Top Ten Reissues of 2014

I don’t hear as many rock reissues as I used to every year. So my best-of 2014 list is, no doubt, missing some titles that would have come in for strong consideration had I acquired them. I still heard enough, however, to build a Top Ten list of pretty strong releases, all of which have substantial merit.

My vote for best reissue of 2014.

My vote for best reissue of 2014.

As I explained in yesterday’s post about my favorite rock history books of 2014, a note about the parameter of the following list: You know those best-of 2014 lists you’ve seen this month? Well, in many instances, they’ve been compiled a few months before they appeared. That’s due to publication deadlines and, in my mind, a rather ridiculous belief that it’s more important to put best-ofs in an issue bearing a December or January date than to actually allow consideration of everything released in a calendar year.

All of the records below, however, bear a 2014 publication date. And this post wasn’t published until just a couple days before the end of the year. I suppose it’s possible something will arrive in the mail this week that I wish I could have included, but I considered everything I heard before the year came to an actual close. Indeed, I didn’t hear one of them for the first time until the day after Christmas.

Note that I’ve given several of these far lengthier reviews in issues #4, #5, and #6 of Flashback, the London-based ‘60s/’70s rock history magazine:

1. The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground: 45th Anniversary Super-Deluxe Edition (Universal). This six-CD box set is expensive and necessitates the purchase of much material many VU fans already have. But it’s a near-definitive document of their third album and their subsequent live and studio recordings (unreleased at the time) in 1969, with three different mixes of The Velvet Underground; all of the 1969 studio outtakes from VU and Another View; and two CDs of live recordings from late 1969, about two-thirds of which are previously unreleased. If, in an alternate universe, you’d never heard this music before, it would be a revelation. Most fans buying this have heard most of this before, so it’s not such a great value. As compensation, however, those eleven previously unreleased live ’69 tracks are really good, including some songs not presented in any form on 1969 Velvet Underground Live, like “I’m Set Free” and “There She Goes Again.” And some of the studio outtakes have notably different mixes, especially “Coney Island Steeplechase,” which gets rid of the annoying through-a-megaphone vocal effect and makes Lou Reed sound like a normal human being again. Read my full, lengthy review of this box for Record Collector News here.

VU

2. The Bonniwell Music Machine, The Bonniwell Music Machine (Big Beat). I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again: too often dismissed as a one-shot group, the Music Machine had many excellent songs, and were one of the greatest garage rock outfits. Disc one is the definitive collection of the Music Machine’s later phase, including numerous underrated psychedelic/garage tracks that only found release on flop non-LP singles and an album (1968’s The Bonniwell Music Machine) that few people heard. Disc two, though less essential, is a historically invaluable assortment of demos and outtakes, many previously unreleased.

Bonniwell

3. The Moody Blues, The Magnificent Moodies: 50th Anniversary Edition (Esoteric). Two-CD compilation of everything recorded by the original lineup of the band, when Denny Laine was their lead singer, including an entire disc of rare/previously unreleased demos/outtakes/BBC sessions. The Moody Blues, as most British Invasion fans know, were a much different group at their outset than they became by the time they moved into psychedelia and progressive rock. In the mid-‘60s phase this release documents, they specialized in haunting R&B/pop, with especially eerie vocal harmonies and a slight classical feel to the arrangements (particularly in Mike Pinder’s piano). Besides containing everything from their UK debut LP The Magnificent Moodies, this has a wealth of non-LP singles, some of them about as superb as their one big hit (“Go Now”), such as “From the Bottom of My Heart” and “Boulevard de la Madeleine.” Both of those songs were written by Laine and Pinder, responsible for all of the Moodies’ original material at this stage.

MOODY BLUES Magnificent

4. Bob Dylan, The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (Legacy). While I don’t find this as godhead as many critics and Americana bands do, this six-CD box rounds up everything usable known to have survived from the quirky 1967 recordings Dylan made with the Band. This found the musicians working counter to most trends in rock music that year, mixing folk, country, blues, gospel, and rock’n’roll on idiosyncratic original Dylan material (sometimes written with help from Band members). They also ran through many covers, some quite obscure, though these have a rather loose, informal warm-up feel. So do some of the originals, many of which seem casual toss-offs or frustratingly incomplete. The most fully formed and celebrated songs – generally, the ones that also appeared on the 1975 Basement Tapes double LP – are available on a two-CD distilled version of this box, The Basement Tapes Raw.

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5. Mike Bloomfield, From His Head to His Heart to His Hands (Legacy). Erratic three-CD box nonetheless has much fine music he recorded with Paul Butterfield, Electric Flag, Bob Dylan, and on his own, including some rare and previously unreleased stuff. Curated by his friend and frequent collaborator Al Kooper, it must be said that the first disc is by far the best, focusing on the mid-‘60s and including some previously unreleased tracks from a 1964 Columbia audition, as well as an alternate take of Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues” and an instrumental backing track to “Like a Rolling Stone.” Disc two is dominated by jams of varying quality, and disc three has a playing-out-the-string feel, but these still have their inspired passages. The box also contains an hour-long DVD documentary, Sweet Blues, that’s disappointingly short on archive footage, but has some informative, moving interviews with family, musical peers, and Bloomfield himself. My full-page review of this box appears in the March 2014 issue of Mojo magazine, though there’s no online link to it.

BLOOMFIELD_01

6. Various Artists, Halloween Nuggets: Monster Sixties A Go-Go (RockBeat). Three-CD set of all manner of ghoulish rockin’ oddities, highlights including Ervinna & the Stylers skin-crawling version of “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” and Kenny & the Fiends’ garage rocker “The Raven.” The absence of annotation besides original labels/years of release (which are noted on the covers of each disc) is disappointing, but the breadth is certainly impressive, jamming nearly 100 tracks onto the three discs.

Halloween

7. Various Artists, Troubadours: Folk and the Roots of American Music Vol. 1-4 (Bear Family). Extensive, and generally well done, compilation of North American folk (and a bit of folk-rock) from the 1920s to the 1970s, heaviest on the 1950s and 1960s. Some of the entries are questionable and some big names are missing, but there are some rare off-the-beaten-track gems as compensation. Examples include Mike Settle’s gutsy “Hallelujah”; Earl Robinson’s “Joe Hill,” exhumed by Joan Baez at Woodstock; Terry Gilkyson’s “The Cry of the Wild Goose,” an unlikely #1 for crooner Frankie Laine a year later in 1950; and Paul Clayton’s “Who’s Gonna Buy Your Ribbons When I’m Gone” (from 1961), which was the obvious model for Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” Notable absentees, however, include Peter, Paul & Mary, Simon & Garfunkel, and Leonard Cohen.

Troubadours

8. George Harrison, The Apple Years (Universal). All six of the albums Harrison issued on Apple, garnished with a few outtakes/rarities and an infomercial-ish DVD. Rewarding for its exhilarating peaks (All Things Must Pass and, to a more limited extent, the Wonderwall soundtrack); frustrating for the relatively few rarities and the dismal quality of his final records for the label. Had Harrison continued to explore the wildly diverse avenues of his first three releases (which also included the avant-garde synthesizer exploration Electronic Sound) under his name throughout his solo career, his catalog would be more nerve-wrackingly eclectic than Neil Young’s. Alas, he did not continue on the road less traveled, and the last half of the box is disappointingly ordinary, even mundane, in comparison. Beatles completists note: it does include a previously unreleased outtake, an alternate (though not very different) take of “The Inner Light”’s backing track.

appleyears

9. The Small Faces, There Are But Four Small Faces (Charly). Reissue of their US-only 1968 LP is stretched to fill out two CDs with a few alternate takes/mixes and the mono promotional DJ version of the album. But the packaging and notes are excellent, and it remains a fun listen even with all the padding. Also, though this was largely based on the 1967 UK Immediate LP Small Faces, it’s actually superior, adding three 1967 singles—“Itchycoo Park,” “Here Come the Nice,” and “Tin Soldier”—that simply improve the record a lot, much as the inclusion of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” and “The Wind Cries Mary” made the US Are You Experienced a better listen than the UK version. Another good addition (or substitution, depending on your view) is the B-side “I Feel Much Better,” which almost could have been a hit in its own right.

SmallFaces

10. Phil Ochs, A Hero of the Game (All Access). Technically speaking, this isn’t a reissue, but a previously unreleased live concert. It was a close call between this and another Ochs live performance (see review below). But I gave the nod to this previously unissued tape of a December 15, 1965 radio broadcast on WBAI in New York. True, the fidelity isn’t sparkling, though it’s okay. But the performances (particularly Phil’s underrated singing) are fine, including some songs that are not exactly common fare even on archival Ochs releases, like “Song of My Returning,” “Morning,” “City Boy,” and “White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land.” Some of his most famous tunes (“Crucifixion,” “Changes,” “Power and the Glory”) are represented as well. From a historical standpoint, this is interesting as just one of the songs (“Power and the Glory”) had been released at the time of this broadcast, indicating that his expansion into non-topical material — like “Morning,” “Song of My Returning,” and “City Boy” — was underway well before it became fully evident almost two full years later on his late-1967 album Pleasures of the Harbor. If you want more rare live Ochs, also check out the honorable mention below, Live Again!, which has a May 1973 show:

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10a. Live Again! (RockBeat). Like A Hero of the Game, technically speaking, this is not a reissue, but a first-time issue of a May 26, 1973 concert. Not his best live recording, but an interesting addition to the many items in his discography that supplement his standard albums. There are solo acoustic versions of songs spanning his career, some of them relatively obscure, like “Boy in Ohio” and “Pretty Smart on My Part.” There’s little evidence of the depression/writer’s block that afflicted Ochs in his later years, though unfortunately it would be just three years before Phil committed suicide.

Ochs

Also in 2014: I published updated/revised/expanded ebook versions of some of my print books, with plenty of new material. All of these titles are available on Amazon, iBooks/iTunes, and other outlets:

Combines my two-volume history of 1960s folk-rock, Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High, into one volume with updated material, including bonus 75,000-word mini-book detailing nearly 200 tracks. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

Combines my two-volume history of 1960s folk-rock, Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High, into one volume with updated material, including bonus 75,000-word mini-book detailing nearly 200 tracks. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

Critical description of all known unreleased Beatles recordings, their most crucial unissued film footage, and more. Updated with 30,000 more words to reflect newly circulating material and additional information that's come to light since the original edition. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

Critical description of all known unreleased Beatles recordings, their most crucial unissued film footage, and more. Updated with 30,000 more words to reflect newly circulating material and additional information that’s come to light since the original edition. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

documents twenty cult rockers from the 1960s. The book features extremely detailed investigation of the careers of greats like the Pretty Things, Arthur Brown, Richard & Mimi Farina, and Tim Buckley. The extensive chapters all include first-hand interview material with the artists themselves and/or their close associates. The ebook version is significantly expanded, revised, and updated from the print version, adding 20,000 words of new material.

Documents twenty cult rockers from the 1960s. The book features extremely detailed investigation of the careers of greats like the Pretty Things, Arthur Brown, Richard & Mimi Farina, and Tim Buckley. The extensive chapters all include first-hand interview material with the artists themselves and/or their close associates. The ebook version is significantly expanded, revised, and updated from the print version, adding 20,000 words of new material. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

Top Twenty Rock History Books of 2014

Maybe it’s a function of age; having already heard so much music from my favorite era; or getting kicked off numerous promo lists. But these days, seems like I’m spending more time reading books about rock history than I am listening to newly released rock reissues. I had a lot more trouble filling up my Top Ten of 2014 rock reissues (coming in my next blog post) than my Top Ten of 2014 rock books. There were enough books of note, in fact, that in addition to a Top Ten (which follows below), I’ve also listed a dozen other books worthy of some note, and a half-dozen that were released too early to make the 2014 lists.

My choice for #1 rock music history book of 2014.

My choice for #1 rock music history book of 2014.

A note about the parameters of the following lists: You know those best-of 2014 lists you’ve seen this month? Well, in many instances, they’ve been compiled a few months before they appear. That’s due to publication deadlines and, in my mind, a rather ridiculous belief that it’s more important to put best-ofs in an issue bearing a December or January date than it is to actually allow consideration of everything released in a calendar year.

All of the books below were published in 2014, and this post wasn’t published until just a couple days before the end of the year. I suppose it’s possible something will arrive in the mail this week that I wish I could have included, but I considered virtually everything I read before the year came to an actual close.

I’ll start with my actual Top Ten of rock history books issued in 2014. Note that I’ve given several of these far lengthier reviews in issues #4, #5, and #6 of Flashback, the London-based ‘60s/’70s rock history magazine:

1. Different Every Time: The Authorised Biography of Robert Wyatt, by Marcus O’Dair (Serpent’s Tail). It’s a little surprising this hasn’t gotten more attention, as it’s an excellent comprehensive biography of Wyatt from his pre-Soft Machine days to the present, detailing his many group and solo projects with plenty of first-hand input from Wyatt himself. Just as crucially, the book achieves a fine balance between deeply researched information and astute, humorous-when-appropriate critical insight from the author. Unusually for a straight biography, it’s also crammed with many rare and interesting life-spanning photos. Few people seem to know about this book in the US as of this writing, as Wyatt — for all his achievements across a spectrum of pop, psychedelia, and progressive rock with too many esteemed collaborators to fit into anything less than a half-dozen paragraphs – remains a cult figure Stateside. Fortunately, however, the book will be published in the US by Counterpoint Press in fall 2015.

WyattBook

2. Hotter Than a Match Head: Life on the Run with the Lovin’ Spoonful, by Steve Boone with Tony Moss (ECW). The Lovin’ Spoonful were one of the most important ‘60s groups who, before 2014, had yet to be chronicled in a noteworthy book. At last, we have it here in this detailed inside history of the band, given from bassist Boone’s perspective. Naturally it’s not as balanced or objective as it would be if all the members had a say. But unlike most memoirs of this type, it pays a lot of attention to the records, songs, and how they were recorded – and not just the hits, but all of the album tracks as well. This also has Boone’s account of the 1966 bust of him and lead guitarist Zal Yanovsky, which seriously crippled the group’s momentum and longevity, and has never been documented in anything like the detail of the chapter devoted to it here.

SteveBoone

3. Rolling Stones Gear, by Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost (Backbeat). Mammoth (672-page) history of the instruments and equipment the Stones have used throughout their career, emphasizing their most interesting decades (the 1960s and 1970s), with incredibly in-depth research and a wealth of cool illustrations. And while the technical data is here, it’s not just for gearheads, containing a lot of information about their recording sessions and general career path. Of course that gets a lot less interesting after their first decade or so, through no fault of the authors, as the Stones’ music and career got progressively less interesting.

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4. Bowie & Hutch, by John “Hutch” Hutchinson (Lodge Books, www.johnhutchinson.co.uk). Entertaining and humorous memoir by a guitarist/singer who played with Bowie during three interesting junctures of his career: 1966 when Bowie was a struggling mod rocker, 1968-69 when he was a folky singer-songwriter, and 1973 when he was a superstar. Unlike many people in Bowie’s orbit, Hutchinson knew the singer when he was a relatively accessible person who’d only recently changed his name from David Jones, and not the glam icon he’d become by Hutchinson’s final stint with the band. Especially interesting are the sections covering the ’68-’69 period, when Bowie was just finding his compositional voice, and Hutchinson was important to his sound as a guitar accompanist and backup singer (as heard on 1969 acoustic demos, only a few of which have been released, and all of which are discussed here).

Hutchinson

 5. Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones, by Paul Trynka (Viking). The best biography of the founding Stones guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/visionary, though perhaps too hard on Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ roles in edging him outside of the band’s creative center. Contains a lot of information about his pre-Stones life that will be unknown even to most hardcore Stones fans, as well as interesting details on some of his artistic ventures, such as his recordings of Moroccan musicians. Many of Jones’s friends and associates were interviewed for the book, though how such a talented and charismatic figure could have screwed himself up so badly remains perhaps unanswerable by anyone who writes about him (or knew him).

Brian Jones

6. The Beatles Lyrics, by Hunter Davies (Little, Brown). Not just lyric reprints or dry analysis – reproductions of the actual lyric manuscripts of more than 100 of the Beatles’ songs, with generally astute commentary from their authorized biographer, who knew them about as well as anyone not in their inner circle (and was responsible for actually preserving some of the handwritten manuscripts that otherwise would have been thrown away after recording sessions). Davies’s analysis is sometimes a bit flippant and unfairly dismissive, but generally well-informed, helpfully zeroing in on variations in the written versions when they occur (though these were rarely too extensive).

BeatlesLyrics

7. A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man, by Holly George-Warren (Viking). Well-researched, well-written biography documenting one of the strangest career trajectories in rock history. How did a guy who sang a classic #1 soul-rock song as a teenager end up in a cult band, and then doing lo-fi shambling projects that made that cult band (Big Star) seem slick? It’s not all that easy to explain, but this makes a fair effort of at least filling in the steps along the path, properly de-emphasizing his less interesting twenty or so final years.

Alex Chilton

8. Turn Up the Radio! Rock, Pop, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972, by Harvey Kubernik (Santa Monica Press). A little haphazard and rambling in structure, this oral history-formatted volume nonetheless has a lot of great first-hand interview material, touching most of the main bases of rock during L.A.’s prime. Most styles in which L.A. made strong contributions are here – not just folk-rock, surf, and psychedelia (though those are heavily documented), but also blue-eyed soul, pop, garage rock, and more.

Turn Up Radio

9. Dance of Death: The Life of John Fahey, American Guitarist, by Steve Lowenthal (Chicago Review Press). This could have been longer and more descriptive of some of his recordings, but it’s the best source of information about the basic outlines of the life and career of this enigmatic artist. Like a Fahey documentary that came out in 2013 (In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey), it’s frustrating because it leaves you wanting more, though it offers some good info and insights. Both book and video leave the impression of a very troubled man, haunted by childhood traumas and psychological/physical difficulties as an adult.

John Fahey

10. Exorcising Ghosts: Strawbs & Other Lives, by Dave Cousins (Witchwood Media Limited). The head Strawb recounts his unusual journey from acoustic folk to folk-rock and progressive rock, with generally insightful and amusing text, though it’s padded by a long section near the end detailing his late-20th century career in UK radio. There are more saucy rockers-on-the-road stories than you’d expect given the Strawbs’ somber image, and also some surprising stories about a legend who passed through the Strawbs’ lineup in their early days, Sandy Denny.

Strawbs

Also of note were these 2014 books:

11. Play On: The Autobiography, by Mick Fleetwood and Anthony Bozza (Little, Brown). Fleetwood wrote another as-told-to memoir, Fleetwood: My Life and Adventures in Fleetwood Mac, almost 25 years ago with a different writer (Stephen Davis). So why did he do another one that covers largely the same ground? I don’t know, but for what it’s worth, I did like it, and this time around the story’s a better read. Maybe he needed the money: for someone who’s made as much as Fleetwood has, he’s made some surprisingly unwise investments, recounted here with a humor that verges on pride.

fleetwood

12. What’s Exactly the Matter with Me?, by P.F. Sloan and S.E. Feinberg (Backbeat). The talented pop-folk-rock singer-songwriter’s memoir leaves you wondering how he managed to intersect with so many different upper-level movers and shakers in the mid-1960s, with a wealth of improbable stories that have not appeared anywhere else. Of most value is the appendix, in which Sloan gives his personal account of the many songs he wrote or co-wrote, including the interesting flops and gems on his solo LPs, not just the big hits like “Eve of Destruction,” “A Must to Avoid,” and “Secret Agent Man.”

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13. Nick Drake: Remembered for a While (Little, Brown). A hefty compilation of essays about Drake, lyrics by Drake, and many pictures and memorabilia. This would have ranked higher had it not recycled (and sometimes excerpted) quite a bit of information that’s appeared in other books, and gone so heavy on analysis of his music by critics and acquaintances that frankly doesn’t add a whole lot to the literature on this cult singer-songwriter. Big pluses, however, are the reprints of many rare clippings, photos, and assorted documents, as well as some gripping, heart-rending passages from the diary his father kept in Drake’s final years, when Nick was slipping into the depths of mental illness.

nickdrakebook

14. Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, The Faces . . ., by Glyn Johns (Blue Rider Press). Johns was engineer and/or producer for many classic records of the 1960s and 1970s, especially by acts mentioned in the lengthy subtitle. It’s more matter-of-fact and dry than I’d hoped, and some classic recordings are summarized in just a few sentences. (In comparison, the 2012 book Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust – written by another major British engineer/producer of roughly the same era, Ken Scott — is a much more engaging, fun, and insightful read.) But there are inevitably the expected share of interesting inside stories about recording sessions and interactions with these giants.

Glyn Johns

15. The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light, by Carlos Santana with Ashley Kahn and Hal Miller (Little, Brown). Santana’s memoir is pretty good on his dramatic transition from life as a teenager playing Tijuana bars to the forefront of San Francisco psychedelia. I was less interested in the sometimes sentimental accounts of his family life, and his intersections with celebrities, Miles Davis in particular getting more ink than the incidents deserve. But it’s strong on the alchemy that led to his late-‘60s breakthrough, and gives credit to Peter Green (and particularly his searing sustain on the Bluesbreakers’ “The Supernatural”) as a key inspiration/influence.

Santana

 16. Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile, by Robert Greenfield (Da Capo Press). This has the feel of a toss-off, as it’s the third book Greenfield’s written on the Stones in the early 1970s, and at least some of the stories and quotes appear in his Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones. I kind of like it anyway, as this account of their “farewell” tour to the UK in spring 1971, padded with some (pretty good) anecdotes of hanging out with the band during their subsequent (if brief) exile in France, is more humbly and humorously written than his other two Stones volumes. You can read my full review of the book here.

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17. On the Road with Janis Joplin, by John Byrne Cooke (Berkley Books, 2014). Cooke was road manager for Big Brother & the Company, and then Janis Joplin, for most of the last three years of Joplin’s life. This is his account of his experiences, and not a superficial one, running 400 pages. There is some extraneous material about his non-Joplin experiences, but there are also some inside stories about both Big Brother and Joplin that aren’t anywhere else, including some insights into their studio work as well as their concerts. Cooke was himself a musician (with the bluegrass band the Charles River Valley Boys), and the son of famed journalist/broadcaster Alistair Cooke.

On_the_Road_with_Janis_Joplin

18. Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, by Rick Bragg (Harper). Most people who’ve read this biography – and it’s a biography, not an autobiography or as-told-to job, despite the title – seem to like this book better than I do. I found some sections too floridly written, especially the early ones, and though Lewis was interviewed for the book (hence the title), his accounts aren’t as revealing or extensive as one would hope. Still, there are good stories here, particularly on the period most covered – his rise to fame at Sun Records and quick fall from grace, which happens to be his most interesting period musically as well as personally.

JerryLee

19. Before the Beginning: A Personal and Opinionated History of Fleetwood Mac, by Samuel Graham (Monkey Needle Productions). An ebook-only release by Graham, who wrote a quickie (if pretty decent) paperback bio of the band in the late 1970s (Fleetwood Mac: The Authorized History, issued by Warner Books in 1978). This is an odd variation, as it’s not a reissue or updated version of that book, but something of a best-of of that volume, taking some of the best stories and highlights. Taking advantage of the ebook format, these are augmented by several dozen 30-90-second soundbites from the actual interviews Graham conducted, as well as some interesting documents. It covers the group’s history from the beginning (and best) years when Peter Green formed and led the band, not just the mid-‘70s superstar era. It’s not very long, but as compensation it’s pretty cheap, selling through iBooks/iTunes for $4.99.

FMac

20. Some Fun Tonight!: The Backstage Story of How the Beatles Rocked America: The Historic Tours of 1964-1966, by Chuck Gunderson (Gunderson Media). Mammoth, expensive two-volume, 600-page hardback set documenting the Beatles’ mid-‘60s North American tours in exhaustive detail. This is more for the Beatlemaniac than the general reader, owing to the price but also the coverage of material that will be of most interest for reference purposes. It’s certainly in-depth in its research into how the concerts were set up and took place, however, and is lavishly illustrated with photos, posters, and documents, some quite rare.

SomeFunTonight

And honorable mentions for these two titles, which just missed the cutoff:

21. Benson: The Autobiography, by George Benson with Alan Goldsher (Da Capo Press). I’m not a Benson fan, especially. But this as-told-to memoir was fairly good nonetheless, reminiscing about his rise from sideman on the club scene to crossover pop superstar. Not so much inside dirt on his personal life, which is fine, keeping the focus on the music, as it should be in these kind of autobiographies.

Benson

22. The Time of My Life: A Righteous Brother’s Memoir, by Bill Medley with Mike Marino (Da Capo Press). Not a hugely in-depth read, the autobiography of Righteous Brother Bill Medley (that was his deep lead vocal on “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”) is still a breezy ride from his roots in Orange County R&B bands to hits with Phil Spector. For the first half or so, that is; there’s also far less essential coverage of his road to Vegas entertainer. There aren’t as many controversial  revelations as you might hope or expect, but here are some things you’ll learn: he never wanted the Righteous Brothers to end their relationship with Spector; Spector wanted Medley to go solo after “Lovin’ Feelin’” was a smash; Medley produced “Unchained Melody,” “regardless of what the label read”; Phil wasn’t even in the studio when the other Righteous Brother, Bobby Hatfield, sang lead on “Ebb Tide”; and  George Harrison was knocked out by the solo on the early Righteous Brothers single “My Babe,” though other stories of touring with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones don’t dig up many other nuggets along the same lines.

Medley

If you’re wondering why the following books weren’t mentioned, it’s because they came out in the latter part of 2013. Honorable mentions, however, to these titles, which are also worthy of your attention:

1. The Beatles: Tune In: Extended Special Edition, by Mark Lewisohn (Little, Brown). I feel like this monumental biography – just the first of three volumes, covering the Beatles’ lives and career until the end of 1962 – still hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It’s easily the most comprehensively researched volume on this much-written-about group; the writing is very good; and it extensively draws on the musical and social context of the times in interesting, useful ways. The “standard” edition of this runs about 900 pages, but the two-volume “extended special edition” – running about almost twice the length at around 1700 pages — really is worth the costly (about $125 on Amazon today) investment. It has considerably more information, from important additional context to fascinating trivia.

specialed

2. Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion, by Robert Gordon (Bloomsbury). Since there was already a good Stax history back in 1997 (Rob Bowman’s Soulsville U.S.A.), I was unsure if this volume would be necessary. But it’s an excellent book that doesn’t duplicate too much of Bowman’s work, and in the inevitable overlaps, a different perspective is brought to Stax’s legacy. Having co-directed the Stax documentary Respect Yourself (also recommended), Gordon already had a wealth of first-hand research to draw upon for his book, which might be a more accessible read than Bowman’s, though lacking some of Bowman’s intense detail.

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3. Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter, by Alyn Shipton (Oxford University Press). Overdue, fine bio of an important if quirky singer-songwriter. For all the happy nature of some of his most celebrated work, Harry Nilsson’s story was tragically beset by mental, physical, and marital difficulties. These are covered here, but so is his musical evolution from behind-the-scenes songwriter to unlikely solo star.

Nilsson

4. The Rhino Records Story: Revenge of the Record Nerds, by Harold Bronson (SelectBooks). By its very nature, a memoir by a guy who co-founded and co-ran a reissue label – albeit the biggest US reissue label – is going to have limited mass appeal. If you were or are one of those record nerds that got a lot of Rhino reissues, you’ll like this entertaining account of how Bronson first founded one of the finest independent record stores (in Los Angeles, also called Rhino), and then branched out into a record label. Plenty of inside accounts of licensing deals, interactions with the stars being reissued, and the general madness of trying to be creative within the oft-corporate record business.

Rhino

5. Bert Jansch: Living with the Legend, by Heather Jansch (The Olchard Press). Heather Jansch was Bert Jansch’s first wife, and this is her incisive account of their relationship, which covered his peak years of popularity in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The stories of Bert as a man and musician are augmented by repros of personal correspondence and memorabilia, as well as some neat tales of the British folk and folk-rock scene of in which the Jansches took part. Designed as a spiral-bound notebook with sketches by Heather, it’s a slim (88-page) and expensive volume. But unlike many such books with limited distribution, it’s produced to a high standard and doesn’t waste words, sticking to the essentials.

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6. Yé-Yé Girls of ‘60s French Pop, by Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe (Feral House). I was a little disappointed with the text of this book, which was a little superficial and fannish, and not as deeply researched as I hoped. Still, this is the only English-language volume devoted to the yé-yé scene, combining pop, girl group, and British Invasion styles with a heavy French slant. It has basic info on the genre’s heavyweights (like Francoise Hardy and France Gall) and many of the minor singers virtually unknown to North American and British audiences. As its best saving grace, the reproductions of rare album sleeves are superb and plentiful.

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Finally, in 2014 I published updated/revised/expanded ebook versions of some of my print books, with plenty of new material. All of these titles are available on Amazon, iBooks/iTunes, and other outlets:

Combines my two-volume history of 1960s folk-rock, Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High, into one volume with updated material, including bonus 75,000-word mini-book detailing nearly 200 tracks. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

Combines my two-volume history of 1960s folk-rock, Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High, into one volume with updated material, including bonus 75,000-word mini-book detailing nearly 200 tracks. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

Critical description of all known unreleased Beatles recordings, their most crucial unissued film footage, and more. Updated with 30,000 more words to reflect newly circulating material and additional information that's come to light since the original edition.

Critical description of all known unreleased Beatles recordings, their most crucial unissued film footage, and more. Updated with 30,000 more words to reflect newly circulating material and additional information that’s come to light since the original edition. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

documents twenty cult rockers from the 1960s. The book features extremely detailed investigation of the careers of greats like the Pretty Things, Arthur Brown, Richard & Mimi Farina, and Tim Buckley. The extensive chapters all include first-hand interview material with the artists themselves and/or their close associates. The ebook version is significantly expanded, revised, and updated from the print version, adding 20,000 words of new material.

Documents twenty cult rockers from the 1960s. The book features extremely detailed investigation of the careers of greats like the Pretty Things, Arthur Brown, Richard & Mimi Farina, and Tim Buckley. The extensive chapters all include first-hand interview material with the artists themselves and/or their close associates. The ebook version is significantly expanded, revised, and updated from the print version, adding 20,000 words of new material. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

Goin’ to Kansas City: The Origins of The City’s Anthem

There was a lot more talk about Kansas City than usual in San Francisco last month, since the Giants were playing the Royals in the World Series. It came as something of a disappointment – no, an outrage – that at no time did the networks play the classic ‘50s rock song “Kansas City.” It even opens with the lyric “goin’ to Kansas City”! It was good enough to be used when the Phillies went to Kansas City to play the Royals in the 1980 World Series, and it’s more than good enough now, 55 years after it topped the charts.

BeatlesKansasCity

For those who found the song “Kansas City” playing in their head as the World Series played out, there was often some understandable confusion as to what version should be playing. The most famous one is the single by Wilbert Harrison that went to #1 in 1959. The second-most-famous one, and perhaps almost-as-famous one, was recorded by the Beatles in 1964 for their fourth LP. Yet the Beatles’ version sounds almost totally different from the Harrison one. How did that happen?

The original version was written by two 19-year-old white Jewish guys in Los Angeles, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Leiber and Stoller would go on to become one of the greatest songwriting (and production) teams in rock history, but at that point were just getting a foothold in the R&B scene. As Mike Stoller remembers in Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography, “Jerry’s idea was that we’d give him this geographically specific but musically traditional blues.”

After some apparently mild arguing about how authentically blues Stoller’s melody was, they placed it with Little Willie Littlefield, who had some regional success with the single in 1952. Littlefield’s version – done more as a jump blues than rock’n’roll, rock really not having been officially born yet — isn’t too different from Harrison’s, though a couple of the more risque lyrics would be modified. In the first act that would cause confusion for decades when fans traced the origins of the tune, however, the title was changed from “Kansas City” to “K.C. Loving” by Federal Records co-owner Ralph Bass (who considered “K.C. Loving” a “hipper” title, again according to Stoller in Hound Dog).

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On September 13, 1955, Little Richard recorded a cover that stuck pretty close to Littlefield’s version for the first verse, though in a bit more of an uptempo rock’n’roll style. But then, in the biggest wrinkle in the song’s evolution, he suddenly leaped into an improvised-sounding diversion, yelping “bye bye baby bye, so long,” interspersing a characteristic whoop in the middle. When he gets back to a verse of sorts, this also sounds like he’s making lyrics up off the top of his head, then making another detour to the “bye bye so long” bit. Indeed, this sounds kind of like a jam after the first verse gets out of the way.

Then on November 29, he cut a yet different version which – it’s obvious right from the opening riff – is the one the Beatles based on their cover on. Here Richard took so many liberties with the Leiber-Stoller original that it’s virtually an entirely different song, save for the very basic theme of going to Kansas City to find a girl and tie one on. He did retain the “bye bye baby bye so long” etc. bit from his previous attempt at the song, adding a yet different bit based around a “hey hey hey” chant. In all, this accounts for why the Beatles’ version is credited to Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, and Richard Penniman (Little Richard’s legal name), not just Leiber and Stoller.

LittleRichardKansasCity

Now go back to the 1950s, but this time, the late 1950s. Journeyman R&B singer Wilbert Harrison had been doing Littlefield’s “K.C. Loving” live, and recorded it for a March 1959 single, this time changing the title back to “Kansas City.” Possibly Harrison was unaware of Little Richard’s liberal “cover,” sticking fairly close to Littlefield’s arrangement, though the lyrics were slightly toned down – “gonna get me some” was changed to “gonna get me one,” and the reference to a “bottle of Kansas City wine” was so slurred that many DJs and would-be-concerned parents might never have caught it.

But “Kansas City” wasn’t just a faithful replica of Littlefield’s by-then rather ancient single. Occasionally there are covers that vary the original only slightly, but by significant enough degrees to make it a much different listening experience and indeed much superior recording. And there may be no better example than Harrison’s “Kansas City.” What made it a #1 pop smash, where the original hadn’t even made the R&B charts?

Well, Harrison’s version just rocked more. He pounded the piano to set a compelling groove that might have had its roots in jump blues, but was as locked-in as it gets. Put on Littlefield’s version, and it’s just another above-average R&B song; put on Harrison’s, and your foot can’t help but immediately start pounding along with it. Crucially, Harrison also eccentrically varies the intonation on the vocals on the final lines of the verses so that he sounds like he’s leaning in and out of the lyrics, almost as if he’s tempted to sing it like a ska song. And most crucially of all, Jimmy Spruill lets loose with a wailing guitar solo (goosed on by Harrison’s shouts of “ah, but you know yeah, must-tah!” — well, that’s what it sounds like — and “ohhh yeah!”) that might be rooted in the blues, but is most definitely rock’n’roll. The record shot to #1, just a couple months after the plane crash that supposedly killed rock’n’roll – though, as “Kansas City” and countless other records prove, the music was very much alive and well at the time when rock’n’roll had supposedly died or vanished.

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But while it was #1 in the US, it didn’t chart at all in the UK. There the hit version belonged to Little Richard, whose “Kansas City”/“Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey” mutation (as it’s now titled on Beatles for Sale) made #26, not long after Harrison’s “Kansas City” climbed the American charts. It was “Kansas City”/“Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey,” then, that the Beatles and other British teenagers heard, and this was the arrangement that the Beatles began to play live as early as mid-1960, as its inclusion on group’s the earliest surviving setlist proves. Although “Long Tall Sally” is a more celebrated instance of Paul McCartney’s ability to match Little Richard in sheer intensity for upper-register raucous rock’n’roll singing, the Beatles’ interpretation of “Kansas City” is just as impressive in that regard.

There are, indeed, several versions predating the studio recording they cut on October 18, 1964. They did three versions for the BBC (July 16, 1963; May 1, 1964; and November 25, 1964), all of which were bootlegged before the November ’64 one came out last year on On the Air: Live at the BBC Vol. 2. An inferior alternate studio take came out on Anthology 1, and you can even hear a lo-fi but energetic one from September 5, 1962 before a live Liverpool audience at the Cavern if you look in all the places you’re not supposed to.

The Beatles also did it on September 17, 1964 when they, after getting an offer from Charlie Finley (owner of the Kansas City Athletics major league baseball team), added a Kansas City concert to their summer American tour. If it was good enough for the Beatles and Kansas City then, why wasn’t it good enough for Fox network last month?

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The 1960 World Series: The Game Remains the Same

With my hometown team, the San Francisco Giants, winning a world series in seven games this year, I got to thinking about other game sevens. These days, you can do more than think about them; you can watch them, or at least parts of some of them. The match often cited as the best game seven of all, the Pirates vs. the Yankees in 1960, is now online, or at least the last three innings of it.

1961th

It’s been 54 years since that game, which the Pirates won 10-9, the home team winning when Bill Mazeroski hit a home run to open the bottom of the ninth. The game of baseball itself has changed a lot since then, and so has television. What surprised me the most on viewing these three innings, however, was how little baseball has changed in some respects. I’m not a fan of the other major sports, but I imagine if you saw a football or basketball game from 1960, it would look quite a bit different than it does today.

There’s been a lot of talk, mostly justified, lately about speeding up the pace of major league baseball, with many games dragging over three hours or more (four hours or more, sometimes, in the postseason). Watching games on TV is itself a much different experience than it was in the twentieth century, both in the barrage of commercials, in-house network promotions (often in the middle of innings), and onslaught of statistics that were largely inaccessible a few decades ago. Yet for all that, it’s not at all hard to follow the 1960 World Series game, even if you’re unfamiliar with the teams and players.

True, compared to what you see nowadays, the camerawork can seem elementary. There are just a few angles, and no instant replay. When Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek, for instance, is famously struck in the throat by a bad hop on a grounder that looked like a double play, there are no replays, where today there would likely be a dozen or so. The camera lingers on the scene for literally minutes as Kubek struggles, unsuccessfully, to recover and stay in the game.

Kub1

I’m not one of those purists who laments all the statistics on hand for broadcasters nowadays. I like hearing the OPS, BABIP, left-handed averages, and so forth, as long as it’s integrated smoothly into the flow. I have to say, however, that it’s a little refreshing hearing the announcer (Mel Allen) just stick to the action, and describe it very well. No frills, no bells and whistles, just acute play-by-play description of what’s going on, which in this game seven was very complex indeed, with several tough fielding plays, lead shifts, dramatic home runs, and a really strange play where Mickey Mantle evaded a tag to dive back into first to evade getting erased on a groundball double play that would have ended the game in the top of the ninth. Aside from the relative lack of those interminable delays when batters step out of the box to adjust things, or pitchers taking forever between pitches, it’s very close to the way the game’s still played today.

Here are a couple of notable differences, however. One is the lack of African-Americans and Latin-Americans. There are just a couple blacks: Hall of Fame Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente (from Puerto Rico) and Pirates pinch runner Joe Christopher (from the Virgin Islands). (If you’re wondering about the Yankees’ Elston Howard, the fine African-American catcher did not play that day.) These days just about every club has several Latin Americans on the rosters, and often several from the Dominican Republic alone.

A less expected difference was the absolutely atrocious state of the infield dirt. Yes, groundskeeping was less refined back then. But this is a World Series game, and the infield looks like golfers have been chopping out divots for hours the night before. No wonder Kubek got struck by that grounder – which, if not for that bad hop, probably would have been a double play and resulted in a far less dramatic Yankee victory, though of course the Pirates infielders had to contend with the same conditions.

Every year, there’s a hailstorm of moans and groans about how baseball’s slipping in popularity, is losing traction with young kids, doesn’t get high World Series ratings, etc. And every year, traditionalists bemoan how the game isn’t what it used to be, that it was better and more meaningful “back then,” whether 1960 or 1990. And really, play the game sevens (both close nail-biters) of 1960 and 2014 back-to-back, and there’s ultimately little difference in their ability to rivet with their suspense. As much as things have changed, that’s remained the same.

A 1960 World Series program.

A 1960 World Series program.

Hiking in the El Cerrito Hills, Part 3

Would you guess these impressive views are just a few blocks from some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s less highly esteemed suburbs?

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Hermes2

 

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I’ve written about the surprisingly scenic vistas in the El Cerrito hills on a previous posts. Last weekend I saw a few more, the big surprise being they were just a few minutes’ scamper from these unpromising signs:

CampSign

Prepared

Yes, just a little uphill from this boy scout camp, you’ve got these paths and hills to yourself, even on an early fall Sunday morning. They’re not too extensive, mind you, but there’s nearby Wildcat Canyon Park for that (see earlier post at http://www.richieunterberger.com/wordpress/hiking-in-the-el-cerrito-hills-part-2/).

This next shot isn’t exactly scenic, but the origination of this swimming pool might come as a surprise. It’s one of many, many projects constructed in the 1930s by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) that’s still in use:

Pool

On the way down the hill, also check out the virtually-unknown-unless-you-live-there Arlington Park, with this small family-friendly lake:

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Sandy Denny in Swedish Fly Girls

Sandy Denny and…Swedish fly girls. Whatever Swedish fly girls are, the two things don’t seem to go together, do they? But they did, when Denny sang four songs in 1969 or 1970 for an obscure Danish (not Swedish; more on that weirdness later) film titled, for some (but not all) markets, Swedish Fly Girls. It’s an absurd juxtaposition that you couldn’t make up.

The "Swedish Fly Girls" soundtrack LP.

The “Swedish Fly Girls” soundtrack LP.

Ever since first hearing those four tracks on a bootleg that was itself so obscure it never made it past the CDR stage, I’ve wondered how Sandy ended up participating in this odd project. (I know listening to bootlegs is not the officially approved way to hear things like this, but I never would have even found out they existed if not for that unauthorized disc!) I haven’t found out how she ended up on the soundtrack, exactly, but hearing the four songs in better fidelity than that bootleg on the recent 19-CD (!) Denny box set stoked my interest again. Enough that I even saw the film earlier this month, though it hasn’t been officially issued on DVD. No, the copy I viewed wasn’t authorized. But in the absence of official product, how else are you going to carry out this vital historical research?

First, a basic scenario, especially for those not familiar with the songs: the Swedish Fly Girls soundtrack LP (and there is an actual soundtrack LP) has four tracks sung by Sandy Denny—“Water Mother,” “What Will I Do With Tomorrow,” “Are the Judges Sane?,” and “I Need You” (the last of which also has vocals by a male singer, one Mose Henry). These are poppier and rather unlike anything else she recorded in the 1960s and early 1970s. They have a lightly orchestrated (with flute and strings), almost dreamily pseudo-cinematic feel, unsurprisingly so given their purpose as rather incidental music in what verged on a soft porn film (more details soon). If there’s any participation from her bands of the time, Fairport Convention and Fotheringay, it’s not evident.

The back cover of the "Swedish Fly Girls" soundtrack LP.

The back cover of the “Swedish Fly Girls” soundtrack LP.

“Water Mother” and “What Will I Do With Tomorrow” are actually rather nice wistful pop-folk ballads. The tenser, more somber “Are the Judges Sane?” ends in a dizzying swirl of strings, and has some fairly faintly mixed but burning blues-hard-rock guitar somewhere in the background, which I’m guessing is likely the work of a seasoned London session axeman. Allan Holdsworth, perhaps? Eric Ford? Big Jim Sullivan? Maybe even a big name like Jeff Beck moonlighting for some quick cash between tours? (All theories gratefully received at this address.) “I Need You” is perhaps the least characteristic thing Denny put on vinyl back then, being something of a fruitily orchestrated country-pop feel-good ditty where the greatest British folk-rock singer shares vocals with the decidedly colorless Mose Henry.

Why did Denny deign to lend her pipes (anonymously, even; again, more on that in a bit) to such a left-field endeavor? Well, getting Melody Maker accolades didn’t necessarily translate to a large bank balance, and a number of respected British artists took on what some might consider hack work to help pay the bills. There were all those soundalike covers of hits that Elton John helped crank out, for instance, or the Pretty Things cutting film library music on the Electric Banana LPs (and agreeing to back amateur singer Philippe DeBarge when the well-heeled Frenchman paid them for the privilege). It wasn’t even the only instance in which Denny lowered herself to such sidelines, as she also sang on a butter commercial in the late ‘60s.

A poster for the Swedish Fly Girls movie.

A poster for the Swedish Fly Girls movie.

Digging around online, I found a fairly detailed recollection (dating from 2002) of the soundtrack recording from Mose Henry (who died in 2010), at http://sandydennylist.blogspot.com/2009/12/swedish-fly-girls.html. It’s fairly interesting, if a bit overblown, but lengthy, so I’ll just post the most essential excerpt here:

I was in London for 12 weeks the spring and summer of 1970. Manfred Mann and I co-produced the music for “Christa.” The rhythm section was the band who did the London Production of “Hair” and we used London Philharmonic strings and brass. At times a 30-piece rock orchestra for the film. I wrote all of the music, Derek Wadsworth arranged it Manfred # 1 Producer I was associate producer without credits. I sang “I Need You” with Sandy. Sandy was ill and after she saw the lead sheets of the music she came to the studio to record it anyway. She told me “What Will I Do With Tomorrow” was the most beautiful song she had ever heard. In my book she sang it like an angel. When she sang the final take for that recording the entire studio was lifted to another place and time words cannot describe. The recording said it well enough.

Although some sources date Sandy’s tracks as having been recorded in mid-1969, here Henry’s clear in his assertion that the work was done in spring and summer 1970, when Denny was in Fotheringay (a timeline also supported by the best Denny biography to date, Clinton Heylin’s No More Sad Refrains). As for Denny telling Henry “What Will I Do With Tomorrow” (for which Henry got a co-songwriting credit with an unlikely partner—more details soon!) “was the most beautiful song she had ever heard,” I suspect she was just being nice to him. This from the woman who’d recorded such memorable songs as “She Moves Through the Fair,” “Tam Lin,” Joni Mitchell’s “Eastern Rain,” Bob Dylan’s “Percy’s Song,” and Dave Cousins’s “And You Need Me”? Not to mention her own “Fotheringay,” “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” and “Autopsy,” though she would likely have been too modest to cite her own compositions?

Read some more in that lengthy Henry post, and you’ll find out that he’d been in the whitebread US folk group the Highwaymen, though long after (his stint spanning 1964-68) their 1961 US chart-topper “Michael” (aka “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”). What’s more interesting, however, is that, as the excerpt above notes in passing, he co-produced the soundtrack with Manfred Mann. Mann, of course, already had significant experience in film scores, his group having done the generally decent, acclaimed music (some with vocals) to the Swinging London-set 1968 kitchen-sinkish drama Up the Junction.

Manfred Mann's soundtrack LP to the 1968 movie Up the Junction.

Manfred Mann’s soundtrack LP to the 1968 movie Up the Junction.

Now the plot gets yet more interesting — more interesting than the plot in the film that generated the Swedish Fly Girls soundtrack, certainly. There was an actual Swedish Fly Girls soundtrack LP that came out in the US in May 1972, with music by, among others, Melanie (one of her better-known songs, “Beautiful People”) and Manfred Mann himself/themselves. Weirdly, the performers were uncredited, accounting for why Denny’s contributions remained virtually unknown for so many years, though it’s immediately obvious that it’s her as soon as she opens her mouth on each of the four tunes. All four of which, incidentally, bear the songwriting credits of Mose Henry and…Jack O’Connell. Who was Jack O’Connell?

Well — and what an extraordinary coincidence! — he was the director of Swedish Fly Girls (and, for that matter, also its producer and writer). I’m not aware of any other musical credentials to his name, but shortly before taking on the film, he’d been involved with a movie that will likely be much more familiar to ‘60s rock fans. For he was also producer-director of the rather infamous 1968 quasi-documentary Revolution, which purported to capture the 1967 Haight-Ashbury scene, but verged on hippie exploitation. At least that movie had an interesting soundtrack, including tracks by top Bay Area acts Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Steve Miller Band, and Mother Earth that are not found on their regular LPs (and, on top of that, some versions of songs on the album by those artists that are heard in the movie itself, but not included on the record).

The soundtrack to the 1968 film Revolution had rare tracks by Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Steve Miller Band, and Mother Earth.

The soundtrack to the 1968 film Revolution had rare tracks by Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Steve Miller Band, and Mother Earth.

The actual Revolution film was less impressive. Here’s what some of the people involved on the musical side told me when I interviewed them for a story on rare San Francisco psych LPs in the April 2013 issue of Record Collector:

Powell St. John of Mother Earth: “As for the movie, one thing that [Mother Earth singer] Tracy [Nelson] insisted upon was that there was no sensationalism, and no exploitation of the so-called ‘hippie phenomenon,’ no lurid details of naked orgies or other such nonsense. I think we were all of one mind about that. The film people assured us they were good guys and would never do anything so crass as to produce an exploitation flick so we took them at their word. Well if you’ve ever seen the posters for that film you know that exploitation is exactly the right word for it. So, needless to say we were not pleased with the results.”

Mother Earth manager Travis Rivers: “The film was such a disaster it showed only in pornographic movie houses for at least two decades. My impression was not enhanced when I ran into a local who told me she would be starring in the ‘documentary’ and that Jack had changed her name to ‘Today Malone.’” Rivers also said O’Connell gave Allen Cohen, editor of leading local underground paper The San Francisco Oracle, “money on the side to set up that awful fake be-in” near the start of the movie.

Steve Miller Band manager Harvey Kornspan: “The movie itself was a cartoon. I doubt that it cost more than a hundred grand to make at the time. Malone was pretty in a soft hippie girl kind of way, but she had no acting chops. None!” he laughed. “The director was kind of an opportunist sleazy cat.”

Poster for the 1968 Revolution film.

Poster for the 1968 Revolution film.

How do you follow an act like that? Well, you make your next film in Denmark, apparently because Revolution had done well there. Interestingly, the score to Swedish Fly Girls was originally handled by Al Kooper, but ended up being taken on by Manfred Mann. A couple websites hint at dark undercurrents to the transition, one noting that “he was replaced by Manfred Mann, reportedly because of artistic and financial difficulties.” As the film is not even mentioned in Kooper’s quite substantial and entertaining memoir Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards, it might not have meant that much to him in the first place.

And what of the film itself? Like many such things, actually watching the thing is something of an anti-climactic letdown, especially considering all the intriguing connections and credible rock musicians who were (or almost were) associated with the soundtrack. First issued as Christa in 1971, it follows the serial affairs of a young Danish (not Swedish, despite what its subsequent retitling would lead you to believe) flight attendant. There’s much casual sex, and a fair amount of nudity, though not so much that you could say it’s a skin flick. Christa, and most of her lovers, have a guilt-free zest for intercourse that screams 1969, as do her and her American housemate’s dresses and the mod decor of her Copenhagen residence. Her suitors have a rather oily Eurotrash vibe, though the hippest of them looks kind of like David Essex. Fortunately (especially considering the bootleg DVD doesn’t have English subtitles), over half of the dialogue is in English, most of her lovers being passengers she takes a shine to on her globetrotting flights. Truth be told, it wouldn’t be all that hard to follow the “action” even if all the talk was unsubtitled Danish.

A poster for the film bearing its original title, Christa.

A poster for the film bearing its original title, Christa.

It’s hard to believe, as one reviewer wrote, that the original running time was close to four hours; 100 minutes is quite enough. As for the soundtrack, it can’t seem to decide whether to be period cinematic pop or pop-rock, something true (in a different way) of Manfred Mann’s contributions as well as Sandy Denny’s. And it’s a good thing the soundtrack LP came out, since you only hear brief snippets of Sandy’s songs in the actual film.

I haven’t heard the original soundtrack album (or even seen an actual copy), which must have been scarce even in the early 1970s. As for why it was retitled Swedish Fly Girls, one can only guess that Swedish stewardesses were deemed a more commercial proposition than Danish ones, and in English-speaking markets, who was going to be able to tell the main character was speaking Danish, not Swedish, anyway?

In the extensive 2002 message from Mose Henry posted on the http://sandydennylist.blogspot.com/2009/12/swedish-fly-girls.html site, by the way, he makes this outrageous claim: “Almost every movie since then has been modeled on “Christa” it was the first film edited to the beat of the music and other film makers are using a lot more music in their soundtracks. We were the first to edit to the beat of the music with “Christa.” What? A Hard Day’s Night doesn’t count?

Surprisingly considering the film’s modest merits (and states of undress), the film was actually reviewed in the New York Times on August 21, 1971. At least reviewer Howard Thompson had some fun with his assignment, beginning his piece, “The heroine of Christa is a pretty, sweet, warm-hearted blonde of 23, an airline stewardess, and a loving mother to her illegitimate baby. Christa also yearns for a Prince Charming. She finds him, whereupon the nasty man from the past pops up menacingly. Will Christa find true happiness? Does a dog have fleas?”

If not for Sandy Denny’s presence on the soundtrack, it’s fair to say, Swedish Fly Girls, or whatever you want to call the film, would be forgotten. Fortunately, that soundtrack LP did somehow surface before the movie vanished into obscurity, leaving us with some of the strangest — if fairly enjoyable — novelties in her entire, quite mammoth discography.

All four songs that Sandy Denny sang in Swedish Fly Girls are on this 190CD Sandy Denny box set.

All four songs that Sandy Denny sang in Swedish Fly Girls are on this 19-CD Sandy Denny box set.

 

The Beatles Vs. The Rolling Stones

“The Beatles Vs. The Rolling Stones” – it’s kind of a silly debate, if not nearly as silly as “The Beatles Vs. The Four Seasons,” as Vee-Jay Records titled one cash-in LP. You’ve got what many, even tens of millions, consider two of the greatest rock bands of all time – do you really have to choose one over the other? Or, worse, choose one and not the other, as some hard-liners (more Stones fanatics than Beatlemaniacs) maintain? They’re both great (or, at least, the Stones were great), and I’ve taught comprehensive courses on both groups.

Beatle_Stones

But here’s something I’ve never seen brought up when “The Beatles Vs. The Rolling Stones” is mentioned – how did those bands fare on the relatively rare occasions when they did go head-to-head? Not on the same stage or boxing ring or anything like that, but on the same song? For the two acts did sometimes do the same song, and a little more often than many think. True, there were just two occasions when they actually released studio versions of the same number. But if you count BBC and live performances, the quantity nearly doubles, though even then, it doesn’t reach double figures. Taking the attitude that no one else will do this unless I will, here’s a play-by-play rundown of those infrequent instances when the titans performed the same tune, with just-for-fun verdicts that shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Let’s start with the only two songs the Beatles and Stones both did in the studio, with all four versions, as it happens, getting waxed in 1963 near the beginning of their careers.

Money: Despite the differences between the groups played up by the media and some fans, the two bands actually admired quite a few of the same US rock and soul artists, and it’s not all that surprising that they would cover some of the same songs. The only such animal to make it onto their 1963 discs, however, was “Money,” one of the first Motown hits (though not quite as big as many remember, Barrett Strong’s original peaking at #23 in 1960).

The Beatles did “Money” on their second album, and it’s really not all that controversial an opinion to assert they totally outdistanced the original, both by virtue of John Lennon’s fierce lead vocal and Paul McCartney and George Harrison’s exuberant backup harmonies. There are actually a few Beatles versions of “Money,” starting with a fairly anemic one from their January 1, 1962 audition for Decca Records (with Pete Best still on drums), and also including a half-dozen BBC performances. The studio cut on With the Beatles, however, is the best from every angle, and one of the best of the many fine covers they recorded.

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It’s also not that controversial an opinion to declare that the Beatles pretty much kill the Stones in an A-B comparison of their respective versions. In fact, a lot of listeners probably still don’t even know the Stones did “Money,” as it first appeared on a January 1964 UK EP, and wasn’t issued in the States until the More Hot Rocks compilation almost ten years later. The Rolling Stones’ version is raw to the point of almost being sloppy, has rather hoarse and untutored backup vocals, and is pretty murkily recorded (though it’s hardly alone in that last department among early Stones tracks). For all that, it’s not that bad, with some cool if slightly haphazard harmonica and generally commendable enthusiasm. The Stones were hardly the only other British Invasion group to do “Money,” by the way, other entries being cut by Freddie & the Dreamers (a predictably silly and stilted one) and Bern Elliott & the Fenmen (who took their rather generic interpretation to #14 in the UK), among others.

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The Verdict: Still – a clear victory, perhaps even a knockout, for the Beatles.

I Wanna Be Your Man: The other song the Beatles and Stones cut studio versions of in 1963 wasn’t even, for one of the bands at least, a cover. The famous story’s a little too long to recap here, but basically Stones manager Andrew Oldham, in need of a song for his clients’ second single, stumbled into John Lennon and Paul McCartney in central London, and corralled them into visiting a Stones rehearsal, where they finished off “I Wanna Be Your Man” on the spot. “I Wanna Be Your Man” would be the Rolling Stones’ first substantial British hit (stopping just short of the Top Ten), though it wouldn’t even be an A-side in the US, where it didn’t even appear on an LP (or, for many years, even on a compilation).

Though it was released a few weeks after the Stones’ version, the Beatles’ rendition was recorded about a month earlier. While something of a filler track on Meet the Beatles, with lyrics even more basic than most of the early Lennon-McCartney compositions, it pummels along with great, slightly bluesy effervescence, Ringo Starr on lead. It’s a good rocker, if a fairly secondary one in the scheme of early Beatles material. A little later, they’d do a cool version on the BBC with a slight Bo Diddley beat.

i wanna be your man sheet music

That said, the Rolling Stones’ arrangement beats the Beatles hands down. The slide guitar by Brian Jones is downright vicious, Bill Wyman plays an into-the-red pumping bass, and Mick Jagger gives it a sneer wholly missing in Ringo’s vocal. Where the Beatles play it jocular, the Rolling Stones are assaultive, bringing out the song’s subtle blues flavor so that it becomes a genuine pounding blues-rocker. John and Paul gave them a great assist by giving them the tune, but the Stones made it in their own, in a version both superior to and quite different than the Beatles’.

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The Verdict: A clear victory for the Stones, though not the knockout that “Money” was for the Beatles.

Now we’ll start getting into territory beyond the two official instances in which the bands released the same song, much of which remains unknown to the general public:

Roll Over Beethoven: Another highlight from the Beatles’ second album, “Roll Over Beethoven” was an excellent Chuck Berry cover, from George Harrison’s adept soloing (and lead vocal) to the insistent propulsion of the rest of the band on backup. Again they did this a bunch of times on the BBC (a particularly good June 24, 1963 one with a twice-as-long instrumental solo is on the iTunes download-only compilation The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963), and there are good live versions floating around on tape and film (though the one done in Hamburg in December 1962, like the rest of the live tapes from that quasi-official batch, has pretty poor sound).

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It’s still not generally known that the Rolling Stones recorded “Roll Over Beethoven” at a BBC session on September 23, 1963, in large part because it still hasn’t been officially released. Bootlegged with very good sound, it’s a tremendous version, and, again, quite different to the one by the Beatles. Keith Richards’s guitar has a more raucous edge, Mick Jagger’s vocal a more cutting bluesy tone, and the tempo’s more frenetic. Most notably, Richards unleashes a simply marvelous solo with a heck of a lot more bluesy note-bending. Of the numerous songs the Stones did on the BBC without counterparts on their official records (though these weren’t nearly as numerous as the ones the Beatles taped), “Roll Over Beethoven” might be the very best. (They also did a less impressive, looser version of “Roll Over Beethoven” at a later BBC session on March 8 , 1964.)

The Rolling Stones performed "Roll Over Beethoven" on BBC radio in 1963, but did not release a studio version.

The Rolling Stones performed “Roll Over Beethoven” on BBC radio in 1963, but did not release a studio version.

The Verdict: Too close to call, really, though if pressed I might choose the Stones’ version, Keith’s solo being the deciding factor.

Carol: Another Chuck Berry song both bands did, the twist being that this time, the Rolling Stones’ version is the more familiar one. “Carol” was a highlight of the band’s first album in 1964, with a pushy buzz, and authoritative Keith Richards guitar licks, that made it slightly different from the original, if not terribly different.

StonesCarol

The Beatles did not record this at EMI, but did a top-flight version for the BBC on July 2, 1963. Much more well known to the general listener after its official appearance on Live at the BBC in 1994, it was one of five songs from this session they didn’t put on their 1960s releases. Let me quote from my description in my book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film: “’Carol’ is handled here by John on solo vocals, and slightly precedes the much more famous delivery of the same song by the Rolling Stones on their debut 1964 album. It’s a contentious assertion, but the Beatles’ less noted interpretation is yet better than the one by the Stones, who took the song at a much more even, clipped beat. The Beatles’ interpretation has a more forward-thrusting groove, Lennon’s best cocky rock ’n’ roll voice, and propulsive Harrison guitar riffing, especially when he flicks off some cliff-descending notes near the end of the instrumental break.”

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The Verdict: Like the above paragraph notes, a contentious assertion, but I think this is a clear victory for the Beatles, though the Rolling Stones’ effort is quite respectable.

Memphis, Tennessee: Here we have a case of a song that neither the Beatles nor the Rolling Stones put on their official ‘60s releases, though both did it for the BBC. The Beatles, in fact, had done it on January 1, 1962 back at their Decca audition, and at their first BBC session on March 7, 1962, with Pete Best still on drums. Their arrangement (and indeed the whole band) had improved by the time they did it four more times for the BBC (with Ringo) in 1963, John Lennon still on lead vocals. On the whole, though, it’s not one of their better covers, though it’s okay.

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Again, not many people are aware the Rolling Stones did “Memphis” too, as their September 23, 1963 BBC version (recorded at the same session they did “Roll Over Beethoven”) hasn’t been officially released. Which is too bad, in part because it’s decisively better than the Beatles’. The Beatles’ arrangement is a little lumpy, but the Stones do it with just the right deftness, exquisitely interwoven guitars, and an appropriately wistful Mick Jagger vocal. As an aside, it is a shame that just four of the band’s 1963-65 BBC tracks have come out (and then only as a bonus disc on the expensive super-deluxe edition of their GRRR! compilation), as there are enough to fill up a double CD.

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The Verdict: A clear victory for the Rolling Stones, which doesn’t mean that the Beatles’ 1963 BBC versions (some of which have been officially issued) aren’t worth having.

I’m Talking About You: As if there’s any doubt that Chuck Berry was the most common meeting point in their influences, here’s yet another song covered by both bands. The Rolling Stones’ version (slightly retitled “Talkin’ Bout You”) is by far the more familiar, having appeared back in 1965 on the December’s Children LP (in the US) and the Out of Our Heads LP (in the UK). It’s a good one that’s funkier and slyer in execution that the original. The group, incidentally, did a yet earlier version for the BBC on September 23, 1963 (in the same batch including “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Memphis, Tennessee”) that unfortunately hasn’t survived. For that matter, that same session included a version of “Money” that didn’t survive either.

StonesTalkinBoutYou

Until very recently, the best of the two surviving Beatles versions of “I’m Talking About You” was quite obscure. An energetic but lo-fi one from December 1962 had been available since 1977 on the Hamburg Star-Club tapes. A better, though not totally hi-fi, BBC performance from March 16, 1963 finally came out in late 2013 on On Air: Live at the BBC Vol. 2. It’s pretty good as well, benefiting from a brash John Lennon lead vocal, and an odd chuckle right before they go into the instrumental break, with a George Harrison solo that (like many of his BBC performances) are rawer than what he was wont to put on the group’s studio releases. The bass line of the Chuck Berry original, incidentally, provided the inspiration for Paul McCartney’s bass on “I Saw Her Standing There.”

The Beatles' BBC version of "I'm Talking About You" is included on this 2013 compilation.

The Beatles’ BBC version of “I’m Talking About You” is included on this 2013 compilation.

Still – the Beatles’ version is not quite as distinctive, or as different from the original, as the Stones’ take. So –

The Verdict: A decisive win for the Rolling Stones, though not by a huge margin.

Little Queenie: It’s rather amazing – of the half-dozen recordings of seriously performed songs that both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones did in the 1960s, four were Chuck Berry tunes. Again, this should eliminate any doubt that he was their most common shared point of reference, though no doubt there were some other songs (by Berry and others) both bands covered that one or both of them didn’t put on surviving tapes.

The Stones’ version of “Little Queenie” is by far the better known of the two, a late-’69 concert performance having featured on their Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! album. Give the group credit for not just replicating Berry’s version (which some of their earlier Berry covers verge on doing) but slowing it down considerably and making it funkier and more salacious, though that was in keeping with how their whole approach had changed by the late 1960s, especially with Brian Jones out of the band.

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It’s a shame that the only existing Beatles performance of “Little Queenie” is from their lo-fi December 1962 Star-Club tapes, which makes it a little hard to properly face off against the much later one by the Stones. Nonetheless, I’ll go out on a limb and say the Beatles’ version is better. It has a terrifically infectious Paul McCartney vocal, and a really unusual, exhilarating George Harrison guitar solo that has no counterpart in the Berry original. If only they’d recorded this for the BBC in good fidelity, a la “Carol,” there would be no doubt whether this surpassed the Stones’ interpretation. Nonetheless –

The Verdict: The Beatles win, though the marginal fidelity of their version, and the respectable quality of the Stones’ rendition, makes it something of a borderline triumph.

The only Beatles version of "Little Queenie" is on the tapes they recorded in Hamburg in December 1962.

The only Beatles version of “Little Queenie” is on the tapes they recorded in Hamburg in December 1962.

By the way, the Beatles did casually jam on a few other songs the Stones also did during their January 1969 sessions for what was then intended to be the Get Back album and film, though it would be retitled Let It Be. Among them were Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around,” Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike,” Hank Snow/Ray Charles’s “I’m Movin’ On,” Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” and even the Stones’ own “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Lady Jane.” These were just too casually executed, however (and sometimes poorly recorded), to consider serious attempts at a recordable performance. For that reason, they’ve been excluded from this discussion, though for what it’s worth, the versions of “Hitch Hike” (with George Harrison’s fine lead vocals sadly undermiked) and “Not Fade Away” (ditto) aren’t bad.

In sum – is there a winner in the Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones? Even if judged solely on the few songs on which they went toe-to-toe? Seems to me it’s about as close to a draw as it gets. And isn’t that how it should be?

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Memories of Philadelphia Ballparks Past

As I wrote in a post a while ago, Candlestick Park, former home of the San Francisco Giants, is due for demolition pretty soon. That got me thinking of other major league ballparks I’ve been to that no longer exist. There aren’t that many – Connie Mack Stadium (Philadelphia Phillies), Veterans Stadium (also Phillies), the Kingdome (Seattle Mariners), Memorial Stadium (the Baltimore Orioles, which I only went to once), and the old Yankee Stadium (also only visited once).

Connie Mack

Since I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I know Veterans Stadium by far the best of these parks, though I never went there after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1980s. Retrospectives of the Vet, as it was known locally, emphasize the most famous moments – the 1980 World Series victory, the feats of Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, the 1993 pennant with rowdy characters like Lenny Dykstra and John Kruk, and colorful glove-thumping of reliever Tug McGraw, and Pete Rose coming to the Phillies for a few years near the end of his career. This post, though, will recap some of the odder moments of Phillies baseball I saw in person, none of which are likely to get much if any coverage in baseball books.

As a preamble, the very first major league games I saw were in Connie Mack Stadium, the facility (formerly known as Shibe Park) the Phillies played in from 1938 to 1970. When I was seven, I saw my first games at a doubleheader against the Pirates on June 22. The Phillies were pretty bad then, and thought of as pretty star-crossed, never having won a World Series, and having blown the 1964 pennant by losing ten games in a row near the end of the season. Their superstar, Richie (later Dick) Allen, was generating enormous controversy for his knack for irritating management and fans (even writing messages to them in the infield dirt), and in fact would get suspended for about a month just a couple days later for failing to show up for games in New York.

DA 1966

Even at that age, I could tell the neighborhood surrounding Connie Mack Stadium was pretty bad, too. Bad enough that you could, even at that age, tell parents were pretty nervous parking around there, which was just one reason the team moved to a much safer (if more isolated) area in the early 1970s.

The only two other games I saw were a doubleheader against the Giants in 1970. (My parents were very economy-minded, and if they had to take the family to a ballpark, they’d do it just once a year, and get two games out of the way at once.) The Phillies were still bad, but they swept the twinight doubleheader, though in a fashion that still managed to accent their futility. In the first game, Jim Bunning had the chance to become the first pitcher after Cy Young to win 100 games in both the American and National Leagues. He left a 5-4 lead in the hands of ace reliever Dick Selma, who struck out the first two batters in the top of the ninth (the second of them Willie Mays). Then he faced Willie McCovey, and though I can’t look up the count, as I remember got two strikes on him. And then – McCovey hit a home run. The 100th win for Jim Bunning in the national league would have to wait.

It almost looks like this photo was snapped right after Dick Selma gave up a game-tying homer to Willie McCovey, delaying Jim Bunning's chance to become the second pitcher to win 100 games in both the American and National Leagues.

It almost looks like this photo was snapped right after Dick Selma gave up a game-tying homer to Willie McCovey, delaying Jim Bunning’s chance to become the second pitcher to win 100 games in both the American and National Leagues.

Looking back at the Phillies’ 1970 schedule, as you can easily do online these days, I’m struck by how differently games could get bunched up back then. Probably due to a makeup game, the Phillies had also played a twinight doubleheader against the Giants the previous day. And that wasn’t the only time they played doubleheaders on consecutive days that year – they’d done so about a month earlier in two different cities (Montreal and Philadelphia) on July 1 and July 2, that after playing two games in St. Louis on June 28. And dig this – after playing doubleheaders against the Giants on both Friday, July 31 and Saturday, August 1, the Phils would play two-fers against the Pirates August 6 and the Cubs August 9, with no off days the whole while. That’s fourteen games in ten days. Can you imagine the Players Association letting MLB get away with that now?

Also, the day I went to Connie Mack on 1970, it actually hosted a triple-header. How’s that possible, you ask? Well, in the afternoon, the festivities started with the Double-A Eastern League All-Star game, the Phillies having a double-A affiliate not far away in Reading, Pennsylvania. Three games in one day was just too much for my parents, and we saw just a few innings of the All-Star game, in which I’m pretty sure future Phillies slugger Greg Luzinski played. What sticks with me the most, however, is that between the double-header and the first “real” game, I saw one of the Eastern Leaguers, still in uniform, on the concession ramp, talking earnestly with a woman I assume was his wife. Can you imagine that happening at a big-league ballpark these days?

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When Veterans Stadium was torn down about a decade ago, I was amused to hear it referred to as something of a decrepit, characterless structure. Back when it opened in 1971, it (along with two similar, now-demolished stadiums that opened at around the same time, Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium and Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium) was considered cutting-edge state-of-the-art. Not only was it bigger and safer (and in a safer neighborhood with more parking), it had a big electric scoreboard that showed player stats – still something of a novelty then – and cannons, fountains, and a Liberty Bell that were supposed to go off with Phillie home runs.

As it happened, our family went to the second game ever played there, against the Montreal Expos on April 11. The Phils’ big hope that year was new right-fielder Roger Freed, who’d been trapped in an Orioles minor league system overflowing with talent. In 1970 in triple-A, he was the International League’s MVP, hitting .334 with 24 homers and 130 RBIs. The Phillies traded one of their starting pitchers (Grant Jackson, coming off a bad year) to get him. There was even a story in a national magazine (Sport, if I remember correctly) titled something like “Freed at Last.” And, wouldn’t you know it, Freed hit a grand slam, setting off all those artificial fireworks we were hoping to see.

RogerFreed

Except, in a portent of things to come, the fireworks didn’t work. At least, not all at once or like the cannon, fountains, and bell were supposed to. The Phillies did win that game 11-4, but Freed turned out to be a bust, hitting .221 with six homers, getting relegated to part-time duty the following year, and returning to the minors the year after that, never playing regularly in the bigs (or at all for the Phils) again. Grant Jackson didn’t exactly become a star, but he was a good reliever for a long time for the Orioles and the Pirates, winning a game for the latter in the 1979 World Series.

Another odd play that sticks out came four years later, when the Phillies had gotten much better and were finally contenders. In the first game of a Memorial Day twinight doubleheader against the Cubs, Mike Schmidt, who’d ascended to superstardom the previous year after a tough 1973 rookie season, hit a triple in the bottom of the first. In the eyes of one of my relatives also at the game, Schmidt – despite his impressive statistics – could do no right, always failing in the clutch, striking out, or making physical or mental errors at big moments. And as if on cue, Schmidt thought about going for an inside-the-park homer, thought better of it, scampered back to third – and got called out. They didn’t score that inning, and lost the game 7-5. I cannot remember another time I witnessed a player getting tagged out after rounding third on a triple and trying to return to the bag.

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The Phillies continued to get better, despite this mishap, and got into the playoffs in 1976, 1977, and 1978. But they failed to advance to the World Series each time, and despite adding Pete Rose in 1979, they fell out of contention by late summer. I saw what was probably their last hurrah – a 12-inning walk-off victory against their chief rivals (and eventual world champion that year), the Pirates, in the first game of a twinight doubleheader on August 10. Ex-Met Bud Harrelson, whose acquisition my friends and I had soundly derided, knocked in the winning run with a single with two outs in the bottom of the 12th. The Phillies lost the second game, however, and it wouldn’t be until 1980 that they finally cleared the hurdle to the World Series and, against the Royals, won a world championship.

When I think of the earlier years when the Phillies were struggling to first rise to respectability and then to keep from choking themselves in the post-season, one symbol stands out in greater relief than any other. For opening day, the Phillies would hire this guy named “Kiteman” to sort of ski, sans snow, down a ramp in the stands, lift off into the air as if he was an Olympian ski jumper, and make a parachute landing on the field, hopefully on the pitcher’s mound. The thing was, like the Cone of Silence in Get Smart, it never worked, though they tried it more than once. In fact, on Kiteman’s first attempt (actually the first Kiteman’s attempt, since various Kitemen assumed that role over the years), he kind of skidded off the ramp and crashed in the stands, though fortunately he wasn’t seriously hurt. It wasn’t until 1990, in fact, that a Kiteman made it to the pitcher’s mound.

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Nor was having “the Great Wallenda,” tightrope walker Karl Wallenda, walk on a rope suspended high above the field from foul pole to foul pole exactly common between-games (back in the days when there were scheduled doubleheaders) fare. Quite fortunately for all involved, he made those journeys without accident, even standing on his head in the middle of the rope on one televised walk. When Wallenda did fall to his death, it wasn’t at the Vet, but far away, on a walk between two towers in Puerto Rico.

Some Rock History Fanzines You Might Have Missed

Most of the people I know think I have a lot of fanzines, especially when they help me move and ask if all the boxes are going to be this heavy. (Even the movers I hire ask that!) Relative to how many fanzines have been produced, however, I have a pretty meager trickle, even if they do fill up three or so drawers and two or three more boxes. And of the ones I have, I’m usually missing, assuming the zines put out more than one or two issues, a “complete run.” The only long-running one of which I have a complete run, in fact, is Ugly Things, still going strong after having passed its 30th anniversary last year, and just having put out its 37th issue.

The latest issue (#37, spring/summer 2014) of Ugly Things.

The latest issue (#37, spring/summer 2014) of Ugly Things.

To those not immersed in fanzine culture, that might not sound like a schedule worth boasting about. How can a magazine that puts out about one issue a year (it’s actually been on a dependably regular two-a-year schedule for several years now) be considered a raging success story, you’re asking?

Believe me, it is – in fact, Ugly Things has outlasted virtually all of its competition in the longevity sweepstakes, though I’m sure there are one or two UK early rock’n’roll specialty publications I’m unaware of that might have been around longer. That’s one of the distinguishing trademarks of zines – they usually don’t publish regularly or last long. Their ridiculously fanatical niches almost guarantee that, and by their very definition, they’re run as sidelines by “fans,” not as money-making enterprises. Those short lifespans and limited press runs do mean that much crucial coverage they contain gets hard to find once they cease publication, especially as they’re not exactly likely to be carried by the local library (though fanzine archives are starting to be built, if still rarely, in some libraries).

This post is not going to attempt to list and describe every rock history fanzine of note – that’s a library’s job, perhaps (and the “job” of someone who’s paid to do that). Instead, I offer some thoughts on some personal favorites that might have passed you by, and could be hard to find even in this day of ebay and Internet auctions, though they don’t have such high monetary value.

Note too that this won’t cite every worthy rock history zine of note, including my two favorites (both of which are currently published), Ugly Things and the twice-a-year, five-issues-strong Flashback (in part because I’m a contributor to both of them, each of which is professional enough that they’re verging on becoming “real” magazines). Other omissions include some of the most respected and popular ones from earlier decades of rock history fanzinedom, like Bomp, Kicks, Forced Exposure, and Ptolemaic Terrascope. That doesn’t mean there isn’t worthy material in those. I wanted to concentrate on some of the more obscure ones that are getting in danger of being entirely overlooked.

If you do like the energetic ‘60s rock in which Ugly Things specializes, the focus of Here ‘Tis was rather similar, if a little more focused on US rock (though not exclusively, issue #8 featuring a cover story on Mott the Hoople). Like Ugly Things and in fact many zines, in their early days they started as a stapled-together, slim thing with extremely basic fresh-off-the-typewriter design, though that changed quite a bit as they got farther down the road. Its forte, like the best rockzines, was very in-depth features on cult rock musicians, often built around first-hand interviews. Standouts included a mammoth interview with Shadows of Knight/H.P. Lovecraft guitarist Jerry McGeorge (running 20 pages!), a nearly-as-long Q&A with Seeds keyboardist Daryl Hooper, and a 20-pager on the Fallen Angels. I’m actually not a Fallen Angels fan (or much of a Seeds one), but part of the measure of a good fanzine is that it can make a good story out of a band that might not be among your personal favorites.

The final (#9) issue of Here 'Tis.

The final (#9) issue of Here ‘Tis.

By the time of its ninth issue (published in 1999), Here ‘Tis ran 78 pages. But that was as far as they got – and it had never come out too often or regularly, issue #4 (the earliest in my collection) having appeared back in 1988. Aside from that fourth issue, all I have is issues six through nine, which I had to pick up as and when they suddenly appeared – one of them I could only find in London, though it was published in the US. Take heart, however – you can still find issues 8 and 9, for the eminently reasonable price of $8.98, through the Sundazed Music store at http://www.sundazed.com/shop/index.php?cPath=53.

Also at the same page on the Sundazed store is issue #3 of another ‘60s-centered zine, Outasite, run by Greg Prevost (then-Chesterfield Kings singer). The first two issues, barely bigger in size than the palm of your hand, appeared in the early-to-mid-1980s, laid out with a haphazard enthusiasm equal to his passion for ‘60s garage and raw British Invasion sounds. These were crammed with capsule reviews of impossibly rare 45s and interviews with the legendary Barbarians drummer Moulty, the Chocolate Watch Band’s Sean Tolby, and – in a measure of how access to legends was easier in some ways many years ago – Byrds bassist Chris Hillman (who memorably divulged, “People think that we didn’t play on that first album. All you gotta do is hear that first album, and it’s us, because it’s so sloppy”).

If you think Here ‘Tis was published irregularly, it was outdone and then some by Outasite, whose second issue appeared around 1985, and third came out in…1997. And a fourth issue from 2000 (which I haven’t been able to find, unfortunately, and which is not carried by Sundazed) is, as far as I know, the last issue. But in the “interim” between the second and third issues, if that’s the right word, it did expand to conventional 8 ½ X 11 size and a length of more than 100 pages, including interviews with Ray Davies, Nancy Sinatra, Jorma Kaukonen, and Blue Cheer, as well as heroes of Prevost’s who didn’t make it big (like the Nightshadows). He didn’t abandon writing altogether, fortunately – his huge history of the Rolling Stones’ equipment (co-written with Andy Babiuk), Rolling Stones Gear, came out this year.

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The zines hailed so far all have a general 1960s focus. Some good ones, however, had a far more specialized regional one. Such as the short-lived Cream Puff War, which lasted just two issues (spread two years apart) in the early 1990s. In that time, however, editors Jud Cost and Alec Palao conducted groundbreaking interviews with major early San Francisco rock acts who had never been interviewed or investigated with such depth, including the Great Society (Grace Slick’s pre-Jefferson Airplane group), the Charlatans, the Chocolate Watch Band, the Vejtables, and the Mojo Men. Issue #1 even came with a flexidisc of the Final Solution (a spinoff band of the Great Society), whose story was naturally told in the issue itself; the one-sided flexi remains their only released recording.

It was a disappointment that such a zealously assembled zine came to a halt so quickly. But in a sense both editors continued their work as liner note writers and researchers for numerous CD reissues assembling the music of early San Francisco cult rockers, often featuring previously unreleased (and indeed previously unknown) tracks. In some cases, this allowed them to clarify, correct, and expand upon the features they’d done on some of these musicians in Cream Puff War. This is not an uncommon outgrowth of zinedom, incidentally, with the editors of Kicks, for instance, going on to run Norton Records, and Bomp’s Greg Shaw transferring his focus to labels putting out both reissues and records by new bands.

The first issue of Cream Puff War.

The first issue of Cream Puff War.

A couple of years ago, by the way, a friend of mine was selling some of his archives at a local record swap. As I was helping him set up his table, someone came by and asked how much an unpriced copy of the first issue of Cream Puff War was selling for. Before I could say anything, my friend said he’d let it go for a dollar. It’s worth at least ten and perhaps more, but hopefully the buyer appreciated his bargain.

Another ‘60s zine with a strong regional focus was Doug Hanners’s Not Fade Away, subtitled “The Texas Music Magazine.” As with Cream Puff War, a few decades down the line, a lot more is known and easily researchable about Texas ‘60s bands, even those that never had a hit or never made much or any impact beyond the state. Back in the early 1980s, however, this was the only place you could find that info, in part because Hanners spoke at length to principals from some of the best Texan bands. Issue #3 (I’m not sure there were any issues after that) had a big interview with “Mouse,” aka Ronnie Weiss, of Mouse of the Traps (of “A Public Execution” fame). There was another with Carl Becker, who ran the J-Beck and Cee-Bee labels, generators of some of the best garage/psych of the era, especially on recordings by teen wizards Zakary Thaks. So impressed was Eva Records with Not Fade Away’s interview with the leader of Kenny & the Kasuals that they printed the entire thing on the back of one of their compilations of the group – which, these days, might be easier to find than the actual issue in which it appeared.

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Single-artist-centered fanzines tend to be overly gushing in praise of their subject, as, again, you might expect if someone’s enough of a fan to start one. Some, however, have done a great deal to document an artist surely in need of exposure and hard information. The best of these was What Goes On, dedicated to the Velvet Underground. When its first issue came out in 1978, the VU cult, though rabid and quite large, wasn’t anything near as big as it is today. In parallel with the VU’s following, however, What Goes On quickly grew from an eight-page-stapled-together job to a pretty good-looking 56-page one by issue #3 (published in 1982). By that time it had inside tracks to some pretty inside interviews, including chats with Andy Warhol, Nico, and early VU associate Tony Conrad.

Issue #3 of What Goes On.

Issue #3 of What Goes On.

In common with some other zines here, however, What Goes On ran out of some steam despite high quality and (for a zine) a wide base of support. Only two more issues came out, and those not until 1990 and 1996 (a 1986 compilation issue of sorts did add a useful discography/filmography). Frustratingly, a lengthy interview they did with Sterling Morrison – one of the first he ever gave post-VU — was never published. I know, because I volunteered to transcribe much of it. More VU coverage was offered by the perhaps-too-plainly-titled-for-easy-indexing The Velvet Underground zine, whose five issues (from 1993-1996) were highlighted by a long Doug Yule interview in #3.

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Though it never outgrew a basic 14-page format, one fanzine-verging-on-newsletter I liked, in part because its subject was never exactly fashionable among the underground, was Jackie, published by the Jackie DeShannon Appreciation Society. It might not have had much in the way of hard inside information and interviews, but it at least did a lot to document the many songs she wrote that were covered by other artists. And it came out pretty frequently for a while – I have issues 6 through 20 (though I missed #16 somehow), all of which gushed forth between 2001 and 2007. Like some other single-artist zines (such as What Goes On), it also offered rarity compilations that, while not the kind of things you could find in any store, did a lot to fill in discographical gaps that were almost impossible for the average collector to find, due to both their rarity and expense.

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An outstanding one-shot production along these lines was Fairportfolio, which unlike virtually every other fanzine was written and compiled by an insider, not an outsider. Author Kingsley Abbott was a close friend of the band in their early days, and the 64-page production features not just his personal memories of how they formed, recorded, and performed in 1967-69, but also some memorabilia that only he had access to, like handwritten set lists (including some songs Fairport never recorded). I was pretty fortunate to find this shortly after it was published in 1997 (I’m pretty sure I only saw it once), and it must be nigh-on-impossible to locate today. Don’t despair, however; a lengthy article with similar text, quality illustrations, and additional material that basically adopts the essence of Fairportfolio was published just a few months ago in Flashback #5.

Fairportfolio

Even some mediocre one-artist zines have their uses. Yardbirds World, a 110-pager from 1989 (actually a compilation of a few issues of the original Yardbirds World fanzine), was no more elaborately designed than a typewritten college paper, and even then contained more than its share of typos and misspellings. Much of its research into studio and radio sessions has been superseded by more definitive efforts. Yet in the midst of this is a 14-page interview with Jane Relf – sister of Yardbirds lead singer Keith Relf, and singer (alongside Relf and Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty) in the original lineup of Renaissance. If ever there was another printed interview with Jane Relf, let alone one of this length, I’m not aware of it.

YardbirdsWorld

Looking at the price tag, I see it sold for an outrageous $21.95. (Puzzlingly, there are two price tags – one from a now-defunct retail chain and one from a distributor.) I’ve gotta think I got this out of a box of severely discounted stale stock, or at the very least with store credit; I might be a big Yardbirds fan, but I’m not sure I would have paid that much for this. As a bonus, my copy was signed by Jim McCarty – though I’m guessing all copies were signed by Jim McCarty.

Then there are those zines that seem to get off to a promising start and promptly vanish. I liked Breakthrough, a pretty densely packaged 52-pager from 1984 with contributions by some of the top names in early rock history fandom. Most impressive was a long interview with Richard Tepp (of cult ‘60s garage rockers Richard & the Young Lions) and a detailed article on the Myddle Class, New Jersey pop-garagers who headlined the first official Velvet Underground gig in late 1965. All for the (even in 1984 money) eminently reasonable price of $2.00. And then…nothing.

Breakthrough

There are also those zines in which you’ll find something of great value you’d never expect them to contain. Pawing through a box of very low-priced “get-rid-of-these-by-any-means-possible” odds and ends at Sub Pop’s Seattle retail store in 1997, I stumbled across an issue of Feminist Baseball with a huge interview with…Randy Holden, guitarist in a succession of ‘60s surf/garage/psych/early metal bands, from the Sons of Adam and the Other Half to Blue Cheer and Population II. I’d been a fan since finding the Other Half album in 1983, but hadn’t been able to find out anything about Holden. As far as I know, this was the first extensive interview ever done with him. (I believe I did the second just a bit after finding this zine, for my book Urban Spacemen & Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators & Eccentric Visionaries of ‘60s Rock. It’s very hard to be first, as I’ve found out on repeated occasions.)

I’m all for feminism and baseball, but would you expect to find this in a zine titled Feminist Baseball? But there it was, in issue #14, spring/summer 1995, for a buck or two. I don’t remember seeing it before I stumbled upon it, and I don’t remember seeing it since.

Holden

Do I read anything besides ‘60s rock zines, you might be wondering at this point? Well, that’s most of what I collect as far as rock zines go, but there are some others I read, and one for which I even have a complete run. Let’s close with a hand for Chin Music, which put out seven issues between 1997 and 2004. Its focus was the unlikely crossover between baseball and alternative rock music, two institutions that most people would think had as little in common as…well, feminism and baseball.

But Chin Music did its best to bridge that gap, asking alternative rock icons like Guided By Voices and Maximum Rock’n’Roll editor Tim Yohannon about baseball, and actual major league baseball figures like San Francisco Giants pitcher Sean Estes about rock music. Even if no interviews were involved, major league baseball was written about with an irreverent punk rock attitude you’re simply not going to find in your daily paper or ESPN. Nor will you find any sports magazines with this kind of cover image, which – as almost all Chin Music readers would immediately know, but relatively few general sports fans (or general magazine editors) would suspect – satirized the cover of Roxy Music’s 1974 LP, Country Life:

Back issues of Chin Music are still available through chinmusic.net.

Back issues of Chin Music are still available through chinmusic.net.

Glen Park — A Canyon in the City

From the picture below, would you have any idea that this is in the heart of a major metropolitan area of the United States?

Path

Well, you get a little hint that it’s in a city from this different angle:

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That house in the upper right-hand corner is a clue that it’s not in the country (as is the utility pole on the path). It’s Glen Canyon Park (more commonly called simply Glen Park by locals), right in the middle of San Francisco, if there is any “middle” to this irregularly shaped city. Despite its considerable size and fairly easy accessibility, it remains nearly unknown to many people who’ve lived here for years. A friend I met here yesterday (to see the San Francisco Mime Troupe) had never been here before, despite living here for more than twenty years, and currently residing only a mile or so away. I came an hour early to walk along the park’s back trails, not having done so, to my embarrassment, for about 25 years, though I’d often played baseball here in the dozen or so years after that one hike.

The most many residents see of Glen Park is a fractured view such as this one, taken from the long and winding road (O’Shaughnessy Boulevard) that descends alongside it from Portola Drive:

Pit

You’ve gotta dig pretty deep to get into the hilly, trail-covered open space in the pit of that photograph. Even then, it’s not so obvious to visitors who just visit the baseball/soccer fields and playgrounds that take up the most visited space near the bottom, as you need to go in back of the bathrooms and park buildings to get into the canyon proper.

Once there, it’s just a few minutes of walking before you’re into some hilly open space so quiet it’s hard to believe there’s plenty of traffic buzzing up and down the canyon just a few hundred yards away:

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Fence

As those photos indicate, there are plenty of rock formations in the park:

RockFormation2

RockFormation1

RockClimbers

Though you can cover most of the trails in an hour max, and none of the hills are terribly steep, it’s not advised for those with knee or mobility problems, since there are more or less constant inclines. Though there are plenty of steps to help you over the hillier parts:

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And at times the trails do take you past sections at which you’re suddenly confronted with urban structures, such as this house that nearly spills onto a path:

House

So it’s not quite “country in the city,” but check it out if you’ve lived here and wonder what’s down that big canyon that you can’t really see as you drive back and forth from the Mission to Golden Gate Park.

Canopy

Click here for basic information about Glen Canyon Park.