All posts by Folkrox

San Francisco resident Richie Unterberger is the author of numerous rock history books, including Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll and a two-part history of 1960s folk-rock, Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High. His book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film won a 2007 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research. His latest books are White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day and Won't Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia. Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High have now been revised/updated/expanded and combined into the ebook Jingle Jangle Morning, which adds a 75,000-word new bonus mini-book. He is also author of The Rough Guide To Music USA, a guidebook to the evolution of regional popular music styles throughout America in the 20th century; The Rough Guide To Jimi Hendrix; The Rough Guide to Seattle; and (as co-author) The Rough Guide to Shopping with a Conscience. He is a frequent contributor to MOJO and Record Collector, and has written hundreds of liner notes for CD reissues. Since 2011, he’s taught courses on rock music history at the College of Marin. He lives in San Francisco. He gives regular presentations on rock and soul history throughout the Bay Area incorporating rare vintage film clips and audio recordings, at public libraries and other venues. Since summer 2011, he has taught community education courses at the College of Marin on the Beatles, San Francisco rock of the 1960s and 1970s, and the history of rock from 1955 to 1980. For more info, go to richieunterberger.com.

Folk-Rock Findings at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives

Last night I gave a presentation at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives about my books on 1960s folk-rock. Most of it was centered around rare film clips, but I was also asked to talk a bit about the research I’ve done at the library over the past two weeks ((thanks to a grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation). This is for the expanded ebook edition of my two-volume work on 1960s folk-rock, Turn! Turn! Turn! (published as a print edition in 2002) and Eight Miles High (published as a print edition in 2003), which I’m combining into a single ebook, Jingle Jangle Morning: Folk-Rock in the 1960s.

It would take many hours and many pages to cover all of the material I’ve discovered at the library. So I used just a few images to illustrate how rare items could shed some light on folk-rock’s history, even after having written about it for 600 pages in the print editions. All of these are taken from ads that appeared between 1965 and 1967 in Cash Box, the biggest music trade magazine besides Billboard, but (unlike Billboard) very hard to find copies of these days, in public libraries or anywhere else.

Let’s start with an ad for one of the first folk-rock releases of all, by the most famous songwriter associated with the genre, Bob Dylan:

CASHBOX_Dylan001_watermarked-page-0

While Dylan had been a pretty big album-seller for a couple of years by the time this ad (and the 45 it promotes) appeared in March 1965, he had yet to issue a hit single, and in fact had barely issued anything in the seven-inch format in the US. The biggest sales of recordings of Dylan songs belonged not to the songwriter himself, but to Peter, Paul & Mary, who made the Top Ten with “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

This ad shows Columbia got heavily behind Dylan as a singles artist as soon as he made the transition from acoustic folk to rock. Whether that was because they thought rock would be more commercial or because they were getting tired of other labels reaping higher sales from Bob’s songs is impossible to say. But here the company emphatically makes the point that “no one sings Dylan like Dylan” — a phrase that would be quoted many times in subsequent years, and might make its first appearance here. Too bad the ad’s photo (from the cover of Dylan’s third album, The Times They Are A-Changin’) that was about a year out of date by the time “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was issued, both on a single and on Dylan’s fifth album, early 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home.

It wasn’t long before a Dylan song from Bringing It All Back Home got to #1 — not as performed by Dylan, but by the Byrds, who took “Mr. Tambourine Man” to the top of the charts. The Byrds were also on Columbia Records, which might have removed the sting just a little. That ignited a near-instant rush by other artists to cover Dylan songs, even as Columbia issued another Dylan cover from the Byrds’ debut album, “All I Really Want to Do,” as the follow-up to “Mr. Tambourine Man.” In fact, another Hollywood act, Cher, put out her version at the same time, outperforming the Byrds on the Billboard charts. Cash Box took the extraordinary step of combining both versions into the same chart entry, the (presumably) combined sales and airplay getting “All I Really Want to Do” to peak at #9 in the magazine’s listings on August 14, 1965.

Exercising damage control, and maybe out of desperation, the Byrds’ single was flipped and remarketed with the original B-side, Gene Clark’s composition “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” promoted as the A-side. This ad tells the story:

CASHBOX_Byrds001_watermarked-page-0

Byrds PR man Derek Taylor (most famed for his work in a similar capacity for the Beatles) tries as best he can to be pissed off with dignity in the ad’s copy, declaring: “All we really want to do is remind you that America is a spacious country and that Bobby Dylan is a large talent. There’s ample room in the vast embrace of the nation’s record-buyers and Dylan’s creativity for the Byrds, for Sonny and Cher, and a score more. Having made the point, we feel a whole lot better.” But despite the ad announcing the single’s entry into the Top Twenty on four Los Angeles charts, “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” wouldn’t break out nationally. At least the incident afforded an opportunity to use a great, seldom-seen picture of the band, with leader Roger McGuinn consulting the slide rule he was reported to carry around with him, this photo supplying the proof.

Sliding farther down the Byrds and Gene Clark thread, Clark — the band’s primary songwriter on their first two albums — left the group in early 1966 to pursue a solo career. This wasn’t commercially successful, his debut solo LP, Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers, failing to chart at all when it appeared in early 1967. Clark has a devoted cult following, and many hardcore fans of Clark and other artists who don’t get sales on par with the passion of their admirers blame record labels for the failure of such records to reach a wide audience. Undoubtedly poor promotion is indeed often to blame in such instances, but it’s simply not true that Columbia did nothing to promote Gene’s solo career. The December 10, 1966 issue of Cash Box contained this extraordinary two-page ad for the single that previewed the record, “Echoes”:

CASHBOX_Clark001_watermarked-page-0

 

CASHBOX_Clark002_watermarked-page-0

It was rare for labels to take out a two-page ad for anything, and also rare, in 1966 at any rate, for ads to reprint lyrics of a single in full. There were a good number of ads that did so in the final years of the ‘60s, however — a change that folk-rock likely did much to foster, as it made rock lyrics (and lyrics in popular music as a whole) taken far more seriously than they had been before folk-rock’s emergence.

As an aside, there were quite a few instances when I came across prominent ads for records that had been alleged to have been poorly promoted. Take, for example, this single by Blackburn & Snow, one of the finest underrated and overlooked early San Francisco folk-rock acts:

CASHBOX_Blackburn001_watermarked-page-0

Despite an abundance of fine, and finely harmonized, original material, few tracks (and no LP) were issued by Blackburn & Snow while they were active in 1966 and 1967, though a full CD finally emerged in 1999. Only two singles came out at the time, however, and even those appeared somewhat belatedly after they began their recording career. “I think if it had been marketed well, and it had come out early enough, it would have done something,” Sherry Snow (now known as Halimah Collingwood) told me when I interviewed her for the book. “It isn’t like I didn’t try,” countered Frank Werber (most famous for managing the Kingston Trio), who recorded them for his Trident production company. “There was not a lot of interest. From anybody.”

I don’t want to pick on Halimah Collingwood by using this ad as an example — she gave me a lengthy, friendly, and candid interview. Many other artists have claimed their releases were inadequately publicized. But this full-page ad does indicate that there was some substantial promotion behind their “Stranger in a Strange Land” single, when it finally did come out, about a year the track was recorded.

And as a trivial note, who wrote “Stranger in a Strange Land”? David Crosby, who’d been a housemate of Snow’s in Venice, California, before the Byrds formed. The Byrds tried it in the studio themselves, but only got as far as cutting the song’s unissued instrumental backing track, subsequently released on the expanded Turn! Turn! Turn! CD.

Sometimes ads can tell a more serious story than the loss of record sales due to bungled promotion. Janis Ian’s “Society Child” was turned down by numerous labels owing to its controversial subject (interracial dating), and even after it was released in 1966, many radio stations were reluctant to play it. It was only after she sang it on a Leonard Bernstein-hosted CBS special on pop music in April 1967 that it was picked up by enough stations to make it a national hit. The story’s been told many times, by Ian and others.

I didn’t doubt Ian’s account, but a couple Cash Box ads supplied vivid proof. Look at this one, from October 1, 1966:

CASHBOX_Ian001_watermarked-page-0

Here the Verve/Folkways label’s praising 17 radio stations in 13 cities that had the courage to play “Society’s Child,” including, most surprisingly, three in the South (in Columbus, Georgia; Augusta, Georgia; and Columbia, South Carolina), where resistance to the single (and integration in general) was heaviest.

Now look at this ad from more than seven months later, after “Society’s Child” finally started to break out nationally:

CASHBOX_Ian002_watermarked-page-0

That verifies the influence the TV special had in making the single a hit, but more intriguingly, contains this note from KRLA, one of the most powerful radio stations in Los Angeles:

“In the past, KRLA has taken pride in displaying the courage and honesty to broadcast controversial material of social and artistic significance. We are embarrassed however, by a recent timidity in not playing a remarkable record which deserves to be heard…Now, with thanks to Leonard Bernstein for leading the way…and with apologies for our ‘cop-out,’ KRLA presents 16-year-old JANIS IAN with SOCIETY’s CHILD.” — Radio Station KRLA, Los Angeles

A vivid illustration, then, of both the initial obstacles to the record’s success, and network television’s role in getting a key outlet to reconsider its stance. Then, as now, it’s rare for an institution of any sort to apologize for anything so publicly.

By the way, the reason Ian got on the TV show in the first place was because New York Times music critic Robert Shelton played “Society’s Child” for Bernstein’s producer, David Oppenheim, who in turn played it to Bernstein. Shelton’s most known for writing the first prominent, glowing review of a Dylan show (back in September 1961 for the Times), as well as generally helping Dylan’s rise as his most prominent champion in the press. Here’s another instance, however, in which he helped change pop history.

Not every ad has to make such a heavy point to be worth investigating, or tell you much about why a record did or didn’t make it. I leave you with this goofy-as-all-get-out ad for Simon & Garfunkel’s single “At the Zoo”:

CASHBOX_SandG001_watermarked-page-0

Here’s guessing Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel did not see or approve this ad before it got printed in March 1967. Maybe Art wouldn’t have minded being cast as the lion, but it’s hard to see Paul being pleased to be the panda. As the ‘60s finished, artists like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young would insist such frivolous promotion be discontinued. And they’d get their way — just one overlooked example of how folk-rock helped give musicians more control over not just their product, but also their promotion, as musicians demanded and received a voice in how they were advertised.

Thanks to the staff at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives for their help with assembling images for this post.

One or Two Things I (And You) Didn’t Know About the Yardbirds

I’m not at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives to research the Yardbirds, but they’re one of those groups that I try to gather as much material on as possible no matter what the channel. So it is that last week I stumbled across a couple of items I’d never seen before, though I’ve tried to find out as much as I can about them for 35 years or so.

For instance, the December 1969 issue of ZigZag (the first true UK underground rock paper) has an interview with singer Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty that’s new to me. Most of it’s about Renaissance, the group they formed shortly after the Yardbirds split in mid-1968. But here’s an interesting quote about the Yardbirds:

“Jeff Beck virtually took over. If we wanted to do something soft and peaceful, it was very difficult — he wasn’t interested at all. We managed to make “Still I’m Sad,” but I don’t think he was involved in that; I don’t think he was even there when we recorded it.”

As half of a double-A-side with "Evil Hearted You," "Still I'm Sad" was a #3 single in the UK in 1965, though it was only a B-side in the US.

As half of a double-A-side with “Evil Hearted You,” “Still I’m Sad” was a #3 single in the UK in 1965, though it was only a B-side in the US.

(A little annoyingly, the separate responses by Relf and McCarty are not identified in the article. All of them are attributed to “R.”)

I don’t doubt that Beck was less into “soft and peaceful” sounds than Relf and McCarty. Part of the reason those two guys left the Yardbirds, after all, was that they wanted to do soft folk-rockish stuff with harmonies, a la some of the Turtles’ and Simon & Garfunkel’s output (as you can hear on the few tracks they cut as a duo, under the name Together).

Nonetheless, the guitar solo on “Still I’m Sad” absolutely sounds like Beck to me. It has that great snaky, almost Asian-Middle Eastern sound typical of much of his Yardbirds work, with the swelling and ebbing sustain that was also characteristic of a lot his mid-‘60s playing. If it wasn’t Beck, who was it? Chris Dreja, then their rhythm guitarist? A top session guitarist like Big Jim Sullivan, or even a pre-Yardbirds Jimmy Page?

Maybe Beck indeed didn’t like the song, though it was a classic groundbreaking work that was one of the first rock hits (in the UK it was, at any rate) to draw upon serious non-romantic introspective lyrical themes and exotic world music elements, including Gregorian chant-like backing vocals. But I doubt he wasn’t on the session, even if he didn’t participate in the chanting (though it’s been verified colorful Yardbirds manager/co-producer Giorgio Gomelsky did).

Before leaving Jeff Beck for his successor, another thing I happened upon was an Epic Records press release for the Yardbirds from July 1965 — possibly the first one issued on their behalf in the US. “One of the atomic-like forces produced by England’s musical invasion of America, and a force destined to leave a permanent mark, is a group which calls itself the Yardbirds,” it begins, and if it was probably written in the spirit of overhype, it turned out to be absolutely correct.

Incorrect is the claim that their debut single  “I Wish You Would”/“A Certain Girl” made the Top Ten in England; actually, it didn’t make the UK charts at all. Not exactly false, but weirdly worded, is the claim that Jeff Beck “plays the lead guitar and violin as well as the electric saw. Besides his obvious physical attributes and a look of ‘innocence,’ Jeff can boast an ability to simulate wacky, offbeat sounds on the guitar.”

Epic was about to push the "Heart Full of Soul" single when it issued their 1965 Yardbirds press release, perhaps not realizing that the US picture sleeve pictured the Eric Clapton lineup, not the Jeff Beck one that played on the tracks.

Epic was about to push the “Heart Full of Soul” single when it issued their 1965 Yardbirds press release, perhaps not realizing that the US sleeve pictured the Eric Clapton lineup, not the Jeff Beck one that played on the tracks.

The other item was from the June 29, 1968 issue of Cash Box, announcing the Yardbirds were splitting. Cash Box was the second-biggest music trade magazine of the time (Billboard was the biggest), although it, unlike Billboard, is damnably hard to find in public libraries:

Lead guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist Chris Dreja [who’d switched to bass from rhythm guitar a little after Page joined in mid-1966] will continue using the Yardbirds name, although billing will include a “featuring Jimmy Page” tag when the Yardbirds return to the States in October for a series of college concerts. Page returned to London Thursday June 13 to start auditioning for a new drummer and vocalist. He also plans to incorporate a mellotron into the new act. This will be played by the vocalist. “No one has ever toured with one before; it’s a very delicate instrument,” Page stated.

The Yardbirds never would come back to the US to tour under the billing "featuring Jimmy Page." But oddly enough, this live LP of a March 1968 concert in New York was issued with the "featuring Jimmy Page" billing in 1971. It was quickly withdrawn from the market, though it's since been frequently bootlegged.

The Yardbirds never would come back to the US to tour under the billing “featuring Jimmy Page.” But oddly enough, this live LP of a March 30, 1968 concert in New York was issued with the “featuring Jimmy Page” billing in 1971. It was quickly withdrawn from the market, though it’s since been frequently bootlegged.

It’s not so surprising the band would have been themselves as the Yardbirds “featuring Jimmy Page” had they continued (they didn’t) or returned to the US in October (they didn’t do that either, obviously). Page wasn’t all that famous when the Yardbirds broke up, as all of their big hits predated his promotion to lead guitarist in late 1966 (though he did play dual lead with Beck for a few months before that, most notably on the classic single “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”). But he was the most famous of the four guys in their final lineup, with the possible exception of Relf, and already pretty well known to devoted rock fans for his guitar brilliance, if more so live than on the generally disappointing records they cut after Beck’s departure.

No, what’s strange about this bulletin is Page’s apparent plan to hire a combination singer/mellotronist. The mellotron itself was a new and very expensive instrument in mid-1968; not many rock musicians had one or knew how to play it. I can think of very few who could have both sung and played the instrument onstage, and just carting the thing around on tour those days was difficult and rare, if it was being done at all. Graham Bond, Rod Argent of the Zombies, and Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues (who wasn’t one of their primary singers, but did take some lead vocals) could have done it, most likely, though none seem like a particularly good fit for the post-Yardbirds/pre-Led Zeppelin combo Page had in mind.

Can you imagine singers showing up for auditions, only to be told that they’d need to play a mellotron too? It would certainly seem to limit the pool of available choices. But this couldn’t have been an erroneous report, or a joke by Page taken seriously, as a very similar, fuller account appeared around the same time in the June 21, 1968 issue of Go magazine:

GoMag

As the article states, “Jimmy plans to add a mellotron to the instrumentation. He wants his singer to be able to play a keyboard instrument so that he will be able to handle the mellotron.” As he explains in the piece:

The whole idea is to get a new sort of collage of sound that is not the sound normally associated with a rock’n’roll group. But it will still have a beat backing…The mellotron will be there to give added interest, but the guitar will still be featured.

How would it have sounded? We don’t know, because the Yardbirds didn’t continue under that name with a revised lineup, though they briefly traded under the “New Yardbirds” name. Instead, they evolved into Led Zeppelin. Dreja dropped out, John Paul Jones stepped in, the new drummer was John Bonham, and the new singer was Robert Plant, who didn’t play the mellotron.

It’s too bad, though, that there weren’t rehearsal tapes or something like that exploring Page’s idea. It sounds kind of cool, and in keeping with the Yardbirds’ generally fearlessly experimental bent throughout their career.

Poster for a show  Led Zeppelin played under the name "The New Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page," at  the University of Surrey on October 25, 1968.

Poster for a show Led Zeppelin played under the name “The New Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page,” at the University of Surrey on October 25, 1968.

The Great Lost Christopher Guest-Michael McKean Tape

For the past week or so, I’ve been doing research at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives. Sometimes you run across interesting items that have nothing to do with what you’re researching. Like this 1971 memo from Warner Brothers executive Mo Ostin rejecting a tape from Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and a couple unnamed musicians:

“After a careful listen, we came away awfully impressed by the great country instrumental performances of which the band is capable. However, we just couldn’t shake the feeling that the vocal weaknesses of Guest & McKean are strong enough to stand in the way of our adding their names to an already crowded artists’ roster.”

Guest and McKean, of course, would about a dozen years later front Spinal Tap. Back in the early 1970s, McKean was part of the radio comedy group the Credibility Gap, along with another future Spinal Tapper, Harry Shearer:

Part of the Credibility Gap in the early 1970s, with Harry Shearer (left), David L. Lander (center), and Michael McKean (right)

Part of the Credibility Gap in the early 1970s, with Harry Shearer (left), David L. Lander (center), and Michael McKean (right)

Adding insult to injury, attached is a brief evaluation sheet from producer Ted Templeman. The instrumental performance is rated “great country stuff.” The vocal performance is rated “No good.” The material is rated “also no good.” The eight lines of space given for comment contain just one word: “Pass.” (Templeman’s most noted for producing early records by Van Morrison, the Doobie Brothers, Montrose, and Van Halen, as well as being in the late-‘60s group Harpers Bizarre.)

Funnily enough, McKean would record for Warner Brothers as part of the Credibility Gap just a few years later. Maybe the tape he made with Guest that the label rejected was a country-rock satire, and Templeman and Ostin thought it was a “real” group?

A rare 1973 Warner Brothers single by the Credibility Gap.

A rare 1973 Warner Brothers single by the Credibility Gap.

At one time, incidentally, McKean was part of a very well known “real group.” He was briefly in the Left Banke, but not during their early prime.

Also in that file were a couple great licensing rejections of UK bands from Russ Titelman, the producer most known for working with Randy Newman. Van Der Graaf Generator is dismissed as “prima donna rock.” Edgar Broughton: “varying degrees of sheer boredom.”

Van der Graaf Generator: "prima donna rock."

Van der Graaf Generator: “prima donna rock.”

Edgar Broughton Band: "vary ing degrees of sheer boredom."

Edgar Broughton Band: “vary ing degrees of sheer boredom.”

Now both of those bands had and have their champions, some of whom would get incensed by the pithy flippancy of those thumbs-downs. But I find the waste-no-words phrases refreshing in their blunt honesty, given that some other executive memos of the time parse their rejections in terms like “this is really exceptional, but not quite exceptional enough for our high standards,” “fine stuff, but we’re not the right label for it,” “excellent, but no room on our roster for this artist at this time,” etc.

The 1971 Guest-McKean tape itself, unfortunately, was not in the file. So I can’t tell you whether this unnamed Guest-McKean outfit was the lost Flying Burrito Brothers, or, perhaps better yet, the equivalent of a country-rock Spinal Tap.

An Indians Game At Progressive Field: Low-Key Baseball for Out-of-Town Fans

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a major league baseball game outside of San Francisco or Oakland. An absurdly long time, maybe, considering how much time I spend listening to games on the radio. It’s been maybe ten years since the last one I saw out of town, in Seattle. Until today, that is, when I went to Progressive Field to see the A’s beat the Indians 13-3 in downtown Cleveland.

Progressive Field, with downtown Cleveland in the background, May 18, 2014.

Progressive Field, with downtown Cleveland in the background, May 18, 2014.

When it opened twenty years ago, Progressive Field (named Jacobs Field until 2008) was one of the first wave of the new, modern downtown ballparks springing up in the wake of Baltimore’s Camden Yards. It might be a little less impressive now than it was then, now that somewhat more spectacular stadiums have opened in San Francisco and Pittsburgh, and quite a few other teams have relocated to spiffy downtown spaces. It’s still a good place to see a game, though, and has its advantages even over AT&T Park in San Francisco, if maybe not always the ones that fans and owners would like.

The view as you approach the entrance to Progressive Field.

The view as you approach the entrance to Progressive Field.

One that no one would object to is the friendliness of the staff. Nothing’s free in San Francisco, so it was with some astonishment that I was handed a free program guide upon entering, the helpful fellow also giving us unhurried, precise directions to our seats. Not that AT&T’s staff aren’t friendly, but the friendliness is a lot less frenetic when there aren’t tens of thousands of fans swarming into the gates at once. Which is the advantage for a visitor like me that the average Clevelander probably wouldn’t like to see happening. One reason the pace is so relaxed is that fans aren’t turning out to Jacobs Field like they used to, let alone like they do in San Francisco, where there’s been years of consecutive sellouts. Here’s a shot of some outfield seats just minutes before game time:

Left field seats at Progressive Field aren't sold out these days, like they were in the old days.

Left field seats at Progressive Field aren’t sold out these days, like they were in the old days.

Nice to see former Indian greats honored on the billboards, anyway. In this shot, we see images of Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the American League, and Herb Score, the pitcher who got off to a sensational start in his first couple seasons in the mid-1950s before his career was derailed when he was hit in the face by a line drive. (Score went on to broadcast Indian games on TV and radio for more than 30 years.)

It’s hard to believe now, but the Indians used to sell out games for years at a time. The stadium isn’t as novel now, and the team (despite a good year in 2013) isn’t as good, currently residing in the cellar ten games out of first. Looking on the bright side, that does mean you get a much more, dare I say, mellow experience from the stands, with plenty of room to stretch out, and fan banter so low-key that it’s easy to hold a conversation in normal voice (when they’re not blasting Queen between innings). My friend Laura was even able to yell her beer order to a vendor from almost a dozen seats over with no problem getting heard.

As it was in the sixties and sunny, it was a great mid-May Sunday to be at the ballpark. It wasn’t so great for the Indians, who fell behind pretty early and just kept losing ground. Pitching changes such as the one below were all-too-common sights, though that didn’t keep the strangely attired mascot from dancing on the dugout late in the contest:

Another pitching change as the Indians fell farther and farther behind the A's.

Another pitching change as the Indians fell farther and farther behind the A’s.

Strange peanut mascot dances on the dugout, much as Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

Strange peanut mascot dances on the dugout, much as Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

We were also able to walk over the bridge to the stadium from the neighborhood where I was staying. Which was worth it for this view of downtown, dominated by Terminal Tower:

Terminal Tower (the leftmost of the two tall buildings here) dominates this view of downtown Cleveland.

Terminal Tower (the leftmost of the two tall buildings here) dominates this view of downtown Cleveland.

The Rolling Stone Record Guide: The Worst of the Worst, In My (And Your?) Collection

It might seem relatively puny today when there are so many other sources for album reviews in print and on the Internet, but when it came out in late 1979, The Rolling Stone Record Guide was a godsend to those of us just building our music collections. Crucially, it didn’t just list and describe almost 10,000 records, but also gave them critical analysis (if often briefly in the case of most of the more minor artists) and ratings. Like many another publication rating albums, movies, books, and in these days of Yelp everything from restaurants to chiropractors, the scale went from one star (“poor”) to five stars (“indispensable”). Well, that wasn’t quite the whole range. There was also a no-star rating, represented not by a star but by a solitary square, reserved for the worst of the worst.

The Incredible String Band’s U—dubious recipient of the lowest rating in the original Rolling Stone Record Guide.

The Incredible String Band’s U—dubious recipient of the lowest rating in the original Rolling Stone Record Guide.

These bottoms of the barrel were represented by a symbol that looked like this: ◼. Just so you were in no doubt as to how they felt about those no-stars, squares, bullets, or whatever you wanted to call them, these were described as referring to albums that were “Worthless: records that need never (or should never) have been created. Reserved for the most bathetic bathwater.” Oof!

Thirty-five years later, naturally, many fans would find much to disagree with. All three albums listed by Rock and Roll Hall of Famers AC/DC get the bullet, for instance (not that this bothers me), as do some records by cult favorites like the Dictators, Wild Man Fischer, and Audience. These were also the days when rock critics weren’t as sensitive about hurting artists’ feelings, and some of the dismissals are pretty funny and withering no matter what you think about the LP. Hello People, for instance, are panned as “the ultimate evidence that mime acts should not be allowed to make records.” Sometimes they don’t even bother making fun of the turkey: Dap Sugar Willie’s entry, for instance, reads in total, “Least funny black comic alive. (Now deleted).” Does anyone remember the poor devil?

Dap Sugar Willie, dissed by the Rolling Stone Record Guide as the "least funny black comic alive," though they rather undermined their authority by misspelling his name as Dap Sugar Willy in their entry.

Dap Sugar Willie, dissed by the Rolling Stone Record Guide as the “least funny black comic alive,” though they rather undermined their authority by misspelling his name as Dap Sugar Willy in their entry.

Nuggets from those no-star reviews would make for entire post of their own. In this one, however, I’m going to focus on those no-star albums that I own. Yes, I do own some of them, even though some would think it’s part of my rock critic job to scare people away from such items. Now that so many years have passed, out of morbid curiosity I flicked through the volume last weekend to find out just how many resided in my collection, especially as I got a used copy in decent shape for a dollar last year. (A sound investment, as the binding on copy I got in late 1979 as a 17-year-old has long since crumbled, though I still have that too.)

The first, and still best, edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide, from 1979.

The first, and still best, edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide, from 1979.

I was surprised to count just four albums the guide judged “worthless” that reside in my collection. That’s not so much a testament to my good taste, or (even worse) a similarity between my tastes and those of the guide’s writers, as a reflection of the guide’s incompleteness. Even sticking to pre-1980 albums, there were many, many — thousands, at the least — LPs the guide didn’t cover, either because they were out of print or because the editors/writers simply weren’t aware of them, so many vintage rock records having yet to be discovered or analyzed. I could not guarantee, for instance, that the guide wouldn’t have given the lowest rating to some of my cult favorites, like records by Satya Sai Maitreya Kali or Savage Rose, had they been included.

Enough excuses. What were the four records I own that they stomped on? Naturally, I think all of them have their merits, and certainly none deserve the no-star slag. Let’s start with the 1970 double album by the Incredible String Band, U. I put the front picture near the top of this post, so here’s a promo poster  for variety:

Poster for the Incredible String Band's live performance of U, which they attempted only a few times before lack of money and audience enthusiasm put an end to the enterprise.

Poster for some  Incredible String Band live performances of U, which they attempted only a few times before lack of money and audience enthusiasm put an end to the enterprise.

Fans of albums that get savaged often accuse the reviewers of not even listening to the records. That’s probably usually not true, but I do wonder, in this case, if the critic who penned the Incredible String Band entry (Ariel Swartley) spent much time with U. Swartley liked some of the ISB’s records, particularly their second (1967’s 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion) and third (1968’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter), which have always been their most popular among critics. U is not specifically commented upon, though the later LPs are generally dismissed as not being on par with their earlier and better efforts.

To me, however, U is undisputedly their most enjoyable album, and certainly their most diverse, though the two-LP format had much to do with that. Like some double albums, there’s some pretentious overambition at work, especially as it was in essence the soundtrack to a failed multimedia production incorporating mime, theater, and miscellaneous performance art. Here’s what I wrote in the discography to my book Jingle Jangle Morning: Folk-Rock in the 1960s:

Perhaps a double LP (now a double CD) adding up to almost two hours is too much to take even for Incredible String Band fans. Yet even though this only sprung into being as the soundtrack of sorts to the ISB’s ambitious multi-media stage production U, it was actually for the most part among the band’s most listenable material, rewarding patient admirers. While “The Juggler’s Song” had the sort of medieval minstrelsy that audiences had come to expect, this album’s more unexpected instrumental excursions with sitar and electric guitar counted among the ISB’s most far-reaching and experimental endeavors.

The ebook Jingle Jangle Morning combines the two-part 1960s folk-rock history Turn! Turn! Turn! and EIght Miles High into one volume. Besides revising, updating, and expanding the original text, it also adds a new 75,000-word bonus mini-book.

The ebook Jingle Jangle Morning combines the two-part 1960s folk-rock history Turn! Turn! Turn! and EIght Miles High into one volume. Besides revising, updating, and expanding the original text, it also adds a new 75,000-word bonus mini-book.

I’m not even a huge Incredible String Band, but find the no-star rating puzzling. As I do, in fact, the consensus among a number of critics that the ISB’s best albums were 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion and The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, after which they took a long downhill ride. Even ISB producer Joe Boyd holds this view, putting much of the blame on their (as he sees it) artistic slide after the group’s conversion to Scientology. But however one views their career arc, my own view is that U isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s rather good.

Another album of mine to get the dreaded ◼ was Dan Hicks’s 1969 debut Original Recordings. This has the first released versions of some of his most famous, wittiest tunes, like “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?,” “I Scare Myself,” “Canned Music,” and “Milk Shakin’ Mama.” Context could be key to the rough rating—again, as it happens, assigned by Ariel Swartley, who praises Hot Licks backup singers Maryann Price and Naomi Eisenberg elsewhere in the Dan Hicks entry. Price and Eisenberg, as Swartley notes, weren’t on Original Recordings, some of whose songs were cut in different versions for other releases (there’s even a recording of “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?” by Hicks’s pre-Hot Licks band the Charlatans, though it wouldn’t come out until 1996).

Dan Hicks's debut album.

Dan Hicks’s debut album.

But on its own terms, Original Recordings is a fine, funny, enjoyable (if somewhat low-key) twisted country swing record. There’s something of an underproduced demo feel that’s a little surprising considering it came out on a major label (Columbia subsidiary Epic). But it’s certainly not worthy of a ◼, even by hardcore fans of the Price-Eisenberg-era Hot Licks. One of the backup singers on Original Recordings, incidentally, was Sherry Snow, who’d been half of one of the most overlooked mid-‘60s Bay Area folk-rock acts, Blackburn & Snow.

The third of my four albums to get the ◼ buzzer is perhaps a more understandable target. Issued in 1975, the Rolling Stones’ Metamorphosis was a motley collection of 1960s outtakes not assembled or blessed by the band. A few such exploitative compilations of marginalia also get the ◼ rating, notably the 1973 Bob Dylan anthology Dylan. Dave Marsh (the book’s principal editor) goes as far as to warn readers away from the album, writing “a wise person would pass this up, if only out of respect for the group” (just after conceding that its cover of Chuck Berry’s “Don’t Lie to Me” is decently done).

Metamorphosis had one of the ugliest covers ever foisted upon a major rock group.

Metamorphosis had one of the ugliest covers ever foisted upon a major rock group.

Yet for hardcore fans—and when we’re talking about the Rolling Stones, those surely number in the hundreds of thousands—Metamorphosis is essential Stones history, and at points quite enjoyable. (Even if it does sport one of the ugliest covers ever, almost as if ABKCO was trying to frighten customers away.) Besides “Don’t Lie to Me,” “If You Let Me” is a quite nice folky outtake (variously dated by different sources to the Between the Buttons and Aftermath sessions), though it sounds a bit like a demo that didn’t get finished, a la some other Stones tracks from this period that didn’t make it onto their core UK LPs (like “Sittin’ on a Fence”). “Downtown Suzie” is a quite passable bluesy, boozy late-‘60s outtake that holds additional interest as one of the few Bill Wyman compositions recorded by the band.

On the downside, the mid-‘60s demos comprising the heart of Metamorphosis don’t even feature the whole band, with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards the only vocal and instrumental contributors. In addition, most of these are the wimpy pop tunes they gave to other artists as they were struggling to become songwriters, given most un-Stonesy overblown orchestral arrangements. For those very reasons, however, they’re also fascinating looks at their early compositional efforts, and not without their catchy moments, if hardly on par with the best early British Invasion originals (let alone their own originals once they hit their stride with “Satisfaction”).

You do have to suffer through vastly inferior versions of “Heart of Stone,” “Out of Time,” and “Memo from Turner” (the last of these a solo single for Mick Jagger when featured in the movie in which he starred, Performance), not to mention shabby annotation devoid of detail. As a final insult, the US version cut off two songs (albeit two of the flimsiest) that appeared on the UK version, cementing the feeling it was something of a ripoff. If it was a bootleg rather than an official release, however, it would be treasured for the insights it offers into little-known corners of the early Stones’ career. It certainly doesn’t deserve to be branded with a ◼, even when judged against the band’s other work. I’d sure as hell rather hear this than Steel Wheels.

There was even a bootleg built around purportedly alternate versions of songs from Metamorphosis.

There was even a bootleg built around purportedly alternate versions of songs from Metamorphosis.

It was something of a surprise that the fourth and final item from my collection to get tarred with a ◼ was included in the original edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide at all. Pearls Before Swine were an underground cult band even at their peak, and like many such acts are far more revered now—by some critics and collectors, at least—then they were while they were around. Their precious brand of acid folk (a term not even in circulation when Pearls Before Swine started in the late 1960s) was not going to please all analysts, however. And like the Incredible String Band, they were in some ways polarizing, inspiring both fervid devotion and intense annoyance.

Bart Testa, one of the guide’s lesser-known contributors, fell in the latter camp, calling their debut One Nation Underground “a classic example of wimp aggression. Between Tom Rapp’s lisp, his rubber-band box guitars, windy eight-minute poetry lessons and kiss-off songs in Morse code, Pearls Before Swine’s debut was, and remains, a disaster.” If he really felt that strongly, you’re thinking, it’s no wonder he gave the LP a ◼.

Except he didn’t. He actually gave One Nation Underground two stars. Testa’s real wrath was reserved for Pearls Before Swine’s second album, Balaklava, on which in his estimation “Rapp drops even the pretense of constituting a rock band and starts his long groan of pretentious Muzak.”

Pearls Before Swine's second album, Balaklava.

Pearls Before Swine’s second album, Balaklava.

Quite a few intense ‘60s rock collectors would be ready to shoot Testa at this point, taking almost as much umbrage as if he’d been insulting The Velvet Underground & Nico or some such classic. I’m not one of them. I’m not a big Pearls Before Swine fan.

But…it does seem out of line to call Balaklava “pretentious Muzak.” If that’s Muzak, well, bring it on the elevators I ride; it’s a hell of a lot weirder and, for weirdoes like me, a hell of a lot more listenable than the actual Muzak you hear. Testa also rather undermines his point by concluding, “This one is distinctive, anyway, in its insane compulsion to garnish liberally with sound effects”—not exactly the kind of thing you hear in real Muzak, and also precisely the kind of thing to pique adventurous listeners’ curiosity, wondering if it can be as simultaneously weird and bad as Testa proclaims.

My take is that Balaklava‘s not great, but it’s certainly rather weird, if in a fey folk-rock way, and more lyrically than musically. I might have a hard time giving it even three stars if I had to use the guide’s scale, but I certainly wouldn’t give it a ◼. And that’s not just to justify its place on my shelf, alongside a box set of Pearls Before Swine’s subsequent Reprise albums, no less. I bet Testa would have given that a double ◼◼ if he’d been allowed.

Testa won’t be alone in miffing the Pearls Before Swine cult with 35-year-old judgments. In Christgau’s Record Guide, Village Voice critic Robert Christgau relegated PBS and Tom Rapp to the “Distinctions Not Cost-Effective (Or: Who Cares?)” appendix. “I never who they/he thought they/he thought they/he were/was throwing their/his accretions/at before” was his summary, in its entirety.

Has there ever been an album that’s gotten a similarly low rating in other publication that I have in my collection? There must be some. But in the first and still best edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide, there are just four. And somehow, if 35 years have passed—and about a dozen years have passed since I got the last of these (Baklava, I think)—I don’t think any of the other ◼s will make the cut. But I’m not getting rid of these four, either. Or that Pearls Before Swine box, even.

Pearls Before Swine's Jewels Were the Stars box set, which has all four albums they recorded for Reprise after issuing their first two LPs on the ESP label.

Pearls Before Swine’s Jewels Were the Stars box set, which has all four albums they recorded for Reprise after issuing their first two LPs on the ESP label.

No No: Not a Rockumentary, But a Dockumentary

There aren’t many documentaries about individual baseball players, at least if you don’t count the ones I don’t see that probably air on cable TV. No No: A Dockumentary is a recent theatrical release, but probably won’t be seen by a whole lot of people due to its niche subject matter, detailing the life of one of the most colorful players of the 1970s, Dock Ellis. I saw it last night at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and it does a pretty good job of covering the mercurial career of a good-but-not-great pitcher who’s still most notorious for proclaiming he threw a no-hitter under the influence of LSD.

Dock Ellis, as he looked around the time he threw a no-hitter in 1970.

Dock Ellis, as he looked around the time he threw a no-hitter in 1970.

The highlights of Dock’s career – that 1970 no-hitter, his unabashed use of drugs and drink, wearing curlers in his hair on the field, getting into conflicts with the baseball establishment for his outspoken opinions on racial injustice, starting the 1971 All-Star game for the National League, and his post-baseball life as a drug counselor – are fairly well known to serious baseball fans. They’re decently Doc-umented in No No (with a good soundtrack of obscure vintage soul-funk), so this post will focus on some of the more surprising things that cropped up in my viewing.

With the passage of decades since Dock’s heyday, other players from the era are also becoming frank about the widespread drug use within the game. Fans already knew it existed after pitcher Jim Bouton wrote about the ingestion of amphetamines, known within baseball as “greenies,” in his classic Ball Four diary of the 1969 season. That was one of many things about the book that infuriated the baseball establishment, but in retrospect, it seems that if anything, Bouton might have toned down the reality of the situation. After all, he felt their benefits were limited, making you think as though you had better stuff than you did, and didn’t quite state that virtually every player used them.

But in No No, a number of other players (and quite a few, interestingly, are interviewed throughout the film) from Dock’s time do. They even give percentages. One, pitcher Scipio Spinks (one of the great baseball names) — a very promising hurler who won just seven games in a career cut short by injury — even put the percentage of users at 95 or 96 percent. There’s been much outrage over steroid use by ballplayers (and other athletes) in the early twenty-first century, but this reminds us that the history of drug use in the sport far predates our own era, and was not just present, but prevalent.

Scipio Spinks, owner of one of professional sport's greatest names, though not one of baseball's greatest lifetime records (7 wins, 11 losses).

Scipio Spinks, owner of one of professional sport’s greatest names, though not one of baseball’s greatest lifetime records (7 wins, 11 losses).

Ellis, however, was an outsize drug user even by these standards. He claimed to have even taken sixteen or seventeen pills at once. No harm done if he wasn’t a pusher, some might say; his two wives, both victims of horrifying instances of domestic abuse, would say otherwise. When he was on these substances, observes one of his spouses, “I think he thought he was taking them over, but it was the other way around” — one of the most concise, on-target summaries of drug abuse I’ve ever heard.

Despite and sometimes because of his excesses, Dock was generally beloved by his teammates, friends, and family. The early-to-mid-1970s Oakland A’s are generally remembered as the most colorful of the period’s major league teams, but this movie also reminds us that the Pittsburgh Pirates gave them a run for their money. Pitcher Bruce Kison even goes as far as to remark that Pirates hated getting traded away because it was so boring being on other teams. (For a good portrait of the young Kison – speeding to his wedding just hours after helping the Pirates beat the Baltimore Orioles in the 1971 World Series, Santana blasting on the car stereo – see the chapter on Bruce in Pat Jordan’s fine book The Suitors of Spring.)

Pat Jordan's first book, The Suitors of Spring, collected profiles of various major and minor league players and coaches, mostly pitchers.

Pat Jordan’s 1972 The Suitors of Spring collected profiles of various major and minor league players and coaches, mostly pitchers, including a young Bruce Kison.

The Pirates were also notable for not just featuring more blacks than most teams, but fielding the first all-black lineup in major league baseball history on September 1, 1971. A few of the Pirates remember the occasion in No No, one of them claiming that the Buccos fell behind 7-0 in the first inning, not even thinking about the all-black personnel as they needed all their focus to pull out a 9-7 win. That wasn’t quite how it happened: they did fall behind to the Phillies (with Ellis on the mound) 2-0 and 6-5 in the early innings, but did indeed win 10-7. And they won the World Series the next month, though Ellis was sidelined by an arm injury after losing the first game.

Not everyone was as enamored of Ellis as his fellow Pirates, all of whom (including Kison, Steve Blass, Al Oliver, Gene Clines, and Dave Cash) speak of him in glowing terms in No No. Texas Rangers catcher Jim Sundberg’s impression of Ellis when the pitcher was on other teams: “I don’t want to meet him in an alleyway.” After Ellis was traded to the Rangers, Sundberg, who did not indulge in drug use, kept their relationship strictly professional.

The mid-‘70s Cincinnati Reds probably held no great love for Dock either. In an incident almost notorious as his LSD no-hitter, he began the first inning of a May 1, 1974 game against the Big Red Machine by intentionally hitting the first three batters. Joe Morgan, it’s remembered, thought Ellis wouldn’t hit him because Morgan was a “brother.” On the mound, though, all opponents were equal, Ellis plunking Morgan when the Hall of Famer took his turn at bat. Dock went on to walk Tony Perez with the bases loaded before getting removed from the game.

As an aside, one of the oddest things about No No is its use of clips from a way-obscure promo film of the early 1980s, Dugout. Though it’s hard to tell from the brief excerpts, it seems to have been a short designed to scare Little Leaguers away from drugs. Ellis doesn’t appear in it, but, even more unexpectedly, Bo Belinsky — another talented pitcher who threw a no-hitter early in his career — does. Unlike Ellis, Belinsky never had much other success in the big leagues, finishing with a 28-51 lifetime record. Despite that 1962 no-hitter for the Los Angeles Angels (as they were called then), Belinsky was regarded as never fulfilling his potential, largely in part not to drug use, but to being a playboy, dating Mamie Van Doren (to whom he was briefly engaged), Ann-Margret, Connie Stevens, and Tina Louise, as well as marrying Playboy Playmate of the Year Jo Collins.

Bo Belinsky, a better playboy than a pitcher.

Bo Belinsky, a better playboy than a pitcher.

From what little we see of Belinsky in the excerpts from Dugout used in No No, he seems to be warning kids away from drugs, in the wooden manner common to charismatic non-actor celebrities. The kids seem to be taking his cautions seriously, but here’s betting that no one could successfully warn aspiring big leaguers to stay away from the likes of Ann-Margret and Tina Louise. As it happens, Pat Jordan’s The Suitors of Spring also has a fascinating profile of Belinsky, who seemed to living it up just as hard right after getting out of the big leagues as he did in his brief peak.

Like Ellis, Belinsky would become a counselor (for alcohol abuse). One of Ellis’s clients, if that’s the right word, came as a surprise to me. Texas Rangers owner Brad Corbett, Sr., as his son reveals in the movie, was an alcoholic. Ellis remained friendly with Corbett after his brief time in Rangers uniform, and helped Corbett with his drink problem, Dock spending (according to at least one account in the film) almost all of his post-baseball life sober before his death in 2008.

It was a productive comeback of sorts considering how poorly Ellis, like many athletes, handled the sudden loss of his skills and end of his career. I’d forgotten that Dock briefly returned to the Pirates to finish his career at the end of 1979. The Pirates were fighting for a playoff spot (which they got, going on to win the World Series), and picked up Ellis with just a week or so to go in the season. He didn’t pitch too badly in his three games and seven innings, going four frames and getting a no-decision in the one game he did start, the second game of a September 24 doubleheader. (I’m guessing that doubleheader is probably the reason he got picked up, to make an emergency start to help out a heavily worked staff.) He confessed to Bruce Kison, however, that his arm was shot, and never appeared in a big league game after the regular schedule was over, being ineligible for the postseason roster. A five-hour session of abusing his second wife — including holding a gun in her mouth, and afterward demanding she have sex with him — was, she says in the film, fallout from his anger over getting released shortly afterward.

Lots of athletes have similarly ugly falls from grace when the cheering stops, even in a time when high salaries would seem to make post-career financial security a given. Not many athletes make something from themselves after the worst of it, as Ellis did, judging from that documentary. Which might have been the greatest saving grace of a man who, in another of the film’s surprises, received a letter of admiration from Jackie Robinson shortly before Robinson’s early-‘70s death. In many respects, Robinson was not nearly as controversial a figure; he was not a substance abuser, did not call attention to himself with antics like wearing hair curlers on the field, and even supported the Republican Party after his playing days had finished. In those ways, they weren’t kindred spirits. But in refusing to back down against a world in which racial discrimination was too prevalent, they were very much united.

1972-topps-dock-ellis-ia

Tomales Point Trail

There aren’t too many springtime days in the San Francisco Bay Area when the temperature soars over 80 degrees. It happened yesterday, though, and I took advantage of it as an opportunity to do a 9.5-mile waterside hike to Tomales Point in Point Reyes, about an hour north of San Francisco. It can get pretty windy on that exposed finger of land, all the more reason to go on a much warmer-than-average day with relatively little breeze.

Tomales Point, at the very end of the Tomales Point Trail.

Tomales Point, at the very end of the Tomales Point Trail.

That’s your reward for reaching the end of this out-and-back trail, with near-cliffside views of the water on either side for most of the way. It’s not too tough, with a wide, rolling dirt path that doesn’t get too steep, although there’s a real long downhill on the way to the point (and so a real long uphill about halfway back, when you’re more tired). It gets pretty sandy on a couple stretches near the point, too, so don’t break your best shoes or socks, as you’ll need to shake a cupful of sand out a couple times (and take a shower at home to get the sand out of your feet).

The most spectacular view is at Tomales Point itself, but you get a few good cliffside vistas on the bay side, like these:

Beach1

Vista3

Rock

Vista1

There are also some elk on the trail, especially in the Windy Gap area near the bottom of the long downhill section:

Elk2

I saw a deer hopping around not too far from here too, though not one as amiable about remaining stationary for the benefit of cameras.

When you get near the end of the “out” part of this out-and-back trail, you might be wondering if it’s worth it to go all the way “out,” especially as you get this view when you first spot the final segment:

PathBeforePoint

But persevere, and clamor down the last part, because you don’t want to miss these views at Tomales Point itself:

Point4

Point1

Point6

After you manage the long, long haul up the trail around the halfway point on the return journey, take in the rock formations as the path levels out:

RockFormation

There’s not a whole lot in the way of trees, but there are patches here and there:

Trees

The uphill part of the trail on the way back is behind the trees, and you can see how far it stretches.

Tomales Point Trail is isolated enough that you’re not going to run into too many other hikers (or horse riders, which are allowed), especially on a weekday. Usually the trail looks like this:

EmptyTrail

Over the course of the three hours and 45 minutes so (including camera/water/snack breaks) it took for my out-and-back, I couldn’t have seen more than 20 or 30 people. Go on a weekday if possible, since it’s likely far more crowded (and there will be far more traffic on the two-lane roads leading to the trailhead) on weekends. The parking lot at the trailhead has about 25 spaces, and was half-full when I arrived around 10:45am; it was completely full when I left four hours later.

There’s more information on the Tomales Point Trail page of the Bay Area Hiker site.

Point5

Hiking in the El Cerrito Hills, Part 2

Just a few weeks ago, I posted about a hike through the El Cerrito Hills – the first such walk I’ve taken, despite living in the Bay Area for about thirty years. Such are the riches of this area that I returned yesterday to sample more of its delights. Well, I guess I wouldn’t be coming back so soon had not friends recently moved to that neighborhood. But it’s certainly a good excuse to set off in a different direction from their home to Wildcat Canyon Park, which I’m again embarrassed to admit I had not entered until yesterday:

On the trail in Wildcat Canyon Park, near the entrance on Rifle Range Road.

On the trail in Wildcat Canyon Park, about half a mile down from  the entrance on Rifle Range Road.

Technically a part of Richmond, the park can be entered from the tippy-top of the El Cerrito Hills, near the end of Rifle Range Road. There’s no trail-specific parking, but then again, not many people are using the trail, so you won’t have a problem finding a space on the street within a block or so. We saw a couple walkers here and there, but usually the trail looked like this, even on a sunny spring Saturday afternoon:

EmptyTrail

Eaves

We didn’t get too far into the hills of the park, which we’re planning to walk through for a longer and more ambitious trek this summer:

MoreHills

If you’re walking to the trail entrance through the El Cerrito neighborhood near Arlington Avenue, you’ll be bound to come across some sights worthy in their own right. My camera can’t do justice to some of the panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay, but here’s one sample, with the tried-and-true image of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distant background:

DSCF1354

You can also take in some of the interesting architecture in the surrounding blocks, like this steep garden:

Garden

There’s more info about the park on the Wildcat Canyon Park website, as well as the Wildcat Canyon Park page on the San Francisco Bay Area Hiker site.

Near the trailhead for the Rifle Range Road entrance to Wildcat Canyon Park.

Near the trailhead for the Rifle Range Road entrance to Wildcat Canyon Park.

British Invasion LP Covers: The UK Vs. the US

In the past few years, I’ve taught a bunch of rock history courses at the College of Marin that use a lot of audiovisual material. Often I show PowerPoint slides of record sleeves, and often, as it happens, these are of 1960s British bands. This got me thinking, in the usual way of subjects of interest mostly to hardcore music geeks, of how often LP covers were different in the US and UK, at least until the late 1960s, when the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper helped establish a uniform worldwide format for bands of influence.

Until then, and sometimes even afterward, there was a lot of variation, from the Beatles and Rolling Stones down to British Invasion greats who never successfully invaded the US market. Somebody had to be making decisions resulting in such substantial differences as these:

The UK version of the Who's first album.

The UK version of the Who’s first album.

The US version of the Who's first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original "Circles" for their cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man," though otherwise the tracks were the same.

The US version of the Who’s first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original “Circles” for their cover of Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” though otherwise the tracks were the same.

That’s one of the most high-profile examples, though relatively few US listeners were even aware of the Who when their debut album came out, and fewer still aware that a UK version had a much different cover (and a very slightly different track listing).

The usual historical viewpoint, when these things are discussed at all (they are in my classes if nowhere else!), is that US record labels did a great disservice to UK acts in repackaging their albums for the American market. Not only did they diminish the quality of the presentation, goes this argument, but they altered the artist’s original intentions, though in the case of cover art (and even sometimes track selection), those decisions were sometimes made by people other than the artists.

In the case of the track selection, that’s often true. It’s well known that British rock groups’ LPs were often sliced and diced for the US audience so that more albums could be issued. Instead of the thirteen or fourteen songs usually found on UK albums, there would often be eleven or twelve (or even just ten). Tracks from UK LPs, 45s, and EPs would be slung together, sometimes haphazardly, without the groups’ input. There are many examples, the Beatles’ Yesterday…and Today being perhaps the most famous because it was first issued with a rare “butcher” cover. In some cases, American labels just cut out a few songs from the UK versions; you’d have to be out of your mind, for instance, to prefer the US Revolver (missing three songs, all of which featured John Lennon as lead singer and primary composer), or the US version of the Yardbirds’ 1966 album (which removed a couple songs, albeit a couple of the less impressive ones, from the UK edition). That thread could be a whole post in itself, and I won’t go it that at article-length here.

As for the album sleeves, though, I wonder if it was really such a dilution or desecration to have different covers in the US. This won’t be a universally popular opinion, but I really can’t think of a single instance where the US artwork was just incredibly, undeniably inferior to the UK counterpart. And sometimes, I think it was actually better.

Let’s start with a few A-B comparisons where I’d contend the US cover is markedly superior:

The UK cover of Fairport Convention's second album, titled What We Did On Our Holidays

The UK cover of Fairport Convention’s second album, titled What We Did On Our Holidays

The American cover of the same album, with an entirely different cover and simpler title.

The American cover of the same album, with an entirely different cover and simpler title.

It’s a little painful to put this forth, since the UK cover is definitely what Fairport Convention wanted. But I’d much rather look at a picture of the band – their best lineup, and on their best album – than a fairly crude blackboard sketch. That photo on the US version does seem to capture the personality of the band – friendly (never mind that they changed personnel more than almost any other major group of the time) and woodsy, though they were very much a London group. The title was different in the UK (What We Did on Our Holidays), too, with A&M opting for the bland Fairport Convention, though the debut LP that preceded this (unissued in the US at that time) also used that title, confusing discographers for many years to come. Maybe the original title wasn’t used Stateside since “holidays” mean something much different here, referring to the dozen or so official annual government holidays; in the UK, “holidays” are what Americans call “vacations.”

In 1966, the Yardbirds put out essentially the same album in the US and UK, though as noted the US version cut out a couple songs. Again, it was given both different covers and different titles:

Officially titled The Yardbirds, these days most people refer to this album as "Roger the Engineer," after the writing on the cover sketch.

Officially titled The Yardbirds, these days most people refer to this album as “Roger the Engineer,” after the writing on the cover sketch.

The US counterpart was titled after their then-current hit, "Over Under Sideways Down."

The US counterpart was titled after their then-current hit, “Over Under Sideways Down.”

And again, the UK version (officially titled The Yardbirds, but unofficially referred to as Roger the Engineer) is definitely what the band wanted, since rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja actually drew the cover. The US sleeve is kind of anodyne, but at least it pictures the group, with Jeff Beck as lead guitarist. The UK version’s kind of ugly, to be brutal. Here’s an uncommon example of the Canadian cover coming off best:

YardbirdsCanada

But note, as many would be quick to point out, this has a photo of the lineup during the brief mid-1966 period when Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were both in the band. Which is cool, but Jimmy Page doesn’t play on the LP, only joining shortly after it was recorded.

Donovan’s Sunshine Superman is a downright rare, maybe even unique, case where the US version is preferable from every angle, including but not limited to the cover:

In a reversal of the usual way these things worked, Donovan's best album, Sunshine Superman, came out in the US nine months before it appeared in the UK.

In a reversal of the usual way these things worked, Donovan’s best album, Sunshine Superman, came out in the US nine months before it appeared in the UK.

The UK version didn't even have a picture of Donovan.

The UK version didn’t even have a picture of Donovan.

As a result of a complicated contractual dispute, Sunshine Superman came out first in the US, in August 1966. When it came out in the UK nine months later, it was precisely the kind of bastardization American labels are often panned for, cobbling together seven of the twelve tracks from the American edition with five songs from his next LP, Mellow Yellow. You’d have to be out of your mind to prefer the UK version, and the inferior cover – a rather unmemorable fairytale-ish illustration, where the US original has a picture of Donovan surrounded by trippy if florid graphics – isn’t even the most important reason.

Let’s backtrack for a minute to the graphic that led off this post, comparing the two covers for the Who’s first album:

The UK version of the Who's first album.

The UK version of the Who’s first album.

The US version of the Who's first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original "Circles" for their cover of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man," though otherwise the tracks were the same.

The US version of the Who’s first album, which substituted the Pete Townshend original “Circles” for their cover of Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” though otherwise the tracks were the same.

I think I’ve heard someone or some people knock the US image as cheap, exploiting the London connection during the height of the British Invasion by putting Big Ben in the background. The UK original does have a greater sense of their mod fashion. But I have to say I like the US variation better, with their moody expressions and, yes, that hovering Big Ben reminding us of their Englishness.

Before Rubber Soul, most of the Beatles’ US albums didn’t come close to replicating the contents of their UK counterparts. In the UK, A Hard Day’s Night and Help! were real, full LPs; in the US, they were tweaked as “soundtracks,” surrounding songs used in the actual movies with fairly crappy instrumental orchestral filler on which the Beatles didn’t play. The sleeves changed too, though not as obnoxiously as the music:

The UK version of A Hard Day's Night, with 14 Lennon-McCartney songs.

The UK version of A Hard Day’s Night, with 14 Lennon-McCartney songs.

The US version had just eight of those songs, the LP filled out by George Martin-overseen easy listening versions of some of the songs from the film.

The US version had just eight of those songs, the LP filled out by George Martin-overseen easy listening versions of some of the songs from the film.

Both of these covers have their merits. The UK original gives you more frames and, in so doing, actually conveys a more cinematic quality, in keeping with an album based around a film. The US variation does give you larger images; the ones on the UK sleeve are pretty small. Moving to their second film:

The Beatles aren't exactly spelling out Help! on the cover, but, you know, close enough.

The Beatles aren’t exactly spelling out Help! on the cover, but, you know, close enough.

The US version had just seven Beatles tracks, surrounded by tedious instrumental soundtrack music.

The US version had just seven Beatles tracks, surrounded by tedious instrumental soundtrack music.

The UK original is less garish. But this time it’s the US spinoff that more clearly, even loudly, states the connection to the film. A gatefold sleeve, not common for rock LPs in those days, was a notable bonus. No points for the way the album took off six songs from the UK version, however, and sequenced it not so that the seven Beatles songs were on one side and the orchestral muzak on the other (as Yellow Submarine would), but alternated Beatles songs with the instrumentals. To this day, when you look at used copies, the Beatles tracks are often gray from overplay; the instrumentals, in contrast, are black, as a consequence of fans constantly taking the needle off to skip over them.

Moving to the Beatles’ closest rivals, the Rolling Stones’ first album, unusually for the time, was almost the same as their UK debut in both content and cover design. Note the not-so-subtle difference in one respect, however:

The Rolling Stones' first UK album did not contain their name or the LP title.

The Rolling Stones’ first UK album did not contain their name or the LP title.

But the US version sure did, and added a bit more text to boot.

But the US version sure did, and added a bit more text to boot.

The UK original – in perhaps an unprecedented move – did not put the band’s name (or album title, which was also The Rolling Stones) anywhere on the front cover, relying solely on the photo to make an impact (and a phenomenally successful one for a debut LP by a band with only one Top Ten British hit, as the album topped the UK charts). In the US – where the Stones were considerably slower to take off than in their native land, and were indeed virtually unknown in mid-1964 – London Records, the arm of the group’s UK Decca label, wasn’t going to take any such chances. The name of the band would go on the cover. And, the British Invasion being only a few months old, London Records was going to be damned sure to remind you these guys were English, adding the subtitle “England’s Newest Hit Makers.”

The difference in cover design got more substantial on their 1966 album Aftermath. This was an important record in the Rolling Stones’ career, as it was the first of their LPs to consist entirely of original material. It was kind of compromised in its US edition, which cut out a few songs, though it did add “Paint It Black” (just a single in the UK). And there were entirely different front sleeves:

The UK version of Aftermath, with little-noted hyphenation of the title.

The UK version of Aftermath, with little-noted hyphenation of the title.

The US version of Aftermath, shorter and with a different shot and design.

The US version of Aftermath, shorter and with a different shot and design.

It’s not an obvious call here, but I prefer the US image, whose slight blurriness adds a bit of mystery. I’m not big on the red tint on the UK release.

The same year, the Stones came out with their first greatest hits collection. Though the title was the same in both countries, the songs were different (with substantial overlap), and the covers entirely different:

The US version, which actually came out first.

The US version, which actually came out first.

The UK version.

The UK version.

I think this is a clear victory for the US version, with that memorable setting of the Stones by the water (actually taken in Hollywood’s Franklin Canyon Park, not England as many naturally assumed at the time). The UK cover isn’t bad, though, and was distinct enough to be used on the picture sleeve of the US “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadow” 45, Brian Jones’s bandaged hand and all.

One of the more memorable, if gaudy, American British Invasion covers was Them’s debut LP. Compare it with its rough UK counterpart (which had a different track listing, though with substantial overlap):

Like the Rolling Stones' first UK album (also on Decca), Them's first album, The Angry Young Them, didn't put either the band name or the title on the front cover.

Like the Rolling Stones’ first UK album (also on Decca), Them’s first album, The Angry Young Them, didn’t put either the band name or the title on the front cover.

Make sure to stitch this onto your carrier bag the next time you go record-shopping on Halloween.

Make sure to stitch this onto your carrier bag the next time you go record-shopping on Halloween.

The US cover’s been criticized for its Halloween-ish lettering and layout, but I think it actually complements the oft-spooky tenor of Them’s music. And the photo of the band’s better. The guys don’t look all that angry on The Angry Young Them, either.

Not so much angry as Moody were the different covers designed for the Moody Blues’ UK and US debuts:

The Moody Blues' first UK album, The Magnificent Moodies.

The Moody Blues’ first UK album, The Magnificent Moodies.

The Moody Blues' first album made sure to feature their first (and, for quite a while, only) big US hit as part of the title.

The Moody Blues’ first album made sure to feature their first (and, for quite a while, only) big US hit as part of the title.

The images are similar enough that they may well have been from the same photo session. No clear winner here in my view, and why not have two covers rather than one, though the US design is more blatantly and gauchely commercial with its large blue borders and big-letter blare of the hit song it features, “Go Now.” As for the subtitle “featuring From the Bottom of My Heart,” that was their follow-up to “Go Now,” and not nearly as successful, stalling at #93 in the US charts, though it was a quite good original.

Digging so deep into the British Invasion that you come across bands who never had a hit here, there’s the Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow. The best ‘60s UK group never to make it into the States, the Pretty Things started out as a rawer version of the Rolling Stones; lead guitarist Dick Taylor had been in the Stones until late 1962. By the late ‘60s, they’d evolved into psychedelic rock, and S.F. Sorrow was one of rock’s first concept albums:

The UK edition of S.F. Sorrow, designed by Pretty Things singer Phil May.

The UK edition of S.F. Sorrow, designed by Pretty Things singer Phil May.

The UK edition came out on Rare Earth, as part of its parent label Motown's attempt to crack the white rock market.

The US edition came out on Rare Earth, as part of its parent label Motown’s attempt to crack the white rock market.

It’s a clear victory, in a change of pace, for the UK version. Which was certainly more in line with the band’s vision, as the cover was designed by Pretty Things singer Phil May. The US cover (on Motown’s Rare Earth subsidiary) had its curiosity value, though, for its tombstone shape if nothing else. The cover change wasn’t the biggest way Rare Earth fumbled the ball; though the album had come out at the end of 1968 in the UK, it wasn’t released until August 1969 in the US, which meant that some American listeners and critics accused it of being a rip-off of the Who’s Tommy (which it predated by months in the UK).

Jimi Hendrix was American, of course, but he rose to stardom in Britain as leader of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Their maiden outing Are You Experienced, for all its classic status, was substantially different in both track listing and cover design in its UK and US editions:

The UK version of Are You Experienced

The UK version of Are You Experienced.

The more psychedelic US version.

The more psychedelic US version.

The US cover’s been accused of being more gimmicky. Perhaps, but the distorted photo’s simply more memorable, and more in tune with the vinyl’s psychedelic contents, than the sober, rather so-so UK sleeve. The substitution of British hit singles “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” and “The Wind Cries Mary” for some tracks also struck some as crass, but also improved the LP. The CD gets around the problem by including all of the songs from both versions.

Going a little beyond the British Invasion into the beginning of the 1970s, no overview like this would be complete without presenting one of the most famous sleeve variants of all:

The US version of The Man Who Sold the World didn't even have a photo or image of Bowie on the cover.

The US version of The Man Who Sold the World didn’t even have a photo or image of Bowie on the cover.

But you certainly couldn't miss him on the UK version, which caused more controversy than sales upon its initial release.

But you certainly couldn’t miss him on the UK version, which caused more controversy than sales upon its initial release.

The UK cover of Bowie reclining in a dress is understandably the more famous of the pair, tying in as it did with his then-controversial androgynous image. The US cover is downright weird, and looks at first like it might be something cooked up without his consent, by someone who had no familiarity with Bowie’s music. Not so; it was designed by a friend of Bowie’s, Michael J. Weller. Equally strangely, it might be considered the original, as though Bowie was very much a British artist, the LP came out first in the US (in November 1970), not emerging in his native UK until about six months later.

These are just some of the most striking sleeve variations that come to mind. There were numerous others, some not interesting enough to merit much comment, some by artists not interesting enough to merit much comment. No doubt some of the decisions guiding these differences were arbitrary, made by labels, publicists, managers, or under assistant west coast promotion men with little knowledge of either the artist or rock music. But looking back from our time, when packaging is often standard the world over – and when there often isn’t any packaging (on download sites), or when the packaging is much smaller and less interesting to gaze at – these idiosyncratic blips and skips in international marketing are to be treasured.

The Dave Clark Five PBS Special…And Beyond

Dave Clark documentaries are not the usual things that PBS runs. But hey, better that than a broadcast featuring Pink Floyd tribute band Brit Floyd, right? (Which PBS has run recently — no joke.) Much better, in fact. But after it ran last week, the feeling almost people I got reactions from — and there were many, my Facebook post generating nearly 80 comments — was that it was rather unsatisfying, even flawed. The Dave Clark Five aren’t the usual subjects of analytical blog posts, but someone has to do it, and I thought I’d give it a shot.

For a while at least, you can watch the documentary that aired on PBS, The Dave Clark Five and Beyond, by clicking here.

The Dave Clark Five and Beyond documentary aired on PBS in early April 2014.

It’s curious that a Dave Clark doc got on PBS in the first place. There’s speculation — much about Dave Clark is speculation, as there’s still some mystery about some aspects of his career — that perhaps he used his economic muscle to open doors that worthy British Invasion bands like the Zombies, say, could not. The Beatles’ Anthology documentary ran nearly ten hours in its home video version; The Dave Clark Five and Beyond, lasting just under two hours, nonetheless felt considerably padded to even reach that length. It had its pluses, but even those need to be offered with qualifications:

There was plenty of interview material with Dave Clark. Some of this, however, does not exactly look recent, or even that well-shot. Often his voice was heard as off-camera narration. I don’t know why exactly he’d be reluctant to be on camera, but it seemed curious.

There was also some interview material with DC5 singer Mike Smith, credited as (with Clark) co-songwriter of many of the band’s biggest hits. Presumably this was shot some years ago, as he died in 2008. There wasn’t enough of Smith’s observations, however, and it was curious that his songwriting contributions to the DC5 were not discussed. Or maybe not so curious — more on that later.

There were plenty of archive clips, even if these tended to be snippets that didn’t even last through the bulk of a song, let alone entire numbers. Even as the owner of three unofficial DVRs of vintage DC5 footage, some of this was new to me, and perhaps new to everyone, since some home movies were unearthed. I don’t remember seeing the blurry bit of the group being interviewed on an early US visit, for instance. But barely any of this showed the band actually playing live — more on this, too, in a bit. And this didn’t, as far as I could tell, have excerpts from a mid-‘60s short (also covering the Supremes) in which Clark was interviewed – which, unbelievably, I saw when it was shown in my fifth-grade music class in the early 1970s, but haven’t been able to see since.

Believe it or not, for about six months or so in 1964, the Dave Clark Five were the most popular British Invasion band besides the Beatles.

Believe it or not, for about six months or so in 1964, the Dave Clark Five were the most popular British Invasion band besides the Beatles.

Sentimental chap that I am, I found the memories of their war-deprived childhoods (which don’t, oddly, enter the picture until some way into the film) moving. Also it was moving to see DC5 bassist Rick Huxley tear up at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. These honors do mean something to some musicians, especially ones whose names have been forgotten by most fans.

I liked some of the comments by other interviewees, though they often fell well short of substantial observations. Nice to see Stevie Wonder, for instance, acknowledge a Dave Clark influence, though he didn’t get specific as to what it was. Also nice to see Paul McCartney, who was as expected diplomatically kind without acknowledging any influence or interchange between the DC5 and the Beatles. It’s certainly a surprise to see Whoopi Goldberg in a documentary like this, but her affection for the band was sincere, and an illustration of how, for all British bands were accused of stealing the thunder of black Americans who influenced them, some black teenagers were fans of those same UK groups. I don’t like Gene Simmons or Kiss, but he actually came up with astute praise for the ascending melody of the Dave Clark Five smash “Because” — something I’ve pointed out in one of the rock history classes I’ve taught, albeit as an example of how the Beatles influenced their contemporaries.

So those are the pluses. Here are the minuses, some of which go hand-in-hand with the pluses:

Not only were the interviews with Clark and Smith not all they could have been — no other DC5 members were interviewed. True, saxophonist Denis Payton died in 2006, but considering Huxley died just a year ago and there is late-life interview footage of Smith, presumably Huxley could have been fit in during production. Lead guitarist Len Davidson is not only still alive, but did at least one good interview about the group (in the spring 2009 issue of the top ’60s rock mag Ugly Things), and would no doubt have made an articulate participant. On top of all this, not only were there no interview clips with Adrian Kerridge — an engineer/producer who was a crucial architect of the DC5 sound (and the “Adrian” in the “Adrian Clark” credited as producer on their hits, “Clark” being Dave Clark) — he wasn’t even mentioned, once.

Almost none of the clips, and there were many, were performed live. Virtually all of them were lip-synced (including some from promo films, as well as their many TV appearances). Which leads to another “more about this later” item — was this a deliberate decision, perhaps because of their instrumental shortcomings, especially those of their leader…

There were way too many soundbites from celebrities with little or no direct connection to the DC5. What is Sharon Osbourne, husband of Ozzy, doing in a film like this? What’s Ozzy doing here, for that matter? Or Elton John, or Gene Simmons (praise of “Because” notwithstanding)? Their comments seem to amount to, yeah, we liked the band and were influenced by them, sentiments repeated and rephrased too often (perhaps to help flesh out that nearly two-hour running time) without much in the way of tangible examples. As balance, there are comments from ordinary Dave Clark fans who saw them back in the day – even if they don’t offer much in the way of revelation, though unsurprisingly they do offer much general praise.

Speaking of celebrities, the most obnoxious is Tom Hanks, whose histrionic R&R Hall of Fame induction speech is liberally excerpted. Yes, I know this wasn’t shot specifically for this documentary. But I like the Dave Clark Five. Honestly. I don’t need somebody yelling at me to convince me that they were good, or at least were good when they were at their best, which wasn’t always the case on their records. Whoopi Goldberg’s low-key humility was a welcome contrast, as was Clark’s own understated acceptance speech.

Also, a few minutes are devoted to Dave Clark’s acquisition of vintage Ready Steady Go episodes, which he did not obtain as an investment, of course, but for the love of it, and to preserve a vital piece of music history and popular culture. Great going, Dave. So why haven’t you made any of them available on DVD? And why haven’t you made the bulk of the DC5 catalog available on CD, while we’re at it? (Though it has recently gone up on iTunes, along with some actual previously unreleased DC5 tracks.)

Some of the Ready Steady Go episodes Dave Clark owns were issued on VHS, but none have been issued on DVD.

Some of the Ready Steady Go episodes Dave Clark owns were issued on VHS, but none have been issued on DVD.

So there’s your mixed assessment. Now for some deeper delving into behind-the-scenes issues that some of the documentary’s flaws raise:

That absence of live clips, for instance. They’re not just absent from this documentary. There are virtually no non-mimed DC5 clips in circulation, even unofficially. That’s not just curious, that’s strange. Yes, every British Invasion band mimed a lot on TV, in movies, and in promo films. Yet there are also wholly live clips of virtually every British Invasion band of note. And not just by the obvious mega-icons like the Beatles, Stones, Who, Animals, Yardbirds, and Kinks. Even the much-derided Herman’s Hermits did a good number of live appearances for broadcast — and acquitted themselves quite respectably, I have to admit. Why so little DC5? What did they have to hide?

One clue might lie in a live clip from an early Ed Sullivan appearance (perhaps the first one) on which they bang out “Glad All Over.” Most of the band sound okay, though not great. The drummer, Dave Clark, sounds like he’s playing a trash can. Yes, the sound on TV in those days could be problematic. Did he get wind of how subpar they/he came off, however, and determine to only play to backing tracks from that point onward?

Another "Dave Clark 5 vs. the Beatles" fanzine. Guess who won?

Another “Dave Clark 5 vs. the Beatles” fanzine. Guess who won?

There’s been some speculation that Clark did not play on the DC5 records. In his interview in the spring 2009 Ugly Things, Adrian Kerridge says that top British session drummer Bobby Graham and Clark played on some sides to create an especially thick drum sound, though he doesn’t go as far as to intimate that Clark didn’t play, period. Here’s a telling remark from an interview with Mike Smith in the February 1991 issue of the UK monthly Record Collector:

Q: There was a story that a session drummer was used on the Five’s records.

Smith: I don’t wish to speak about that.

As to why their songwriting wasn’t discussed all that much, it’s also been speculated that Clark’s role in this was not as great as one might assume, given that his name’s on the credits of many DC5 hits. Another telling exchange from the February 1991 Record Collector:

Q: Dave Clark always got a credit on your songs. Would you like to elaborate?

Smith: I don’t wish to speak about that either.

 More damningly, Ron Ryan — who was in several ’60s British groups who made records without landing hits, including the Riot Squad (with a pre-Jimi Hendrix Experience Mitch Mitchell on drums) and the Blue Aces — said in an interview in the winter 2009 Ugly Things that he wrote or co-wrote some DC5 songs without receiving credit, including the hits “Bits and Pieces,” “Because,” and “Any Way You Want It.” “When I sang a new song to Dave and Mike, Dave used to leave Mike and I to map out an arrangement and find a key suitable for Mike to sing in,” he told John Briggs. “Dave did not stay around as he was not musical, and he had no idea what Mike and I were talking about and found it all boring. However, to make it look as if the band were penning their own material (as with Lennon/McCartney), I agreed that Dave Clark would receive a songwriting credit. A deal was struck on a handshake between myself and Clark that, as soon as the money started rolling in, the songwriter would get a percentage of whatever his songs made. Soon after, the money was indeed rolling in for Dave Clark but I wasn’t seeing any of it.”

Explosive stuff, at least in the world of British Invasion fanatics. Ryan also says a solicitor even advised him to get an injunction to stop the release of “Any Way You Want It.” Ryan’s explanation of why he failed to do so is as odd as some other aspects of the DC5 story: “However, as I knew the boys in the band were on a weekly wage set by Clark, I felt that any bad publicity might hurt their weekly earnings, and so I waived my right to stop the record being released.”

Ryan does state in this article that “the issue of royalties was eventually settled out of court and some money did change hands, albeit far from the full sum I expected.” He thinks, however, that “Clark ripped me off for many hundreds of thousands.” This relatively little known controversy was not mentioned in the documentary.

Ron Ryan was singer in the Riot Squad, whose drummer was a young Mitch Mitchell (center); Ryan is on Mitchell's left.

Ron Ryan was singer in the Riot Squad, whose drummer was a young Mitch Mitchell (center); Ryan is on Mitchell’s left.

A somewhat more well known controversy unmentioned in the film is the failure of much of the DC5 catalog to get reissued on CD. Even the two major Dave Clark best-of compilations, the generally well done two-CD The History of the Dave Clark Five (1993, even if has some wrong dates in the track listings) and the inferior, less extensive The Hits (2008), are now out of print and expensive if you can even locate copies. Clark, as is well known, had the foresight to own the group’s masters, at a time when few artists did so. Why is he keeping such tight rein on their legacy?

There’s speculation, on Facebook if nowhere else, that he got this documentary out there in the first place to help get a better deal for DC5 reissues (and the Ready Steady Go episodes he owns). That’s impossible to say, but let’s be real about this, too. Having the DC5 catalog out of print is not nearly as grievous a tragedy as, say, much of the Kinks and Yardbirds ‘60s recordings being unavailable (as they were, believe it or not, when I started collecting their records as a teenager in the late 1970s). Their albums might not quite have been “uniformly bad,” as Lester Bangs proclaimed in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. But they weren’t very good, either, in part because they rushed out a dozen US LPs (not counting a couple greatest hits collections) between early 1964 and early 1968. There are some overlooked quality B-sides and LP-only tracks — see the section below for my favorites — but there were also a lot of generic stompers, some weak ballads, and even some easy listening instrumentals, along with songs that just weren’t too memorable or creative from any angle. And they didn’t grow musically, or with the times, nearly as much as the better British Invasion bands, let alone their one-time rivals the Beatles.

One Facebook poster said Clark’s writing an autobiography that, one would hope, might shed light on some of these murky areas. Given what little was divulged — controversial or otherwise — in the documentary, however, I wouldn’t count on that. The music does remain if you can find it (and as noted it’s on iTunes now if you must), and here’s a guide to 20 or so of the more obscure cuts you might have missed.

Chaquita (released April 1963): Even if it’s in the main a ripoff of the Champs’ huge late-‘50s instrumental smash “Tequila,” this is a ferocious wordless (save for menacing interjections of “Chaquita!”) rocker with spy-movie snaky sax and a jungle/exotica flavor. Issued as a UK B-side in April 1963, it’s most familiar in the US as the B-side of “Do You Love Me,” as well as a track on their maiden American LP, Glad All Over. Beware of the earlier, far inferior version they issued on their debut single in August 1962, which crops up on some compilations to this day, as Clark doesn’t own the right to those masters.

I Know You (released December 1963): Not much subtlety behind this grinder, just an out-and-out infectious rocker that, like many early British Invasion tunes from the Beatles on down, has a joyous abandon totally at odds with the downcast rejection lamented in the lyrics. Most known as the B-side to “Glad All Over,” it’s also heard on the soundtrack of the Pathe newsreel short done on the group (the same company did similar newsreels on the Beatles in late 1963, and the Rolling Stones in late 1964).

"I Know You" was the B-side of "Glad All Over," the Dave Clark Five's first and still most famous US hit.

“I Know You” was the B-side of “Glad All Over,” the Dave Clark Five’s first and still most famous US hit.

Any Time You Want Love (released July 1964): One of the DC5 songs that switches adeptly between catchy near-ballad love song and more forceful midtempo rocker. Almost good enough to be a single, but not quite, ending up on their American Tour LP.

Whenever You’re Around (released July 1964): A harmony ballad with shimmering organ somewhat in the mold of “Because,” but slower and more wistful. Also from the American Tour LP.

Crying Over You (released October 1964): A nice Beatlesque ballad with close harmonies, heard on the B-side of “Any Way You Want It.” It’s not as good as the Beatles’ early ballads, mind you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. For what ballads are as good as the early ones by the Beatles?

When (released December 1964): A dramatic, haunting ballad with classical piano flourishes and more of their underrated close harmonies. The song was heard several times in their movie Catch Us If You Can (aka Having a Wild Weekend), suiting the film’s unexpectedly downbeat tone. It had already appeared on their Coast to Coast album, however, by the time the movie came out.

Don’t You Know (released December 1964): Also from Coast to Coast, this bash-it-out, get-it-over-with (one minute, 36 seconds) rocker has a little of a DC5-by-numbers feel. But as such filler on Dave Clark Five LPs goes, it’s one of the very best in that style, done with as much shake-it-on-out energy as if they’re doing one of their big hits, especially when the harmonies leap an octave at the very end.

Mighty Good Loving (released March 1965): Another tune that shifts from languid, moody verses to emphatic choruses, making good use of their underrated facility for minor-keyed melodies. From their Weekend in London album, not to be confused with their next LP just a few months down the line, Having a Wild Weekend.

‘Til The Right One Comes Along (released, March 1965): Also from Weekend in London, a real departure for the DC5, as it’s a folky ballad, acoustic guitar supplying the only accompaniment, save for a spot of piano at the end. The DC5 unplugged, perhaps. It sounds a bit like a demo that somehow didn’t progress into a full rock arrangement, which it could have easily been given, but it doesn’t suffer for that.

I’ll Never Know (released March 1965): An uncommonly moody, jagged rocker by the DC5’s upbeat standards, with some equally unusual double-tracked harmonica, from their Weekend in London album.

Remember It’s Me (released March 1965): A final highlight from their Weekend in London album has weird, even spookily echoing piano; another fetching minor-keyed melody, this time perhaps the DC5’s gloomiest; and more of their underrated back-and-forth tempo shifts. It’s their most haunting track, and had they come up with more creative items like “I’ll Never Know,” “Remember It’s Me,” “Don’t Be Taken In,” and “When” on their albums that departed from the usual formula they used on their singles, the DC5 would undoubtedly have more critical respect today.

Hurting Inside (released June 1965): The DC5 had more Beatlesque light rockers than many people remember, other than the oft-cited example of the one big hit they had in that vein, “Because.” Here’s one from the B-side of “I Like It Like That,” featuring a rare (for the DC5) extended guitar solo.

Don’t Be Taken In (released June 1965): Of all the Five’s Beatlesque songs, this is the one that would have come closest to sneaking on an actual Beatles album without raising too many suspicions. The piano-oriented arrangement slightly recalls the approach used on lower-key Beatles for Sale-era tracks like “No Reply,” and the high “no no”s at the end carry a whiff of those heard at the end of “Not a Second Time.” From their Having a Wild Weekend LP.

The Dave Clark: not so wild and crazy guys.

The Dave Clark Five: not so wild and crazy guys.

No Stopping (released June 1965): Like “Chaquita,” another instrumental with a devious surf-cum-spy guitar lick, this one filling out the Having a Wild Weekend LP. It’s not as good as “Chaquita,” but still has some good atmospheric sax bleating and frantic organ.

On the Move (released June 1965): Some of the Dave Clark Five’s instrumentals were throwaways of little value. This might be a throwaway too, but it’s much better than most of the band’s such efforts, sounding something like a collision between Link Wray, Johnny & the Hurricanes, and the surf instrumental hit “Pipeline.” Heard on the B-side of “Catch Us If You Can.”

Also known as Catch Us If You Can, the 1965 film Having a Wild Weekend was no A Hard Day's Night, although it had its good points.

Also known as Catch Us If You Can, the 1965 film Having a Wild Weekend was no A Hard Day’s Night, although it had its good points.

I’ll Be Yours My Love (B-side of “Over and Over,” October 1965): A piano-based ballad with a rolling beat that would verge on the dainty if not for Mike Smith’s customary throaty, earthy vocals, nicely counterpointed by soft backup vocals.

I Need Love (released November 1965): A storming, almost garage-ish workout with one of Smith’s most leather-lunged vocals, ebullient shouts, and a dense blend of keyboards, bass, and Denis Payton’s trademark honking sax. From their I Like It Like That album.

I’m On My Own (released November 1965): The DC5’s periodic ventures into country were about as successful as their other outings into styles other than the straightforward rock they knew best — which is to say, not very. Here’s an exception, also from I Like It Like That, on this nice ballad with some twangy guitar and a brief, more British Invasion-friendly bridge.

All Night Long (released March 1966): Buried on the B-side of the early ’66 hit “Try Too Hard,” as filler B-side instrumental jams go, this is one of the best, with a heavier blues/R&B feel than anything else they cut. This could almost pass as a track by a genuine London R&B-rock British Invasion band, though the DC5 were never considered part of that scene.

Plus honorable mentions for these two hits which, although they reached the Top 20, are seldom if ever heard on oldies radio these days:

Everybody Knows (I Still Love You) (released October 1964): A fine, rather complex midtempo harmony rocker veering between wistful verses and more hard-hitting choruses. Not to be confused with their dissimilar, but similarly titled, 1967 single “Everybody Knows,” a far less notable ballad.

Try Too Hard (released March 1966): One of the band’s hardest rockers, with a curling guitar riff, pounding piano, and an insistent chorus. As a footnote, one of the first records I remember hearing, as my oldest brother was a DC5 fan.

The picture sleeve of "Try Too Hard," which my oldest brother taped to his bedroom wall.

The picture sleeve of “Try Too Hard,” which my oldest brother taped to his bedroom wall.