, the audio balance is very uneven and the vocal mike clarity less than ideal. Still, where else do you get to hear live late-'60s concert recordings of hits like "New York Mining Disaster 1941," "Words," "Holiday," and "Massachusetts," as well as some far lesser known tunes, including surprises like "Gilbert Green" (never included by the band on their official releases, and consistent with the jaunty baroque-pop of their first albums) and unexpected detours into cover versions of the Four Seasons' "C'mon Marianne" and Cream's "Strange Brew"? Overall this collection can be confidently recommended to major fans of the group in their late-'60s incarnation.
The Gosdin Brothers, Sounds of Goodbye (Big Beat). It's enough of a blessing that the Gosdin Brothers' rare 1968 LP Sounds of Goodbye was finally reissued 35 years later. It doubles the pleasure to have the length of the album itself doubled to 24 tracks, with numerous rare 1966-68 non-LP singles and previously unreleased outtakes. This was the period in which the Gosdin Brothers, who started as a far more traditional country and bluegrass act, made their biggest crossover to folk-rock and country-rock, with their early country-rock forays in particular overlooked precursors to the late-'60s Southern California country-rock explosion. On the cuts from the LP, the Gosdins sometimes came off as a somewhat more country-slanted Gene Clark in their subdued, slightly melancholy country-folk-rock, with influences aplenty from the mid-'60s Byrds. It helped that there were plenty of good songs, like the ringing "Love at First Sight" (where the Gosdin Brothers were at their Byrdsiest), "Love of the Common People," the downcast "The Victim," and the gorgeous ballad "She's Gone." The extra cuts aren't up to the consistency of the album material, but again offer some mighty interesting, often high-quality blends of country, rock, and folk, even if the country was always stronger than the rock and the folk. Among the more noteworthy of those bonus cuts are the 1968 single "There Must Be a Someone (I Can Turn To)," covered by the Byrds themselves on the 1969 album The Ballad of Easy Rider; the futuristically mellotron-coated singles "Hangin' On" (which was actually a small 1967 country hit) and "She Still Wishes I Were You"; the strange quasi-protest folk-rock of the previously unissued "Uncommitted Man"; the strong, super-rare 1967 country-rock single "One Hundred Years from Now," produced by then-Byrd Chris Hillman; and the Everly Brothers-sounding "Wishing," produced by early Byrds co-manager Jim Dickson (and also previously unreleased). Exhaustive liner notes by Alec Palo do much to more fully unearth this underappreciated and, until now, under-documented corner of proto-country-rock. Note that this CD does not present the original LP in sequence, followed by bonus tracks; it spreads out the songs from the LP in a new order, interspersed with the bonus material, though of course you can program the songs from the LP to play in the original running order if you wish.
The Guilloteens, For My Own (Misty Lane). Both sides of all five of the Guilloteens' mid-1960s singles are on this collection, adding up to an erratic but generally above-average garage rock listen. Some of the earlier tracks are distinguished from the garage rock norm by Lewis Paul's husky blue-eyed soul vocals, and the folk-rock-pop-punk of "I Don't Believe," a big hit in their native Memphis, could have easily been a nationwide smash given the right exposure. More along the lines of the more typical Pebbles/Nuggets garage sounds is the frenetic sub-Kinks riffing of "Hey You. " The class of the bunch, though, might be the 1966 single "Wild Child," which with its ominous clanging riff and catchy pop-punk chorus is really a very good garage rock obscurity, though it's made it onto relatively few compilations. Some of the rest of the material is just alright stuff that mixes derivative Merseybeat with poppy garage stomp, though "For My Own" again taps into a nice folk-rock-influenced mood, and well-known Southern rock musician Jim Dickinson was responsible for co-writing "Crying All Over My Time." The LP's dragged down a bit, though, by the tamer sub-Lovin' Spoonful pop of their final singles (including a thinly disguised rewrite of "I Don't Believe," retitled "I Love That Girl"). As a bonus track, the record ends with Buddy Delaney & the Candy Soupe's lame "Girl," recorded by ex-Guilloteens bassist Delaney after the group broke up, which is nothing more than a slight rewrite of the Guilloteens B-side "Hey You."
The Gurus, The Gurus Are Hear! (Sundazed). The Gurus Are Hear! was actually advertised in Billboard and Cashbox in 1967, but the album was canceled only a few weeks before its projected release. More than 35 years later, it finally emerged as this Sundazed CD, augmented naturally by five bonus cuts. So is it just as mysterious and exotic as psychedelic collectors suspected? Not exactly, but it's a pretty interesting if slightly contrived and kitschy hybrid of psychedelic rock and middle eastern music. As it turns out, the best of their demented anguished-psychedelia-in-a-falafel-restaurant-bellydancing-room had already been issued on their two singles (both sides of which are included on the album). From those 45s, "Come Girl," "Blue Snow Night," and "Everybody's Got to Be Alone Sometime" are genuinely fine and rather ahead-of-their-time songs. Singer John Lieto howls like a pained cantor while the band plays psychedelia fit for a harem, with oud trills, raga-rock electric guitar, bent notes, and tortured minor keys aplenty, though not bereft of some garage rock energy and hooks. The other songs aren't quite up to that level, aren't terribly varied, and are sometimes quite a bit more pop-oriented and normal-sounding, with "Contact" penned by the Bonner-Gordon team of "Happy Together" fame. But not all of those extra cuts are unmemorable, the band totally overhauling "Louie Louie" into a dervish-swirling dance that must rank as one of the weirdest covers of this covered-to-death song. And you've gotta love a song ("Shaker Life") with the line "come life eternal, shake it out of me, all that is carnal," set to a tune and beat like "Twist and Shout" gone to temple. The less essential bonus tracks include another Bonner-Gordon tune, "They All Got Carried Away," and alternate versions (one of them wholly instrumental) of four songs from the album.
The Hard Times, Blew Mind (Rev-Ola). The Hard Times' sole album was a weirdly variable affair that not only sounded like the band's original raw folk-rockish sound was being emasculated, but also sounded almost as if it could have been the product of several different groups. Much of the LP was soft rock, sometimes over-polished to soft-as-marshmallow consistency, as on their cover of the Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere." At other points they went into sub-Association sunshine pop, overly precious folk-rock (a cover of Donovan's "Colours" and a strange baroque arrangement of the old Reverend Gary Davis blues "Candy Man," which is miscredited as a Fred Neil-Beverly Ross composition in the sleeve notes), clean-cut Rolling Stones-like R&B ("Fortune Teller," which crept into the bottom of the Top Hundred), and slightly tougher Paul Revere & the Raiders-like pop-rock. It's fairly unremarkable stuff that leans toward the milder sounds of the period's L.A. pop-rock, taking a sharp upswing in quality on the final two tracks. One of those, "Sad Sad Sunshine," is a nice, obscure Al Kooper folk-rock composition bearing a marked Bob Lind influence; so obscure, in fact, that Kooper himself didn't even list it in the comprehensive discography in his autobiography. The other, "Blew Mind," is an utterly unexpected slice of early brooding psychedelia with booming low bell peals, disconsolate bluesy moaning vocals, and periodic rumbles of what sounds like mission-control space radio chatter way in the background.
The 2003 CD reissue on Rev-Ola adds ten bonus cuts, including five non-LP tracks from 1966-67 singles; mono 45 versions of three songs from the LP; and the New Phoenix's single "Give to Me Your Love"/"Thanks" (the flipside just being an instrumental version of the A-side), on which at least some members of the Hard Times played. More so than on most such expanded CD reissues, these bonus tracks do a great service to the band's legacy, as the non-LP singles (all originals except for a cover of Bob Lind's "Come to Your Window") are far gutsier than most of the record, boasting a slightly raw folk-rock feel with echoes of the early Byrds and Beau Brummels, though the songs aren't as good as the early work by those two great '60s bands. The mysterious New Phoenix single "Give to Me Your Love" is pretty respectable psychedelic-influenced folk-rock, a little like some of Stephen Stills's songs for Buffalo Springfield that went in that direction; it's the most solid indicator of the more original phase the band might have evolved into had they been given more time and sympathetic record company support.
Jimi Hendrix, Jimi Plays Berkeley [DVD] (Experience Hendrix). The Jimi Plays Berkeley film, documenting his performances at the Berkeley Community Theatre on May 30, 1970, was about as haphazardly organized as most of the projects from the final year or two of his life were. It endured a post-directorial cut from Hendrix manager Mike Jeffery and, even with the insertion of some footage of period Berkeley rioting and protest, still clocked in at less than an hour. Perhaps it could have been better if more footage was prepared -- and, unfortunately, a few of the songs weren't filmed in complete versions -- but what remains is actually a pretty enjoyable and valuable document of Hendrix in concert. Just a few months prior to his death, he's backed by the reliable Mitch Mitchell on drums and newer trio mainstay Billy Cox on bass, mixing some old classics ("Purple Haze," "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," "I Don't Live Today") with quite a few selections he wouldn't release on record during his lifetime ("Johnny B. Goode," "Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)," "Lover Man," "Hear My Train a Comin'"). Jimi seems to be a little tired and fed-up on some of the footage that survives of Hendrix concerts from his final months, but that's not the case here. He seems relaxed and in a pretty good mood, even on the obligatory "Purple Haze," the one song on which he really pulls out his most famed bag of tricks, like playing the guitar with his teeth. There's also "The Star Spangled Banner," not destined to make the lasting impact as the version filmed for Woodstock of course, but impressively executed here. The DVD has an audio-only section of concert recordings from the second set of the night's performances (also available separately as a standard audio CD, Live at Berkeley). It's unclear, though, why neither the CD nor DVD included any material from the first show; as a consequence, some songs seen in the film, like "Hear My Train a Comin'" and "Johnny B. Goode," aren't heard on the audio-only portion. There aren't any other DVD extras, but there's a booklet with extensive liner notes about the genesis of the film.
Jimi Hendrix, Live at Berkeley (Experience Hendrix). On May 30, 1970, Jimi Hendrix performed a couple of sets at the Berkeley Community Theatre, which were filmed for the movie Jimi Plays Berkeley. This CD presents the entire 67-minute second set, and it should be noted that it's not identical to the music you see performed in Jimi Plays Berkeley, which includes some songs ("Johnny B. Goode," "Hear My Train a Comin'," apparently filmed during the first set) not represented on Live at Berkeley in any form. There have been tons of live Hendrix recordings issued since his death, and perhaps this particular one would be more exciting if it hadn't been preceded by so many others, many of which contain other versions of songs included here. Judged on its own merits, though, it's a good, well-recorded live Hendrix show. The demerits are worth noting, too. His run-throughs of classic songs that he had done for years by 1970 ("Stone Free," "Hey Joe," "Foxey Lady," "Purple Haze") aren't as fresh and fiery as the best earlier live versions in existence, and some of the material that at the time of the show was recent and fairly unfamiliar to the audience ("Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)," "Machine Gun," the jam "Pass It On (Straight Ahead)") can meander. On the other hand, he and the Experience really cut into "Lover Man" and a gig-ending, hard-edged "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" like they mean it. Incidentally, this set of material is also available as an audio-only section of the DVD of Jimi Plays Berkeley, simultaneously released with this CD by Experience Hendrix.
Ace Kefford, Ace the Face (Castle). You might think it quite unlikely that even the most enterprising reissue label could manage to come up with a whole album of Ace Kefford material, given that the ex-Move man released just one single under his own name. The most amazingly unlikely '60s rock relics were being discovered several decades after the fact, though, and it turns out that Kefford recorded an entire unreleased album in mid-1968, with Tony Visconti as producer. Nine tracks from that album form the backbone of this compilation, which also includes both sides of the 1969 single by the Ace Kefford Stand; a demo of the A-side of that single, a cover of the Yardbirds' "For Your Love"; three other previously unreleased 1968 outtakes; the A-side of a 1969 single by Big Bertha, in which Kefford played; both sides of the 1976 single by Kefford's subsequent band Rockstar; and even the Lemon Tree's 1968 single "William Chalker's Time Machine," written by Kefford. There's no faulting the diligence of the archivism, but for all the fruitless effort invested in launching a post-Move solo career for Kefford, he really wasn't much of a singer or songwriter. It's true the unreleased album tracks were abandoned before they were finished, but they meander between unremarkable, just-about-passable stabs (usually self-penned) at pop-rock, folk-rock, country-rock, and hard rock with a generic late-'60s British feel. These are often done in a slightly heavier, more serious style than that associated with the late-'60s Move, sung in a husky but slightly croaky soul-rock voice. Subdued echoes of his well-documented fragile mental health hover in the uncertain, troubled tone of songs like "Holiday in Reality," "Trouble in the Air," "Step Out in the Night," and "White Mask." (Jimmy Page, incidentally, makes a little-known session appearance on the cover of Paul Simon's "Save the Life of My Child.") The Ace Kefford Stand material is more fully produced, but on the mundane early hard rock side, including covers of "Born to Be Wild" and "Daughter of the Sun" (the latter much better known via its more psychedelic treatment from Sharon Tandy). The Rockstar tracks, oddly, aren't too bad, and very much in an early-'70s David Bowie-influenced style, particularly "Mummy." What a shame that the best cut on here, the Lemon Tree's whirling (and quite Move-like) psych-pop ditty "William Chalker's Time Machine," doesn't even have Kefford playing on it.
John Mayall & the Bluebreakers, A Hard Road [Expanded Edition] (Deram). Some Mayall fans might be disappointed to find that this radically expanded two-CD edition of A Hard Road actually includes no previously unreleased material, even though it tacks on a whopping 22 additional tracks. It's more a complete document of the Bluesbreakers' recordings with Peter Green, of which A Hard Road was just the most prominent part. It might be an awkward fit for Mayall completists, since much of the bonus material also appears on other Mayall releases, particularly the Looking Back and Thru the Years compilations. For those just looking for a comprehensive overview of the Green-Mayall era, though, it's excellent, with the extra tracks including several non-LP singles (among them the 1967 B-side "Rubber Duck," which had never before appeared on CD); the A Hard Road outtakes that first showed up on the 1971 Thru the Years LP; the Green-sung and -composed "Evil Woman Blues," which was placed on the Raw Blues various-artists anthology; "First Time Alone," the Blues from Laurel Canyon track on which Green guested; and all four tracks from the 1967 EP that paired John Mayall's Bluesbreakers with Paul Butterfield.
A Hard Road itself was a good if uneven blues-rock album, highlighted by Green's incredible sustain on the instrumental "Supernatural" (a clear influence on Carlos Santana). Green also took some of the lead vocal and songwriting duties, though Mayall remained the dominant singer, whether on covers (the best of them being Freddie King's "Someday After a While (You'll Be Sorry)") or originals (highlighted by the uncharacteristically frantic "Leaping Christine" and the moody "Living Alone"). But some of the non-LP tracks are among the best recordings the Bluesbreakers did with Green in the lineup, like the supremely downbeat Green-written-and-sung B-side "Out of Reach"; the quality outtake (again written and sung by Green) "Missing You"; the hard-edged outtake "Please Don't Tell," cut in March 1967 months after the A Hard Road sessions; and the haunting 1968 B-side "Jenny," actually done in late 1967 after Green had left for Fleetwood Mac, but featuring a return visit from him on lead guitar. Other of the extra tracks are duller and more routine, but at least it accounts for everything done by the Bluesbreakers with Green in tow, with the unimportant exception of a 1967 session on which they backed Eddie Boyd. Note, incidentally, that while Green and Mick Fleetwood briefly played together in the same Bluesbreakers lineup, just two tracks here (the 1967 single "Double Trouble"/"It Hurts Me Too") feature Fleetwood on drums.
The Meters, Zony Mash (Sundazed). Zony Mash rounds up 13 tracks from the Josie era that didn't appear on the Meters' first trio of albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s, eight of them from non-LP singles, five of them from the bonus tracks added to Sundazed's CD reissues of those LPs. As such, it's not recommended as one of the first Meters albums to buy if you're just starting to build a collection of the band's work. Actually, however, were this the first album of Josie-era material you were to hear or buy, it wouldn't disgrace the band's legacy by any means. On both vocal and instrumental numbers, the band offer first-rate tight yet rubbery funk-soul. And it's not like this stuff went totally unheard at the time: three of the songs ("A Message from the Meters," "(The World Is a Bit Under the Weather) Doodle-Oop," and "Stretch Your Rubber Band") were small R&B chart hits. Plenty of contemporary soul-funk influences are floating around, like Booker T. & the MGs on "Soul Machine" and the title cut; the wah-wah psychedelia of Hendrix and others; and the rhythms of James Brown. At some moments they sound uncannily like early War, though given the dates of these recordings, it's more likely that War borrowed from the Meters than vice versa. But it's more the Meters' own funkified brand of New Orleans R&B than anything else, even on the graceful cover of Bacharach-David's "The Look of Love."
Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon [DVD] (Eagle Vision). This visual documentary of the making of The Dark Side of the Moon is everything it should be. There are interviews with all four of the band members, as well as some music critics and key associates like engineer Alan Parsons, sleeve designer Storm Thorgerson, and mix supervisor Chris Thomas; some vintage footage of the band working on the material in the studio; and, perhaps most exciting of all to those already familiar with the basic story, some excerpts of bare demos of songs that ended up on the album. It seems like Nick Mason doesn't have as much to say about the project as the others (particularly Waters and Gilmour), but the band's articulate on both the development of the music and, in Waters's case, the lyrical themes. Richard Wright, for his part, has a nice bit where he discusses the Miles Davis-derived source for one of the particularly memorable chords in "Breathe." There are some other stories which aren't overly familiar, like the source of some of the spoken-word aphorisms mixed into the background, the discussion over cover design selection, and "Us and Them"'s roots in material the band recorded for the Zabriskie Point soundtrack. The participation of session vocalists (particularly Clare Torry's scatting on "The Great Gig in the Sky") and saxophonist Dick Parry is also discussed, though unfortunately there's no interview material with any of them. The DVD bonus material adds more extensive interview comments that didn't fit into the main feature.
The Poor, The Poor (Rev-Ola). In addition to collecting both sides of all four of their 1966-68 singles, this also has both sides of the two 1965-66 singles cut by the Soul Survivors, the group from which several future Poor members hailed. With the addition of "Study in Motion #1" (whose source isn't identified in the liner notes), this is indeed the long lost Poor album. However, probably at least in part because it was culled from half a dozen one-off singles spanning about three years, there's not much of a consistent sound or group identity that permeates the collection. The Poor could play extremely well-executed California pop-rock, with varying shades of sunshine pop and folk-rock overtones and very accomplished vocal harmonies. What this lacks are extremely strong songs, whether original material (including the early Randy Meisner composition "Come Back Baby") or outside tunes by each half of Brewer & Shipley (Michael Brewer supplying "Feelin' Down," and Tom Shipley the better-known "She's Got the Time (She's Got the Changes)," also recorded by Brewer & Shipley themselves). It's a pleasing period Los Angeles sound, skirting toward the edge of vaudevillian country-rock in the none-too-impressive "Love Is Real," getting into gutsier pop-psych on one of the better cuts, "My Mind Goes High," and echoing the Millennium school of harmony pop on "Knowing You, Loving You." Frankly, though, the best thing here is the stomping Beatles-Zombies garage rock of one of the Soul Survivors singles ("Can't Stand to Be in Love With You").
The Sonics, Psycho-Sonic (Big Beat). Everyone would agree that the Sonics reached their peak on their 1964-65 recordings for Etiquette. This 29-track compilation has everything they recorded for the label, extended not just to everything from their singles and two albums, but also an alternate take of "The Witch" and live recordings of "Psycho" and "The Witch." Consequently it's the best Sonics release on the market, though you should be warned it's not wall-to-wall greatness. After the first half-dozen or so songs, you might well be ready to buy into their legend as one of the great (and certainly rawest) '60s garage bands, as those tracks include their toughest elementary riff-fueled pounders: "The Witch," "Psycho," "Boss Hoss," "He's Waitin'," and "Strychnine." But too much of the rest is filled out with covers of '50s and '60s rock and R&B standards, and the relentlessly frantic bang-it-out frat punk and throat-tearing vocals get blurry after a while, though at least they threw in a little-covered tune with their version of Adam Faith's "It's Alright." The 2003 CD edition of this anthology, incidentally, is substantially different from Big Beat's first release of the material, though it has identical tracks and the same title. It's taken from first-generation tapes, and also has a 20-page booklet of liner notes with extensive quotes from several band members (including lead singer Jerry Roslie) and others involved in the group's career.
Dusty Springfield, Reflections [DVD] (White Star). Reflections is a straightforward hour-long collection of Springfield television clips, all from the 1960s and/or early 1970s from the looks of things (no dates are given), with some linking commentary material by singers Petula Clark and B.J. Thomas. Although some of these cuts are most likely lip-synced, and none of them actually have a live band or orchestra in the frame with Dusty, it's still an enjoyable collection of performances from her prime. There are renditions of several of her biggest hits, including "Wishin' and Hopin'," "I Only Want to Be with You," "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," "The Look of Love," "Son of a Preacher Man," and "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten," most of them in color (the black-and-white ones most likely are the earliest, and most likely date from the mid-'60s). Perhaps most interesting to fanatics are the less celebrated songs, like Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today," and a few numbers she never put on record, those being covers of "Since I Fell for You," the Impressions' "People Get Ready," and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," the last of those a duet with Engelbert Humperdinck. And as you'd count on, Dusty's seen in plenty of loud-colored '60s outfits, and about as many different wigs. The interviews with Clark and the less logically-selected Thomas aren't fascinating, but they praise appropriate aspects of Dusty's music and persona, and are both brief and smoothly integrated into the flow. What a pity, though, that there are no dates or sources given as to the original broadcasts of any of the 17 clips.
The Who, Tommy[Deluxe Edition] (Geffen). The two-CD deluxe edition of the Who's masterpiece -- a hybrid playable on both SACD and standard CD players -- is bigger, but not necessarily better. Audiophiles with the appropriate equipment will welcome the chance to hear it as remastered and remixed by Pete Townshend himself, in both stereo and (with the exception of five Townshend solo demos on disc two) 5.1 surround sound for SACD. And everyone, of course, gets the chance to hear not just the original album in all its glory on the 75-minute Disc One, but also 17 additional tracks (many, though not all, of them previously unreleased) on Disc Two. It's the additional material that's rather disappointing, for a few reasons. First, most of it really is marginal, even for the kind of fans that thrive on hearing outtakes and demos. A bunch of the cuts are merely vocal-less alternate backing tracks, similar to the ones on the official Tommy album but a little sloppier. As for the two songs previously unavailable in any form, "Trying to Get Through" is a not-terribly-melodic, repetitive hard rock move-the-plot-along number that Townshend and the Who were wise to cut from the final running order, while the 16-second "I Was" is lyric-less vocal cacophony whose purpose is unexplained by the liner notes (which, in fact, don't comment in detail on any of the bonus material). Alternate versions of "Sally Simpson" and "We're Not Gonna Take It" are welcome for aficionados, but not that radically different from the ones that made the final cut, except that they're less tightly organized. The mediocre outtake "Cousin Kevin Model Child" already appeared on the CD version of Odds and Sods, and while "version 1" of "Young Man Blues" and the instrumental "Dogs (Part 2)" (the non-LP B-side of "Pinball Wizard") are cool hard rock tunes, they don't have anything to do with the Tommy project. Finally, though it's nice to hear five Townshend demos of Tommy tunes, hardcore Who fans know that there are at least a couple of dozen such demos. It would have been great to hear all of them (particularly as the sound on the demos here is better than the fidelity in which they're presented on numerous bootlegs), but that probably would have meant a three-CD deluxe edition rather than a two-CD one, which might have been too much for the market to bear. This deluxe edition is still worthwhile for aficionados (though certainly the liner notes could have been more extensive), but the more general Who and rock fan probably won't be missing anything, and will be saving some money, by sticking with the album in its original unadorned version.
Various Artists, Byrds Won't Fly Today (Misty Lane). With the subtitle "18 desperate folk-punk laments from Byrds-a-like obscure U.S. garage groups circa 1965/1967," that slogan acts as truth in advertising for this unusual but worthwhile garage anthology. It's sometimes forgotten that though the Byrds' chart-topping success in 1965 and 1966 was relatively brief, they influenced hundreds if not thousands of bands. Here's some of the evidence, though just as more hard-edged garage rock records aped the most obvious and crudest elements of the British Invasion, so do these obscure non-hits emulate the most basic aspects of the Byrds' jangly guitars and angelic harmonies. Of course, it's nothing you'd compare to the 1965-66 Byrds themselves. For one thing, the lyrics are usually teenage heartbreak laments (though Rock Garden's "The Wind Is My Keeper" is a notable exception in that regard), rather than statements on the order of "Turn! Turn! Turn!" or "Eight Miles High." And there's not just often more of a pop influence than the Byrds had; there's also far less of a knowledgeable absorption of bluegrass, country, Indian, jazz, and psychedelic elements into the folk-rock framework than the Byrds used even on their early albums. But at the very least, these earnest Byrds derivations have a naive charm, though they lack tunes as memorable as the ones the Byrds recorded (even on the Empty Set's tear of a page from the Byrds' book by folk-rocking an obscure Bob Dylan song, "Tomorrow Is a Long Time"). And sometimes, the tracks are actually pretty worthwhile on their own terms. The Ragamuffins' "Four Days of Rain" comes about the closest to the actual Byrds sound, almost replicating to a T their mid-1960s harmonies, guitar chime, earnest lyricizing, and even Michael Clarke's whooshing "The Bells of Rhymney" cymbal patterns. Also worthy of praise is Dalton, James & Sutton's impressively polished, country-inflected "One Time Around," with a pretty convincing stab at Gene Clark's vocal style; the Ragamuffins' Byrdsy arrangement of the oft-covered "Let's Get Together," with a trembling son-of-Gene Clark lead vocal; and the two raw folk-rockers by the Hard Times, who are about the best-known band on this anthology, which gives you some idea of how deep the compilers dug for these relics.
Various Artists, Folk Rock and Faithfull: Dream Babes Vol. 5 (RPM). The word "folk-rock" seems to mean something different to everyone, and many fans might find this compilation of 22 woman-sung 1965-69 tracks to be more accurately pegged as "folk-rock-influenced pop-rock" than "folk-rock." Even it's more featherweight than the Byrds (or for that matter the Mamas & the Papas), it's a pretty interesting and fun collection of rarities, most of them sung by British femmes and produced in the UK (though a couple of Australians sneak in, as does Jackie DeShannon's "Don't Turn Your Back on Me," recorded by the Californian in England). There's nothing here by Marianne Faithfull, despite the sly use of her name in the title. But the wispier and folkier tracks here certainly bear her influence, including those by Nico (her London-recorded cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "I'm Not Saying"), Vashti (represented by her rare 1966 single "Train Song"/"Love Song"), Gay Singleton's "In My Time of Sorrow" (a DeShannon-Jimmy Page composition also recorded by Faithfull, though Singleton's version is good too), Greta Ann's melodramatic "Sadness Hides the Sun," Gillian Hills's "Tomorrow Is Another Day" (the actress's only English-language release), and Trisha's 1965 single "The Darkness of My Night" (a Donovan composition that Donovan apparently never recorded himself, though it's not so hot). Some of these records opt for a far more elaborately arranged approach, though, with the Caravelles' 1967 single "Hey Mama You've Been on My Mind" sounding rather like Eric Andersen as sung by a girl group and produced by Phil Spector, and Gemini's "Sunshine River" (from Australia) pouring on the Byrdsy electric guitars. While some of these cuts are dull, there are other cool items as well, like "Bring It to Me" by Vashti pals Jennifer Lewis and Angela Strange; Judi Smith's gorgeous "Leaves That Come Tumbling Down," another Jackie DeShannon-Jimmy Page co-write; Australian Maggie Hammond's strong cover of "High Flying Bird," even if she does change the key lyric "I'm rooted like a tree" to the less effective "I'm tired as can be"; and Caroline Carter's "The Ballad of Possibilities (Come Along)," another obscure Jackie DeShannon song. The more traditional face of folk music even surfaces with Leonore Drewery's "Rue," probably better known under the title Pentangle used for the same tune, "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme." The folk-rock concept gets stretched pretty far to include Angelina's "Wishing My Life Away," which seems more influenced by Buddy Holly and Joe Meek. But if that's what it takes to get worthwhile rarities like those issued, why not?
Various Artists, 94 Baker Street: The Pop-Psych Sounds of the Apple Era 1967-1969 (RPM). A slight cautionary note here: although all of the artists on this compilation had affiliations with the Beatles' Apple company in the late 1960s, just one (the Iveys, who later became Badfinger) actually recorded for Apple Records. The others -- Focal Point, Grapefruit, Paintbox, Ways and Means, and John Fitch -- wrote songs for Apple's publishing company, without actually releasing material on the Apple label. That clarification noted, this is a decent anthology of obscure late-'60s British rock (ten of the 18 tracks previously unreleased) that's pretty far toward the "pop" side of "pop-psychedelia," as well as bearing a tangential connection to one of the most interesting pop enterprises of the time, Apple. By far the most famous of the performers were the Iveys, and Badfinger fans will be excited by the appearance of five previously unissued Iveys demos here, only one of which ("Maybe Tomorrow") would be re-recorded for official release. Though these aren't as hook-ridden as the best of Badfinger, the promise is there, with a couple of songs boasting a late-'60s mod rock Whoish sound that wouldn't be typical of Badfinger's eventual style. Serious Beatles fans will probably also be familiar with Grapefruit, the band built around songwriter George Alexander (older brother of the Easybeats' George Young). This CD has their minor British hit single "Dear Delilah," the B-side "Ain't It Good," and alternate unorchestrated versions of two songs from their first LP ("Lullaby" and "Another Game"); perhaps unsurprisingly, they sound like a combination of the Easybeats and the Beatles' feyer pop-psych excursions. Also in the Easybeats mold are a couple George Alexander songs given to other artists, Paintbox's "Getting Ready for Love" (on which Easybeats George Young and Harry Vanda actually play) and Ways and Means' "Breaking Up a Dream." Rounding out the collection are a single and three previously unreleased tracks by Focal Point, who do perhaps the most precious and fairytale-like pop-psychedelia here, and the less enjoyable heavy soul-rock of John Fitch and Associates. It's an interesting little-known chapter in Apple/Beatles lore, then, but the presentation could have been better. The liner notes are excellent, but a couple of the Focal Point songs play in an order different than the track listing, and the three numbers by the Misunderstood (all available elsewhere) that appear in the track listing somehow weren't included on the actual CD at all.
ALBUM REVIEWS: A SELECTION OF RECENT RELEASES, FALL 2003:
The Beatles, Liverpool 63 + Washington 64 (No label, bootleg). There's no label on this bootleg of early live Beatles shows, which even by bootleg standards isn't too easy to find, though it does have a catalog number and not-bad artwork. It combines a couple of notable concerts onto one CD, the first of those being their performance at the Empire Theater in Liverpool on December 7, 1963, the other their show at Washington Coliseum on February 11, 1964 -- their first American concert, although they had performed on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York just prior to going to Washington, DC. You can't fault the performances here -- they might be slightly raw (understandable given the primitive stage conditions and audience pandemonium), but the Beatles are in great energetic form, doing much of their best pre-1964 material. What you can fault this on is the sound quality, which isn't very good, and often overwhelmed by screaming kids. What's worse, when Ringo Starr sings "Boys" in the Liverpool set, his mike seems to be off and you can barely hear him at all; you can hardly hear him any better when he sings "I Wanna Be Your Man" in Washington. All that said, you can make out the music, pretty much, and were this the only audio document of early Beatlemania, the group's in-concert majesty would be evident. It's far from the only audio document of that live period, alas, and far inferior to, naming just a few examples, the live Stockholm October 1963 show that's been booted; the live material from late '63-early '64 that surfaced legitimately on Anthology 1; and the bootlegs of the Ed Sullivan shows. It's nonetheless not a bad document for the hardcore Beatlemaniac, and there are more than a few such fanatics out there. The set list for each show, incidentally, is nearly identical, though "Twist and Shout" and "Long Tall Sally" had replaced "Boys" and "Money" by the time of the Washington gig. Incidentally, there's a strange instrumental reprise of "From Me to You" closing the Liverpool portion in which the group vamps on the main riff over and over, while there's only a partial version of "Twist and Shout" on the Washington half, though otherwise that show is fully represented.
Big Brother & the Holding Company, Summertime Blues (Deep Six, bootleg). The release of the official Big Brother CD Live at Winterland '68, as well as the ready availability of good-quality 1967 footage of the band in the video Ball and Chain and Monterey Pop, means that the existence of this bootleg of material from two shows in 1968 isn't nearly as exciting as it might have been if much higher-fidelity live documents of the band weren't so accessible. That's especially true given that the sound quality of these seven tracks from May 18, 1968 (at the Santa Clara County Fair Grounds in San Jose) and five songs from August 23, 1968 (at the Singer Bowl in Flushing, NY) isn't anywhere near the level of the aforementioned official releases. For a bootleg of late-1960s concerts, however, it's not bad, the voices and instruments coming through fairly well, if rather harshly and tinnily (the San Jose excerpt, according to the back cover, was recorded on "Jorma K.'s reel onstage," presumably referring to Jorma Kaukonen). And for all its inessential value to all but fervent fans, it's actually fairly enjoyable, and not just a completist souvenir. The performances are quite good, rough'n'ready, and non-identical to the most familiar versions, with a generous 68 minutes of music in total. The songs include most of their best tunes, among them two versions each of "Summertime," "Combination of the Two," and "Peace of My Heart," as well as one version apiece of "Cuckoo" and "Ball and Chain." And to top it off there are two charges through the raunchy blues-rocker "Comin' Home," a song which doesn't seem to have made it onto any Big Brother release.
The Collins Kids, At Town Hall Party [DVD] (Bear Family). It's amazing enough that footage of the Collins Kids performing two dozen songs even exists, considering they never had a hit record. It's yet more amazing to have all of it easily available on this package of kinescopes from the Town Hall Party TV show, taken from six different broadcasts in late 1958. The capper is, however, that these performances are truly amazing, even if (as is the case for all of Bear Family's Town Hall Party DVDs) the image and sound quality isn't perfect due to the technical limitations of the source material. Lorrie Collins sings with an earthy maturity far beyond her teenage years, and her 14-year-old brother Larry (who looked 12 at most at the time) was simply a fireball of energy, whirling and dancing with his double-neck guitar like a windup doll whose string has just been pulled. Their vocal harmonies are excellent, as is Larry's guitar work, even if it seems like he never does actually play the top neck of the guitar. The only real drawbacks of this DVD are the absence of many of their best songs, and -- probably because the shows were all done close to each other, between October and December of 1958 -- many songs are played more than once (it's three times, as a matter of fact, for "Great Balls of Fire," and four times for "Chantilly Lace"). On the other hand, there are plenty of covers here that the Collins Kids didn't put on their records, among them "Great Balls of Fire" and "Chantilly Lace," but also "Shake, Rattle and Roll," Elvis Presley's "I Got Stung," the Everly Brothers' "Bird Dog" and "Problems," Jerry Lee Lewis's "High School Confidential," and Faye Adams's "Shake a Hand." And there is at least a live version of one of their finest Epic recordings, "(Let's Have a) Party." This isn't just for fans of the Collins Kids, necessarily -- this is some of the best live rockabilly footage of the 1950s.
The Count Five, Psychotic Revelation: The Ultimate Count Five (Big Beat). Though Collectables's Psychotic Reaction: The Complete Psychotic Reaction did include every one of the band's 18 officially released tracks, Big Beat's Psychotic Revelation: The Ultimate Count Five does indeed replace it as the ultimate Count Five compilation. It's not just because it includes every one of those 18 tracks and then some, with half a dozen unreleased outtakes, demos, and unedited versions. It's also because there's a great 24-page booklet on the history of the band by Alec Palao that clears up much of the mystery surrounding the Count Five, with quotes from most of the members. While the additional material is neither that revelatory or voluminous, it does include some nice bonuses. Prominent among them is the original unedited version of "Psychotic Reaction," with a previously unheard tag and key change at the end, though Double Shot Records was wise to release the reassembled version that became the big hit. Also on hand is an unedited version of "They're Gonna Get You" from the group's sole LP, as well as a demo of their non-LP single "Contrast" and some fair unreleased originals by John "Sean" Byrne. The excellent packaging doesn't disguise the failure of any of the band's other material to come close to matching the garage-psychedelic classic "Psychotic Reaction," or how derivative much of it was of British Invasion bands (particularly the Yardbirds). Still, they did conjure some above-average tracks like "Double Decker Bus," the psychedelic-tinged "Peace of Mind," and the poppier psychedelia of "Merry-Go-Round," making this ultimately worthwhile for the committed '60s garage fan.
Miki Dallon, That's Alright (RPM). As an artist, producer, and songwriter, Miki Dallon was an interesting secondary figure of the British Invasion, albeit one whose work rarely troubled the charts ("Take a Heart," a fair-sized UK hit for the Sorrows, being his most successful tune). As a singer he was only adequate, if exuberant, but as a composer he had a knack for combining some hard-edged R&B riffs with British Invasion pop-soul. That's Alright is an unwieldy but worthwhile compilation of 23 tracks from the 1960s in which he was involved, usually as an artist, though sometimes only as a songwriter. Mixing both rare singles and unreleased material, the cuts on which Dallon sings are mixed with covers of his songs by the Sessions, Boys Blue, the Crusaders, the Renegades, the Caretakers, Neil Christian, and Mickey Most -- none of them exactly household names, except Most (who was more known as a producer than a singer). Yes, it's one for the British Invasion obsessives, but if you're in that crowd there are some really good tracks here, particularly the ones that go for a poppy R&B raver kind of sound. Those include Boys Blue's "You Got What I Want" and the Sessions' "Let Me In," both of them also done by the Sorrows; unfortunately the Sorrows' own versions of Dallon's songs (they did several) are missing, and the rendition of "Take a Heart" here, by the Renegades, is far inferior to the tremendously exciting Sorrows interpretation. It's also unfortunate that Dallon's best performance as a singer, the stomping "I'll Give You Love," has the first few words cut off in an apparent inexcusable production error on the reissue, though luckily it's been reissued elsewhere. Fierce and excellent as well are Most's "That's Alright" and Christian's "I Like It," both with guitar by Jimmy Page, though much of the rest of the disc is tame and ordinary in comparison. Ending the CD are four "bonus tracks" of 1964 demos by Dallon with Chas Hodges, which have tinny lo-fi sound and Joe Meek-like arrangements.
Kim Fowley, Impossible But True: The Kim Fowley Story (Ace). Kim Fowley's output as a recording artist, producer, songwriter, and all-around record industry gadfly in the 1960s was so erratic, prolific, and downright zany that encapsulating it in a mere 32-track CD is akin to catching lightning in a bottle. It's about as difficult to summarize the contents of this disc in a mere paragraph (or even the accompanying small-print 36-page booklet), but it does a good job of assembling many of his best and/or at least more interesting, quirkier endeavors from that decade into one place. You do get the big early-'60s hits in which he was involved -- the Hollywood Argyles' "Alley-Oop," B. Bumble & the Stingers' "Nut Rocker," the Murmaids' "Popsicles & Icicles," and the Rivingtons' "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow." More interesting to collectors, though not necessarily better as music, are the numerous rarities and one-offs spanning 1959 to 1969. It's a crazy ride, the aural equivalent of running across a swimming pool on top of floating logs, taking in fleeting associations with numerous notables. As for just a few highlights, they include the Soft Machine's great 1967 psychedelic B-side "Feelin' Reelin' Squealin'"; the Hellions' 1964 single "Daydreaming of You," co-written by Jackie DeShannon and featuring two future members of Traffic, Dave Mason and Jim Capaldi; Paul Revere & the Raiders' 1961 instrumental single "Like Long Hair"; a couple manic British R&B-meets-psychedelia cuts by the Belfast Gypsies, formed from the remnants of Them; the "Fallin' Off the Edge of My Mind" single by the Seeds; the fierce 1966 garage rock single by the Bush, which has steel guitar by the Misunderstood's Glenn Campbell; "Security" by the 'N Betweens, who would later evolve into Slade; the Lancasters' wicked instrumental "Satan's Holiday," with lead guitar by a young Ritchie Blackmore; "Rainbow at Midnight," from Gene Vincent's late-'60s comeback album; Elfstone's "Louisiana Teardrops," co-written by a pre-Crazy Horse Danny Whitten; the early Cat Stevens B-side "Portobello Road"; and the Alpines' surf-fake British Imitation hybrid "Shush-Boomer," co-written by a pre-Three Dog Night Danny Hutton. Sprinkled throughout are bizarro odds and ends credited to Fowley himself, like his fairly famous psychedelic rant "The Trip." And there are those sides where no one famous was involved but the unmistakable imprint of Kim Fowley's madness was evident, Spider's "The Comedown Song" being the best of those. For all of its eclecticism, in the end it must be said that with occasional exceptions, Fowley really didn't write or produce high-quality tunes (and certainly couldn't sing well when he took the mike himself), though a frenetic energy was usually present. Ultimately it's not as interesting for the music as it is for its adrenaline rush through the underside of the '60s record business, the legacy of a man who tried to throw almost anything against the wall in the hopes that it might stick.
Alex Harvey, Teenage a Go Go (Pilot). Although the documentation on this collection of early Alex Harvey rarities is substandard, it's a valuable assortment of odds and ends that fills in the gaps of much of his evolution in the 1960s, a period during which he didn't record too much. Well, it probably fills in gaps from the 1960s, because few of these 19 tracks are given precise dates, though there's a note that they cover "his earlier work from his 'Soulband' days up to 1968." To be fair to the compilers, the material was taken from largely undated acetates that fell into the possession of his one-time manager David Firmstone, and eventually located and purchased by a collector long after the death of both Harvey and Firmstone. So it'll probably never be known where, when, and why much of this was done. But it's evident from listening that it does cover, roughly speaking, the period 1964-68, years in which Harvey evolved from an energetic but derivative, second-division British R&B-rock singer to the start of something more original.
It's mid-'60s R&B that's heard on the first half-dozen cuts, and though it is derivative, in fact it's pretty gritty and enjoyable, whether in a rustic folk-blues mode (a different version of "The Blind Man" than the one he put on his first LP, and the protest folk-like "The Ballad of John F. Kennedy"), '50s-styled rock'n'roll, or hard-edged full-band British R&B ("Marie Bailey"). Then things start to get pretty weird and psychedelic-influenced, with the instrumental "Please Be Reasonable" mixing jazz flute and piano, blues-rock guitar, and some unidentifiably eerie middle-eastern-like instrument. Other tracks, while more avowedly blues/folk/soul-influenced than the '70s Sensational Alex Harvey Band records (including the Bob Dylan cover "The Wicked Messenger"), are clearly adding theatrical and satirical elements, like "Big Louis" (which would be re-recorded on the first SAHB album as "There's No Lights on the Christmas Mother, They're Burning Big Louie Tonight"). On "Electric Blues #2," in fact, he sounds like he's getting fed up enough with being an unheralded British bluesman that he's decided to take the piss out of the whole movement. Weirdest of all, however, are two psychedelic-classical hymns recorded with the Brighton Festival Chorus that are a little silly, perhaps, but also undeniably otherworldly and fascinating.
The bonus tracks -- it's not explained why these are "bonus tracks," incidentally (perhaps some were not on the acetates found in Firmstone's possession?) -- include the decidedly sillier "Grandfathers Clock Medley," taken from a children's record setting nursery rhymes to rock music. Also among the bonus tracks is the near-lounge pop of "Take Me Love Me," which the liner notes admit might not be Harvey. Which brings us to another point -- although details are given for many of the songs, they're sketchy and given little context, so that those fans not familiar with the ins and outs of Harvey's early, ill-documented career are going to feel lost and confused as to what might have been done when. What's more, the final cut, the acoustic "I'm Going to Stand By You," fades out after a mere 20 seconds; the liner notes don't say why, and in fact say nothing at all about the track. The liner notes do make a point of devoting a page to "why you should buy and not copy this CD," but if they'd just put a little more care into the packaging, the compilers would have earned enough respect to make that warning unnecessary.
Denny Laine, Birmingham Boy (Hyacinth, bootleg). A Denny Laine bootleg? You better believe it, even if it's hard to find even by bootleg standards, and even harder to imagine many people seeking it, other than the most hardcore collectors of British Invasion obscurities and Beatles-associated product. That's a shame as Laine did have something to offer back in the 1960s, but even the small bands of the faithful will be disappointed with this collection of rarities, on both musical and packaging grounds. By far the most interesting of these 23 tracks are the first seven, all taken from his short-lived stint as the leader of Denny Laine's Electric String Band, which only eked out two singles in the late 1960s. Laine was singing interesting, arty British orchestrated pop at this point, in a unique and magnificent high voice, as heard on the two singles included here, "Say You Don't Mind" and "Catherine's Wheel." Unfortunately their value on a bootleg is questionable, since they're not sourced from the master tapes (and the very end of "Say You Don't Mind" gets chopped off), and the songs have previously appeared on some legitimate various-artists compilations. What's even more galling is that the much rarer flipsides of those two singles, "Ask the People" and "Too Much in Love," aren't included. We do get five Laine/ Electric String Band BBC cuts in muffled but listenable quality, including BBC versions of "Ask the People" and "Catherine's Wheel," as well as three decent songs the group never released officially: "Why Did You Come," "Guilty Minds," and a cover of Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe." Three of these appeared on the bootleg various-artists compilation Hard Up Heroes II, but "Reason to Believe" and "Guilty Minds" did not. After this the CD goes downhill, though a few early-'70s cuts are offered with Ginger Baker's Air Force's cover of "Man of Constant Sorrow"( with Laine on lead vocals) and the three scarce tracks by Balls, Denny's band with Trevor Burton and Viv Prince (including their sole UK single and an even rarer German B-side). The Balls cuts are undistinguished early hard rock, but there's worse to come, with most of the rest of the disc devoted to Laine's inessential mid-'70s solo album of Buddy Holly covers, Holly Daze, complete with plenty of distracting vinyl noise from the LP copy from which it was mastered. An "acetate version" of one of the Holly Daze tracks and a lone BBC Laine-era Moody Blues recording (of "Go Now") polish it off. The mastering of tracks from old records -- for most of these actually were released officially -- is substandard throughout this disc, as are the track listings, which credit some tracks to "Denny Laine's Incredible String Band" and inaccurately date the BBC version of "Go Now" to 1963. There's room for a good retrospective of early Laine rarities that counteract the unfair public image of him as a Paul McCartney stooge. But not only is this not quite it, it's also the kind of sloppy, careless presentation that gives bootlegs a worse name than they deserve.
New Creation, Troubled (Companion). "Must be heard to be believed" is a cliche that's attached to too many records that turn out not to be as strange or entertaining as their reputations might lead you to think. Troubled really is something that has to be heard to be believed, though, in its combination of fervent Christian lyrics and sloppy, untutored garage-folk-psychedelic rock. Never was it stranger than in the opening "Countdown to Revolution!," where gunfire and bomb explosions back heavily reverbed random soundbites of worship and very 1970-era despair and hip lingo. In a way everything's a comedown after that, but the very basic guitar-drum-miscellaneous percussion arrangements of the other tunes are eerie enough in their own right. Lay some wholly unself-conscious, awkwardly metered lyrics about the power of God to transform and heal over that, and you have the kind of stuff barely heard in any music, Christian, rock, or otherwise. The instruments and voices are about as out of time as anything committed to vinyl, and the naive punk artlessness of the performers almost makes it sound as if they're unwittingly satirizing themselves. For this isn't quite feel-good stuff; dirge-like melodies abound, and ballads like "Wind" and "All Is Well" (where all is not well, and the despairing singer wishes he could call the Lord on his telephone) make salvation sound as ominous as a trip to the Devil's waiting room. As for even the lighter tunes, it must be said that few songs hailing Jesus have done so in language hailing his bucking the status quo, in almost those exact words ("The Status Quo Song"), and that there may be no other calypso-rock inspirational Christian tune told as a first-person narrative of a woman busted on a narcotics charge ("Yet Still Time"). The CD reissue makes the experience complete with thorough liner notes detailing the group's history, as well as their rediscovery at the hands of dedicated collectors.
The Temptations, Psychedelic Soul(Motown). In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the Temptations entered a drastically different phase, as producer Norman Whitfield (who also often figured in the writing of their material) helped steer them toward a funkier, more experimental/psychedelic sound and socially conscious lyrics. This two-CD set of 1968-73 tracks, with a whopping two-and-a-half hours of music, isn't exactly a best-of covering those years. It emphasizes the harder-hitting "psychedelic soul" of the title, and doesn't include the lighter and more romantic stuff they were continuing to record to some degree, like the chart-topping "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)." Still, it does have most of their other hits of the era, including such innovative tracks as "Cloud Nine," "Running Child Running Wild," "I Can't Get Next to You," "Psychedelic Shack," "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)," "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," and "Masterpiece." More importantly, it does hang together as in in-depth retrospective of the Temptations' most daring (and often darkest) work. For one thing, there are quite a few good album tracks that even fans might have never or seldom heard, like their versions of "War" and "Smiling Faces Sometimes" (which slightly predate the hit ones by Edwin Starr and the Undisputed Truth). Also, the long versions of cuts are used, and in some cases, they're really long versions, with "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" running to 12 minutes; "Masterpiece" to almost 14 minutes; and "Runaway Child Running Wild" to nine minutes. (There's also a previously unreleased six-minute "long version" of "Psychedelic Shack.") In some respects, it's as notable for the fiercely funky musical tracks as it is for the group's vocals. Regardless of the weight of the separate contributions, it adds up to some of the most provoking and sonically creative soul music ever laid down.
Pete Townshend, The Genuine Scoop (Hiwatt, bootleg). The apparent idea behind this five-CD, 101-song bootleg was a sound one: to gather all of the Pete Townshend best solo demos from the Who's prime era (mid-1960s to late 1970s) in one place. As Who/Townshend fans know, his demos were usually very interesting, and while not as good as the full-on band versions done by the Who, they often boasted a personal, primitive tenderness not present in the final product. But while there's much fine, and some great, music on here (and certainly there are a lot of great songs), this really isn't the major event it might have been. First and most importantly, a lot of this stuff actually came out on the very-above-board Scoop and Another Scoop compilations, often in better sound. Sure, those double LPs might be a little hard to come by these days, but are they really harder to come by than five-CD bootlegs such as this one? Second, on some tracks (particularly the earlier ones), the very beginnings or very ends have been cut -- a small misgiving, but versions on Scoop, Another Scoop, and various bootlegs prove that the utmost complete takes have certainly circulated. Some background noise, much like a tape that's been badly recorded over, mars a couple of the more interesting early demos ("Kill My Appetite" and "Do the Strip"), which again appear sans distractions on other bootlegs. And there's not a shred of annotation as to when the tracks were done, although they're sequenced in roughly chronological order. Granted, collectors aren't entitled to expect such basic courtesies from bootleggers, but there are plenty of other boots with similar material that do provide such niceties.
All that said and done, if you're a devoted Who fan, there's much to enjoy here, some of which isn't easy to come by on legit releases, or impossible to come by legitimately. Examples would include the spooky demo of "I Can See for Miles"; the comic '60s tunes "Kill My Appetite" and "Do the Strip"; the prototypes of "It's Not True" and "Dogs"; a super-lengthy, operatic "Rael"; the wistful late-'60sish-sounding "That Motherland Feeling"; and loads of demos for Tommy, Who's Next, and Quadrophenia, as well as a good number for The Who By Numbers and Who Are You. Another catch, though, is that if you're the kind of wild-eyed Who fan who actually knows where all of this stuff came from, you probably already have all or most of it on bootleg yourself -- including all those Tommy, Who's Next, Quadrophenia, The Who By Numbers, and Who Are You demos, which have made their appearances on bootlegs of shorter length. If you're among those who only have the stuff from Scoop or Another Scoop, or don't even have those, this is certainly a treat to be savored. The frustration is that with just a little more effort in the production and packaging, this would be a downright important archival document of Townshend's creative process, as well as good-to-excellent music in its own right. But then, that's a criticism that could be levied against many such bootlegs, and not a shortfall that the hapless consumer has any opportunity to redress, in a court of law or otherwise.
Gay & Terry Woods, Lake Songs from Red Waters: The Best of Gay & Terry Woods (Hux). This 20-track survey of Gay & Terry Woods' mid-'70s output is drawn from three albums: Backwoods, The Time Is Right, and Renowned. You could be forgiven for judging it as something of a mild variation on the music Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span were making during the same period, albeit with somewhat less personality, particularly in the lead female vocal department. At least the Woods, however, came by those similarities honestly, having been in the first lineup of Steeleye Span with ex-Fairport Convention bassist Ashley Hutchings (Fairporters Dave Pegg and Dave Mattacks also played on both The Time Is Right and Renowned, with ex-Fotheringay bassist Pat Donaldson playing on The Time Is Right). And though it might not measure up to the best of what those other groups did, it's pretty solid '70s British Isles folk-rock, perhaps a little less inclined toward the trad side of that blend than their musical cousins were, and more inclined to use slide and pedal guitars than fiddles. It also has a little less of an edge than the Woods' previous work in the Woods Band, but Gay Woods still has quite a pleasant voice that suits the material well, with Terry Woods's much less frequent, grainier lead vocals providing occasional but effective contrast.
Michael Yonkers Band, Microminiature Love (Sub Pop). Recorded in Minneapolis in 1968, but not released until about 35 years later, Microminiature Love is both of its time and out of time. Certainly there's some late '60s power trio hard rock-psychedelia to the way Yonkers grinds out his creepy, unrelentingly minor-keyed songs of gloom. The bashing of the drums is as shaky in tempo as his voice is in timbre, wailing in a tormented tone that's something of somewhat less off-key, more powerful forefather of later auteurs like Jandek. There were few other rock songwriters of the era as plugged into such an incessantly downer mood, and when he sings "heaven's turning into hell, life is turning into death" on the title track, you believe it, or at least you believe it's happening to him. Perhaps the closest reference point might be the Stooges, but Microminiature Love is much rawer in some respects than the Stooges' first few albums, sounding as if it's the product of a basement rehearsal that was caught on tape unbeknownst to the band. (Indeed it's hard to believe that this was intended for release on Sire Records, in a deal that never came to pass.) Some of-the-time anti-establishment ethos are present in the anti-war protest of "Kill the Enemy," though rarely were they offered in as bluntly horrific and ugly a fashion as Yonkers did here. Though limited melodically, Yonkers also cooks up some impressive guitar pyrotechnics here and there, particularly on "Boy in the Sandbox," which climaxes with truly frightening bursts of machine gun guitar. All that said, this isn't a great record or lost masterpiece. It's far too monotonous for that, with most of the material sitting on a minor E chord as if it's trying to bludgeon it to death by repetition. The CD reissue adds six additional bonus cuts from 1969 demos cut in Yonkers's parents' basement that are quite similar in feel to the recordings that made it onto the projected LP.
Various Artists, Eleanor Rigby: Noch Mehr Beatles Songs Auf Deutsch (Bear Family). A faint sense of desperation leaks into the third volume of Bear Family's series of German-language covers (principally though not exclusively from the 1960s) of Beatles songs, following 1995's Das War Ein Harter Tag: Beatles Lieder Auf Deutsch and 1997's Sie Liebt Dich: Weitere Beatles Songs Auf Deutsch. You get the feeling the compilers were really scrambling to fill out the 26-track program this time around, including more songs from the 1970s (one from as late as 1978) and padding out the set with a higher quotient of Beatles tributes/novelties. There are, too, a few other songs that are not exactly Beatles covers, those being some early-'70s interpretations of early John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison solo efforts. And, finally, some of the selections are not so much Beatles covers as they are covers of songs the Beatles also covered, and not necessarily based on the Beatles' versions; Jan & Kjeld's "Ein Kuss Zum Abschied," for instance, is clearly modeled on Herb Alpert's "A Taste of Honey," not the 1963 interpretation of that same tune by the Beatles. A German-language 1969 cover of "Twist and Shout" by the very British Cliff Richard stretches the concept almost to its breaking point. It's silly to apply schoolmaster-like rules to anthologies like this, of course, which by their very nature are only out for a bit of silly fun. More problematically, however, there's not much fun to be had from the music, either on artistic or novelty/kitsch grounds. The covers are usually middle-of-the-road pop arrangements or unmemorably crude early Beatles-styled pseudo-British beat. There are also a couple really inept ones to supply a few cheap yuks, those being Die Beat-Oma's Mrs. Miller-like warble through "Ich Bin Die Beat-Oma" (to the tune of "A Hard Day's Night") and Die 3 Spitzbuben's "Michelle," played in the manner of a lounge accordion trio, apparently with liberal comedic translation judging from the uproarious audience laughter, though the humor will be entirely lost on non-German speakers. Speaking of getting lost in the translation, even the titles let you know that much liberties were taken for many of these German recordings, with, for instance, "My Sweet Lord" translated as "Wo Ist Er" ("where is he"), "What Is Life" as "Nimm Die Welt Wie Sie Ist" ("take the world as it is"), "Penny Lane" as "Reeperbahn" (!), and "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" as "Von Calais nach Dover" (double !). Winding the CD down are a half-dozen Beatle tribute discs, some of them early Beatles cash-ins along the lines of "Baby Beatle Song" and "Crazy Beatle Boots," others drearier 1970s homages, like Marianne Rosenberg's "Mr. Paul McCartney." This will fill out the collection of fans obsessed with Beatles ephemera, but even more than its two predecessors, it's more something to collect than to enjoy.
Various Artists, The Harder They Come [Deluxe Edition] (Hip-O/Island). Some liberal interpretation of what can constitute the bonus material of a deluxe edition went into this two-CD edition of The Harder They Come, which in its original release was both a classic reggae album and a classic soundtrack. The additional material on the second disc is not outtakes from the soundtrack or some such intimately related work, but 18 high-grade vintage reggae tracks from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Admittedly some of the newly added songs are by artists who also contributed to the soundtrack, those being Jimmy Cliff, the Maytals, Desmond Dekker, and the Melodians. Then, however, there are a bunch of tunes by artists not involved in the soundtrack at all, like the Uniques, Dave & Ansel Collins, Johnny Nash, and Eric Donaldson. But -- and this is a big but -- the excellence of the additional cuts, along with how they fit well with the music on the original The Harder They Come soundtrack, makes such inconsistencies moot. The original The Harder They Come, comprising all of disc one, remains one of the great reggae albums, crossing over to a non-Jamaican audience more than almost any other reggae release of the era, perhaps because there was so much soul (both literally and figuratively) in the melodies and vocals. The 18 songs on disc two include some core reggae classics, among them some of the biggest reggae-pop crossovers of 1968-72, including Dekker's "Israelites," Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" (yes, Nash was American, but this was recorded in Jamaica), Dave & Ansel Collins's zany instrumental "Double Barrel," and Cliff's "Wonderful World, Beautiful People." These are spiced with somewhat lesser-known delights like the Maytals' "Do the Reggay," Cliff's "Viet Nam" [sic], and Donaldson's "Cherry Oh Baby," famously covered by the Rolling Stones on their Black and Blue album. The additional disc, though strictly speaking not directly related to the soundtrack, does what the bonus material on deluxe editions should do, and doesn't always successfully pull off: it makes a classic album better. And for those who want at least a little extra content tied to the film itself, the liner notes include essays by director Perry Henzell, Island Records chief Chris Blackwell, the Clash's Paul Simonon, and reggae author David Katz.
Various Artists, Let's Copp a Groove! Lost UK Soul 1968-72 (RPM). Aside from one-offs by the Equals and the Foundations, British soul made little international impact in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Perhaps the 27 tracks on this compilation, all made on the UK's Beacon label, weren't anything to give Motown or Stax sleepless nights. But they're actually pretty good second-division soul, and not much different from decent second-line American soul of the period. There's some occasional reggae-West Indies influence in the rhythms and vocals, and maybe a touch more pop-rock to many of the arrangements, but otherwise this can hold its own among the many anthologies of the era's US indie-label soul. It's fairly varied as well, even if sometimes the nods to American influences -- such as the Motown and Stax stables -- are pretty overt. At times the ska-reggae influence gets pronounced enough to almost push it as close to a Jamaican direction as an American one, as on Black Velvet's "African Velvet," with its throbbing beats and pulverizing organ; more ultra-cool organ and very Jamaican-like goofball sound effects are heard on the Clangers' "Dance of the Clangers." But then the program turns to something that few would suspect to be anything but American, like Paula Parfitt's sweetly Motownish "Love Is Wonderful." (In fact one act here, the Showstoppers, actually came from Philadelphia, although the cut selected for this compilation is not their UK hit "Ain't Nothin' But a Houseparty.") The disc is recommended to the committed soul collector looking for, and adventurous enough to try, something a little different. Incidentally, Eddy Grant produced and wrote the 1972 single by Tony Morgan and the Mussel Power Band (both sides of which are compiled here, one of them a cover of the Equals' "Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys"), and Black Velvet cover another of Grant's Equals tunes with "Peace & Love Is the Message" (done by the Equals under the title "Give Love a Try").
Various Artists, Ooh Ooh Ahh: Moments of Musical Ecstacy(Arf! Arf!). The title of this most unusual compilation only hints at what's really on this CD, so let's spell it out: it's the sounds of women (and, only occasionally, both women and men) having or at least emulating having sex, set to an extraordinary variety of musical backings. All of these 21 tracks were recorded in the 1960s (probably the late 1960s) and 1970s, but more details aren't on tap, due not only to the absence of all but the most perfunctory liner notes, but also to the total lack of artist credits for any of the selections (though song titles are given). An educated guess would surmise that some of this stuff was used in sexploitation movie soundtracks, and much of the rest in obscure exploitation albums that you could only buy in adult entertainment stores or the "other" section of conventional record shops. So what you get is quite a range of sighs, gasps, moans, heaves, and climactic shrieks, backed by basic funk, easy listening, jungle rhythm, disco, soul-jazz, or dramatic soundtrack grooves (often obviously mastered from vinyl, surface noise and all). Is it as much of a turn-on as it's obviously meant to be? No -- for one thing, it's not as fun as doing the real thing yourself, and it could be even more exhausting to hear 21 simulations of the act right after each other than it would be to do the real thing 21 times in a row. Is it fun? Yeah, in part because of the sheer cheesy variety of the variations on this most universal theme. But also, some of the musical backings are neat in a quirky way, getting downright avant-garde on "Bang My Drum Slowly," which is sex as terror backed by nothing but undulating ominous percussion. Sometimes the vocal emissions are pretty ridiculous, particularly on the rare bestial male grunts; the overwhelming percentage of vocal utterances are female, which gives you a good idea that the primary audience is for this stuff is heterosexual guys looking for an aural outlet for their fantasies. That's not to say, though, that some of this might actually make good bedroom mood background depending on your taste, partner, and frame of mind, particularly when the vocals are especially fervent and convincing, as on "Us, We" and "God's Gift." The actually-sung lyrics of "Tawdry Audrey," incidentally, could be one of the most graphic portrayals of fellatio ever put to tape. It's unfortunate, though, that there's absolutely no indication of who these artists were, or where this stuff was originally released or recorded.
Various Artists, The Rare Bacharach 1: 53 Elusive Songs & Versions 1956-1978 (Raven). The three-CD box set The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection has virtually all of the best and most significant recordings of songs in which Bacharach was involved as composer. The two-CD The Rare Bacharach 1 (most of it composed by Bacharach and Hal David, though a few of the tunes paired Bacharach with other lyricists) is a good supplement to that box, though not without some minor flaws. To start with the more important positives, the breadth of this set is staggering, with recordings -- largely from the 1960s, and none of them major hits -- by stars including Tommy Sands, Paul Anka, Bobby Vee, Little Peggy March, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Bobby Vinton, Connie Francis, Del Shannon, Gene Pitney, the Shirelles, Maxine Brown, the Buckinghams, Herman's Hermits, Freddie & the Dreamers, the Hollies, B.J. Thomas, the Fifth Dimension, Tammi Terrell, Engelbert Humperdinck, Andy Williams, Jerry Butler, Frank Ifield, the New Christy Minstrels, and Sylvester. That's just a big portion of the pie: there are also efforts by little-knowns like Noeleen Batley, Julie Rogers, Jimmy Radcliffe, and Australian star Normie Rowe, as well as early-'60s covers from British teen idols Cliff Richard, Adam Faith, and Helen Shapiro.
While much of this is good listening, however, none of it can stand up to the best of Bacharach's work, though a few songs come fairly close, like Pitney's "Fool Killer" (the only track also found on The Look of Love), Marianne Faithfull's "If I Never Get to Love You," the Exciters' "It's Love That Really Counts," Jimmy Radcliffe's "Long After Tonight Is All Over," the Walker Brothers' "Another Tear Falls," and Jackie DeShannon's "Windows and Doors." There are a few really obscure songs that jump out as worthy of wider recognition, like Etta James's "Waiting for Charlie (To Come Home)," Maxine Brown's "I Cry Alone," Rogers's "The Love of a Boy," and (more surprisingly) Jay & the Americans' vibrant Latin-tinged "Look in My Eyes, Maria," but not that many. Too, some of these versions are not the originals, which sometimes leaves room for good or unusual little-heard covers (the Walker Brothers "Another Tear Falls," Faithfull's "If I Never Get to Love You," the Exciters' "It's Love That Really Counts," Mavis Staples's "A House Is Not a Home"), but also sometimes means that you're hearing an interpretation that's clearly inferior to a better-known one (as Rowe's "The Breaking Point" is to Chuck Jackson's, or Dan Johnson's "Mexican Divorce" is to the Drifters'). There's nothing by Bacharach's most renowned interpreter, Dionne Warwick. And a good minority of this is rather unremarkable middle-of-the-road pop without even tenuous links to a pop-rock aesthetic.
To continue the nitpicking, the liner notes are a disappointment, not only offering few specific details about the tracks on the set, but not even listing original release dates or labels (or chart positions, if any). Yes, that's nitpicking, but the very kinds of collectors most likely to pick up a compilation like this are the ones most likely to care about such things. That's not to say this release doesn't offer a lot of pleasure for both the Bacharach scholar and the more general '60s pop-rock fan. With just a little more care, though, it could have been significantly better.
Artists, Syde Trips Seven
(Tenth Planet). The seventh volume of the collector-oriented Side
series has a very limited audience inherent in its format, which is
really obscure late-1960s British psychedelia, all but three of the 14
songs previously unreleased. Actually, however, this might have a wider
listenership than many such enterprises, due to the close connection of
five of these tracks to a big band, King Crimson. For those five 1967
are by the Brain, who included the first King Crimson drummer, Michael
Giles, as well as his brother Peter Giles, who later played with
and Robert Fripp in the pre-King Crimson trio Giles, Giles & Fripp.
The Brain played eccentric, far more pop-oriented (and humorous) music
than early King Crimson, though not without some of the ingenuity put
good use when King Crimson started. The five Brain songs here include
earlier version of one ("One in a Million") that would be re-recorded
Giles, Giles & Fripp's 1968 album, as well as another ("Murder")
also showed up, again in re-recorded form, on the Giles, Giles &
demo collection The Brondesbury Tapes (1968). The remaining
Brain tracks aren't quite as memorable, including a
couple Michael Giles originals and an unlikely (though straightforward) cover of Bob Dylan's "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine." That still leaves nine other tracks, and these are mostly okay, fitfully quirky, but fairly ordinary pop-psychedelia, sometimes of purely archival value. It's hard to imagine anyone getting excited about Fire's faithful recreation of Moby Grape's "Can't Be So Bad," for instance, other than the very small circle of collectors who are fans of Fire's other, almost equally obscure work. There are a couple of exceptions, however, one being "Penelope Breedlove" by the mysterious 6AX, a wonderfully deft minor-keyed slice of bittersweet harmony flower pop with lilting flute. The other is Cliff Ward's 1967 demo of "Path Through the Forest," later given a far heavier rock treatment by the Factory. Ward's original demo, by contrast, is far slower and spookier, the happy-mad lyrics, acoustic guitar chug, and haze of odd electronics and female giggles in the background not sounding too far off Syd Barrett's more low-key songs in early Pink Floyd.
Various Artists, Unearthed Merseybeat (Viper). By "unearthed Merseybeat," Viper Records doesn't just mean obscure Merseybeat, but unheard Merseybeat. Virtually all of these 20 tracks were previously unreleased, though one of them (Wimple Winch's "Rumble On Mersey Square South") has made it onto some mod-psychedelic reissue compilations. The rest is a real cross-quilt of stuff, including a few big or relatively big names (Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Merseybeats, the Merseys, and the Swinging Blue Jeans), but largely devoted to the sort of artists only known by those who read the very small print of record collecting magazine articles about the British Invasion. Given the arcane sources, the sound quality is understandably variable, from release-quality excellence to tracks seemingly taken from the dustiest of acetates and decaying reel-to-reel tapes. Even taking that into account, this is a worthy and occasionally fascinating dig into the Merseybeat remains, most of this dating from the early-to-mid-1960s, but stretching back as far as 1957 and as late as 1968. The best buried treasure is an alternate version of the Merseys' "Sorrow," minus the brass heard on the hit UK single, and in some ways preferable to the slicker, more familiar version. The Merseybeats' "The Things I Want to Hear (Pretty Words)" is a quite good 1964 outtake, just as good as most of their singles. Also in the classic bouncy, melodic Merseybeat style, and pretty good tunewise, are the Kirkbys' "Don't You Want Me No More" and the Eyes' "She," the personnel on the latter including Beatles associate Klaus Voormann and Lewis Collins of the Mojos. A good deal of this CD, however, is far more in the rawer R&B or instrumental rock vein, including a 1961 cover of "What'd I Say" by Gerry & the Pacemakers and a very good cover of Buddy Holly's "I'm Gonna Love You Too" by Denny Seyton & the Sabres. At the more modern end of the scale, the Swinging Blue Jeans' 1966 outtake "Keep Me Warm ('Til the Sun Shines)" is more interesting harmony mod-pop than much of what they were putting out on their official records at that point; the Kirkbys' "Dreaming" is a nice mid-'60s Beatlesish soundalike with flowery lyrics; Jason Eddie's "Mr. Busdriver" is fair late-'60s mod rock with a tinge of soul; and Wimple Winch's "Rumble on Mersey Square South" a superb slice of ominous storytelling mod rock. Though it's an archival compilation, in a way this reflects the actual range of Merseyside '60s rock better than anthologies concentrating on the well-known mid-'60s hits acts.
ALBUM REVIEWS: A SELECTION OF RECENT RELEASES, SUMMER 2003:
The Aerovons, Resurrection (RPM). The dozen songs that would have been on the Aerovons' album had it come out (though a couple did come out on a 1969 single) form the core of this release, which also tacks on four bonus tracks. The Aerovons' unusual story -- a band from the American midwest recording in Abbey Road in 1969, led and produced by their 17-year-old singer-songwriter -- might be the main reason there was interest in excavating these sessions, but this CD's not a mere curio. It's quite respectable late-'60s Beatles-style pop-rock, if a little green around the edges and pretty derivative. In fact, in a couple of spots it's downright imitative, with "Say Georgia" taking licks from "Oh! Darling" and "Resurrection" itself from "Across the Universe." (Neither of those songs had yet been released by the Beatles at the time of the sessions, but the group heard them by virtue of working in Abbey Road.) Fortunately, those are the only blatant cops, though Beatles comparisons abound throughout, particularly in the Paul McCartneyesque piano-playing. Songs like "With Her" and "The Years" recall the acoustic outings of both John Lennon and Paul McCartney on The White Album, while "Bessie Goodheart" uses McCartney's more vaudevillian Sgt. Pepper-era outings as an obvious launching pad, and "Something of Yours" brings to mind "Michelle." To this list you could also add the very Lennonesque echo on the vocal of "The Children." The Aerovons leaned more toward wistful and sadness-tinged moods than the Beatles did, though. One of the best tracks, "World of You," brings out that quality very well, recalling the better late-'60s orchestrated Bee Gees opuses. The bonus tracks include both sides of a non-LP 1969 single ("The Train," their poppiest number, echoes both the Hollies and the Bee Gees), the outtake "Here" (very much like McCartney's piano ballads), and a demo of "World of You."
The Beatles, A Long and Winding Road [DVD] (Passport Video). A most peculiar production, this five-DVD, seven-hour box set, which as the case emphasizes (in tiny print) "is neither endorsed nor authorized by the Beatles or Apple Corp." That's a big disadvantage when you're trying to do a comprehensive visual history of the Beatles, cutting off access not just to the surviving Beatles and their closest associates, but also to a lot of great key '60s footage and original Beatles music for the soundtrack. It's also bound to suffer unfavorable comparisons with Anthology, the massive authorized Beatles documentary that, while not perfect, was quite excellent, with extensive interviews with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, and George Martin, as well as about all the fine clips a fan could wish for. So while it's unstated, basically this set is trying to pick up any available crumbs that Anthology didn't sweep up, coming up with not so much a Yellow Submarine as a Yellow Submarine Sandwich, to pinch a line from the Rutles. It's not so much an alternative Anthology as a supplement to Anthology that the hardcore Beatles fan might want to check out.
Within those limitations, the filmmakers did a good but not great job. The core of the production, and its best features, are the more than 40 people they interviewed. To be honest these are more peripheral figures than intimate associates, but still many of them did have a notable if secondary role to play in the group's intricate history. Among them are several members of the Quarrymen; Allan Williams, their quasi-manager in the early 1960s prior to Brian Epstein; Tony Sheridan, whom the Beatles backed on their first studio recordings; Alistair Taylor, longtime assistant to both Epstein and the Beatles; Billy Preston, who played keyboards on the Let It Be sessions; and John Lennon's half-sister, Julia Baird. Often, though, the figures have tenuous (or even no) direct connections with the Fab Four, including members of very obscure fellow Liverpool bands; Beatles chauffeur Alf Bicknell; Brian Epstein's secretary; or even members of the Bootleg Beatles tribute band.
That's not exactly the same as, for instance, interviewing Yoko Ono, Pete Best, Astrid Kirschherr, Allen Klein, Richard Lester, or Abbey Road engineers Geoff Emerick and Norman Smith, to name just a few interesting figures not heard from in Anthology. Still, since Anthology did not include any interviews from anyone other than McCartney, Harrison, Starr, Martin, road manager/assistant Neil Aspinall, and publicist Derek Taylor, the wealth of different perspectives does have some value. The interviews go over material that will be familiar to many Beatlemaniacs, but relatively fresh stories and perspectives do surface sometimes (Tony Sheridan reveals he hated the Beatles' image and material in the early days of Beatlemania), and some figures, such as Williams, Sheridan, and Taylor, are entertaining storytellers. There are also some mundane interviews, and the one with Rod Murray (roommate of Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon in their art school days) suffers from atrocious sound quality, though otherwise the audio and camerawork is of a reasonably professional standard.
The non-interview footage is far more disappointing, even considering the lack of access to the Beatles and Apple. There are bits of both silent and audio Beatles performance footage, but nothing too revealing (and often from sources that viewers will have already seen elsewhere). Actual Beatles music is heard only in very brief snippets during the footage, and for that matter is only heard very briefly, very faintly, and very occasionally as incidental background music. There are occasional brief clips of interest, such as a little of Pete Best in the mid-1960s as a guest on the TV show What's My Line?, and some good still photos. The use of cheesy pseudo-early-'60s style music for backgrounds and links detracts rather than adds to the viewing pleasure, emphasizing the absence of genuine Beatles recordings.
Most problematic of all, however, is the jagged structure of the discs, which would hardly serve as a workable history of the band for the few viewers who might not know the basic details of the Beatles' career. Far more attention is paid to their pre-recording days than their actual heyday, with three of the five discs devoted to their pre-1963 activities. There's little linkage supplied of basic information as to their records and key events in their rise to fame and artistic evolution. Ultimately it's for fanatics who know the story (and probably have Anthology), and want numerous bits and pieces of Beatles trivia, many of which admittedly are interesting. The only bonus footage is additional interview material with Julia Baird, Alf Bicknell, Alistair Taylor, Tony Sheridan, and Mersey Beat magazine founder Bill Harry, which is substantially less interesting than the excerpts used for the main feature, with Bicknell and Taylor in particular digressing into rather tedious and interminable stories.
Booker T. & the MGs, Soul Men (Stax). Although all of these 25 cover versions were recorded in the 1960s, none of them were released at the time. Unfortunately, info as to the exact dates of the individual tracks has been lost, though Stax scholar Rob Bowman's liner notes figure that most of it was cut between 1965-68, with some possibly dating from 1962-64. Putting all of them onto a single disc decades later might seem like a vault-cleaning exercise of secondary material. But this turns out to be a surprisingly good and vibrant collection of soul instrumental interpretations of rock, soul, and pop hits of the '60s, even if it's not up to the level of Booker T. & the MGs more famous hits and original numbers. Even though these were often laid down quickly before or after sessions on which the band were backing other artists, most of these don't sound like throwaways. They're characteristically disciplined and imaginative, and the scope is remarkably wide, taking in Beatles songs, blues ("Wang Dang Doodle" and "Baby Scratch My Back"), Motown, straight pop ("Downtown"), and even some songs on which Booker T. & the MGs actually played on the original recordings (Sam & Dave's "Soul Man" and "When Something Is Wrong with My Baby," Eddie Floyd's "On a Saturday Night"). Not all of the reworkings are top-notch; the Beatles' "You Can't Do That" is taken at a jazzy shuffle that doesn't suit the tune. But most of them are very good, and not straight copies of the original arrangements, the band effectively cooking up different tempos and simmering guitar-organ interplay.
Cream, BBC Sessions (Polydor). This compilation of 22 Cream BBC tracks from 1966-68 marked a major addition to the group's discography, particularly as they released relatively little product during their actual lifetime. All of but two of these cuts ("Lawdy Mama" and the 1968 version of "Steppin' Out," which had appeared on Eric Clapton's Crossroads box) were previously unreleased, and although many of these had made the round on bootlegs, the sound and presentation here is unsurprisingly preferable. As for actual surprises, there aren't many. It's a good cross-section of songs from their studio records, though a couple, "Steppin' Out" and "Traintime," only appeared on live releases, and some of these BBC takes actually predate the release and recording of the album versions, which makes them of historical interest for intense Cream fans. (There are also four brief interviews with Eric Clapton from the original broadcasts.) There's a mild surprise in the absence of a version of "White Room," but otherwise many of the group's better compositions and covers are here, including "I Feel Free," "N.S.U.," "Strange Brew," "Tales of Brave Ulysses," "Sunshine of Your Love," "Born Under a Bad Sign," "Outside Woman Blues," "Crossroads," "We're Going Wrong," "I'm So Glad," "SWLABR," and "Politician." Cream took better advantage of the live-in-the-studio BBC format than some groups of similar stature. There's a lean urgency to most of the performances that, while not necessarily superior to the more fully realized and polished studio renditions, do vary notably in ambience from the more familiar versions. The sound quality is good but not perfect, and variable; sometimes it's excellent, yet at other times there seem to be imperfections in the tapes sourced, with "Sunshine of Your Love" suffering from a (not grievously) hollow, muffled quality. If there's any other slight criticism of this set, it's that a handful of BBC tracks don't appear, including some that don't make it onto this CD in any version, like "Sleepy Time Time," "Toad," and "Sitting on Top of the World." Given Cream's tendency to over-improvise on their live concert recordings, however, the concise nature of these BBC tracks (none of which exceed five minutes) makes them preferable listening in some respects.
Bob Dylan, The Witmark Years (Capricorn). In 1962-64, Bob Dylan recorded several dozen publishing demos for Witmark Music in their New York office, featuring only his acoustic guitar or (on about half a dozen cuts) his piano as accompaniment. This chronologically sequenced two-CD set compiles all 41 of his known Witmark recordings (though two of them , "Eternal Circle" and "Percy's Song," are labeled "possible Witmark demos"). Dylan didn't release many of these songs in any form on his official pre-1965 albums, although there are different versions of some classics ("Blowin' in the Wind," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "Girl from the North Country," "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright"), and three of these demos ("Walkin' Down the Line" and the "piano" versions of "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and "When the Ship Comes In") appeared on Dylan's official The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3 compilation. Despite their imperfections -- notably variable sound quality which is definitely below official release standard -- these recordings close a notable gap in his repertoire not covered by his commonly available early albums. Among them are versions of numerous obscurities that didn't make the cut for his early Columbia albums, some of them quite good, like "Seven Curses," "Baby, I'm in the Mood for You," "Tomorrow Is a Long Time," "Paths of Victory," "Mama, You Been on My Mind," and "Percy's Song." Especially interesting is a 1964 piano demo of "Mr. Tambourine Man" (not the same as the more famous studio outtake with Dylan on guitar and Ramblin' Jack Elliott on harmony vocals), as well as an early piano demo of "I'll Keep It with Mine" from the same June 1964 session. Not everything here is notable; some of the songs are clearly secondary or derivative throwaways (though even some of the throwaways, like "Walkin' Down the Line" and "Guess I'm Doing Fine," are pretty cool). Too, Dylan's performances, while in general good, usually aren't quite up to the level of his Columbia studio takes; on "Let Me Die in My Footsteps," amusingly, he cuts the song off after a minute and a half with the complaint, "You want to put this on? 'Cause it's awful long...it's a drag, I sang it so many times." Note that the rendition of "I Shall Be Free" here contains a verse not included on the official version on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.
The Easybeats, The Very Best of the Easybeats (Varese Sarabande). Several Easybeats best-of compilations prefaced the appearance of this one, including a mid-1980s Rhino anthology, Best of the Easybeats, which had a track lineup (and title) similar to this 2003 release. Like that Rhino compilation, although this overall does a decent job of gathering the best material by the band that was widely exposed to the US/UK markets, it's not an optimal survey of their work. Its main flaw is the near-total absence of pre-"Friday on My Mind" mid-'60s tracks recorded primarily for the Australian market -- tracks that included some of their best and most exciting singles, like "Wedding Ring," "Sad & Lonely & Blue," and "She's So Fine." The 18 tracks on this CD, however, are generally high-quality pop-rock with a big British Invasion influence, whether of the rowdy mid-'60s kind or of the slightly later pop-psychedelic sort. While "Friday on My Mind" might remain the only track here familiar to the average listener, it does include their smaller British hit "Hello, How Are You"; the big 1966 Aussie hits "Sorry" and "Make You Feel Alright (Women)"; good flops like "Gonna Have a Good Time (Good Times)"; and standout B-sides like "Pretty Girl" and "Land of Make Believe." As a small but praiseworthy perk, this also has the American versions of their cult singles "Falling Off the Edge of the World" (that one in mono), "Come In, You'll Get Pneumonia," and "Hello, How Are You," which are actually preferable to the more elaborate, heavily orchestrated different ones that circulate on other releases. Also on board is the "fast" European single version of "The Music Goes Round My Head," which wasn't one of their best songs, but whose availability should make some people happy.
Fairport Convention, Fairport Convention (Universal International). By far the most rock-oriented of Fairport Convention's early albums, this debut was recorded before Sandy Denny joined the band (Judy Dyble handles the female vocals). Unjustly overlooked by listeners who consider the band's pre-Denny output insignificant, this is a fine folk-rock effort that takes far more inspiration from West Coast '60s sounds than traditional British folk. Fairport's chief strength at this early juncture were their interpretations, particularly in their harmony vocals, of obscure tunes by American songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Emmitt Rhodes, and Jim & Jean. Their own songs weren't quite up to that high standard, but were better than many have given them credit for, with "Decameron" and "Sun Shade" in particular hitting wonderfully fetching melancholic moods. It's true Fairport would devise a more original style after Denny joined, but their first-class abilities as more American pop-folk-rock-styled musicians on this album shouldn't be undersold. The 2003 CD reissue of this record adds four bonus tracks from outtakes, TV performances, and non-LP singles of the era, as well as historical liner notes. The extra songs include a studio outtake cover of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" that's inferior to the BBC version that shows up on Heyday, as the studio rendition has only Ian Matthews on vocals, whereas the BBC one has a Matthews-Denny duet. There's also their debut non-LP single "If I Had a Ribbon Bow," which is rather uncharacteristic of early Fairport in its jaunty jazzy vibe. Ending the disc are two cuts from a French 1968 TV broadcast, in slightly subpar but quite listenable fidelity, one a cover of Tim Buckley's "Morning Glory," the other an explosive seven-minute reading of Richard Farina's "Reno, Nevada" with psychedelic guitar improvisation, making it quite different to the much shorter BBC cover of the same song that appears on Heyday.
Fairport Convention, What We Did on Our Holidays (Universal International). Sandy Denny's haunting, ethereal vocals gave Fairport a big boost on her debut with the group. A more folk-based album than their initial effort, What We Did on Our Holidays was divided between original material and a few well-chosen covers. This contains several of their greatest moments: Sandy Denny's "Fotheringay," Richard Thompson's "Meet on the Ledge," the obscure Joni Mitchell composition "Eastern Rain," the traditional "She Moves Through the Fair," and their version of Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine." And more than simply being a collection of good songs (with one or two pedestrian ones), it allowed Fairport to achieve their greatest internal balance, and indeed one of the finest balances of any major folk-rock group. The strong original material, covers of little-known songs by major contemporary songwriters such as Dylan and Mitchell, and updates of traditional material were reminiscent of the blend achieved by the Byrds on their early albums, with Fairport Convention giving a British slant to the idiom. The slant would become much more British by the end of the 1960s, though, both gaining and losing something in the process. Confusingly, What We Did on Our Holidays was titled Fairport Convention in its initial US release, with a different cover from the UK edition as well, although Fairport's very first album from 1968 had used the title Fairport Convention as well. In the CD age, the title was standardized in all territories to What We Did on Our Holidays. The 2003 CD reissue of this record adds historical liner notes and three bonus tracks from the same era, one from a BBC broadcast, one from a non-LP B-side, and one a studio outtake. The non-LP B-side, "Throwaway Street Puzzle," is indeed a throwaway blues-rock song, as is their mediocre cover of Muddy Waters's "You're Gonna Need My Help" (from the BBC). The studio outtake, a version of the Everly Brothers' "Some Sweet Day," is okay, but far inferior to the less inhibited BBC one from the same time frame that appears on the Heyday collection.
Fairport Convention, Unhalfbricking (Universal International). Unhalfbricking was, if only in retrospect, a transitional album for the young Fairport Convention in which they shed their closest ties to their American folk-rock influences and started to edge toward a more traditional British folk-slanted sound. That shift wouldn't be definitive until their next album, Liege and Lief. But the strongest link to the American folk-rock harmony approach left with the departure of Ian Matthews, who left shortly after the sessions for Unhalfbrickingbegan. The mixture of obscure American folk-rock songs, original material, and traditional interpretations that had fallen into place with What We Did on Our Holidays earlier in the year was actually still intact, if not as balanced. Sandy Denny's two compositions, her famous "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" and the far less celebrated but magnetically brooding "Autopsy," were among the record's highlights. So too were the goofball French Cajun cover of Bob Dylan's "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" (here retitled "Si Tu Dois Partir," and a British hit) and the magnificent reading of Dylan's "Percy's Song," though the bash through Dylan's "Million Dollar Bash" was less effective. Richard Thompson's pair of songs, however, were less memorable. The clear signpost to the future was their eleven-minute take on the traditional song "A Sailor's Life," with guest fiddle by Dave Swarbrick, soon to join Fairport himself and make his own strong contribution toward reshaping the band's sound. The 2003 CD reissue adds historical liner notes and two decent bonus tracks: an outtake cover of Dylan's "Dear Landlord," and a cover of the Byrds' "The Ballad of Easy Rider" (actually recorded during the Liege and Lief sessions) that previously surfaced on Richard Thompson's Guitar, Vocal compilation.
Nashville West, The Legendary Nashville West Album (Rev-Ola). This CD reissue of the only album of Nashville West material, originally titled Nashville West, is preferable to the LP version of Nashville West as it adds four extra tracks (which had also been available on a previous CD reissue of the record on the Sierra label). It also has detailed historical liner notes, though the Nashville West story is so confusing and labyrinthine (the band were not called Nashville West while they were active, for instance) that it's not easy to follow no matter how well it's written. The music, while of considerable historical interest for anyone interested in the roots of country-rock, isn't as revolutionary or exciting as some might expect. It wasn't recorded with the intention of release, for one thing, so although the fidelity is okay, it's not nearly as pristine or polished as those of most official releases, even by late-1960s standards. The impression is one of a congenial Californian country bar band rather than one of innovators, though Clarence White's guitar work sparkles, and the band sprinkle in far more electric rock influences than most country acts were using at the time. Too, the mix and material were selected to spotlight the instrumental rather than the vocal facets of the band, giving a somewhat unbalanced picture of what the group sounded like. It's certainly pleasant stuff, and occasionally the songs are outstanding, particularly "Love of the Common People" and the tremolo-soaked cover of "By the Time I Get to Phoenix."
The Outsiders, Strange Things Are Happening (RPM). Prior to the 2002 release of this compilation, everything done by the Outsiders was well-represented on CD except for the bulk of their singles. That was a shame, as their dozen 1965-1969 singles contained much of their best work. That gap is entirely rectified by this exemplary compilation, which includes both sides of all dozen of their 1965-69 singles. Although some of these had appeared as bonus tracks on CD reissues of the albums The Outsiders, CQ, and C.Q. Sessions, a bunch of these hadn't, including some of their very best songs. Among those songs would be the wistful Continental folk-rock of "Summer Is Here"; "Monkey on Your Back," one of their most lyrically challenging pieces; the gentle folk-rock of "I've Been Loving You So Long," "Teach Me to Forget," and "Don't You Worry About Me"; and the downright berserk experimental punk of "I'm Only Trying to Prove to Myself That I'm Not Like Everybody Else." There's much more here to bolster their claim to the title of best '60s rock group to hail from a non-English speaking territory, like the Pretty Things-style rave-up "You Mistreat Me"; the sexy pounder "Touch"; the Eastern European-influenced minor-keyed punk-folk-rock of "Sun's Going Down"; and the gloomy psych-punk of their final 45, "Do You Feel Allright"/"Daddy Died on Saturday." While the 1968 single "Cup of Hot Coffee" might be their poppiest and weakest effort, it's long been their hardest track to acquire, and its availability on CD is welcome. Diehard collectors might want to note that the take of "Touch" here is the original single version, not the other take included on previous Outsiders compilations, while the mixes of "I Don't Care" and "You Remind Me" are the single versions, not the ones heard as bonus tracks to the CQ CD reissue. The extensive liner notes include many insightful quotes from Outsiders singer Wally Tax.
The Velvet Underground, Volume One [DVD] (Anonymous Film Archive). Footage of the Velvet Underground is scarce, and what exists isn't too exciting or even too watchable. At least some does exist, however, and this two-hour bootleg DVD gathers much of it in one place, even if the presentation and packaging leave much to be desired. Only about half of the contents are listed on the case, those being Andy Warhol's 1966 films Symphony in Sound and Moe in Bondage, both shot at the Factory in 1966. Symphony in Sound is actually only the second reel, or the second half or so, of Andy Warhol's 67-minute film The Velvet Underground and Nico (A Symphony of Sound. In the reel included here, we see the band play a typically discordant instrumental for 20 minutes or so, with Nico playing tambourine and her three-year-old son Ari picking up the maracas. Policemen appear at some points, presumably in response to noise complaints, though they don't do much, and the segment ends with the Velvets and other Factory workers just hanging around the Factory. Although the music and fidelity aren't too good, at least this does supply part of the only film, unbelievably, in which the 1960s Velvet Underground can be seen clearly, playing music in real time. Moe in Bondage is duller, consisting of a half-hour or so of Velvets drummer Moe Tucker tied up in a chair as bandmates Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, and John Cale sit around her eating, occasionally offering her food, and talking inaudibly. Unnoted on the album's case, strangely, are a bunch of extras. Even odder, those extras include much of the footage of the Velvet Underground playing in 1966, and footage of other vaguely Velvets-Warhol-related private gatherings from the era, that appears on the same label's Volume Two Velvet Underground DVD. These scenes are frustrating inasmuch as they're mostly a jumble of blurry vari-speed clips in which the band is rarely seen; the only music consists of extremely low-fidelity early live recordings, little or none of which seems to have been recorded at the same time the images were filmed; and there are long stretches in which no music at all is heard. Most of the footage, indeed, is of dancers and what one presumes is some of the audience. The same is true of another piece on the DVD, the 1966 short film Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, though here at least the image quality is better, and there's the interesting novelty of hearing live versions of "Heroin" and "Venus in Furs" performed on the soundtrack by a lineup with Cale on vocals, Tucker on bass, and original VU drummer Angus MacLise (Reed was in the hospital at the time). There's yet more: a 1991 video of Nico footage produced for the "Frozen Warning" track in conjunction with a CD reissue of her The Marble Index album; a faintly ludicrous segment on Andy Warhol's Factory (done after his death) on a straight news program; and an unidentified scene, one would guess from a Warhol film, with Edie Sedgwick. The DVD's something of an endurance test taken all together, and accentuates the tragic absence of any known reasonable-quality footage of the Velvet Underground actually playing good songs in their heyday.
The Velvet Underground, Volume Two [DVD] (Anonymous Film Archive). Although a bootleg, this DVD of rare Velvet Underground-related footage was indeed turning up in specialty record and video stores by 2003. It's hard to know what the definitive title is, as it reads "Volume Two" on the spine, but spells out some of the contents on the cover as follows: "Live at the Psychiatrists' Convention (Their first appearance ever -- Connecticut 1-11-66 and Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable (The first E.P.I. event -- Live at The Dom NYC 4-66)." The mere existence of such early Velvet Underground footage is enough to send tingles of anticipation down the spine of fans, but actually viewing the product is an enormous letdown. The footage is a jumble of blurry vari-speed clips in which the band is rarely seen. The only music consists of extremely low-fidelity versions of a few early songs and some noisy instrumentals, little or none of which seems to have been recorded at the same time the images were filmed; there are long stretches in which no music at all is heard. Most of the footage, indeed, is of dancers and what one presumes is some of the audience. There's also footage from private gatherings that are more tangentially Velvet Underground-related than they are actual Velvet Underground events, including glimpses of some notables like Edie Sedgwick, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, Ed Sanders, and Tuli Kupferberg. Without virtually any context whatsoever as to where and when to place the material, either on the screen or elsewhere (there are no liner notes), it's close to a random, useless hodgepodge of Velvets-related or semi-Velvets-related clips, and pretty squalid as a viewing experience. On a strange note, the last segment of the video, unnoted in the packaging, is a low-quality but watchable dupe of a Spanish TV documentary on the Velvet Underground, done long after the group's demise. The main attraction of this is interview footage with Sterling Morrison, who talks straightforwardly and informatively about the band, although long gaps in their career are not addressed. Other than the interview, that documentary program consists of annoying collages of old stills of the band, with very poor quality live tapes of the group playing in the background, as well as an apparent duet between Morrison and John Cale on "I'm Waiting for the Man" in which the camera cuts between them so quickly that you'll suffer from dizziness and headache.
Clarence White, Tuff & Stringy: Sessions 1966-68 (Big Beat). Though this is by no means the best of Clarence White's guitar work -- or even necessarily the best of his session work from 1966-68 -- it's an important document of no less than 26 rare tracks predating his joining the Byrds. These recordings, often but not always released on the Bakersfield International label (in fact a few were previously unreleased), find White perfecting his transition to the electric guitar and country-rock from bluegrass. The confusing aspect of this phase of his career, on record anyway, is that White's presence is the only real thread running through these recordings, most (though not all) of which feature him only as a session man, rather than as the billed or featured artist. It's quite a crazy quilt of disparate tracks, combining, in varying degrees, country, pop, rock'n'roll, folk, and folk-rock, with some blues, R&B, Byrds, Beatles, and Cajun licks thrown in. That might not make it the easiest listen in the world, but the variety also makes it fascinating, as White fishes around numerous mixtures of country and rock on obscure recordings by Gary Paxton, Wayne Moore, the Sanland Brothers, Darrell Cotton, Gib & Jan, Jan & Clarence, Jack Reeves, Dennis Payne, the Great Love Trip, and other names known to very few, even in the record collecting world. Alongside these are eight tracks credited to White himself, some of them previously unreleased. White and the artists explored an almost zany range of tangents, occasionally using sitar, mellotron, and guitar through a Hammond organ Leslie unit, not to mention nut pulls for bending strings. What keeps this from being as good as it is historically interesting is the material, which is only average (if often ear-perkingly quirky) for the most part. Some of the tracks rise above that level, though, like the Byrds-like country-rock-psychedelia of the Spencers' "Make Up Your Mind," with some great fuzz effects; the blunt Dylanish folk-rock of Darrell Cotton's "Don't Pity Me"/"If We Could Read" single; and the beautiful country ballad "She's Gone" by Gib & Jan (though another recording of the song from the same era, by the Gosdin Brothers, is better). Especially worthy of note are a couple of previously unissued circa-1966 electric rock recordings by White's just-ex-bluegrass band the Kentucky Colonels, particularly the Beatle-influenced folk-rock of "Made of Stone" (co-written by Eric Weissberg); these might be the first studio tapes of White playing electric guitar. The lengthy liner notes by compiler Alec Palao do a great deal to chart White's progress during this particularly blurry and hard-to-follow juncture in his career. It should be noted that this is not a complete overview of White's session work during the time, which also included tracks with the Byrds, Everly Brothers, Rick Nelson, Gene Clark, and others not represented on this compilation.
Warren Zevon, The First Sessions (Varese Sarabande). While these early, pre-first album recordings are not at all characteristic of what Warren Zevon would issue during his proper career, they form an interesting sweep through his formative days. Four of these songs, including the minor hit single "Follow Me," were released on 1966 singles on which Zevon was the male half of the boy-girl duo Lyme & Cybelle. These tracks are nice folk-rock-pop tunes, highlighted by the near-raga-rock of "Follow Me," though their cover of Bob Dylan's "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" (which Dylan at that time had yet to release himself) is too jaunty. Less impressive are simple previously unreleased Lyme & Cybelle demos of "Follow Me" and the Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face," and the previously unissued studio cover of Jimmy Reed's "Baby, What You Want Me to Do" (here retitled "Peeping and Hiding") is dull. Even rarer items are five previously unreleased Zevon demos (one of them oddly credited to the Motorcycle Abeline). Four of these also seem to hail from circa 1966, with the Motorcycle Abeline's "(You Used to) Ride So High" owing a lot to high-energy Mamas & the Papas tracks like "Straight Shooter." Zevon's own version of the tough "Outside Chance," covered by the Turtles, is also among the demo pile, which is rounded out by a couple of atypically sweet, acoustic ballads. By contrast, the solo piano rambler "A Bullet for Ramona" seems to date from later than 1966, with the lower voice and saloon murder tale more in line with the mood of his solo albums. As bonus tracks, the CD also includes the poppy 1966, Curt Boettcher-produced Lyme & Cybelle single "Song 7"/"Write If You Get Work," by which time Zevon had been replaced by Wayne Erwin.
Various Artists, Byrds Parts 2(Raven). Like its predecessor Byrd Parts, this is a cup-runneth-over grab bag of "oddities, curios, rarities & essentials by members of the Byrds, alone and together," this one spanning the early 1960s to the mid-1980s. The very nature of such a project means that it's not too great or consistent as an end-to-end listening product, and not nearly as good as the average tracks actually released under the Byrds' banner. But the compilers, and just about everyone buying this, knows that -- they're after some Byrds-related rarities that are for the most part really difficult to find (and often unavailable elsewhere on CD), especially in one place. On those grounds, Byrd Parts 2 is a roaring success, with no less than 28 tracks gathered from all corners of their discographies. Naturally it's the earlier 1960s material that holds the most interest, including a track from Hoyt Axton's debut 1962 LP with Roger McGuinn on harmony vocals; David Crosby as part of Les Baxter's Balladeers in the early 1960s on "Baiion"; two tracks by the City Surfers, a circa 1963 studio-only Beach Boys ripoff group with McGuinn involvement; Judy Collins' late-1963 recording of "Turn! Turn! Turn!," on which McGuinn played; and two studio pre-1965 solo Crosby electric recordings (which appeared on Sundazed's The Preflyte Sessions). The big coup, however, is the appearance of three genuinely previously unreleased mid-1960s tracks, including a nice haunting Crosby solo acoustic pre-'65 demo of his original "Brotherhood of the Blues"; a 1964 solo demo by Gene Clark of his composition "Why Can't I Have Her Back Again?," which is like other of his early Byrds songs in its overt British Invasion influence, though blander than the ones that surfaced on Preflyte; and a circa '66-67 Clark demo of his "If I Hang Around," which Chip Douglas added bass and harmony vocals to in the mid-1990s. The romp continues with two otherwise unrecorded Gene Clark songs from the sole album by the Rose Garden, from 1967; the rare Peter Fonda 1967 single "November Nights," written by Gram Parsons; and Clarence White's 1967 single "Tuff & Stringy." As the disc reaches the end of the 1960s at around the halfway mark, the material gets less and less interesting, but does include various rarities by the Flying Burrito Brothers, Delaney & Bonnie, country singer Johnny Darrell, Earl Scruggs, and the Everly Brothers on which some Byrd(s) or another helped out. Wrapping things up are rarities from the late 1970s and 1980s involving McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman as featured artists, though with the exception of the McGuinn's 1977 film theme "Shoot 'Em," those are pretty dull. The annotation could have been better for things like recording and original release dates, but it's well worth purchasing for the Byrds fanatic, despite its wildly varying styles, from early-'60s folk-pop and classic-styled '60s folk-rock to country-rock and more.
Various Artists, Go Girl: Dream Babes Vol. 4 (RPM). Although volume four of RPM's Dream Babes series of 1960s British girl-group sides gets further into obscure flops than its predecessors, there's barely any drop in the quality, which remains good though hardly great. And as with most of the rest of the songs on this series, the production's better than the singers or the material. That's not to say there aren't some pretty good cuts on this 22-song anthology, some of them explicitly derivative of the American girl-group sound (like the Chantelles' cracking "I Want That Boy," a cover of an obscure US single by Sadina), others taking a pop-soul approach, others mixing in some British beat music. Some of these performers are famous, but not for their music: two sides of a 1967 Twiggy single are here, as are a couple 1968 tracks by Linda Thorson (who played Tara King on The Avengers). Highlights include the Orchids' stomping pining adolescent girl-group "Mr. Scrooge" (produced and co-written by Who/Kinks producer Shel Talmy); the Chantelles' credible emulation of slickly lush American pop-soul on "I Think of You"; and the British Invasion-cum-Everly Brothers harmonies of the McKinley Sisters' pounding "When He Comes Along" (by Geoff Stephens, author of "The Crying Game"). Plenty of other names well-known to British Invasion fans were involved in some of these sides in some capacity, like John Carter and Ken Lewis (who wrote the McKinleys' nice ballad "That Lonely Feeling"); session guitar ace Big Jim Sullivan, who plays tone pedal guitar on that track, as he had on Dave Berry's "The Crying Game"; Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote Ross Hannaman's Marianne Faithfull-like 1967 single "Down Through Summer"; producer Mike Leander, who wrote the Breakaways' gloomy ballad "Sacred Love"; and Kenny Lynch, who wrote the Linda Thorson sides. Released for the first time here is Jacki Bond's 1967 recording of "Reviewing the Situation," cut a couple of years prior to Sandie Shaw's release of the same tune on her 1969 album of the same name.
Various Artists, Pillows & Prayers: Cherry Red Records 1981-1984 [DVD] (Cherry Red Films). Cherry Red's Pillows & Prayers sampler, released at the end of 1982, was extremely popular for an early-1980s British indie rock compilation (in part because of its cheap price), selling more than 100,000 copies. In 1984, director Christopher Collins made a film of the same name that essentially strung together six videos of songs by Cherry Red artists. Note, however, that despite sharing the same title, this is not a video of the album. Just three of the six artists on the video (Everything But the Girl, Marine Girls, and Eyeless in Gaza) were on the Pillows & Prayers album, and just one of the six songs, Everything But the Girl's "On My Mind," was on the album (the other three acts are Kevin Hewick, Fantastic Something, and Monochrome Set). At any rate, it's above-average for mid-1980s rock video, the clips showing the artists in peculiar, sometimes surrealistic settings that seem halfway between the British suburbs and the British countryside, although the Monochrome Set's "Jet Set Junta" is a more conventional performance-on-soundstage-looking bit. The clips are linked together, on a more surrealistic note, by 1950s British TV advertisements, as well as a bored-looking young woman switching a TV channel to mark the start of many of the different sections. The music, in keeping with the Cherry Red aesthetic, is diverse and poppy in an uncommercial way, combining new wave with some suave jazziness and quirky humility. This film forms the core of this DVD release, but there's a lot more material, starting with three "bonus tracks." These are a trio of more standard videos from the era of Medium Medium's "Hungry So Angry" (one of the few Cherry Red recordings from the time that might be familiar to Americans), Eyeless in Gaza's "Veil Like Calm," and Monochrome Set's "Jacobs Ladder," the last of which deviates from the usual lip-synced performance for goofier images. Finally, much of the DVD's devoted to a lengthy interview with Cherry Red founder Iain McNay and label A&R man Mike Alway, both of whom were vital to getting the Cherry Red company off the ground. Filmed simply in a continuous talking-head shot, this is an interesting and straightforward look back at the label's contributions to British alternative rock in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with numerous names of artists flying back and forth that will be unrecognizable to all but truly devoted collectors. Some names that are recognizable are Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn of Everything But the Girl, and McNay and Alway summon some neat stories of Cherry Red's work with the duo when they were all but unknown. While the film Pillows & Prayers itself is pretty short, this is pretty good value for those with an intense interest in Cherry Red and/or early-to-mid-'80s British indie rock, running 83 minutes in all.
Various Artists, Studio One Story (Soul Jazz). Studio One Story is an extremely ambitious and unusual multimedia release, devoted to documenting the history of Clement "Coxsone" Dodd's Studio One, one of the most important (and perhaps the most important) reggae labels. Housed in a standard CD-sized two-disc boxed set, it's a combination DVD and CD, with a fat book of liner notes to boot. Certainly the component that will garner the most attention is the DVD disc, which contains no less than four hours of film footage. About three-quarters of the DVD is devoted to a film on the history of Dodd and Studio One, featuring extensive interview footage with Dodd and numerous artists he worked with, including Dennis Alcapone, Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis, Sugar Minott, engineer Sylvan Morris, studio musicians, and others. The remainder of the DVD contains more than an hour of bonus interview footage that didn't make it into the main feature film. The CD disc has 16 classic Studio One recordings, representing styles from ska and rock steady to dub, with tracks by major artists like Ellis, Minott, the Heptones, the Skatalites, Lone Ranger, and Jackie Mittoo.
On one hand, the DVD in particular is a valuable document, especially considering that reggae is rarely given such serious and comprehensive documentary treatment. On the other hand, it's not optimum as entertainment, though it's worth slogging through for anyone seriously interested in the music's development from the 1950s through the 1980s. On the plus side, most of the figures interviewed, particularly Dodd, have a lot to say about Studio One's contribution to reggae. The scope is admirably wide, reaching back to Dodd's days in the 1950s as a soundsystem operator importing American R&B records, through the construction of his studio and his development of innumerable artists, the Wailers being the most famous. Dodd was also an entrepreneur whose influence on Jamaican music was not limited to his studio productions, as he was also a label owner and soundsystem operator, and ran several music shops in Kingston.
Factors that make it tough to watch all three hours at once, though, are the languid pace of the footage, in which some clips are just scene-setting glimpses of Jamaican life, or in which the camera just follows Dodd and friends around as they revisit some old dancehalls. The patois of the interviewees will be hard to follow for many non-Jamaican viewers, though, remarkably, English and French subtitles are provided; even if you think your ear for patois is good, those English subtitles will probably prove to be very helpful, if only to ease the comfort of comprehension. More importantly, the Studio One story (and the story of reggae as a whole) is convoluted enough that it can be difficult to follow the tale's growth without a strong background in reggae history. This is where the accompanying 92-page liner note book comes in handy, providing a basic but easily grasped overview, even including a glossary of terms. It might sound like a schoolmasterly admonition, but it really is helpful to read the liner notes before watching the film. A notable disappointment is the shortage of vintage footage from the 1960s and 1970s. There are only some short snippets of the Skatalites (a silent clip), Count Ossie, Jackie Mittoo, and Marcia Griffiths, though to be fair, there's probably very little that exists from this period. It is also strange that the Wailers aren't discussed more, even if they were only one of hundreds of acts that Studio One recorded.
The film works best when the interviewees come up with particularly vivid stories illustrating Studio One's inventiveness, as when Dodd and others recount the audition process. Literally hundreds of aspiring artists would line up outside the studio on Sundays to be weeded through; Sugar Minott remembers how he stood out as an artist who asked to sing his songs over existing Studio One rhythm tracks. Also particularly interesting are Sylvan Morris and guitarist Eric "Rickenbacker" Frater's explanations of how the characteristically echoing sound of reggae guitar was developed, through a combination of the style of the player and the Echoplex tape machine. (The guitar on which Frater demonstrates is notably out-of-tune.) Helpfully, each interview segment is enclosed in attractive graphics that clearly label the name of each speaker being interviewed. Certainly the most colorful of the subjects is King Stitt, one of the earliest DJs, who when filmed for this documentary had only two teeth left, though that didn't keep him from continuing to DJ. The bonus clips aren't up to the level of those used for the principal feature, but still contain some worthwhile insights, as when Alton Ellis explains the rhythmic difference that made ska different from preceding musics. Unfortunately there are no English (or French) subtitles for the bonus interview clips.
Although there could have been more songs placed on the CD, it does include fine Studio One recordings, particularly the Skatalites' ska instrumental "Guns of Navarone"; the Heptones' beautiful harmony number "Baby"; and Larry Marshall's "Nanny Goat," which is viewed in the film as the first track to use the Echoplexed reggae guitar style of chording. The liner notes, though as previously noted helpful in gaining a straightforward overview of Studio One and reggae, are actually not as big a deal as you might guess from the 92-page length; the print is very large and much of the space is taken up by vintage photos, and the booklet can be read within an hour. But overall, this set is an impressive (and reasonably priced) production that does a great deal to document a pillar of reggae's golden age.
ALBUM REVIEWS: A SELECTION OF RECENT RELEASES, SPRING 2003:
The Animals, Animalism & Bonus Hits (Oxford). For reasons that are unclear to the average fan, the 1966 LP Animalism -- the final album recorded by the first incarnation of the Animals, before they were reorganized into a psychedelic band billed as Eric Burdon & the Animals -- has never been legitimately reissued on CD. That hasn't stopped not-so-legitimate companies from putting it out. In a confusing situation, it came out on CD, with eight additional bonus tracks, in 2000 under the title Blues Years on the German label Rock-In-Beat. It also came out, with twelve additional bonus tracks -- only two of which overlapped with the bonus tracks on Blues Years -- on this CD, titled Animalism & Bonus Hits. The first twelve tracks are the 1966 Animalism album, a fine, largely blues-rock-colored effort with a few outstanding tracks like "Outcast" and the cover of Donovan's "Hey Gyp." It doesn't include any hits, however, and is diminished by its reliance on cover material. Collectors might be even more interested in the dozen bonus tracks, as these include some of the most notable 1964-67 Animals cuts that are find to on compact disc. Among them are the rare first version of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," issued on a UK 45, and an alternate take of "Blue Feeling," from a Japanese compilation album. There are also four songs from the BBC, three of which appear on the legit Raven compilation Roadrunners!, though one of them ("Gonna Send You Back to Walker") doesn't; these are identified as being from 1967 in the track listings, though they sound as if they date from earlier. There are also mono single versions of the 1967 tracks "A Girl Named Sandoz," "Ain't That So," "Gratefully Dead," "Monterey," "When I Was Young," and "San Franciscan Nights." Although this bears a release date of 1995, that's almost certainly inaccurate; similarly, although the sleeve and pictures are pretty nice, this almost certainly isn't an authorized compilation. And yet, in the absence of a sanctioned CD reissue of Animalism, this is a pretty good deal, gathering most of the group's hardest-to-find-on-compact-disc mid-'60s tracks into one place.
Eddie Cochran, At 'Town Hall Party' [DVD] (Bear Family). Presenting two sets performed by Eddie Cochran on the Los Angeles TV show Town Hall Party on February 7, 1959, this is a real find for fans of both Cochran and 1950s rock'n'roll in general. Although (like the other DVDs in Bear Family's Town Hall Party series) the picture and sound were taken from kinescopes and thus not of optimum quality, actually the result is quite watchable, and the sound not so bad as to be a distraction. More importantly, the performances are excellent, Cochran delivering the songs with great swagger and good voice, ably backed by Dick D'Agostin & the Swingers. Both of Cochran's biggest hits, "Summertime Blues" (with Dick D'Agostin taking the low-voiced spoken parts of the "adult") and "C'mon Everybody," are on the program; in fact, he does "C'mon Everybody" twice. As another treat bound to please Cochran collectors, four of the numbers were never released by the rockabilly great in studio versions, including covers of Chuck Berry's "School Days" (where, unfortunately, the vocal mike is dead for the first verse), Gene Autry's "Be Honest with Me," Fat Domino's "Don't Blame It on Me," and the Drifters' "Money Honey" (though a live version of "Money Honey" did eventually come out on record after Cochran's death). The interview segment, in which Cochran and band talk with country star Johnny Bond, is actually less banal and more respectful than most Q&As with early rockers, Cochran accurately predicting that rock'n'roll would be with us for a long time, though he didn't live to see most of that forecast come true. About the only complaint you could offer is that this disc, in the absence of any other Cochran material from Town Hall Party, is too short, running for a mere eight songs (both versions of "C'mon Everybody" included) if you don't count the interview bit and two instrumentals by the backing band.
The Doors, Soundstage Performances [DVD] (Eagle Vision). Soundstage Performances contains three fine Doors clips filmed on soundstages for television broadcast, all of them presenting footage that wasn't too widely circulated prior to this 2002 release. The first and briefest performance shows them doing "The End" in Toronto in 1967; the second has them playing half a dozen songs in Copenhagen in 1968; and the third has five songs (plus a band interview) from their 1969 appearance on public television in New York. While the Doors' live work was erratic, due primarily to the mercurial condition of lead singer Jim Morrison, he's in good shape on all three of these broadcasts, and the band plays with focus, energy, and (where appropriate) spontaneity. Highlights from the '68 Copenhagen clip include a brief snatch of "Texas Radio & the Big Beat (The WASP)," which wouldn't show up on their studio releases until 1971's L.A. Woman, and "The Unknown Soldier," where the group had to be pretty creative to mimic the sound effects of the shooting on the record. The 1969 appearance is valuable for the inclusion of several songs from The Soft Parade that weren't often performed live, among them "Wishful Sinful," "Tell All the People," and "The Soft Parade"; apparently this was the only time they did "The Soft Parade" live anywhere. Also cool in the 1969 clip is a version of "Build Me a Woman" with a considerably different, and superior, shuffle arrangement than the one that appeared on Absolutely Live, with the added bonus of Morrison singing the couplet "Sunday trucker motherfucker" at the beginning of the tune, though he slurs the final word. The group comment briefly but intelligently on their work in the 1969 interview segment. The sound and image quality is excellent on the Toronto and Copenhagen clips, but unfortunately a little ragged on the 1969 performance, though still highly watchable. Adding considerable value to the vintage footage are fairly extensive interviews with Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, and Robby Krieger done specifically for this project, in which they comment extensively on both the performances and all of the songs performed. As minor complaints, the interview portion of the 1969 segment doesn't seem complete; some quotes attributed to Morrison in the Doors biography Break on Through are not heard. Also, the roundtable critical discussion of the Doors (including DJ Rosko and critics Richard Goldstein, Al Aronowitz, and Patricia Kennealy, the last of whom became one of Morrison's lovers) shown in the original program is not included, and that would have been a hoot to view.
Fanny, First Time in a Long Time: The Reprise Recordings (Rhino Handmade). It's amazing that this four-CD box set exists in the first place, considering not only that Fanny never had a Top Hundred album, but that they've never had a particularly big cult following either. But here it is, albeit in a limited edition of 5000 (sold in North America only). And all the stops were certainly pulled to assemble material, including not only all four of their early-'70s Reprise albums, but dozens of extras, many of them unreleased. Non-LP singles, single-only versions, home and studio demos (the earliest of them dating from July 1969, when they were still known as Wild Honey), alternate versions, outtakes: they're all here. Plus there's more: the tracks on the Canadian version of their debut album (which included three alternate versions never released elsewhere, as well as some cuts that only came out in the US as non-LP singles) that didn't make it onto the US configuration; seven songs from an April 1973 Philadelphia concert; four tracks from a live April 1972 Cleveland performance; six cuts from a demo session for the Mother's Pride album; even four Reprise radio commercials. Not to mention a 52-page booklet with extensive interview quotes from June Millington, Jean Millington, and Alice de Buhr. By definition any serious fan of any act is going to be pleased with such thoroughness. But all the bells and whistles don't act as convincing evidence that Fanny were any more than an ordinary, at times mundane, early-'70s rock band, leaving aside their pioneering status as an all-woman group on a major label that played their own instruments and wrote most of their material. The loads of non-LP and unreleased material aren't all that different than from what ended up on the four proper albums, though sometimes they show a more explicitly soul direction, as on the cover of Maxine Brown's "One Step at a Time" and the unreleased take of the Supremes' "Back in My Arms Again." The live recordings do prove that the band could rock convincingly and tightly on stage, and the fidelity on those is decent, though on the Cleveland cuts in particular it probably wouldn't have been judged up to release standard. Some of the demos are a mite folkier and more singer-songwriter-oriented than the albums, though that might be due more to the more basic arrangements than the material. Note that this doesn't include absolutely everything Fanny did; there's nothing from their post-Reprise album for Casablanca, and an archival live album of 1972 stuff done in Cleveland contains music not on this box.
Jason Crest, Collected Works of Jason Crest (Acme). This British LP does a good job of managing to stretch out Jason Crest's slim legacy to the length of an album, with both sides of four of their five singles keeping company with half a dozen previously unissued late-1960s acetates. (One of their singles, "Waterloo Road"/"Education," is not included because, according to the liner notes, the band hate it.) It's fairly good and pleasing, though not striking, period British psychedelic rock that occasionally, though not always, brings to a mind a somewhat more pop-inclined early Procol Harum. Only a couple of their tracks, though, upped the stakes from acceptable period fare to memorable performances. One was their debut 1968 single "Turquoise Tandem Cycle," where the Procol Harum comparisons were most apt, and which is typical of a certain strand of British psychedelia, down to the florid title, classical-influenced melody, wah-wahing guitar, and celestial organ. The other is "Black Mass," where the blood-curdling vocal, monkish chanting, and occult-tinged lyrics can bring to mind a more psychedelic Black Sabbath (or even a more psychedelic Spinal Tap). On occasion they went into a more avowedly poppy vibe, as on the cover of the Move's "(Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree" and the imaginative reworking of "You Really Got a Hold on Me," built around freaky organ lines. The sound quality of the acetates, as you'd expect, is lower than the singles, but very listenable, and the package comes with usefully detailed historical liner notes.
The Millennium, Voices of the Millennium (Rev-Ola). About 35 years after it was recorded, this album presents a lost chapter in the annals of late-1960s California sunshine pop. The story behind it is rather convoluted, but basically these are demos for the second Sagittarius album, The Blue Marble, using various members of the Millennium and some non-Millennium members. It's not exactly a Millennium album, although the Millennium's Sandy Salisbury, Lee Mallory, Curt Boettcher, and Joey Stec all wrote material, as well as doing some of the vocals (the liner notes and credits are a little foggy as to who sang and played what). Some of these songs would end up on The Blue Marble in different versions; others wouldn't be included on The Blue Marble in any form. Even without using The Blue Marble (not exactly a well-known record) as reference, this is pretty good sunshine pop, more low-key and less candy-coated than what the Millennium put out at the time, though not as slickly produced. It's not stunning, it's just well-executed, optimistic, love-and-hope-filled pop-rock with much baroque-rock and Beach Boys influence (and plenty of references to clouds, sun, islands, the moon, and the like in some songs). Those soaked in the Curt Boettcher world might be surprised by the pronounced gentle country-rock feel in some cuts, particularly those penned by Sandy Salisbury. It's appropriate music for blissing out to on a Maui beach, though not at the top of the stack for such moods by any means.
Jody Miller, The Story of... (Marginal). Most likely an illegitimate release, this 29-song compilation mostly concentrates on Miller's 1960s recordings for Capitol, though it does have her early-'70s Epic country hit cover of Barbara Lewis's "Baby I'm Yours." In that respect it's considerably different from the authorized 2000 Anthology collection, which has a lot of post-1960s Epic material and duplicates only four songs from The Story of.... Miller is most often categorized as a country singer, but in the 1960s she was actually pretty eclectic, roving among and combining country, folk, pop, and girl group-like pop-rock. That means there isn't much stylistic consistency here, though there are some good songs. Those include her two big hits, the "King of the Road" "answer" record "Queen of the House" and the 1965 Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil girl group-style protest song against the expulsion of a boy from school for long hair, "Home of the Brave." What makes this most interesting to the small group of listeners curious enough to spring for a Jody Miller collection in the first place, however, are the many obscure oddities. There's the cover of the Crystals' "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)," one of the most unfeminist-friendly rock songs of all time; a very pop arrangement of Bob Dylan's "All I Really Want to Do"; a late-'60s Nashville country-pop version of Joni Mitchell's "Urge for Going," complete with brief spoken recitation; "Sea of Heartbreak," which puts Bo Diddley, blues harmonica, and country-folk-pop into the same blender; and "The Fever," which recalls Jackie DeShannon's rowdiest early-to-mid-1960s sides, though DeShannon would have done the song with more vocal power. As is the case with all CDs on the Marginal label, the packaging is maddeningly inadequate. The graphics are decent and the sound quality good considering that it's an unauthorized anthology, but there are no liner notes aside from songwriting credits and a reprint of the text from the back cover of a 1965 LP, and the title is given as "Home of the Brave" on the front sleeve and "The Story of..." on the spine. Its value lies in assembling some fairly good, unclassifiable '60s pop music, albeit by a singer without much vocal character, that official labels have little interest in reissuing.
Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley [DVD] (Eagle Rock Entertainment). While this is a good and informative DVD, it gets docked a point for somewhat muddled execution of its nominal concept. As part of the "Classic Albums Series," supposedly this, according to the back cover note, "tells the unusual story that lies behind the making of Elvis Presley's first album for RCA Records, in 1956" (titled Elvis Presley. But it's really more an overview of Presley's career up to the point of that LP's release, focusing partially but not wholly on the Elvis Presley album itself. Not that this documentary is at all bad, featuring excerpts from numerous early Elvis TV appearances and silent amateur footage of live mid-1950s shows. The interviews are excellent, with about as fine a cast of surviving associates and authorities as could have been chosen: Sun Records producer Sam Phillips, sidemen Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, biographer Peter Guralnick, Elvis discography expert Ernst Jorgensen, and (speaking about Elvis's art and influence) Keith Richards. Some viewers might get frustrated that fragments of the early TV appearances are shown rather than the whole songs, but then again several 1956 early television clips can be seen in their entirety on Rhino's fine three-part Elvis: The Great Performances video/DVD series. No, the problem is that hardly any of the actual tracks on Elvis Presley are discussed in depth, though the early RCA sessions are discussed in general (and quite interesting) terms. Indeed, several songs that didn't make it onto the LP, like the "Heartbreak Hotel"/"I Was the One" single and indeed a few pre-RCA Sun 45s, are given far more extensive coverage. What we have here is the backbone of what might be a very fine episode in a multi-volume career overview of Presley, rather than a work which actually does focus on one album. The DVD includes quite a bit of bonus interview footage that's about on par with what made it into the main feature, though it would have been better to incorporate this footage into that feature and make the principal documentary longer.
Terry Reid, River(Water). River was a looser and rootsier affair than Reid's first records, taken from a sprawl of sessions in London and California that generated enough material for several albums. The very looseness that gives the effort some charm is the same quality, however, that keeps it from being a major work. The songs mostly sound unfinished, as if they're friendly jams in which Reid and the musicians (including, most notably, David Lindley on half the album and percussionist Willie Bobo on the title track) are working out some song ideas or twisting around some riffs. It often brings to mind those parts of songs where the likes of Van Morrison, Tim Buckley, or Robert Plant sing-scat improvised-sounding vocal passages. The difference is that, for the most part, those singers used such sections to embellish solid songs. On River, the quasi-stream of consciousness vocal ramblings are the songs. The first four of the seven songs are very much in a funky, laidback blues-rock groove, prominently featuring Lindley on steel, slide, and electric guitars. Reid, and the album itself, really begin to find more of an individual voice on "River," where beguiling Latin-Brazilian elements are introduced in the guitar, melody, and rhythm. The final two cuts, "Dream" and "Milestones," back Reid's vocals only with acoustic guitar, and have a romantic melancholy that likewise makes them highlights of this highly personal but uneven record.
The Rolling Stones, How Britain Got the Blues (Bad Wizard). Although the kind of Rolling Stones fan who buys this will almost inevitably already have a good portion of the music on other bootlegs, this CD boot is a good compilation of obscure 1961-64 recordings, mostly taken from 1964 BBC sessions. Twenty-four of these 32 cuts come from such BBC sources, but what will pique the hardcore Stones aficionado's interest the most are the first eight tracks, which have rarely if ever before surfaced. The first four songs are labeled as dating from a tape of Little Boys Blue, i.e. a just-pre-Rolling Stones lineup of the group, recorded (probably at a private rehearsal) in late 1961. Dick Taylor (later of the Pretty Things), guitarist Bob Beckwith, and Allen Etherington (on maracas) were also part of Little Boys Blue on this recording, according to the cover. While the track listings are vague as to what actual future members of the Stones also participated, it's certain that Mick Jagger's on lead vocals, and virtually certain that Keith Richards is on one of the guitars. These are the very earliest Rolling Stones recordings to have appeared on bootleg. The recording is crude, and the accompaniment primitive (particularly the drums, which aren't even included on all the tracks). Yet the similarity to what the Stones would become is unmistakable, with Jagger's singing sounding almost exactly similar to his style on the earliest Stones records, and a Chuck Berry chug already present in the guitars, though the rudimentary amplification produces some odd fiddle-like sounds. Three of the four songs ("Little Queenie," "Beautiful Delilah," and "Down the Road Apiece") are Chuck Berry covers that the group would release or perform for the BBC in their early days; the fourth, "I Ain't Got You" (a Billy Boy Arnold song covered by the Yardbirds in 1964), would not. The next four tracks, in far better though somewhat hollow fidelity, are also extremely interesting, three of them dating from a November 1963 recording session. These include unreleased versions of the Jagger-Richards compositions "It Should Be You" (tougher than the one released as an obscure cover by George Bean, though it's still not much of a song) and "That Girl Belongs to Yesterday," covered with some success by Gene Pitney. There's also "Leave Me Alone," a Jagger-Richards original not released by anyone, which sounds like an energetic ripoff of Ray Charles's "What'd I Say." And, completing the rarest material here, there's also the unreleased studio effort "Goodbye Girl," a routine blues-rocker dated as having been recorded in November 1964 and written by Bill Wyman. Quite fascinating for the Stones fanatic, then, though actually the subsequent 24 BBC session tracks are better music. Those BBC performances include many songs that showed up on the group's early releases, as well as some surprise covers that didn't, like "Roll Over Beethoven" (a different version than a more commonly circulated one also recorded around this time for another BBC session), "Meet Me in the Bottom," Jimmy Reed's "Ain't That Loving You Baby," "High Heeled Sneakers," and Bo Diddley's "Crackin' Up." The fidelity on these is generally okay (though not great), and the performances good and different enough from the studio versions to make them pretty interesting. In case you're assembling Rolling Stones BBC material for the first time, though, note that there are a good number of BBC tracks that don't show up here, including some ace ones like their covers of "Memphis, Tennessee" and Diddley's "Cops and Robbers."
Ruby & the Romantics, Our Day Will Come: The Very Best of Ruby & the Romantics (RPM). Ruby & the Romantics have been poorly served by best-of collections, which are too brief and skimpy. This two-CD, 42-song set goes too far in the other direction, and not everything on here is exciting or worthy of multiple listens by any means. Still, too much is better than too little, and this does thoroughly cover the prime era of the original lineup at Kapp from 1963-67. On the plus side, this convincingly demonstrates that there was more depth and quality than is commonly acknowledged to a group that is often remembered only for one song ("Our Day Will Come"), or regarded as a lightweight soul-pop group. There are numerous good blends of girl group Brill Building pop and smooth soul (and, often, light to heavy touches of bossa nova) on disc one in particular. Star tracks include the soaring Van McCoy composition "When You're Young and In Love"; the doo wop-indebted "Moonlight and Music" (penned by the Romantics' Leroy Fann); the obscure Bacharach-David ballad "I Cry Alone"; the booming uptown soul production of "Does He Really Care for Me"; the delicate bossa nova of "Our Everlasting Love"; and, above all, the delicious "Hey There Lonely Boy," eventually reworked into a #2 hit in 1969 by Eddie Holman as "Hey There Lonely Girl." Unfortunately, much of disc two is stuffed with dull covers of pop standards that filled out their early LPs. If the standards were omitted, this would be a highly credible and varied anthology, staking a fair claim for the band as an underrated outfit in the poppiest segment of early soul. For the record, all but one of these tracks date from their stint with Kapp; oddly, one post-Kapp cut, the 1968 ABC single "No More," is thrown in too.
Rupert's People, The Magic World of Rupert's People (Circle). You'd think compilers would be hard-pressed to squeeze an entire reissue CD out of an obscure non-hit '60s band that had only three singles. This compilation does an admirable job of fleshing out the Rupert's People story to album-length size, though, including both sides of all three UK 45s released under the band's name; both sides of the 1967 single by Sweet Feeling, who would evolve into the most significant iteration of Rupert's People; an unreleased late-'60s acetate; three live cuts from 1969; and four live songs from a 1999 reunion gig. It all comes with a teeny-print 16-page booklet detailing the extremely confusing history of the band, which on their most famous single ("Reflections of Charles Brown"/"Hold On") had an entirely different lineup than the one that played on their other releases. Rupert's People were a second-level British "freakbeat" band, that is, combining psychedelia with British Invasion-styled mod pop. But they were a decent one, approximating a Procol Harum-type sound with "Reflections of Charles Brown," storming soul-psychedelia on "Hold On," and fairytale psychedelia on "A Prologue to a Magic World" that managed to be charmingly twee instead of embarrassingly twee. The big discovery is the B-side of the Sweet Feeling single, "Charles Brown," which has some lyrical and musical ideas that were reconfigured for the far more famed "Reflections of Charles Brown." "Charles Brown," however, was quite different in its downright ominous, spooky vibe, spotlighting some of the most creative use of backwards effects to be heard in rock up to that point. The '69 live cuts (including an unmemorable cover of the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want") boast a heavier rock sound and aren't too good either musically or fidelity-wise, though "Reflecting" has a neat extended jazzy keyboard-dominated section reminiscent of early Soft Machine. The four 1999 reunion cuts are dispensable, but as they're placed at the end of the CD, they can easily be ignored.
Nancy Sinatra, Movin' with Nancy [DVD] (Image Entertainment). Nancy Sinatra's hour-long 1968 network television special Movin' with Nancy, here digitally remastered for DVD, was not the standard variety-hour special customary for stars of the time. There were no lip-synced or live songs on soundstages in front of audiences, and no spoken sketches. In essence, it's a collection of 15 music videos (though MTV was still many years away), in which Sinatra lip-synced to recordings in various colorful outdoor locations, broken up by a few indoor studio-shot scenarios. For those who value Sinatra's image, one could hardly imagine a better showcase (in color) for her gaudy, florid, and numerous period late-'60s clothing outfits, go-go boots, hairstyles, and eye make-ups. In truth the sets and stagings can be corny. But there are some pretty cool songs here, like "Some Velvet Morning," in which Lee Hazlewood and Sinatra duet on beachside horses, and "Jackson," the sole other Hazlewood-Sinatra piece, in which they sass each other while walking down an empty Southern California street. Other high points, visual and musical, include "Sugar Town" by a waterfall; "Who Will Buy?" in a deserted amusement park; and "Friday's Child" in an unclassifiably desolate field of what looks like disused factory equipment and structures. It also includes Rat Pack guest appearances by Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra (filmed recording in the studio), and Sammy Davis (who does one of network TV's first interracial kisses with Nancy in their "What'd I Say" routine); Frank Sinatra Jr. has a brief cameo. The DVD runs the program intact with the commercials from sponsor RC cola, which are actually pretty entertaining, particularly the one featuring Dino, Desi, & Billy playing at the Hollywood Bowl. The DVD extras include audio commentary from Nancy Sinatra and director Jack Haley, Jr., which isn't all that exciting, but does have them talking about how various sets, clothing, and shots were chosen and filmed. It would have been good if Sinatra had talked more about the music in the commentary, and the commentary also makes some inflated claims about how pioneering the visuals on this special were, even if the program was well-done by the standards of its genre. The only other DVD extras of note are a mere ten minutes of "behind-the-scenes footage," which are not outtakes but soundless clips of the sets and shots being designed and prepared. This too comes with commentary by Sinatra and Haley, Jr., though what they have to say about these scraps isn't too interesting.
Thee Midniters, Greatest (Thump). Before the release of this 2002 compilation, the absence of a Thee Midniters CD collection was one of the most egregious omissions in the catalog of 1960s rock on compact disc. This 20-track anthology happily rectifies that situation, including everything from the fine 14-song 1983 Rhino LP Best of Thee Midniters, and adding half a dozen other worthy selections. All of the band's very best cuts are here, whether it's the soul covers ("Land of a Thousand Dances," "Sad Girl," "Giving Up on Love," "The Town I Live In," "It'll Never Be Over for Me"); raucous bluesy garage rock ("Whittier Blvd.," "Jump, Jive and Harmonize," "Love Special Delivery," "Empty Heart"); or tasty romantic soul-pop originals ("Dreaming Casually," "Making Ends Meet"). There are, too, a few songs that sample the unpredictable directions into which the group occasionally flew, like the ghostly cover of jazz singer Oscar Brown Jr.'s "Brother Where Are You?" and the Latin jazz-rock fusion of "Chicano Power." Audio purists might regret that some surface noise can be heard as the music was mastered from the best vinyl sources possible, rather than the original tapes, but really the vinyl noise is very faint and not a significant hindrance. It's also too bad that enjoyable oddities-rarities from the Thee Midniters discography like the psychedelic "Breakfast on the Grass," the Spanish ballad "Tu Despedida," and the searing instrumental "Thee Midnite Feeling" didn't make the cut. But given a 20-track cutoff point, it's hard to argue with the selection on this worthy summary of one of the finest 1960s American rock bands never to have a big national hit.
Gene Vincent, At Town Hall Party [DVD] (Bear Family). These 1958-59 clips of Vincent on the Town Hall Party TV show in Los Angeles are off-broadcast kinescopes, and as such are not up to the usual image quality expected of vintage rock performances. Still, they're certainly of a good enough quality that they're easy to watch, even if the audio isn't so hot. And as genuinely live (not lip-synced) footage of one of the most exciting 1950s rock performers -- and one who didn't leave too much film behind -- these 14 songs are certainly of high historical interest, and pretty enjoyable despite the technological limitations. Certainly the best and most exciting portion is the earliest segment, dating from October 25, 1958, on which Vincent and his then-current lineup of the Blue Caps run through "Be-Bop-a-Lula," "High Blood Pressure," "Rip It Up," "Dance to the Bop," and two covers that didn't make it onto Vincent's studio records of the time (Jerry Lee Lewis's "You Win Again" and Jerry Butler's "For Your Precious Love"). This isn't the best lineup of the Blue Caps -- that would have been the first one, with Cliff Gallup on guitar. But the backup players are pretty good and animated, particularly Johnny Meeks on lead guitar and Cliff Simmons on piano. Vincent, perhaps disappointingly, doesn't play a guitar, but sings well and with great commitment, moving around a little more than you might expect given the many tales of his bum leg, though his limp is noticeable at points. When Vincent returned for the 1959 performances on this collection, he wasn't traveling with his own band anymore, and used session musicians from Town Hall Party. Consequently this isn't as impressive as the preceding portion, and unfortunately the audio isn't as good either, in fact sounding pretty rough. But, again, the historical value and Vincent's own exciting stage presence make up for this, and again you get a couple covers ("Roll Over Beethoven" and "High School Confidential") that he didn't record for Capitol. The band on the 1959 clips sounds untogether at spots, and not wholly suited to Vincent despite their undeniable skills (Merle Travis, interestingly, plays lead guitar on the July 25, 1959 performance, which is hampered by an ill-advised trumpet player). However Jimmy Pruett, the dumpy-looking pianist on the 1959 clips, actually plays really pounding keys, supplying the most impressive aspect of the performances save Vincent's vocals.
The Woods Band, The Woods Band (Edsel). The Woods Band's only album sounds a good deal like early Steeleye Span, as might be expected since it was fronted by Terry Woods and Gay Woods, who had comprised two-fifths of the lineup that played on Steeleye Span's first album. Though the Woods Band lacked a singer on the order of Maddy Prior or an instrumentalist on the level of Martin Carthy, it's still a pretty good record, and it's not as if Gay Woods isn't a very good woman British folk-rock singer herself. Too, it's not just a Steeleye Span spinoff, with a considerably more rock-oriented sound than Hark! The Village Wait, the Steeleye Span debut album on which Terry and Gay Woods played. Split evenly between traditional tunes and originals (with Terry Woods the principal songwriter), tracks like "Noisey Johnny" and "Lament and Jig" are very much in the rocked-up jigs'n'reels format that was a cornerstone of British Isles 1970s folk-rock. However, "Dreams" (originally recorded as "Dreams for Me" in an acoustic folk arrangement by Terry Woods's band Sweeney's Men in the late 1960s) is very much in the quality harmony folk-rock style of the Sandy Denny-era Fairport Convention. Gay Woods proves herself an able interpreter of the sad trad folk ballad on "January's Snows." More surprisingly, "Promises" is decent Band-like folk-rock with bluesy licks that owe much to the style of the Rolling Stones at their most laidback; "Everytime" follows the same mood, but in a duller and overlong fashion.
Various Artists, The Go Go Train: Doin' the Mod Vol. 1 (Sequel). Considering that soul-jazz-based mod rock really wasn't a huge commercial deal in Britain in the mid-1960s, with the odd exception like Georgie Fame, it's amazing how many records in the style were generated. This is a decent 30-song collection of them, not a hit among them, although there's one very famous performer in the young David Bowie, represented by his flop Fame-like 1966 B-side "Good Morning Girl." Some other artists have their followings among serious '60s British rock collectors, such as the Timebox, the Alan Bown Set, the Koobas, the Riot Squad, and Episode Six (the last of whom included future members of Deep Purple). For all its obscurity, this is fun stuff, often grounded by jazz-soul organ, and sometimes dressed up in horns, though a good share of the songs are lightweight and/or generic blue-eyed soul with a bit of British Invasion rock thrown into the mix. Some of the better cuts are ones which don't try so hard to be American soul tunes and admit some British Invasion pop melodies and harmonies, like Platform Six's "Money Will Not Mean a Thing" and Mal & the Primitives' "Every Minute of Every Day." The Riot Squad's "I Wanna Talk About My Baby" must be the most accurate imitation of mid-1960s Georgie Fame ever done, and the jazzier side of the Paul Jones-era Manfred Mann is echoed in A Band of Angels' "(Accept My) Invitation," an irony considering that the band's singer, Mike d'Abo, would replace Jones.
Various Artists, Hullaballoo: A 1960's Music Flashback, Vol. 1-4 [DVD] (MPI Home Video). Hullabaloo featured a lot of major (and minor) rock'n'roll and pop artists during its mid-1960s run on network TV. This DVD repackaging of the first four volumes of a series originally released on video has four hours of it, variously in black and white and color, with quite a wide range of acts, from British Invasion and soul to lightweight pop-rock. That makes this worthwhile for any serious fan of 1960s rock, but be aware that it's not all entertaining viewing. The bulk of the disc is devoted to eight original episodes of the series (spanning May 1965 to April 1966), and almost indiscriminately mixes classic songs by great performers with trivial or even lousy ones by not-so-great singers and no-names. That's not a conscious decision on part of the repackagers: that's just the way the show was, presenting a wide spectrum of the pop scene, not just in style but also in quality. Some of the good stuff, though, is very good, including clips of the Byrds doing "The Times They Are A-Changin'" (with a different arrangement than that heard on the record, and amidst a surrealistic jungle set); the Sir Douglas Quintet doing "She's About a Mover"; Chuck Berry singing "Johnny B. Goode"; the Yardbirds doing "I'm a Man"; the Hollies with "Look Through Any Window"; the Mamas & the Papas with "California Dreamin'" (on another bizarre set with bathtubs, in homage to the cover of their first LP); and Jackie DeShannon performing Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "A Lifetime of Loneliness."
Interspersed with this, however, are the likes of flop singles by Vikki Carr, Joanie Sommers, Lola Falana, and Bobby Rydell, as well as the odd spectacle of Noel Harrison covering Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Too, the hosts -- including Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka, Trini Lopez, and (with his son Gary Lewis) Jerry Lewis -- were in the main far squarer than the acts they were presenting. There are some painfully corny mini-sketches and intros, as well as numerous interludes featuring the Hullaballoo dancers. The segments are sometimes done live, which is good, but sometimes obviously lip-synced, or at least sung live to a prerecorded backing track (sometimes it's hard to tell for sure). There are also variety-show-like bits in which the week's performers gather round to sing snatches of then-current chart hits, with MOR accompaniment by the show's orchestra. This leads to some truly bizarre moments, like Michael Landon singing "You Were on My Mind"; the Lovin' Spoonful doing a snatch of "Help!"; the Byrds doing a snatch of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Do You Believe in Magic"; and the Mamas & the Papas doing a bit of "Nowhere Man," in each instance with wholly inappropriate orchestrated instrumentation. The eclectic mixture of performers also lead to brief onstage collaborations that one never would have believed occurred if not for the photographic evidence, like Trini Lopez and Chuck Berry playing "Memphis" together.
Still, in all it's valuable archival footage, and even the inessential showbiz segments do at least give an authentic sense of how popular entertainment, even rock'n'roll, was presented on network television in the 1960s. The DVD release is enhanced greatly by the addition of 18 bonus tracks, apparently cherry-picked from other episodes, since the quality of the songs and performers is outstanding, with no filler. In addition, British Invasion acts in particular are well-represented in the bonus material, with clips from the Searchers, Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Moody Blues, and the Animals, whose electrifying performance (live, not lip-synced) of "I'm Crying" is the best part of the whole DVD package. Also worthy of mention among the bonus clips are Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar," the Young Rascals' fine live rendition of "Good Lovin'," and the Bobby Fuller Four's "I Fought the Law," which must be one of the few surviving clips of the band.
Various Artists, Hullabaloo: A 1960s Music Flashback Vol. 9-12 [DVD] (MPI Home Video). Like MPI Home Video's previous two DVD compilations of Hullabaloo episodes Hullabaloo: A 1960s Music Flashback Vol. 1-4 and Hullabaloo: A 1960s Music Flashback Vol. 5-8, this assembles a monstrous amount of footage from the mid-1960s network television pop music show onto one disc. The four-plus hours or so include six complete episodes from 1965 and 1966 (minus the commercials), as well as no less than 19 "bonus" songs taken from other programs. As with other Hullabaloo compilations, the decision to present the complete episodes as the bulk of the disc entails a lot of good and a lot of bad. On the good end, there are numerous classic performances by major rock artists, including the Byrds' first televised appearance (on May 11, 1965), in which they sing "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Feel a Whole Lot Better"; the Righteous Brothers singing "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration"; Simon & Garfunkel doing "Homeward Bound"; the Animals performing "It's My Life"; and the Everly Brothers dueting on "Gone, Gone, Gone." Also fun are Paul Revere & the Raiders ("Kicks"), Nancy Sinatra ("These Boots Are Made for Walkin'"), Bob Lind ("Elusive Butterfly"), Peter & Gordon ("Woman" and "True Love Ways"), the McCoys ("Fever"), the Shangri-Las ("Long Live Our Love"), the Gentrys ("Keep on Dancing"), Petula Clark ("Downtown"), and Marvin Gaye ("How Sweet It Is").
On the downside, it's surprising how much corny middle-of-the-road pop was mixed into the shows. It's also exasperating and sometimes painful to sit through the emcee routines by the likes of Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, and George Hamilton, and the orchestrated medleys of Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Roger Miller hits are downright ghoulish. And, it should be added, musically awful, though there's some entertainment value in watching the Animals sing a little of Dylan's "It Ain't Me, Babe" to string-laden pit orchestra accompaniment. The sets are sometimes bizarrely kitsch, with the Animals, for instance, doing "It's My Life" on a set in which live girl's heads are placed inside walls as if they're hunting trophies, and the Young Rascals doing "Slow Down" in the midst of a fake schoolroom. Unfortunately many of these performances are lip-synced rather than live, or some kind of mixture of live vocals and pre-recorded accompaniment. The bonus tracks, as usual, are actually more fun to watch than the proper episodes, both because they dispense with the filler linkage and because some really good clips and songs were chosen. Those include performances by the Nashville Teens, the Hollies, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Beau Brummels, Marianne Faithfull, the Bobby Fuller Four, the Impressions, Judy Collins, the Four Tops, and even one by the obscure British Invasion band actually named the Hullaballoos.
Various Artists, Pet Projects: The Brian Wilson Productions (Ace). Brian Wilson did quite a bit of production work outside of his main gig with the Beach Boys, especially in the early-to-mid-1960s. This 23-track collection -- entirely drawn from pre-1966 releases, except for a 1969 single by the Honeys and a 1973 single by American Spring -- doesn't round up all of them, as some were unavailable for contractual reasons. But it's a good anthology of this facet of Wilson's career, with many obscure songs that are difficult to find and have been seldom reissued. As is usually the case for outside production/songwriting ventures by major stars, few of Wilson's non-Beach Boys ventures were hits, and in fact none of the items on this CD were. As is also usually the case in these situations, the material (frequently though not always written or co-written by Wilson) was more lightweight than what was being devised for the figure's principal project, the Beach Boys in Wilson's case. But this disc is still pretty enjoyable, featuring as it does a few genuinely outstanding cuts in which Wilson got to tinker with some production approaches. Foremost among these is Sharon Marie's 1964 Ronettes soundalike single "Thinkin' Bout You Baby," which has a verse that was reworked with some changes to provide the Beach Boys' 1968 hit "Darlin'." Also of special note is Glen Campbell's 1965 single "Guess I'm Dumb," which has a confessional lyric and orchestral pop-rock production on par with the Beach Boys' own best album tracks of the period. Only slightly below this level is Gary Usher's 1964 single "Sacramento," which actually sounds a little more personal than much of the Beach Boys' output of that year. Brian Wilson himself is heard on the one-off 1964 single by the Survivors, with an A-side ("Pamela Jean") with an identical melody to that used for the Beach Boys' "Car Crazy Cutie," and an instrumental B-side ("After the Game") that's a vague forerunner of the lush instrumentals on Pet Sounds. The other tracks on this compilation are more frivolous, but they do testify to the large influence Phil Spector had on Wilson in the mid-1960s (particularly in the tracks by the Honeys). Other oddities of note are the Little Eva imitation by Rachel & the Revolvers; the 1973 Columbia single by American Spring, the band featuring Marilyn Rovell and Diane Rovell of the Honeys; and the cover of "Vegetables" (from the Beach Boys' Smiley Smile album) by the Laughing Gravy, a pseudonym for Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean. The ambitious package is tied together by excellent liner notes in a 20-page booklet.
ALBUM REVIEWS: A SELECTION OF RECENT RELEASES, WINTER 2002-2003:
The Blades of Grass, Are Not For Smoking (Rev-Ola). The Blades of Grass's only album is above-average by the standards of sunshine pop rarities, but not distinguished by the standards of general 1967 pop-rock, though it's amiable. "Happy," their sole (and small) hit single, is the most memorable track, and its combination of pop-rock melody and rhythm with thick orchestration is replicated throughout the rest of the album. The group was only responsible for penning two of the songs, nicely harmonizing against pleasing but rather anodyne melodies, and sumptuous but slightly overdone production in which the horns and violins sometimes get more precious than inventive. Echoes of the Beach Boys, Beatles, Mamas & the Papas (whose "Monday, Monday" is explicitly if super-briefly ripped off in part of the bridge to "That's What a Boy Likes"), and lesser talents like the Happenings slip into the vocal arrangements and overall ornate mood. But the songs don't resonate that strongly, sometimes sounding a bit like a quite minor-league Left Banke in both its musical and precious, fairytale-tinged lyrical auras (and in fact "Walk Away Renee" is covered on the LP). The 2002 CD reissue on Rev-Ola adds seven bonus cuts, six taken from non-LP singles, with the source of the last ("Leap into the Arms of Love") mysteriously left unidentified. These songs are similar to those heard on the LP, again focusing almost wholly on non-original material, and again emphasizing upbeat orchestrated sunshine pop whose songs aren't special, including a version of "I Love You Alice B. Toklas" (more famous as done by Harper's Bizarre).
Maxine Brown, 25 All-Time Greatest Hits (Varese Sarabande). There was more than one Maxine Brown greatest hits collection prior to this 2002 release, and no doubt there will be others in the future. On its own merits, though, it does a good job of assembling her best-known material, focusing on her mid-1960s recordings for Wand, which yielded the bulk of her best and highest-selling sides. One small advantage this does have over prior collections, such as Kent's fine Oh No Not My Baby: The Best of Maxine Brown, is that it does include her two key pre-Wand hits released on Nomar in 1961, in their original versions: "All in My Mind" and "Funny" (the versions on Oh No Not My Baby are later re-recordings). Otherwise, it's mostly top-of-the-line mid-1960s pop-soul, including her biggest and best singles of the era: "Oh No Not My Baby," "Ask Me," "One Step at a Time," "It's Gonna Be Alright," and good non-hits like "One in a Million," "Gotta Find a Way," "Put Yourself in My Place," and "Since I Found You." There aren't any of her recordings with Chuck Jackson, which might miff some fans as some of those singles charted. But really those duets weren't up to the standard of her best solo work, so it's not a significant flaw in focus. It's not a major gaffe, but two songs identified as previously unissued -- "Baby Cakes" and "Slipping Through My Fingers," both bearing the songwriting credit of Otis Redding -- have in fact shown up on previous Brown compilations, the first on Oh No Not My Baby, the second on Tomato's Maxine Brown's Greatest Hits.
Dean Carter, Call of the Wild!(Big Beat). A mere six of these 28 tracks were previously issued (in 1965-68, on the Milky Way and Tell International labels); the rest were taken from unreleased sessions spanning 1959-69, though it's all from 1964-69 except for a couple of 1959 straight rockabilly sides. That's the sign of an archival project that might seem excessive given Carter's obscurity. Fortunately, though, the sounds are quite worthwhile and deserving of release, both for their pretty high quality and from a historical standpoint, as there were few if any other musicians following Carter's odd path in the late 1960s. While there's much of the untamed rockabilly musician in Carter's vocal delivery and material, it's not quite rockabilly. It's more like rockabilly-garage-soul, rockabilly in spirit but with the production convincingly updated to absorb some mid-to-late-'60s trends. Because of his strange cover of "Jailhouse Rock" (which leads off the CD), where the tempo is accelerated past 100 miles per hour and fuzz guitar fights it out with Morse code bleeps, pounding piano, and a careening dobro solo, one might think of Carter as a novelty if that's the only track you're familiar with (which is likely if you've ever heard of him at all). But this ain't no Hasil Adkins, or some idiot savant cherished more for his weirdness than his talent. It's actually solid if strange hard-chargin' rock mixing good '50s and '60s traits, delivered with considerable vocal power by Carter, embellished at some turns by inventive touches like orgiastic female soul backup vocals. "Rebel Woman," the somewhat more conventional flipside of "Jailhouse Rock," is here and is another highlight, though some of the unreleased cuts come close to that caliber. On "Midnight Sun" and "Dobro Pickin' Man," two of the latest cuts on the CD, Carter unveiled a more mature country-soul side that's quite interesting too, though apparently not an avenue he pursued at length.
The Dixie Cups, The Complete Red Bird Recordings (Varese Sarabande). Only three years before the release of this CD, another comprehensive Dixie Cups anthology, Chapel of Love: The Very Best of the Dixie Cups, had appeared on the Collectables label. This has a very slight edge, however, as in addition to including everything from that prior compilation, it adds two more tracks: the fair midtempo pop-rocker "Wrong Direction," previously only available on the 1979 import compilation Teen Anguish Vol. 1, and a less notable mono single version of "Gee the Moon Is Shining Bright." In any case, it's a very good collection, containing the A-sides and B-sides of half-a-dozen 1964-65 singles they did for Red Bird, rounded off with less essential odds and ends (including an alternate version of "People Say" and an a cappella alternate version of "Iko Iko"). The Dixie Cups are usually remembered only for "Chapel of Love" and perhaps "Iko Iko," but as this disc demonstrates, there were a good number of solid girl-group sides on their other Red Bird recordings. Many of them were written by the estimable Brill Building hitmaking team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, and some are quite good despite almost total obscurity (such as "Little Bell" and "Another Boy Like Mine"); a few other tracks have a strong New Orleans R&B influence. It's one of the better single-artist girl-group anthologies, and makes one regret that such a likable, melodic act was unable to record longer for Red Bird, where they teamed with such a suitable production and songwriting supporting cast.
Episode Six, Cornflakes & Crazyfoam (Purple). This double CD is a testament to the outer limits of 1960s rock archivism, presenting 51 songs -- unreleased during the 1960s themselves -- by a band that never had a hit record, and never became especially popular even on an underground or cult level. Of course, they did have a couple of future members of Deep Purple in the band, which guarantees some sort of specialist audience. It's a pretty amazing package insofar as the sheer bulk of obscurities it unearths, spanning 1964-69. There are home and studio demos, alternate versions, a couple 1967 German TV cuts, and mucho British radio broadcasts, those UK radio sessions providing the bulk of the source material. Sharp-eyed aficionados might protest at this point that there's already been an entire CD of Episode Six BBC performances (RPM's The Radio One Club Sessions Live 1968/69), but unbelievably, this package repeats just six tracks from that compilation; none of the other cuts have appeared anywhere. True, some of the songs from British radio are duplicated between the CDs in different versions that are in fact similar enough that very few listeners are going to do A-B comparisons. So, all hail the compilers, who toss in a superbly detailed 24-page booklet to boot. But what of the music? Well, the liner notes hit the nail on the head, correctly pointing out that the band's biggest problem was that they were "too good with any style to actually work out what their own was." There were probably few groups in Britain with as eclectic and, usually, tasteful cover repertoire as Episode Six: here you can hear them cover well-known and not-so-well-known songs by the Doors, Love, the Fifth Dimension, Moby Grape, cult soul singers, Denny Laine, Harry Belafonte, the Beatles, the Tokens, Bob Dylan, Fats Domino, Doris Day, Muddy Waters, Donovan, Sandie Shaw, and others. Also sprinkled in are a few of their originals, some of them good, but in the main derivative of specific '60s rock trends. The fidelity is extremely variable, from dodgy lo-fi to studio quality. It's all rather interesting if you like the band, who are best represented on the compilation of their studio recordings The Roots of Deep Purple: The Complete Episode Six. And occasionally there's a cut that's good on its own terms, like the US single version of the ominous "Love, Hate, Revenge," or the Sheila Carter-sung cover of Gene Pitney's "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart." Yet really this can only be recommended to extreme British Invasion and/or Deep Purple completists, with the Deep Purple crowd getting possible kicks out of hearing Ian Gillan sing unlikely pop material like "Que Sera" and Sandie Shaw's "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me."
The Everly Brothers, It's Everly Time/A Date with the Everly Brothers(Warner Brothers). It's Everly Time and A Date with the Everly Brothers, both from 1960, were excellent albums, a match for any other albums they did (including their earlier ones on Cadence). It's a shame that this CD, which combines both of the albums onto one disc and adds a few bonus tracks, was released for territories outside of the US. But it's not that hard to find in the States as an import, and is about the best Everly Brothers release you'll come across outside of best-of compilations. There's not a stiff among the 12 tracks on It's Everly Time, though most of them are barely known outside of serious Everly fans. They include six stellar contributions by Boudleaux Bryant and Felice Bryant (particularly "Some Sweet Day," "Sleepless Nights," and "You Thrill Me (Through and Through)"), one of Don Everly's best compositions ("So Sad"), and incredible harmony singing throughout. Although the material on A Date with the Everly Brothers is not on quite the same killer level of It's Everly Time, there are some very fine songs. Particularly good are the smash hit "Cathy's Clown," their raucous cover of Little Richard's "Lucille," "Love Hurts" (which preceded Roy Orbison's hit version), and "So How Come" (covered by the Beatles in 1963 on the BBC). The five bonus tracks include the 1961 double-sided hit single "Walk Right Back"/"Ebony Eyes"; the less popular 1961 hit single "Temptation"; alternate takes of "Temptation" (this one previously unissued) and "Stick with Me Baby"; and the 1960 recordings "Why Not" and "The Silent Treatment," both released on the 1977 rarities compilation New Album, though neither of them are memorable.
Guilbeau & Parsons, Louisiana Man (Big Beat). In a way, this is an embellishment of Gib Guilbeau's obscure early-1970s album Cajun Country. All of the songs from that album are here, as are a number of additional singles, demos, and outtakes, though not all of those are credited to Guilbeau or recorded around the time of that LP. What's the story, then, and why is this CD credited to Guilbeau & Parsons? The confusing picture, in a nutshell: Gib Guilbeau and Gene Parsons released a couple of singles in 1967-68 (both of which are on this disc), and also recorded an album's worth of material at the time that almost got released in 1968. It didn't appear in the late 1960s, though, and eventually a slightly altered version of the original album came out, credited to Guilbeau and titled Cajun Country, in the early 1970s. This 25-track disc, then, has the album; the singles; a half-dozen previously unreleased Guilbeau & Parsons demos and outtakes; a 1969 Gib Guilbeau solo single; a Peter & Gordon-like 1965 single by Gib & Wayne (the duo of Guilbeau and Wayne Moore); a previously unissued home demo duo by Guilbeau and Darrell Cotton; and a 1968 single by Bruce E. Oakes produced by Guilbeau and Parsons. It's for a specialized collector market, for sure. But anyone seriously interested in the genesis of country-rock should hear this, both for its historic importance and for the quality of the music. Guilbeau and Parsons, as well as other musicians heard here like Clarence White and Wayne Moore (who played with Guilbeau and Parsons in the group that became known as Nashville West), were forging some country-rock directions on these obscure recordings that anticipated the late-'60s work of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Sometimes this amounted to country-tinged folk-rock reminiscent of Gene Clark and the Byrds (like the single "Your Gentle Ways of Loving Me," which was later done by the Byrds when Parsons and White joined, and "Woman's Disgrace," covered by the Gosdin Brothers); often it was close to Cajun-tilted Bakersfield country music; and often various ingredients of rock, Cajun, and country bubbled in the mix, with some R&B thrown in occasionally. There might have been a shortage of truly outstanding songs, but the blend was pleasant, creative, ahead of its time, and well done, with engaging vocals. The complicated story behind the routes Guilbeau, Parsons, and their associates traveled in the mid-to-late 1960s is unraveled in Alec Palao's lengthy accompanying essay.
Lee Hazlewood, These Boots Are Made for Walkin': The Complete MGM Recordings (Ace). This double CD is just what it says: all three of the albums Hazlewood recorded for MGM in 1965-67, with the addition of three instrumentals attributed to Lee Hazlewood's Woodchucks (two of which came out on a 1966 single, the third of which, "Batman," was previously unissued). His first two MGM LPs, The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood (released in 1966) and the far more imaginatively titled Lee Hazlewood-ism: Its Cause and Cure (1967), together comprise the 22 songs presented on the first disc. In tandem, these two LPs arguably represented the peak of Hazlewood's mighty long and checkered career as a solo artist, containing some of his finest compositions; sympathetic production and arrangements combining pop, easy listening orchestration, rock, country, cowboy music and folk; and a unique fusion of droll humor with pop hooks, storytelling, and even some genuine romantic sentiment. There are some silly throwaways, to be sure, but there are also some real standouts, like his 1966 duets with Suzi Jane Hokum on "Sand" and "Summer Wine" (which predate the far more famous duets of those tunes he recorded with Nancy Sinatra); the bullfighting epic "Jose"; the Native American narrative "The Nights"; his own comic version of "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'"; the almost morbidly fascinating moping ballad "My Autumn's Done Come"; and neglected gems of brooding, sumptuously orchestrated melodramatic pop like "Your Sweet Love," "For One Moment," and "I Am a Part." It's a little strange, and perhaps distracting to those who own the original LPs, that these 22 songs don't follow the sequence from the original vinyl (and switch back and forth between those albums), but everything's here. Most of the second disc is devoted to Something Special, recorded (save for one song) in 1967 but not released for two decades (and then only in Germany). Sadly, this is far less worthwhile than his prior two MGM LPs, sounding like an eccentric lounge country-jazz-pop singer, with (except for "Shades") none of the full orchestrated arrangements that had distinguished his prior MGM output, the material boasting far fewer pop hooks (if just as much oddball lyrics). The set finishes with the three Lee Hazlewood's Woodchucks instrumentals, which though rare are throwaways, combining generic pop-rock with cheesy mariachi flourishes. In truth, almost all of the memorable songs on here can be found on the single-disc Lounge Legends compilation, which has almost everything from The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood and Lee Hazlewood-ism: Its Cause and Cure, though the peppy, catchy "When a Fool Loves a Fool" (from The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood) somehow escaped inclusion on Lounge Legends. But for those willing to spend a little more money and time, this two-disc anthology covers all the bases of Hazlewood's MGM era, augmented by detailed liner notes and an MGM sessionography.
Hendrix, Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix Live at the Isle of Wight
Hendrix). Jimi Hendrix's show at the Isle of Wight Festival on August
1970 was one of his final performances; he would be dead less than a
later. It's also one of the more famous, if not necessarily one of the
best, of his later performances, since the Isle of Wight festival was
This eleven-song, 70-minute set actually only presents a little more
half of the 18 songs he played that night. Five songs not on this CD do
appear on the simultaneously released DVD of the concert, and, oddly,
song on the CD, "Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)," does not appear on
the DVD. A Hendrix show at such a big event, and so shortly before his
death, inevitably has a lot of historical significance, but it's not
his finest work, live or otherwise. The trio of Hendrix, drummer Mitch
Mitchell, and bassist Billy Cox sounds a little less than 100%,
so since they went on at 3am. More importantly, though Hendrix's skills
as a guitarist and singer were undiminished, this was a point in his
where his focus wasn't at his optimum. There's no shortage of thrilling
guitar work here, but the arrangements do occasionally meander (as on a
19-minute version of "Machine Gun"). It was courageous for Hendrix to
some new material at the festival, like "Dolly Dagger" (the best of
songs), "Freedom," and "In from the Storm," but these just weren't as
and poignant as his best earlier compositions. Just a few of the more
Hendrix standards -- "All Along the Watchtower," an 11-minute "Red
and "Spanish Castle Magic" -- are included. A mangling of "God Save the
Queen" (who said the Sex Pistols were the first to come up with that
provides a surprise opener, as does its segue into a 50-second snatch
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." The sound is good, as is the
but this is secondary on the list of available Hendrix live recordings.
Jimi Hendrix, Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix Live at the Isle of Wight (DVD), (MCA). Jimi Hendrix's set at the Isle of Wight Festival at the end of August 1970 was one of his final concerts, given a few weeks before his death. It wasn't one of his greatest shows, but it had its share of worthwhile musical moments, and was fortunately filmed as part of director Murray Lerner's documentary on the entire festival. This DVD, released simultaneously with a CD of the same title, has almost the whole concert, a quite lengthy one that ran about two hours. "Almost" the whole concert, it should be noted: the songs "Midnight Lightning" and "Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)" were performed, but aren't included, though "Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)" is on the CD. Since this concert doesn't contain the best versions of the songs Hendrix was performing live at this point, the DVD is a more valuable experience than the CD. The footage of Hendrix, drummer Mitch Mitchell, and Billy Cox going through a few old favorites and some of the later material Jimi wrote gives a close-up glimpse of Hendrix's guitar mastery and on-stage presence. The film quality of this nighttime performance is good, though there are occasional thin blue lines due to technical imperfections in the negative, and the lack of sunlight prevented more than a few audience shots. The performances sometimes waver between the extended and the drawn-out, particularly on a 19-minute version of "Machine Gun"; Hendrix actually gets more animated, in a showmanship sort of way, on "Foxy Lady," one of the older songs placed in the setlist to placate audience expectations. The focus is, naturally, usually on Hendrix and his vocal and guitar work, though Mitchell is seen fairly often; Cox, in contrast, is seldom seen, and his bass is expectedly far less prominent in the sound mix than Jimi's guitar. In addition to footage of the show itself, the main feature portion of the DVD also has some scenes of the festival getting set up, and interviews with Mitchell, Cox, and others. There are several worthwhile extra features too, including an interview with director Murray Lerner, and four songs presented in the Multiple Camera Picture in Picture format. These allow viewers to see "Spanish Castle Magic," "Red House," "Foxy Lady," and half of "Machine Gun" in a format that overlays a full-screen picture with one or (more frequently) two insets that let you see three or two simultaneous camera angles; all four of those songs are also included in a standard single full-screen format in the main feature portion of the DVD. Less essential, though of some interest, are a few artifacts and memorabilia, including festival posters, tickets, and Hendrix's handwritten directions to the site of the festival; there are also informative liner notes in the booklet.
Elvis Presley, Elvis, The Great Performances, Vol. 2: The Man and His Music (Rhino). The second volume of this three-part DVD series of vintage Elvis Presley footage is lighter on his 1956-57 TV appearances than the other three installments. Those are the rarest and most exciting early Elvis clips, and for that reason, this volume rates as slightly inferior to its companion discs. There's still plenty to enjoy in these 14 songs and 55 minutes, though, linked by bits of still photographs and documentary footage, with longtime Presley friend George Klein handling the voiceover narration. (It's interesting to see Elvis asked for an opinion about war protesters in a brief 1972 press conference excerpt; naturally, he demurs.) For one thing, there are three vintage live 1956-57 TV appearances, all of them exciting. These include a medley of "Shake, Rattle and Roll"/"Flip, Flop and Fly," from January 28, 1956, when he had yet to become a national star; an exciting "Blue Suede Shoes" from April 1956, filmed aboard a naval ship in San Diego; and a "from the waist up" rendition of "Don't Be Cruel" on The Ed Sullivan Show in January 1957 (as well as Sullivan's emphatic speech to the audience about what a nice young man Presley is). Most of the rest of the clips from the late 1950s and early 1960s come from his movies, and while that might disappoint viewers as they're neither live nor that rare, some good scenes are picked, like "Mean Women Blues" from Loving You and "Return to Sender" from Girls, Girls, Girls. There's also one song from his 1960 Welcome Home Elvis TV special. Less interestingly, there are a couple from his 1973 Elvis: Aloha from Hawaiispecial; a 1972 "Always on My Mind" from Elvis on Tour; and, to finish it off, "If I Can Dream" from his 1968 comeback TV special. The only DVD extra of note is a trivia track that can be turned on or off. This flashes factoids, both about Elvis and with some pretty superfluous (occasionally even silly) notes related to the lyrics and settings of the performances, in subtitle print at the bottom of the screen once in a while.
Elvis Presley, Elvis, The Great Performances, Vol. 3: From the Waist Up (Rhino). The third volume of this three-part DVD series of vintage Elvis Presley footage focuses almost exclusively on clips from his 1956-57 TV performances. Those clips qualify as the most exciting live footage of Presley's entire career, so this 51-minute disc is naturally both a pleasure to watch and historically valuable, despite some minor imperfections. There's not much to carp about when watching the clips themselves, all of them live, encompassing such classics as "Hound Dog," "Too Much," "Don't Be Cruel," and "Baby, Let's Play House," as well as lesser-known goodies like "Ready Teddy," "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again," and "Love Me." Bono of U2 does the voiceover, which occasionally (though quite infrequently), unfortunately, goes over the clips. Most of the voiceover, however, is restricted to the additional footage and still photos that link the TV performances. Some of that additional footage, it should be noted, is quite interesting in itself, presenting silent mid-1950s movies of Elvis on stage, including 1955 shows in Texas predating his television debut. Also a brief clip of Bo Diddley doing "Bo Diddley" on The Ed Sullivan Show in the mid-1950s finds its way into the program, which isn't objectionable at all, since it's an exciting snippet and since Diddley was influential on Presley. As for the most amusing moment, that would have to be the first pass into the bridge on "Love Me," where Presley oh-so-briefly forgets the words and stumbles. Despite the title "From the Waist Up," by the way, most of this has Elvis in full-body gyration camera angles, though by the time of his final Ed Sullivan appearance in 1957 (four of whose songs are here), he was being filmed from the waist up. Note that footage from three of the songs on this DVD also appears on the previous two volumes in this series, though the overlap's not so huge as to be egregious.
The Sallyangie, Children of the Sun [expanded edition] (Sanctuary). The Sallyangie's Children of the Sun album has its charm, but it wouldn't be nearly as interesting to collectors as it is had it not marked the first appearance on record of Mike Oldfield and Sally Oldfield. Even by the standards of the late 1960s, it's fey, naive British folk with touches of pop, in Ray Warleigh's flute, Terry Cox's percussion, and David Palmer's arrangements. A fairytale ambience suffused the Oldfields' original songs, on which Sally Oldfield's high, trilling vocals overshadow brother Mike's guitar playing and less prominent singing. The 2002 CD reissue on Sanctuary expands the material into a two-disc set, with disc one a straight reissue of the Children of the Sun album, though it includes two songs ("Twilight Song" and "Song of the Harbor") that didn't make it onto the original US LP. The second CD reaches to the dustiest corners of the vault to fill up a disc, with three Mike Oldfield solo guitar improvisations. These are mostly instrumental, except for some very brief and frankly very annoying nursery rhyme chants from Mike, and although the acoustic folk guitar work on these is good (in the mold of John Renbourn), they sound more like sketches or works in progress than completed ideas. There are also a couple of tunes, "Color of the World" and "Two Ships," credited as Sally Oldfield 1970 solo tracks, though discographies have listed these as comprising a 1969 non-LP Sallyangie single. In any case, they're far more orchestrated pop-folk productions than anything on the proper Children of the Sun album, pleasant but twee, sounding like a conscious effort to emulate some of Marianne Faithfull's 1960s work. Rounding out the bonus tracks is a version of "Children of the Sun" "minus intro." The liner notes, sadly, don't shed any details about the bonus tracks, though they do include some comments by Sally Oldfield on this seldom-documented band.
Dusty Springfield, Heart & Soul(Varese Sarabande). Is this a valuable release for Dusty Springfield completists? Certainly; none of the 18 songs are too easy to find elsewhere, with seven of them never having appeared in the US before this CD, and eight of them previously unreleased anywhere. Do they comprise a musically strong and pleasurable release? Overall, no, even by the standards of rare Dusty Springfield material. In a reversal of the way such anthologies usually work, it leads off with the seven least interesting items, all culled from soundtracks and obscure singles and/or duets from the 1980s and 1990s. Although Springfield's voice is okay or better on these, in truth the material and arrangements -- usually leaning very heavily toward MOR and adult contemporary music -- are not only poor and bland, but ill-suited toward Dusty's style. Much better are the ten songs from live television performances from 1968-73, even if it's unfortunate the exact sources of these aren't given (though the year of recording is noted for all of these tracks). Among these are a few hits ("Son of a Preacher Man," "A Brand New Me," "The Look of Love") and, more intriguingly, some songs she never released in studio versions. Those include a musically uninteresting medley of Seekers hits written by her brother Tom Springfield; covers of "Up on the Roof" and "People Get Ready"; and a good rendition of "Won't Be Long" from 1971, though she had done that on a 1966 LP. The sound on these TV clips is okay, and the arrangements adequate but sometimes not too inspired; it's hard to tell, but it seems that sometimes she might be singing to a recorded backing track rather than live accompaniment. As a worthwhile bonus, there's an unlisted bonus track of her 1967 radio ad for Great Shakes milkshakes.
Various Artists, Better Than the Beatles (Knight). Almost certainly an unauthorized collection, this 27-track CD gathers more than two dozen novelties cut in the immediate aftermath of the Beatles' conquest of America. These are for the most part novelties exploiting the explosion of Beatlemania, it's important to point out, not imitations. You can tell as much from some of the titles and group names: "We're the Weavils" by the Weavils, "Buggs vs. Beatles" by the Buggs, "The Beatle-Bomb" by the Exterminators, "The Guy with the Liverpool Hair" by the Outsiders, "Ringo Boy" by Dorie Peyton, "I Want to Be a Beatle" by Bobby Wilding, and so forth. Like much novelty exploitation, it's not great music, but it has definite historical/curiosity/pop cultural value as a sampler of a fringe side effect of Beatlemania. If you were to take this with unwarranted sociological seriousness, many of the songs seem not so much a celebration of the Beatles as a reaction to a threat, with the group far more a target of satire than adulation. There's an irony, too, that in these takeoffs on and jabs at the Fab Four, the music itself is either in the early-'60s frat-rock/surf/twist mode that the British Invasion would soon make obsolete, or pretty dire attempts to emulate Merseybeat, or some sort of combination of the two.
Nonetheless, there's some good fun to be had, even with the bad cuts, and it certainly gives college radio DJs good light (and obscure) fodder for the playlist. Some of the cuts are even modestly enjoyable on musical merits. The Outsiders' "The Guy with the Long Liverpool Hair" (apparently not by the Outsiders famous for "Time Won't Let Me") is fairly good hard-driving faux tough Merseybeat. So is Tony Rivers & the Castaways' "I Love You," which actually has no direct Beatles references in the lyrics, was by a real British group, and was apparently chosen simply because it sounds like the early Beatles (and also isn't that rare, a much better-fidelity version appearing on the legitimate RPM release The Tony Rivers Collection Vol. 1: "Castaways"). There are some girl groups here too, like the Beatle-ettes' doing "Only Seventeen," which sounds like a weird hybrid of Merseybeat and Lesley Gore's "She's a Fool," and the Swans' with "The Boy with the Beatle Hair," which has the dippy circa-1963 girl group sound of acts like the Murmaids (of "Popsicles and Icicles" fame). There are even some musicians who achieved fame, like Gene Cornish & the Unbeetables, led by the future member of the Rascals (though the two songs here aren't good); Ernie Maresca, who had a big 1962 hit with "Shout Shout (Knock Yourself Out)," and whose "The Beetle Dance" is pretty crummy; and Gary Usher, famed as a songwriter/producer who worked with the Byrds and the Beach Boys, and whose flop single "The Beetle" is on this CD.
This doesn't contain every Beatle novelty by any means. Conspicuous by its absence is "Ringo, I Love You" by Bonnie Jo Mason, an early pseudonym for Cher, which is actually pretty gutsy and one of the best Beatles novelties, and ex-Crickets Sonny Curtis's "A Beatle I Want to Be." Also missing is the only Beatle novelty to make the Top Forty, the Carefrees' "We Love You Beatles, Oh Yes We Do," although a snatch of it's heard on the annoying, unnecessary "bonus track." Indeed, there probably would have been enough for a two-CD set; perhaps more were being saved for a second volume. It would have been nice if there was even a shred of documentation: there are absolutely no liner notes or original release labels and dates, though some of the labels of the original 45s are reproduced in the booklet.
Various Artists, Ed Sullivan's Rock'n'Roll Classics Boxed Set DVD (Rhino). Prior to going off the air in the early 1970s, The Ed Sullivan Show often gave rock musicians some of their greatest media exposure. This mammoth nine-volume DVD box set (also available in VHS) has nearly 150 rock'n'roll clips from the program, spanning the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, though the substantial majority of these are from 1964-70. There's much to praise about this package simply due to the sheer bulk of vintage footage of numerous rock'n'roll greats, including (and this is just a partial list) Elvis Presley, the Beatles (whose 1964 appearances, perhaps the most famous rock television appearances ever, are heavily excerpted), the Rolling Stones, the Supremes, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beach Boys, the Jackson 5, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, the Doors, the Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone, the Mamas & the Papas, and Buddy Holly. The discs (about an hour each in length), too, are broken up thematically if you're in the mood for certain sub-genres, with divisions for the British Invasion, Motown, '60s Rock, Love Songs, and other styles (including a whole disc devoted to the Temptations & the Supremes). The majority of it's in color, although there are a good number of pre-1965 black and white items.
There are some great clips here, like the Beatles' February 1964 live American television debut; Elvis Presley doing "Hound Dog," and not solely from the waist up (though some "waist up" clips are here too); James Brown dancing like a fiend on "Prisoner of Love" and a "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag"/"I Feel Good" medley; a pre-teen Michael Jackson dancing through some of his own amazing steps with the Jackson 5; Sly & the Family Stone dancing into the audience; the Temptations switching off lead vocals on "I Can't Get Next to You"; Santana coming to a boil on "Persuasion"; the Doors doing "Light My Fire"; Bo Diddley shaking through "Bo Diddley" in 1955, in one of the first nationally televised appearances of an out-and-out rock'n'roller; and Buddy Holly doing "That'll Be the Day" and "Peggy Sue" on some of the only TV he did before his death. There's some more middle-of-the-road pop-rock that's not nearly as exciting, like Tom Jones, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, Oliver, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Carpenters, B.J. Thomas, Petula Clark, and Paul Anka. But even those clips have their interest for both archival value and entertainment pleasure, not to mention some frightfully corny sets and early video tricks, like superimpositions of romantic scenes and psychedelic effects. It's also cool to see the occasional non-megastar song, like the Searchers' "Needles and Pins," Lulu's "To Sir With Love," and Jay & the Techniques' "Keep the Ball Rolling." You can also gauge the changing mood of the times by the camera work and set design; while most of the clips prior to the mid-1960s are just straightforward shots of the musicians and the stage, from 1965 onward they get increasingly gaudy, sometimes using specially created scenarios and special visual effects (particularly for the psychedelic numbers).
All those good things notwithstanding, there are some surprising shortcomings to the set that make it less of an ideal viewing experience than it could have been. Most importantly, there's exuberant-to-the-point-of-aggressive, and not extremely enlightening, narration by Jay Thomas between the clips. Also, different parts of the program are prefaced and linked by an annoying pseudo-'60s instrumental jingle that you'll be sick to death of hearing after the 50 or so times it plays over the course of the nine volumes. There are super-brief interview excerpts with musicians (and some of their colleagues) from time to time that add very little. Beyond the formatting, some might be surprised to find how many of the songs were lip-synced rather than played live, whether in whole or sung live to a backing track. It's not just the more lightweight groups or non-instrument-playing soul singers that do this; even the Rolling Stones used backing tracks. It's also disappointing to find that many of the songs were truncated into shorter versions, presumably necessitated by time restrictions when these needed to be fit into the original live broadcasts. What's worse, there seems to have been some editing done to the clips that were originally broadcast to compress them into a shorter running time in this reissued DVD/VHS format. This is particularly evident at times during the Beatles' 1964 songs, with "All My Loving" missing its second verse, for instance. Finally, a few clips are duplicated in different volumes (and once, in the case of the Jefferson Airplane's "Crown of Creation," actually duplicated within one volume), although that occurs seldom enough to be a major irritant.
As for special DVD features, there are few. The trivia track, which displays trivia in yellow subtitles as the footage plays, is fortunately optional, as the information bites range from reasonably interesting and informative to (more often) mundane and even inane. The selected discographies are virtually useless; you'll find far more depth in that regard in a number of standard rock reference books and on-line sources. There's just a bit of bonus footage in volume nine, which has a fairly interesting interview with one of The Ed Sullivan Show's directors, John Moffit, and the only in-camera interview of Sullivan that still exists, filmed in 1958 (and also including his wife Sylvia Sullivan). Overall, mind you, it's still a tremendous bounty of visual rock'n'roll history, and entertaining in what matters most, the footage itself, which does take up the overwhelming portion of the discs. Note that just two of the nine volumes in the box, volume one (with an assortment of hitmaking acts from 1965-67) and volume two (with another assortment of hitmmaking artists, from 1968-70), are available separately.
Various Artists, Living in the Streets 3: Busting Out of the Ghetto (BGP). The third volume of this unusual but very worthwhile series shows no signs of running out of steam in its excavation of obscure oddball goodies of the stranger manifestations of R&B in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and occasionally a bit later (one track on here's from 1979). The term R&B must be used, rather than Black music, since actually most but not all of the performers are Black: one of the better tracks, the Generation's storming funk-rock "I'm a Good Woman," features lead vocals by a pre-Cold Blood Lydia Pense. But there's a lot of prime soul, funk, and jazz from the era, usually in collision with and feeding off each other (and sometimes borrowing from psychedelic rock), reflecting a wild era in which boundaries were falling all over the place. Most of the cuts are very good, and very few of the performers will be known to anyone but collectors, save the Fatback Band, jazzmen Charles McPherson (as accompanist to singer Pat Bowie) and Gary Bartz, and perhaps eccentric soul veteran King Hannibal aka the Mighty Hannibal. But some highlights to listen out for include a rare 1969 socially conscious funk B-side by Johnny King & the Fatback Band; the Mighty Tom Cats' 1973 cover of Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa"; Tanya Winley's 1979 recording "Vicious Rap," regarded by some as one of the very first rap records, though its musical backing still owes a lot to funk; Jade's "Viva! (Viva Tirado)," a vocal version of the El Chicano hit; Gary Bartz's "I've Known Rivers," inspired by a Langston Hughes poem; Lorez Alexandria's 1968 torch-soul single "I'm Wishin'"; and Pat Bowie's "Feeling Good," a magnificently contained interpretation of this classic standard, and the earliest cut here, dating from 1965. Certainly this isn't the most stylistically consistent anthology out there, but that's not an issue when the music is this good, and the presentation and annotation so expert.
Various Artists, Peculiar Hole in the Sky (Big Beat). The Australian pop-psychedelia scene of the late 1960s was more akin to the British pop-psych scene than the American one, though it borrowed from both of those cousins. Really, however, it wasn't as distinctive as either, nor did it have many tunes to rate on par with the best of those from the UK or US. Nonetheless, this 27-track anthology of Oz pop-psych from 1967-70 does cover a scene that's rarely been noted by rock collectors or historians, particularly outside of Australia. Licensed from the Festival label (with the exception of a couple of tracks from Clarion Records), there aren't any names that will strike instant chords with the international pop connoisseur, though some of the writers and performers found wide fame in other contexts. Foremost among those is Bon Scott, who prior to joining AC/DC sang on the Valentines' "Peculiar Hole in the Sky," which in turn was written by Harry Vanda and George Young of the Easybeats (who released their own version shortly afterward). Vanda-Young also wrote R. Black & the Rockin' V's' "Walking & Talking," never recorded by the Easybeats, though that song's just okay. Other noted writers are behind some of the better tracks. Mick Bower of the Masters Apprentices, one of the greatest Australian rock bands, wrote the Bucket's very Cream-styled "I Can't Help Thinking of You." Graham Gouldman penned his usually classy pop on Normie Rowe's "Going Home," produced by legendary British impresario Giorgio Gomelsky. Barry Gibb authored Jon's anxious "Upstairs, Downstairs," which sounds much like the Bee Gees' own circa-1966 recordings. Overall, though, the songs tend toward the ordinary-with-a-touch-of-weirdness in material, sometimes with lingering British Invasion, mod rock, and sunshine pop influences. Once in a while a cut does jump out as worthy of attention, like the Executives' dreamy yet disquieting "Moving in a Circle," with its eerie organ and wispy vocal by Carole King (not that Carole King!).
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